When your parent group reaches out to the generation whose grandchildren are at your school, you’re tapping into a wealth of benefits. Many grandparents are retired, so they have more hours available for volunteering than parents do. They also like nothing better than spending their time and sharing their knowledge with their grandchildren.
Grandparents can play a key role in any parent group that values their wisdom and time, says Dawn Davies, president of the Utah PTA and a grandmother of nine. They give children that extra-special cared-for feeling, encourage them in their education, and give them the confidence needed to succeed. “Children see grandparents differently than parents. Mom and Dad make the rules and discipline them, while grandparents are fun and enjoy their grandkids,” she says.
Here are some ideas for how your group can engage this valuable population of potential volunteers.
Invite Them to Class
Many schools find success with annual events that allow grandparents to visit the classroom. These events can be a first step to getting grandparents more involved at school.
The Mary E. Bryant Elementary PTA in Tampa, Fla., holds Grandparents Read to Me Day each January close to Martin Luther King Day. More than 150 grandparents participated in January 2015, says event chairwoman Tracey Pettit. The hospitality committee serves breakfast to each of the guests before they read aloud for 15 minutes in their grandchild’s classroom. The grandparents choose a book the PTA has available or bring their own.
“Grandparents always express gratitude for the meal and for this opportunity,” Pettit says. “We have a closed campus, so relatives can’t drop in anytime to have lunch with their student, which makes this event unique.”
Scheduling the classroom visits is a challenge, Pettit says. “One grandparent may have three grandchildren in the school, so I try to schedule them back-to-back. We also have to work around what the teacher has planned.”
The PTA notifies parents about Grandparents Read to Me Day two weeks before Christmas break. Some grandparents fly in from out of state and need time to make their travel plans, Pettit says. Although the PTA asks for RSVPs before the holiday, about 20 percent of attendees apply after her deadline. She doesn’t turn away anyone.
The annual Grandparents Day at Ardmore Elementary in Villa Park, Ill., centers on celebrating grandparents. After breakfast, they attend non-academic classes with their grandchildren like music and PE. One year, an 86-year-old grandmother participated in a kickball game with her grandchild’s class, according to PTA copresident Michele Storck. Another classroom played grandparent bingo; activities done with grandparents replaced the numbers on the bingo cards. A volunteer photographer in each classroom snapped pictures of pairs and trios of grandparents and grandchildren. Copies of the photo were made for both generations.
Ardmore’s Grandparents Day is held close to the Columbus Day holiday in October, in part because grandparents come from as far away as California and New York and want to stay with their families for a few days.
Because of the large scale of the event, the PTA begins planning in spring, Storck says. This past October, 560 grandparents attended. Event organizers strongly encouraged guests to preregister to save time the morning of the event, which most did. Everyone received a name tag with their grandchild’s classroom number and the teacher’s name. This helped PTA volunteers get everyone to the right destination.
Come Right Out and Ask
Whenever your parent group has an event planned, make sure to state on your outdoor marquee that grandparents are invited—and they don’t have to have relatives at the school, Davies suggests. “In Utah, we had one lady who didn’t have grandchildren in this school but still read with the students there for 30 years,” she says.
It also helps to ask grandparents directly whether they can volunteer. After Georgia grandmother Glenda Earwood-Smith retired, she wanted
to make a difference in her little corner of the world. She now serves as vice president of the Sonny Carter Elementary PTO in Macon, Ga., and is raising her 7-year-old grandson, Caleb, who goes to school there. She actively works to recruit other grandparents as volunteers.
“I didn’t plan to watch TV or play golf five days a week, and the easiest place to get involved was at Caleb’s school,” she says. “I wanted to make his school better.”
Because grandparents often pick up their grandchildren after school, Earwood-Smith talks with drivers at student pickup and tells them what’s going on at school. She invites them to attend events and asks whether they can help out.
“We also have a retirement community down the block where many of the residents are retired teachers,” she says. “Asking them to volunteer is a win-win all around. These former teachers like spending time with the students, the kids love the interaction with seniors, and the teachers appreciate the help.”
Another way to reach grandparents is to tell parents that they’re wanted. Post a message on your group’s Facebook page or an article in your newsletter to let parents know you’d love for their parents to participate.
Include Other Elders
Since many students don’t have grandparents or their grandparents live too far away to attend events, it’s important to allow substitute elders to fill that role.
At Grandparents Day at Ardmore Elementary, uncles, aunts, or godparents are invited if the grandparents can’t come. Parents, however, are asked not to come. This is a special day that grandparents and other family members look forward to every year.
And elders don’t have to be limited to actual relatives. Fostering a generational connection is so important to the PTO at Keene’s Crossing Elementary in Windermere, Fla., that it reached out to a foster grandparent program to pair up children who don’t have grandparents nearby with elders eager to step in as substitutes. Other schools have teamed up with foster grandparent programs through Senior Corps. To find out whether Senior Corps offers a foster grandparent program in your area, call the Corporation for National and Community Service office in your state or visit the Corporation for National and Community Service website.
5 More Grandparent Activity Ideas
Gravy With Grandparents: Around National Grandparents Day in September, the Hallsville (Mo.) Primary and Intermediate schools celebrate grandparents and their grandchildren with a biscuits-and-gravy breakfast sponsored by the PTO.
K.I.S.S. (Kids Invite Someone Special) Lunch: In Castle Rock, Colo., the Clear Sky Elementary PTO holds a breakfast for grandparents, parents, and other relatives near Valentine’s Day.
Doughnuts With Dads and Granddads, Mornings With Moms and Grandmas: The PTO sponsors each of these events once a year at Monroe Elementary in Boiling Springs, Pa.
Grandparents Club: The Heritage Elementary PTA in Madison, Ala., offers Grandparents Club membership for free. With a donation of $15 or more, a grandparent gets a club T-shirt. The application includes a list of volunteer opportunities.
Growing Up With Grandparents: At this evening event organized by the Keene’s Crossing Elementary PTO in Windermere, Fla., students and grandparents completed activities together based on the movie Up.