BY JAIA PETERSON LENT
Spring Break! For children these words may bring excitement – a break from the school routine, a family vacation or even a chance to spend time with grandma and grandpa! If you are one of these lucky grandparents, the extra time with your grandchildren during spring break can be a prime opportunity for more hugs and one-on-one time. But it also offers a chance to learn more about what your grandchild has been learning in school and ways to become a more active partner in his or her education.
Family engagement matters!
Research shows children whose families are engaged have greater academic motivation, grade promotion and socio-emotional skills. Congress recently passed a new version of the biggest education law (Title I), which recognizes the important role of family as full partners with schools in helping children learn. To fulfill that role, the law gives families key rights in many areas as equal partners – for example, in access to school staff, the classroom help in working with the child, and in being full partners in developing and improving the school’s academic plan –And family includes more than just parents. In fact the law includes grandparents, in the definition of “parent” recognizing the diverse and important roles grandparents may play. Grandparents may attend school events and meetings or help with homework after school. Some are even full time caregivers of children when their parents cannot raise them. For grandparents living far away, your role may be focused more on encouraging and supporting the child’s parents, interacting through phone calls or face time, or visiting on weekends or school breaks.
Follow the leader
Whatever your level of engagement, it matters. Grandparents and parents at Glenmount Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore, Maryland understand this. Over the last two years they have been engaged in a Grand Partners in Education project (PIE) which empowers grandparents and parents alike in working as partners with school staff. Together they have drafted and approved a detailed family engagement plan. Now they are working to make that plan a reality and improve education for all children in the school. Carrie Russworm, an active grandparent at the school explains, “I am a firm believer that your child does better when they know they have somebody who cares, somebody who shows up. What’s happening today is that, a lot of the time, both parents have to work, so they don’t have the time to invest like the grandparents do.” And more than just her grandson benefits from her involvement. “For my grandson and the other kids, it’s going to help them,” she explains. “Plus when he sees me in the school hallway, he’ll shout out the biggest, ‘Nana!’ and that just warms my heart, when he’s excited to see me.”
For grandparents who don’t live close by and can’t be at the school regularly, spring break can offer a special opportunity to better understand ways your grandchildren learn and to kickstart greater engagement with their education other ways while they are visiting and after they head back home.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Plan some simple learning activities to do while you are together or from a distance. For intergenerational development and learning activity ideas visit: zerotothree.org/child-development/grandaprents or www.gu.org/RESOURCES/LearningActivities.aspx
- Give your grandchild a range of play choices and observe what draws her in. Does she like to build things or do puzzles, count and sort, read, draw or play music? Ask what she likes about the activities she chooses. Affirm her interests. Encourage her to try new activities in addition to her long-standing favorites. Make note of her choices and ask about these and new interests throughout the rest of the year.
- Find out if your grandchild’s school has a PTA and how to become a member. Even if you are not living in the community, there may be a way for you to be engaged with the PTA and supportive from a distance. Learn about other schools that have engaged grandparents through a Grandfamilies PTSA at http://grandfamiliesptsa.org.
- Learn about your Title I rights as full partners in collaborating with your school and how to do so. More information about Title I is available at the Center for Law and Education at org.
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives.