BB’s Ding Dong School – Grandparent support during the coronavirus pandemic
BY ALICE DAVIDSON
The opening words from The Circle of Life fill our living room followed shortly by the ding-a-ling of my great grandfather’s brass school bell. My mother’s smiling face appears on the iPad screen; the backdrop of shelves of books and an old mantel clock frame her face. My daughter, 5 years old, clasps her hands together in delight: “BB!” she exclaims.
Welcome to BB’s Ding Dong School. Or, as I call it, a precious gift of 75 minutes, three times a week when I can work at home uninterrupted during the coronavirus pandemic. Sitting in her own living room in Dripping Springs, Texas, BB lives 1200 miles away from us here in Orlando. But she is providing a much-appreciated service to my family, reading with and entertaining my daughter via FaceTime so that my husband and I can attempt to meet the demands of our full-time jobs as we navigate this new, challenging territory of working remotely and homeschooling our Kindergartener.
“Many grandparents, like BB, are providing such support as they engage with their grandchildren in new, virtual ways during this pandemic.”
Just two short weeks into BB’s Ding Dong school, my daughter has participated in a Frog and Toad reader’s theater, learned how to make origami cups, engaged in numerous games of 20 questions, co-authored MadLibs, been introduced to the Nelsons and Viola Swamp and Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall, and read Barkus (by Patricia MacLachlan) to her grandmother. I’m feeling pretty good about meeting our kindergarten learning objectives thanks to Ding Dong School. My daughter signs on to FaceTime eager to see the new wacky hairdo BB will be sporting today. And, did I mention that there are no quizzes to assess learning comprehension at Ding Dong School?
Those of a certain generation may remember Ding Dong School with Frances Horwich, a high-quality TV program for young children in the 1950s that was a precursor to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street. A life-long educator like the pioneering Miss Frances, BB understands the importance of talking to children straightforwardly and recognizes that young children do not need flashy and fast-paced stimulation in these uncertain times when normal routines have gone out the window but, rather, a calm and loving presence — someone who is as eager to listen as to teach; and someone who fosters a sense of safety, security and belonging even if she is doing so through a screen. Many grandparents, like BB, are providing such support as they engage with their grandchildren in new, virtual ways during this pandemic.
Research by Rachel Dunifon and colleagues (2018) indicates that the average U.S. child spends significant time with a grandparent in a given week. But current public health recommendations to practice social distancing mean that grandparents should refrain from in-person interactions with their beloved grandchildren. This, of course, disrupts the critical childcare that many grandparents provide for their grandchildren and many parents rely on. And it may lead to loneliness among seniors who are deprived of regular interactions with their loved ones. Though grandparenting and the psychological outcomes associated with it varies enormously in the United States, many grandparents describe rewarding experiences associated with being a grandparent such as mutual affection, shared activities, and teaching and learning. These experiences may be challenged during this pandemic but they also may take a new positive form as grandparents embrace previously unexplored virtual means of connecting with their grandchildren. Indeed, while my daughter and mother always have had a close relationship despite the geographic distance, I’ve observed a deepening emotional bond between the two of them in recent weeks. And I’ve been encouraged by seeing my mom, a widow who lives alone, enthusiastically prepare engaging activities for each Ding Dong session.
“Thank you, BB, and all the grandparents out there who, as a surprise to no one, may end up saving us all.”
So, these days, while I regularly find myself overcome with frustration as I spend the start of my work-day trying to log my daughter on to her 30-minute virtual kindergarten meeting, or counting by 5’s with Jack Hartmann only seconds before signing on to WebEx to facilitate synchronous learning experience for my undergraduate students (only to be interrupted minutes later with a question regarding the whereabouts of a beloved Mufasa toy), I am so grateful for those three sessions of Ding Dong School each week when I know I can focus on my work and that my daughter and mother are having a meaningful interaction that is beneficial to them both. With great expectation, my daughter frequently asks if it is “a BB Ding Dong school day” when she wakes up in the morning. I find myself asking and hoping for the same thing. Thank you, BB, and all the grandparents out there who, as a surprise to no one, may end up saving us all.
If you’d like to see an episode of the original Ding Dong School, check it out here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – ALICE DAVIDSON
Alice Davidson holds a Ph.D. in human development and family studies (HDFS) from Pennsylvania State University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rhodes College. Dr. Davidson teaches various courses in child and adolescent development, introduction to psychology and research methods and statistics.
Alice is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. She studies relationships and conflict in childhood.