It may be difficult to pry children away from their screens these days, even to visit grandma or grandpa. Kids growing up with video games and social media at their fingertips 24/7 may feel the “real world” is more fictitious than what they can access online.
One senior woman asked a teenage acquaintance how her family had fared during a recent emergency when the skies filled with smoke from wildfires. The girl replied, “I really didn’t notice; I hardly ever go outside.”
This is disheartening news for many seniors who remember spending entire days outdoors in their youth, riding bicycles, playing hopscotch and jumping rope, making up games with friends, and generally enjoying being young and free, with few responsibilities.
However, there are lots of tried-and-true ways to make new memories with grandchildren when they visit. Here are 10 fun ways for families and caregivers to tempt kids from their devices, and foster cross-generational connection:
- Art Projects. Most children love getting their hands in clay, and creating pottery masterpieces as gifts for their parents to display at home. Kensington Place partners with Creative Journal Expressive Arts & Visioning® to offer residents a plethora of right-brain art forms, including clay, mask-making, drawing, collage, and movement to music.
These expressive arts methods have been scientifically proven to help people access their emotions and intuition — and they work as well for kids as for their grandparents. Imagine making masks with your grandchild — they might even be able to wear one on Halloween! What fun.
- Board Games. Unless their parents have hauled out a time-tested board game such as Monopoly or Candy Land on a rainy day, your grandchild may be unfamiliar with how much fun board games can be. But everything takes on a different perspective when grandpa or grandma introduces it to a child, especially if the game is accompanied by a story.
Do you have a favorite board game you haven’t played in years? Winter’s coming. This is a terrific opportunity to pull it from the closet and teach your grandchild to play. You might couch it this way: sure, your friends know how to do everything electronically. But if the power goes out, this is a game you can play by candlelight. And because you’ll have the jump on your friends, they’ll look to you to learn.
- Sing Along. They can watch a video of any performer they like on YouTube, true. But that’s passive. Does your grandchild like to pretend he or she is on stage, playing air guitar or keyboards like their music idol? Why not have them teach you a favorite tune, or teach them one from your youth? You might even curate a cross-generational playlist and “perform” for their parents, or for other Kensington Place residents.
- Read Out Loud. This is a great activity young children can enjoy with a grandparent who has memory loss. By reading a favorite book aloud, a child improves their reading comprehension and enhances their enjoyment of books, and their senior loved one gets to reminisce and feel as if they’re contributing to helping their grandchild learn to read — which they are.
In fact, if you begin with the classics from Dr. Seuss, for example, both grandparent and grandchild will have fond memories, the senior from reading these books as a child, and the child from learning grandma once loved the very same books.
- Food Prep. If your senior loved one used to be a wonderful cook, you can still enjoy this activity, scaled down to a more manageable level. Making chocolate chip cookies might mean the youngster does much of the preparation under another adult’s supervision, while Gram recalls all the times she baked these cookies for her own children as they were growing up.
- Baby Books. Everybody loves to hear about when they were a baby. It’s even more fun to hear what mom or dad was like at the same age. A senior with mild memory loss is likely to recall a lot about when her children were small, which will delight the grandchildren — and accuracy is a matter of interpretation. That’s the nature of memory: no two people remember the past in quite the same way.
- Card Games. Make it simple for both grandparent and grandchild. For example, to teach very young children the different suits of cards, take a game such as Hearts and reimagine it more basically: have your grandchild pull all the “hearts” cards out of the deck. If they are old enough to know their numbers, have them arrange the heart cards in numerical order from lowest to highest. It will give them a sense of accomplishment, as well as a glimpse into a hobby you enjoy.
- Back Rub. Touch is vital for seniors and kids. Children love having someone “write” on their back with a finger, trying to guess what you’ve written or drawn. Touch is soothing and bonding, and will heighten the closeness between grandchild and grandparent. Don’t be surprised if on the next visit, your grandchild asks, “Grandma, can I have a back rub?”
- Play with An Animal. Animals are pure love. They teach empathy, are always thrilled to see us, and create a special bond with their human companions. At The Kensington, we encourage our residents to bring their beloved pets when they move in. Playing with an animal is a wonderful way for a child to learn how to care for another, and to experience joy. And pets are a boon for people with dementia, helping to relieve anxiety and depression, and trigger happy memories.
- Go outside. Kensington Place has beautiful gardens, and simply being outside may be a novelty for kids who are typically glued to their devices. Enjoy a walk, and if your grandchild is interested in plants or birds, ask them to identify what they see.
With these ideas in mind, you can be sure your grandchildren will be asking their parents, “When are we going to visit grandma (or grandpa) again?”