Helping your grandchildren learn
Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 11:55
The vital role of childcaring grandparents
How children learn
O to 5
School age children
More helpful information
“I look after two of my grandchildren during the week. One goes to nursery and the other is just about to go to school for the first time. I would really likes tips about how children learn and what I could do to help them with their education”.
The vital role of childcaring grandparents
By supporting your grandchild's learning and development at home, you can have a real impact on how well they succeed at school and beyond. Because you are providing childcare for your grandchildren whilst their parents work or study, you are in an ideal position to help them communicate, learn and thrive. Just by being with your grandchild – talking, listening and having fun – is a valuable learning experience.
How children learn
O to 5
The quickest development of your grandchild's brain takes place between their birth and the age of two. A child continues to learn and develop rapidly during the important early years of their life. By building a few simple learning games into your grandchild's daily routines and helping them investigate their environment, you can give them the best possible start to their education.
You help your baby and toddler grandchildren to learn by giving them opportunities to:
- look at interesting things, in the garden or in the home
- touch a variety of objects
- listen to a range of sounds like songs, rhymes, stories, music
- taste a range of flavours
- investigate things that open, close, float, sink, twist, turn
- explore objects like large boxes, things that make noises and things that move
- play for uninterrupted periods, alone or with others, with help from adults, and in their own way
- talk to other children and adults
Talking and listening
Children learn language by interacting with other people. Grandparents can play an important part in supporting the development of speech and language skills and for many children are the first adult outside the family home with whom they can practice their speech and language.
There is a wide variation in the rate at which children develop communication (including speech and language). Some children develop quickly while others may take a little more time. Often, children who are slow to develop these skills initially soon catch up with other children. But, for some children, developing communication can be a very difficult process and they may need extra help to develop their speech, language and communication skills.
Developing communication is a gradual process. Children begin to understand words before they can say them. They then learn how to say these words and how to put them together to make sentences. Children will learn a whole range of different sounds and use these and all their other skills to communicate with others.
Just by chatting away to your grandchild and encouraging them to join in, you are showing the value of talking and listening. Everyday activities such as preparing meals, tidying up, putting shopping away and getting ready to go out, offer you the chance to talk to your grandchild, explaining what you are doing. They hear the way language is put together into sentences for a purpose.
Research shows that reading is the single most important thing you can do to help your grandchild's education. It's best to read little and often, so try to put aside some time for it every day.
Everywhere you go with your grandchild you have a chance to read together. Whether it's on the bus, in shops or at the post office, you can point out the words around you and that's the beginning of reading. Reading stories with your grandchild, even if for just 10 minutes a day, will help to build important skills, as well as capture your child's interest in books.
Learning about numbers and shapes
Counting things and noticing shapes come naturally to children, so you can use your grandchild's interest in these activities to help with maths. Maths skills can be developed through stories, songs, games and imaginative play. Once again everyday tasks offer learning opportunities - such as telling time or measuring ingredients for cooking which gives children the chance to learn new maths skills.
Learning through play
Play is one of the main ways in which children learn. It helps to build self worth by giving a child a sense of his or her own abilities and to feel good about themselves. Because it’s fun, children often become very absorbed in what they are doing. In turn, this helps them develop the ability to concentrate. Providing your grandchildren with a range of playthings will help them learn in a number of ways:
- Sand and water play can be an early introduction to science and maths, eg learning that water is fluid, not solid, and that it can be measured in different sized containers.
- Playing with dough, drawing and painting pictures, dressing up, playing with dolls can encourage creativity, imagination and expression of feelings.
- Building blocks, jigsaws and shape sorters can help with recognising different shapes and sizes, putting things in order and developing logical thought.
- Playing ball games, dancing, running, climbing all help to develop body movement, strength, flexibility and co-ordination.
- Games help with turn taking, sharing and mixing with others.
- Singing, playing simple music instruments help to develop rhythm, listening and hearing.
School age children
The first article in our education series is full of information on schools, the national curriculum and the tests and exams your school age children will take. We advise you to read this article first before looking at the following top tips on becoming involved with their learning, both at school and when you are looking after them.
Top tips on helping school age grandchildren learn
- Do not try to be a teacher – just be a loving grandparent who is interested in and likes being with their grandchildren. Have fun and learn together.
- Ask your grandchildren’s parents for any information the school sends out about events and the work the children are doing. Letters to families include you, especially if you’re sharing the caring.
- If you drop off or collect your grandchildren from school, take the chance to talk to their teachers and ask to have a look around. Your grandchildren will be proud to show you their classroom and school.
- If you can go to assemblies, courses and workshops, you’ll get to know what’s going on and keep up to date.
- Visit the school’s website if it has one – they’re often very informative.
- Try to help the school if you can – listening to readers is a favourite. You might offer to share your experiences or skills such as cooking or gardening with the children too.
- Try to support your grandchildren’s learning whenever and however you can. Going on a school trip with them can be a great experience and it helps the teachers at the same time.
- Talk to other grandparents you know – you might find that there are special courses or workshops you can all do together to find out more about how children learn and how you can be an even greater support to them.
School holidays don’t have to mean that your grandchild puts their learning on hold while they’re away from the classroom. In fact, educational days out can be the most fun way to learn - plus it gives you the chance to explore new places and subjects with your grandchildren, and spend quality time together.
The keys to successful days out are:
- To plan them in advance – go online and check out the attraction’s website (including the teachers’ notes if they’re available) to find out when it opens and closes, if there is an admission price and what is on offer for children.
- To have activities planned come rain or shine. Make sure that there are things to do at the attraction, whatever the weather.
- Not to overload the day. An outing to an art gallery, for example, can be far more educational and enjoyable if you focus on just one artist or on paintings which have a particular theme.
Why not read our article on holiday childcare and activities for more ideas?
Doing a project together
One way of getting involved with your grandchild’s learning is to work on a specific project or topic. Primary school children often learn through project work, and at secondary school, children do coursework which involves projects.
A project might be an ideal way to fill the school holidays. Here are some ideas from other families that you might want to try with your grandchild, depending on their age:
- growing plants such as runner beans or sunflowers and making simple notes and measurements
- preparing for a family holiday by finding out more about the area finding out more about your local area, perhaps on the history of the area
- researching your family tree
- talking about life when you were young and comparing it with nowadays
- finding out more about a sport your grandchild is interested in.
You and your grandchild probably have other ideas of your own – the Internet is also a good place to get ideas for projects.
There is some excellent learning aids available which are designed to help parents, grandparents, carers and families of school-aged children to actively engage in their child’s learning at home. The government, for instance, has produced three free kits – one for each age group – as well as a set of resources for practitioners and intermediaries. We have included the link for you to download the kits.
1. ‘Working together’ – learning pack for families of children aged 5 to 10
This pack offers a range of games and activities to help you engage with learning in the early school years. It includes:
- a children’s folded-paper ‘chatterbox’ game to make - designed to prompt questions and activities
- a card game with questions to ask your grandchild about school and what they are learning
- a bookmark to colour in and keep
- a handy wallchart and stickers to help you record and reward your grandchild's learning progress, month by month
- top tips for parents, grandparents and carers
Download 'Working together' (PDF, 2227K)
2. ‘Getting into homework’ – folder pack for families of children aged 8 to 13
This folder offers a range of top tips and advice on how to help children with their homework. To help you keep up to date with what your grandchild is learning, there is also information on the National Curriculum and key stages.
The folder pack is designed to be a complete guide to helping children of this age learn at home.
Download 'Getting into homework' (PDF, 877K)
3. ‘Coaching your teenager’ – a booklet to help families of teenagers aged 14 to 19
It can sometimes seem more difficult to get involved with a teenager’s learning. This booklet is designed to make it easier. It provides:
- coaching tips and advice to help them get the most out of school or college
- suggestions for ‘conversation starters’
- advice on how to gain the confidence to get involved, and information on where you can find out more
Taking an active interest in your teenage grandchild’s work is just as important as doing so when they are younger. Parents, carers and grandparents who work as a team with their teenager can help them stay positive and on track to make the most of their future.
Download 'Coaching your teenager' (PDF, 2848K)
More helpful information
For up to date information and advice for parents and carers looking for childcare contact Daycare Trust: www.daycaretrust.org.uk/parentinformation
For information on what childcare is available in your area, contact your local Family Information Service. Your local authority will have details.
Families in the Foundation years website: information for all families in England with children under the age of 5 produced by a number of key voluntary organisations on behalf of the Department for Eduation.
This article has benefited from excellent information from a number of sources including:
The BBC has an excellent site on education etc
Family Lives. This charity has a section on development and learning
Directgov has a comprehensive section on learning and development
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