by Eleanor Berman
When planning outings with grandchildren, it's not the "where" but the "how" that matters most says intergenerational researcher Susan V. Bosak. How much attention can the children devote to any one activity? How interested are they in it? And how will this day with the grandparents be special?
Preschoolers are long on energy and short on concentration. And, like most of us, they don't function well when they're hungry or tired. Here's how Marilyn DuBois, 63, a grandmother of eight, all under age 8, handles this challenge. "I keep the outings short and simple," says DuBois, of Vienna, Virginia. "A walk through the neighborhood to look at leaves or flowers or a trip to a playground that's different from the one near their home is a treat for little ones. And I like to take the children one at a time whenever I can. You're not as likely to have the same kinds of conversations when siblings are along."
By the time the grandkids are 4 or 5, you can turn a walk into a game, looking for shapes in the clouds, watching for blue cars or orange leaves, or seeing how many dogs you can count in the park. This age group also loves adventures, so consider drawing a treasure map for them to follow to a mystery destination, like an ice-cream parlor.
Ages 6 to 10
By now children have developed their own interests, and they like to be given choices.
Many school-age children are into collecting, so the perfect excursion might be walking along the shore gathering unusual pebbles, visiting a store that sells baseball cards, or scouring a flea market for rare Beanie Babies -- with a specified amount of money to spend.
If you still live in or near the neighborhood your own children grew up in, take the grandkids there. Children like seeing where their parents were kids. Be prepared to relate a few stories about their mom or dad's youthful antics. Learning about the more distant past can also be fun, so check into nearby possibilities such as working grist mills, displays of clothing children wore long ago, or steam train rides.
Make it a tradition to return to certain events and activities. "Having simple rituals gives kids something to look forward to," says Bosak, author of How to Build the Grandma Connection. For example, some grandparents take their grandkids to the circus whenever it comes to town.
Ages 11 to 14
Preteens and young teens want to feel grown up, so let them help make plans. Factory tours to see how motorcycles or guitars are put together are often hits, as are visits to the campus of a nearby university. Night activities are especially appealing, Bosak says, so consider stargazing or a night baseball game.
Share your own interests with them. If you play tennis or golf, introduce them to the sport. If you sew, cook, or enjoy carpentry, work on a project together.
Often what kids this age relish most is doing what they can't do with their parents, as Charlotte K. Frank has discovered. A 60-something Manhattan grandmother of 10, ages 3 to 17, Frank says that everyone has a favorite eating adventure. For example, for an older granddaughter, the perfect day includes dressing up for a fancy lunch in the Plaza Hotel. And Frank stays flexible. "When kids get to the stage where an outing with just the grandparents isn't 'cool' anymore," she says, "I suggest they invite a friend." And remember that any day with a grandchild should have some built-in time to talk and share.
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