Guest Post: Dr Jane Williams on Grandparenting Grandchildren

Last Wednesday, the fabulous Meg McKinlay shared why and how she includes that special grandparent-grandchild relationship in her children’s book storylines. 

Today we welcome Dr Jane Williams, co-author with Dr Tessa Grigg of the non-fiction book, Grandparenting Grandchildren: New Knowledge and Know-how for Grandparenting Under 5s as she fills us in on exactly how to establish and maintain that magic. 

Hands up all those grandparents helping to look after grandchildren. Lots of hands in the air I imagine! While it may be occasionally, for a few hours a week, or for longer periods while parents work, there are many grandparents taking on the responsibility of caring for children. I am one myself. 

Having worked with parents, babies and young children my entire adult life, even in (semi) retirement I find myself still very actively involved with young children, but this time they are my own grandchildren. The most popular game at the moment is a scooter race with nana down the steep driveway (that nana rarely wins… I just cannot seem to tuck myself down low anymore to reduce wind friction like my 2 ½ year-old grandson does!)

In my many years of work as Research and Education General Manager at Gymbaroo-Kindyroo I have noticed more and more grandparents, grand uncles and grand aunts taking responsibility for the care of very young, preschool-aged children. A close look at statistics confirms that there are literally millions of grandparents taking on this role, and while doing so, many are taking their role very seriously. 

Knowing what I have done for the past 45 years, many grandparents ask me what they can do with their grandchildren at home, particularly in the years before school when children need more active engagement. Not only has it been a long time since they raised their own children, but there is an awareness that the world is a very different one and much has changed…and they want to do the best job they can.

Believing that grandparents really play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives, I wrote, alongside co-author Tessa Grigg, Grandparenting Grandchildren to help fill the gap of ‘what we knew then’ and ‘what we know now’ about the early years. 

While some things never change (i.e. children need to play outside) other things have changed dramatically (i.e. behaviour management strategies). We now know a lot more about the important opportunities and experiences the youngest members of our families need to experience for optimal development, and we know the kinds of activities that benefit their growing brains and bodies. So, Grandparenting Grandchildren aims to provide a ‘one stop knowledge and activity shop’.  

It includes a brief update about the current research in early childhood; information about the key role active movement plays in the development of the brain and body; what we now know about behaviour and emotional regulation, sleep, and the development of language, speech, literacy and numeracy skills; how to stimulate imagination, curiosity and creativity; what kinds of foods may adversely affect your grandchild and the link between guts and brains, as well as a guide to developmentally appropriate gifts for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers.  

An important part of a child’s development, and an area in which grandparents can really help, is the exposure to the sound of words, after all children, must learn to speak and understand the meaning of at least 2 500 – 3000 words by 5 years of age and over 20 000 words by 6 years of age! While engaging in conversation with your grandchild is very important part of this process, children who are regularly read to in their early years have been found to have an increased vocabulary and are more likely to enjoy reading at school. 

Reading out loud to your grandchild encourages an interest in books and reading and stimulates the development of many cognitive skills that provide the essential building blocks for later learning. Being able to create images of characters or scenes in your ‘mind’s eye’ increases the enjoyment of reading, as well as comprehension, retention of detail and the building of memories. Children need plenty of opportunity and practise to develop this skill of visualisation, and as adults we all do without even thinking about it… until you go to a movie about a favourite book you have read! If the movie producer choses a lead actor that looks nothing like the image you had created in our own mind, it can severely affect your enjoyment of the story!

Grandparenting Grandchildren details a raft of fun activity ideas that can be done at home, using ‘old fashioned’ games, everyday materials and low-cost items, or by utilising a local park or playground. It also includes suggestions for developmentally appropriate books that you can read to your grandchildren. Babies love books with simple images that have bold images. Older babies and toddlers love ‘lift the flap’ and ‘feely’ books that engage them in the story, while your pre-schooler age grandchild loves more detailed pictures that require them to find things on each page.

I hope that grandparents not only find the ideas useful and fun, but they are also reassured that they are helping their grandchildren get off a great start in life. Now back to the scooter… wheee!

Dr Jane Williams has been working with families and young children for over 45 years. She is the Director of ToddlerROO, KindyROO and GymbaROO, and an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the College of Health Sciences at James Cook University, Queensland. She has written hundreds of articles on early childhood development for families, co-authored the brilliant Active Babies Smart Kids (ABSK) 12-part online series for families with a new baby, and provided educational material to help train professionals in early educational settings.

Connect with Dr Jane on LinkedInto discover more.





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August 6, 2021 at 12:33AM DimbutNice