Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
Well, we all know it’s coming, that wonderful season of fun and adventure with grandchildren that may also be punctuated with complaints of “I’m bored”, “There’s nothing to do”, and “Please, oh please, just let me ___________!!!” (fill in the blank)
As grandparents assist with their grandchildren’s childcare during the summer months, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to come up with new weekly ideas to keep kids of all ages busy while also wanting to continue discipling them.
So, I’d like to put your minds at ease and let you know that you probably have many things to offer your precious grandsons and granddaughters that don’t require special purchases, tickets to expensive events, or frequent competitions with digital devices in order to have quality time with your grandchildren.
One of the advantages of experiencing a lot of life before screens started taking over our lives is that you and I can remember many fun games we played as children that were not only fun but provided the exercise that is so important for growing minds and bodies.
Like me, you also learned to be creative with things around the house or purchase very inexpensive items that provided hours of fun during the long summer months. So, you probably have a long list of fun ideas for play. It is just a matter of remembering that list and putting it into action!
These ideas work whether you are responsible for providing regular childcare for grandchildren or just hanging out with them occasionally during the summer.
What’s more is that by exposing children to the truth of God’s creation while playing and interacting with them, you can accomplish discipleship through your personal stories and wisdom you have gathered from the Bible over the years.
In Part 1 of this article, I’ll share summer ideas for playing with and discipling grandchildren from infant to 9 years of age.
Infants – 3-Year-Olds
From the moment you hold an infant, you begin to plant seeds for healthy play and discipleship through your soft touch and calm voice. The 1, 2, or 3-year-old who trusts a grandparent learned to trust during infancy.
The first three years of life are all about discovering the world, so play that focuses on exposing small children to a variety of tastes, textures, smells, sights, and sounds can be very exciting for them. As they begin to walk and toddle about, they love to show what they are learning, so let them take you by the hand and take you for little tours of their world.
They also love to be exposed to things outside of their homes via books with colorful drawings and pages that are thick enough for them to turn.
Remember that a walk around the backyard or trying out equipment on a small playground will often feel to a small child much the same way that an adventurous vacation to another state or country would feel to you.
As children begin to talk and are able to converse back and forth with you, you can begin to teach them simple prayers that thank God for family members, a home, food, rain, sunshine, and green grass.
Although there is a tendency to want to do lots of fun things with little ones, remember that they tire easily and can quickly become overwhelmed in crowds or if there is too much sensory stimulation around them. It is usually best for young children to be in small groups of people and to keep play simple with just a few choices of toys at a time.
Their skin is also more prone to burning in the summer sun, so take care to keep them out of the sun for long periods of time.
4 – 6-Year-Olds
Kids in this group are learning to master more skills on their own, with less help needed from adults than when they were younger.
They build confidence as they learn to ride on scooters and bicycles. Remember an important part of the learning process is allowing them to fall off occasionally and then get right back up. Since kids outgrow scooters and bicycles quickly, there are usually many for sale at a very low price that have been gently used. As a grandparent, you can ride a bike alongside your grandchild to help him or her learn to ride.
You can also help grandchildren develop the balance that is needed to master riding a bike by setting up obstacle courses using things from around your house- boxes, ropes, chairs, etc. You can even make homemade balance beams that are just 6 inches or so off the ground from pieces of wood or bricks piled several inches high.
This is also the age when a lot of kids enjoy making crafts with the added benefit of helping develop their fine motor skills. Again, household items such as paper, cotton balls, strings, beads, buttons, scissors, and ribbons can be used to help them carefully glue things to paper, tie different types of knots, string beads, and cut and weave ribbons.
While interacting with 4-6-year-olds at play, you can talk about how God made their bodies with eyes, ears, bones, muscles, and more to be able to accomplish the new skills they have learned.
7 – 9-Year-Olds
This age group loves to be creative. They love to use their imaginations to make up stories, act them out, and also to create works of art.
Charades is a fun game to play with kids this age and many love the challenge of figuring out the best way to make use of items they find around the house.
Will they make a poster, pretend wallpaper, or a sign for the front door out of posterboard and markers? Will those cardboard boxes you are ready to throw away be made into a car, a tunnel system, or a tree house for their stuffed animals?
This is also a very curious age so grandsons and granddaughters that are 7-9 years old may enjoy doing science experiments with you, many of which can be found free online.
Also, if your grandchildren have not learned to swim by the age of 7, it might be a good time to encourage their parents to get them into some swimming lessons. Swimming is a skill that all kids should learn so they know how to be safe around the water. This will give them the freedom to participate in swim parties and other events that take place in the water.
Most YMCAs offer free memberships for grandparents who are 65 or older and on Medicare through the Silver Sneakers program. If you are already a member or sign up, you may be allowed to take your grandchildren swimming with you for free. Swimming is another great way for kids to get exercise during the summer while staying cool and learning to control their breathing.
Whether being a part of a 7-9-year-old’s creative pursuits, science experiments, or swimming, there is ample opportunity for you to talk about how God created their brains to think and problem solve. You can share how science has been used to show the truth of the Bible and how God designed our bodies to be able to adapt to life on land, in the air, and in the water.
Editor’s Note: In Part 2 of this article, we continue with great ideas for 10-18+. Read it here!