Whether you're celebrating National Grandparents Day or running a Grandparents Day event at another time of the year, getting started by encouraging participation is the first step. It's a first step that can lead to many other, bigger steps: increasing overall family and community involvement, building a volunteer base, encouraging greater understanding across generations, building closer bonds between generations, affirming the value of children and older adults, making use of the strengths of both young and old, and mobilizing all generations to deal with some very real societal challenges.
Grandparents Day events take place throughout the world. Here's a description from a school in India:
Songs, dances, drama, poetry, games, antakshari and meditation sessions accompanied by refreshments ensured an exciting and wholesome rendezvous for the elderly at the Grandparents Day celebrations. Witness to several heartwarming scenes where students of classes proudly walked hand-in-hand with their grandparents, the much talked-about generation gap and loneliness of neglected elderly folk seemed fictitious for a while. "If we are jewels, you are the deep sea from which we originated", "experience never retires", "we owe you in more ways than one" and the like were some oft-repeated comments which effected a twinkle in the eyes of many a wrinkled face.
Whether in India, England, Canada, or America, the common foundation for a Grandparents Day event is making those very human connections across generations – and having fun!
This comprehensive planning and activity guide has been developed from over a decade of research and work with schools and community groups. It contains information and ideas you can adapt to your particular situation. Your event can be simple and informal, perhaps over a couple of hours or a half-day. Or, your event can be more elaborate and formal, over an entire day. It all depends on the time and resources you have available. Just taking the step and holding the event is the important thing.
Much of the information that follows is from schools and community groups across the US and Canada. We also conducted many indepth interviews, and want to extend our thanks in particular to: Westtown School (Westtown, PA); Seeley Lake Elementary (Seeley Lake, MT); Woolwich Central School (Woolwich, ME); Prospect Sierra School (El Cerrito, CA); Southdale Elementary School (Cedar Falls, IA); Christ the King School (Kansas City, MO); Valley View Middle School (Archbald, PA); Holy Trinity School (Westmont, IL); Green Meadow Waldorf School (Chestnut Ridge, NY); St. Christopher's Elementary School (Willow Glen, CA); Sequoyah School (Pasadena, CA); Germantown Academy Lower School (Germantown, PA); Forsyth Country Day School (Lewisville, NC); Thomas Jefferson Middle School (Jefferson City, MO); Greater Plains Elementary School (Oneonta, NY); Guilford Lakes Elementary School (Guilford, CT); CAC High School (North Little Rock, AR); East Pikeland Elementary School (Phoenixville, PA); Crestview Elementary (Toronto, Canada); and Toronto Intergenerational Partnerships (Toronto, Canada).
The one-page Planning Overview is a general guide to the items you should consider as you're planning a Grandparents Day event. Use the Planning Overview with the more detailed information and explanations that follow.
A key piece of advice echoed again and again during our interviews with schools: start planning earlier than you think you should! Things always take longer than you anticipate. Planning well ahead gives you maximum time to let people know about the event and ensure a good turnout. If you can, choose a model and a coordinator before the school year begins.
Pick A Model
Develop your own model for your Grandparents Day event based on these dimensions: event date; name of day; format; participation; frequency; expenses. If you're just starting out, choose a simpler, informal model. You can get more elaborate as you go along.
Each year, National Grandparents Day falls on the first Sunday after Labor Day in September. Some schools plan their Grandparents Day event for the Friday before or the Monday after this official date. But, because it's right at the beginning of most school years, it may not be convenient or possible for you. Any time is really a good time for a Grandparents Day event.
You can run it in the first couple of months of the school year as a way to launch topics that will be covered during the rest of the year. It also gives you a chance to get to know students' families. Or, you can run it toward the end of the school year as something you lead up to. By the end of the year, teachers know children and their families better.
Running the event when the weather is warmer (i.e. Fall, Spring) makes it easier for more grandparents to attend. If you're located in a colder climate and run the event in the winter months, it can be difficult for grandparents to make it through bad weather. Also note that some grandparents may go away for the winter. In either case, a winter date may mean a lower turnout.
Some schools associate a Grandparents Day with another holiday like Thanksgiving or Mother's Day (i.e. they hold the Grandparents Day event the day before school lets out for the holiday). They feel they get a better turnout because families are already planning to come together. They can also tie activities and the assembly to the holiday. My caution is that this may dilute your event's message. I think grandparents deserve a day that is special and distinct, not a tag-on to another holiday.
In general, an event toward the end of the week
(i.e. Thursday or Friday) is something to look forward to throughout the week and falls at a time when everyone is already winding down.
Name of the Day
The name "Grandparents Day" is simple and straightforward. However, it may leave certain people out. Some children don't have grandparents or grandparents who can attend the event. It also connotes a biological tie, which will leave out other older adults who may have a close tie with children.
My personal suggestion is "Grandparents & Grandfriends Day." Using "grand" makes the tie to age; the value of relationships across generations is a key theme you want to celebrate and accentuate. The name brings honor back to the whole idea of "grand"-parenting at a time when some individuals worry that being called "grandma" or "grandpa" sounds "old." If parenting doesn't have negative connotations, then why does "grandparenting?" The word "grandfriends" builds on the theme of someone older and special and – well – just grand! If children don't have a grandparent, encourage them to invite an older friend, relative, or neighbor. Or approach a local seniors group to come to the event as "grandfriends."
Other suggestions for an event name: Grandparents & Grandpals Day; Grandparents & Special Friends Day; Grandparents & Special Persons Day; Grandparents & Very Important Persons Day; Grand Day; Intergenerational Day; Generations Day.
Whatever name you choose, it should be self-explanatory (you usually don't have a lot of room on a school calendar to explain what the event is all about). Also keep in mind that names tend to stick. So choose your name carefully and build "brand recognition" as the years go by.
Your event can run over a couple of informal hours, a more structured half-day, or an entire day. Structured half-day events – a morning or afternoon – tend to be most common. They're obviously easier to plan and manage than a full day. Also, many grandparents may find an entire day too much. Grandparents say they prefer a daytime event to an evening event.
One school that did an entire day started with grandparent registration at 8:30 am. After they registered, grandparents could go to the gym for refreshments and to look at exhibits of students' work set up on tables in the corner. A grandparent-only assembly started at 9:00 am. Grandparents heard from school administrators and saw a video about the school. Then there was a question-and-answer session. After a coffee break, there were presentations from students from pre-K to grade 12. Children played music, sang songs, did recitations, put on skits, and even invited a few lucky grandparents to dance with them! Grandparents could then choose to leave or stay for the afternoon. Most grandparents stayed. Students went to have their regular lunch, while grandparents enjoyed a buffet lunch in the gym (there wasn't enough room in the gym for grandparents and grandchildren to eat together; in future years, if the weather is nice, the school is considering having everyone eat together outside). After lunch, grandchildren could take their grandparents on a tour of the school and then to their classroom. Teachers had activities planned that students and their grandparents could do together, and students also had a chance to explain some of their schoolwork. The day wrapped up at 3:00 pm.
At the other extreme, an event can simply run over a couple of hours. It can consist of an informal open house during which grandparents can arrive and leave when they wish. Grandparents can wander the halls and classrooms, guided by their grandchildren. Schools which run this type of event usually have some light refreshments available (e.g. coffee/tea, cookies).
A structured half-day event strikes a nice balance between the two extremes. It gives you an opportunity to make the event meaningful without being overwhelming. There are several ways you can plan a half-day event. You can start or end with food; the food can be light refreshments or a meal. Starting with a general assembly usually helps to orient grandparents; it's also easier to round everyone up at the start rather than the end.
Many schools prefer an afternoon event because students, who will be excited and tired, can leave at the end of the event. At one school, grandparents arrive at 1:00 pm. After they register, grandparents are directed to the gym by volunteer escorts. Grandparents sit at tables with their grandchildren. At 1:30 pm, there's a general assembly with performances by each class in the school. Children without grandparents return to class and treats are sent to the classrooms. Children with grandparents have a tea party together with cookies and cakes. The event wraps up at 3:00 pm.
One thing you should keep in mind is that grandparents consistently report that they most enjoy spending time in their grandchild's classroom. So, try to make that a big part of the half-day. For example, at another school grandparents also arrive at 1:00 pm. There's an opening ceremony in the gym at 1:30 pm. Teachers and other staff are introduced, there's a welcome from the principal, a couple of student representatives speak on behalf of all the students, and then students sing a couple of songs. One year the teachers and students got grandparents to try the Funky Chicken Dance! After the general assembly, grandparents go to their grandchild's classroom. The Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) supplies cookies and punch in the classrooms. Teachers have children and grandparents do activities together. The day ends at about 3:00 pm. Children with a special note from their parents can leave with their grandparents.
An example of a morning event is provided by a school with a strong student involvement component. The student council decorates the gym the day before the event with Spring colors on the tables – paper plates, balloons, napkins, and silk flowers. Grandparents arrive at 9:00 am and they get a small gift at the registration table. Grandparents are escorted to the gym to meet and find a table with their grandchild. The student council then serves everyone breakfast – scrambled eggs, ham, danish, coffee, tea, and juice. After breakfast, grandchildren take their grandparents on a school tour. There are classroom displays of students' work. As the tour is going on, the gym is set up for a recital. The recital starts at about 10:30 am. All students participate in the performance. The event ends at noon and students resume their normal day.
At another school, grandparents arrive for lunch at
11:00 am. If it's a nice day, there's a barbeque outside with hot dogs and watermelon. If not, grandparents can get lunch from the school's regular hot lunch program. At noon, grandparents accompany their grandchildren back to their classrooms. Each class does a variety of activities – some the grandparents and grandchildren do together, while others involve children showing grandparents their projects or other things they've learned or done in class. Grandparents leave at about 2:00 pm and students finish their school day.
Grandparents Day events can include children from pre-K all the way to grade 12. Most schools focus on K-6, but even teenagers enjoy having grandparents come to their school. One option for high school students is to offer choice: students who are interested sign up to bring in their grandparents. You can do a buffet breakfast, and then have students take their grandparents on a guided tour of the school with some exhibits and demonstrations.
Your event can involve your entire school, a specific selection of grades, one grade, or one class. Involving the whole school is great for school spirit, allows everyone to share in the fun, and creates an "Event" with a capital "E." It allows you to reach more families. Many grandparents look forward to it each year and it becomes a school tradition. But, it's a lot of work. Grandparents with several grandchildren in the school may feel pulled in several different directions. And, depending on your school size, there may be too many people. If you have the time and resources, and plan it well, go for it! If not, try something smaller and simpler.
A specific selection of grades, or all the classes from a single grade, is more manageable. If you're worried about getting too many people all at once, split grandparents over different time periods (e.g. grades 2-3 in the morning and then grades 4-5 in the afternoon OR do different grades on different days during a Grandparents Week).
At one school, Grandparents Day is reserved for grade 5 students. Grade 5 has become a grade that children look forward to, almost a rite of passage – they can "hardly wait." This approach doesn't give grandparents the year-to-year continuity of visiting the school though.
If you can't get your school's commitment to run an event, start with a single class. One teacher with a lot of initiative proudly told me how she had seen a successful Grandparents Day event in another school, but couldn't convince the principal in her school or the other teachers. So she tried an event for her class only. It was a huge success. The principal received many calls and letters from pleased grandparents and parents afterward. So, now the event is being instituted in several grades.
Parents often ask if they can attend a Grandparents Day event. Based on my experience, I think the answer should be no. Parents can be part of the planning process. They're obviously involved in helping to choose who will be invited. Welcome them as volunteers and helpers. But grandparents should be the stars of the day. From a purely practical standpoint, you may get too many people if parents also come to the event.
Try to involve grandparents near and far. Some long-distance grandparents plan their vacations so they can come in for a Grandparents Day event (doesn't that tell you something about how important these events can be?). For grandparents who can't attend in person, invite them to send a special letter their grandchild opens during the event. Also view the event as an opportunity to involve older adults in your local community. Some children won't have a grandparent. Invite a local seniors group to come to the event and act as "grandfriends." The first time you extend an invitation to a seniors group, you'll have to put some work into explaining what the event is and offer reassurance. Individuals will want to know what they need to do and what to expect. But some long-term relationships may well develop. The first year one school invited local seniors, the seniors were quite hesitant. After they came the first year and had a great time, they were calling the school to ask when the next event would be!
For a truly successful event, teachers, school administrators, parents, grandparents, and students should all participate in the planning leading up to the event. Teachers should be given the freedom to choose the activities that take place in their classroom. Some teachers may see the day as an interruption or disruption to students' learning. Help them understand why the event is so important and its bigger implications. School administrators and parents can provide the volunteer time needed to organize the event. Grandparents can provide suggestions and feedback, and be invited to come prepared with stories, memories, and keepsakes. And students should help with invitations, signs, decorations, exhibits, and demonstrations. Then everyone "owns" the event.
An annual Grandparents Day event creates continuity. It's something everyone looks forward to. It affirms the importance of grandparents to children, the school, and the community. It supports closer bonds between young and old. It enables schools to build a closer link with the community.
Once schools develop a model that works for them, annual planning becomes streamlined and much easier. But, if it's still too much for your school, you can run an event every second year. Some schools really want to do a school-wide event involving all grades, which is a lot of work, but are only willing to put in that work every two years. Whether it's every year or every two years, the important thing is to DO IT.
If you do run an annual event, follow the basic model that works for you, but vary the program from year to year to keep it fresh. Also, give grandparents flexibility. For example, if they did a school tour last year and don't want to do one this year, have another option available during that time slot (e.g. looking at exhibits in the gym).
A simple event can have very low expenses. Many schools cover the minimal expenses incurred. Sometimes the Parent Teacher Association/Organization covers expenses. You can also choose to do some fundraising during the event (e.g. a book fair), which will cover expenses and make the school some additional money.
The largest expense is usually food. One way around this expense is to get parents to donate food by bringing in baking or supplying bag lunches for the grandparent and grandchild. Sometimes grandparents are charged a nominal amount ($2-$4) for lunch.
Other expenses can include: mailing costs (if you're mailing invitations or thank you notes directly to grandparents); invitations; nametags; handouts for grandparents; a small gift or take-home kit for grandparents.
Planning a successful event means covering off all the details – choosing a coordinator and committee; developing a mailing list; sending out invitations; collecting RSVPs and compiling a list of attendees; developing a program for the day (combine an assembly with classroom activities and perhaps a school tour); arranging for food; arranging for decorations and displays; planning a fundraising component; building in a volunteer outreach component; doing publicity; handling registration; and following up the event.
Coordinator and Committee
The coordinator of a Grandparents Day event is usually a school administrator (e.g. principal) or a parent. Sometimes a teacher will serve as coordinator. At a few schools, I've actually come across grandparents who fulfill this role. Grandparents, who may be retired, can have more time available to act as coordinator. There are grandparents out there who have organizational skills combined with a very strong belief that grandparents should be a part of the school community. The first year you run an event you may have to find someone internally; but keep your ears open during the event for grandparents who might be willing to take a leadership role in the future.
In many schools, the Parent Teacher Association or Organization is responsible for running the event. At one school, coordinating the event is included in the job description of one of the directors of the PTO. So, there's no need to search out someone to do it each year.
Choose a coordinator, along with a model (including your event date), before the school year begins so that you have plenty of time to plan and get the word out.
Once you've chosen a coordinator, get a support committee in place. You can draw on teachers, parents, and even students (e.g. the student council). One school involves the entire community: the committee includes teachers, parents (from the Home and School Association), and individuals from the local Kiwanis Club.
Once you've assembled a group of volunteers, assign each person an area of responsibility: mailing list & invitations; RSVPs; day schedule; assembly; teacher activity ideas; food; decorations & displays; fundraising; volunteer outreach; publicity; registration; and follow-up. Each person should know the exact tasks they need to complete and the deadlines involved.
Some schools consider the mailing list to be one of the most valuable results of the event. They get a database of names they can draw on for support and volunteers. They're able to build a direct relationship with another part of the community (some schools offer evening classes for older adults). They also find it useful to know where grandparents are located and how far they're traveling. Alternatively, you can just send invitations home with students for parents to pass along to grandparents (though this may reduce your turnout rate because the invitations don't get passed on).
If you're compiling a mailing list, send a letter home with students to parents explaining the purpose of the event, what's involved, and the date (you can use the sample letter to parents as a base). You can also request parent volunteers to help plan and run the event. Ask parents to return the names and addresses of grandparents (including stepgrandparents) or grandfriends for their child. Asking parents to supply the names is critical – there may be family politics involved, or a child may not have a grandparent and the parent may have to give some thought to find someone appropriate. Discourage parents from stepping in for the event. As I said earlier, the focus should be on grandparents and connecting children with other older adults. If a child doesn't have grandparents who can attend, suggest a neighbor, family friend, or older aunt/uncle.
You should send the letter home a couple of months in advance of the event. You'll need to build in time to call parents who don't respond to the letter.
There will be children who don't have anyone. In this case, try to find people in the school (e.g. custodian, librarian, food staff, nurse, etc.) who can step in. Or, partner with a local seniors group to match one older adult with one student. One school in a small community ran a letter in the local newspaper inviting older adults in the community to attend the event. People had to call the school to RSVP. A couple of long-term relationships between young and old actually resulted, and the school generated a lot of goodwill in the community with older people who might otherwise never have contact with the school because they didn't have grandchildren. Note that you can ask seniors which grades they'd most like to work with, but be warned that many older adults may be hesitant to work with students in higher grades.
Letting everyone know when your Grandparents Day event is from the beginning of the school year (e.g. in school calendar, newsletters, on website) is important to getting a good turnout. For example, long-distance grandparents can make travel plans. But most schools send out the actual invitations 3-4 weeks in advance of the event. If you send them too far in advance, people tend to forget or put off RSVPing until the last minute (i.e. "Oh, there's plenty of time").
If you have a mailing list, students can make invitations on sheets of paper. Each child needs one invitation for each grandparent/grandfriend. Children can create their own unique invitations, or you can use the invitation template (children can color in the front). When you send the invitation, include an information sheet and an RSVP form. If students don't do a separate invitation, you can personalize the information sheet by putting it on one side of a sheet of paper, folding the sheet in half, and having students decorate the front half of the sheet with the words "You're Invited."
If you haven't compiled a mailing list, send a letter to parents, along with two copies of the information sheet for grandparents/grandfriends, and an RSVP form. The letter to parents explains what the event is all about and who to ask (e.g. grandparents, stepgrandparents, older aunt/uncle, family friend, neighbor). If a grandparent can't attend the event, some schools ask grandparents to write a special letter to the grandchild and either mail it to the school or pass it along through the parent. The grandchild is then presented with the letter on the day of the event and reads it.
The information sheet outlines the event program so that grandparents/grandfriends know what to expect and whether any portions of the program are optional. It should also have directions to the school and parking information.
If you wish, the information sheet can also ask grandparents to come prepared with a keepsake, story, or answer to a question. At one school, grandparents are asked to "hide" a family keepsake in a "memory bag" and pull it out during the classroom time to tell the story behind it. At many schools, grandparents are asked to talk about what school was like when they were young. You can narrow the focus by asking a new question each year: Who was your favorite teacher and why? Who was your best friend? What did you eat for lunch? What was your favorite subject and why? What did you play at recess? Grandparents can think about the question in advance and arrive prepared to answer it. Children are generally surprised at what their grandparents' answers are; they often don't ask grandparents these kinds of questions.
The RSVP form should include spaces for the student names with the corresponding teacher names and room numbers to make it easier to create name tags. With the name of the person attending, it should include a space to indicate the nature of the relationship to the student (i.e. grandparent, other relative, grandfriend). It should also have a space to indicate whether grandparents or grandfriends have any special dietary or physical needs (e.g. wheelchair access, limited ability to walk long distances, etc.). You can choose to ask grandparents and grandfriends to provide their mailing address (if compiling a long-term list with this information is useful to you). Warn people about any charges for food. If lunch, for example, is optional, make sure there's a spot for people to indicate whether or not they wish to participate so that you know how much food you need.
If you aren't using a mailing list, send all information home via students to the parents. Parents usually complete and return the RSVP form and pass on the information sheets to the grandparents/grandfriends. If you've compiled a mailing list, mail the information to grandparents/grandfriends directly from the school. At one school, each student is asked to bring in envelopes and stamps for their invitation packages. Students put together the invitation packages as a Language Arts activity; then teachers collect and mail them.
Taking the time to RSVP is a social skill that's so important, but so infrequently exercised. The good thing about children is that they will often "bug" parents and grandparents persistently if a teacher casually wonders out loud who's coming to a Grandparents Day event.
Knowing how many people are coming allows you to adjust your plans accordingly. If too many people show up and there are delays in registration or for food, your guests will start grumbling. However, some schools run a casual open house, with people coming and going as they please; in this case, RSVPs aren't as important.
Give people plenty of different options to RSVP: filling in and returning a form by mail or via the student; faxing it in; phoning the school; even e-mailing.
As you get closer to the event, you'll inevitably have to start phoning and tracking people down to finalize your list of attendees. Build in enough time! In an attempt to minimize follow-up, one school sent out two invitations – one 3-4 weeks in advance, and the second 10 days ahead of the event.
When you compile your final list, circulate it to teachers so that they know the name of each person coming for each student in their class. It can also be helpful to indicate the nature of the relationship so that teachers can deal with any hurt feelings or other problems that arise during the event.
I strongly recommend trying to ensure that each child has at least one grandparent/grandfriend. This gives a child the one-to-one attention they often crave and makes them feel special. It also encourages a closer bond. As mentioned above, not all students will have grandparents. If the parents can't think of a neighbor, family friend, or older aunt/uncle, try to get people from the school or a local seniors group to act as grandfriends. Another option is to have students share grandparents. If you simply can't find someone for some children, arrange special activities for them with a teacher or have them act as special "school ambassadors" moving from group to group to hand out materials, food, etc.
Some grandparents will have more than one grandchild attending the school. Alert teachers. Give grandparents the freedom to choose how they will spend their time. Some grandparents move from one grandchild's class to another; others like to have all their grandchildren together and visit each classroom as a group; other grandparents split up (i.e. grandma goes with one grandchild, grandpa with another).
Be prepared: some grandparents will just show up without having done an RSVP. Particularly if the weather is good, you'll often get more people coming.
As the RSVPs come in and the event nears, share some intergenerational storybooks with children. Get everyone in a "grandparent/generations" mood. A Little Something is a popular read-aloud both before and during a Grandparents Day event. Dream, told by a wise old star grandparent/mentor figure, is another popular read-loud. Include stories about relationships between nonbiological older adults and children so that hurt feelings on the day of the event are less likely. Hooray for Grandparents' Day! by Nancy L. Carlson tells the story of Arnie, who doesn't have grandparents to come to school on Grandparents Day. But it turns out he has a lot of other special older people in his life who can substitute. Some other stories about grandfriends:I Know a Lady by Charlotte Zolotow; Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco; Sally Arnold by Cheryl Ryan; Miss Tizzy by Libba Moore Gray; and The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser.
Develop a program for your event well in advance. That way, you can circulate it to everyone you invite and to teachers so that they know what's happening. Another copy should also be given to guests when they register on the day of the event.
In general, you want to mix an assembly (bringing everyone together is a nice way to start the event) with time in classrooms, and perhaps a school tour. Read through the examples under Format above to get some ideas.
An assembly can include SHORT welcomes from the principal, a school board official, a teacher or two, and a few words from a couple of students on behalf of all the students. Then there can be performances by students (e.g. singing, skits, dancing, gymnastics, etc.).
Here's a welcome rap performed by students at Southdale Elementary in Cedar Falls, Iowa:
It's Grandparents Day
And we're here to say,
We love our grandparents
In a major way.
So sit right down
And take a seat,
We'll put on a show
That can't be beat!
Some grandparents are skinny.
Some eat a lot.
Some are funny.
Some are not.
Some short, some tall,
Some big, some small.
It doesn't matter,
We love them all.
Grandparents Day is full of fun
For you and me and everyone.
So you'll excuse us if we shout "Hurray!"
Because we're certainly glad you came today!
Students at Southdale also sing this song (to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands"):
Grandparents you are special, yes you are! (clap, clap)
Grandparents you are special, yes you are! (clap, clap)
We love you through and through
And we know you love us too.
Grandparents you are special, yes you are! (clap, clap)
If I could choose a Grandma I'd choose you! (point to their Grandma)
If I could choose a Grandma I'd choose you! (point to their Grandma)
We love you through and through
And we know you love us too.
Grandparents you are special, yes you are! (clap, clap)
If I could choose a Grandpa I'd choose you! (point to their Grandpa)
If I could choose a Grandpa I'd choose you! (point to their Grandpa)
We love you through and through
And we know you love us too.
Grandparents you are special, yes you are! (clap, clap)
Some grandparent involvement during the assembly is usually a big hit. For those who are willing and able, invite grandparents up to try a dance with students. One school did the Funky Chicken Dance; another did a simple dance that involved single backward and forward steps, bowing and curtsies. If you make a request in advance, some grandparents can even come prepared to share a special talent (e.g. piano playing, poetry, a song).
Another idea is to give out Grandparent Awards at the assembly – a certificate for youngest grandparent in attendance; one for the oldest grandparent; one for the grandparent who has traveled the farthest; and one for the grandparent who has the most grandchildren (use the Grandparent Award certificate). This information can be collected as part of the RSVP or during registration. You can also give an award to the Volunteer Grandparent/ Grandfriend of the Year.
The assembly can take place in the school gym or theater (remember to arrange for the audiovisual equipment you need, including a microphone).
If you're concerned about managing too many people at once, consider splitting grandparents into two groups. One half starts with an assembly while the other half has classroom time, and then reverse.
After the assembly, grandchildren can take their grandparents on an informal school tour. You can set up displays in the halls and in the gym. The school tour can include the library, computer room, gym, playground, office, etc.
Grandparents will enjoy the assembly and are often curious about what the school looks like, but they want to spend most of their time in their grandchild's classroom. So, emphasize classroom time in your program.
There are plenty of activities you can do before, during, and after a Grandparents Day event. Circulate the ideas and let teachers choose what they wish to do in their own classrooms. Some teachers feel a Grandparents Day is disruptive. If you get them involved from the start, they're more likely to understand its value.
Classroom time can consist of activities grandparents and grandchildren do together. Grandparents can also look at their grandchild's work, their grandchild can read them a story, or the grandchild can run a demonstration on the computer. For the high school level, students can go to their regular classes and grandparents can choose the classes they want to sit in on. Make sure you have enough chairs in each classroom (bring in folding chairs to supplement), but don't crowd the room with too many chairs (grandparents can sit on chairs while students sit on the floor).
To encourage and support intergenerational bonds, one idea is to supply grandparents with a fun "homework" sheet. It can include some activities that grandparents can do with their grandchildren when they get home. At the bottom of the "homework" sheet, recommend the Legacy Project website www.legacyproject.org as a source for more ideas, along with recommendations for books they can read with their grandchildren.
Again, some grandparents will have more than one grandchild attending the school. Give them the freedom to choose how they will spend their time (as discussed above). Also, if grandparents came last year and don't want to take part in a school tour, for example, have another option available to them during that time period (e.g. displays in the halls and gym).
As part of your planning process, do a walk-through and look at the school through the eyes of an older visitor. Design your program so that not too much walking is involved, stair climbing is minimal, and ensure that washrooms are clearly marked.
Plan to have lots of escorts available to help traffic flow through the school. Escorts can be parent volunteers or students from higher grades. They should wear big, bright badges so that grandparents know who to ask for help if they're lost.
It's also a nice idea to arrange for parent volunteers or older students to take photographs during the event. Have several cameras in action! Photographs are a wonderful keepsake and can be added to your school website. Some schools offer "grandparent/grandchild portraits" for a nominal charge or a donation. You can send a print of the photos with a thank you note later. Assign older student reporters to do "on the street" interviews with grandparents and collect quotes. This information can be included in a report on the event.
Many schools prefer an afternoon event because students, who will be excited and tired, can leave at the end of the event. Or, if it's a morning event, some schools end the school day at noon. If a parent signs a special release form, children can go home with grandparents at the end of the event. Or, if it's a morning event with school continued in the afternoon, grandparents might be allowed to take grandchildren out for lunch and bring them back for afternoon classes.
Even if your plan is "perfect," expect problems. They are inevitable. Some children will get rambunctious. Some grandparents may get grumpy, frustrated, or even bored. Problems will pop up that you don't anticipate. But I guarantee that, in the end, the positives of your event will far outweigh any negatives.
Let's be honest: you're never too old or too young for food. EVERYONE loves food! You can start or end your Grandparents Day event with food. The food can be light refreshments or a meal. Whatever form it takes, some food is a good idea.
Food can be served in the cafeteria, gym, staff lounge, or outside if the weather is nice. It very much depends on the facilities you have available.
If you're just offering light refreshments, they can be made available in individual classrooms (e.g. cookies and juice) or in the gym (e.g. a table set up with coffee, tea, juice, cookies, cakes, muffins, etc.). Often parents will help out by donating baking.
Some schools involve students in preparing refreshments. For example, as a cooking project, one class made blueberry muffins to serve their grandparents. Another class made bagel faces with raisin eyes, red licorice mouths, and pretzel sticks for hair.
If you're doing a meal, it's usually a lunch, although some schools do a breakfast or brunch. If your school already has a hot lunch program, grandparents can share in it. Or you can arrange for hot food at tables in the gym or in the staff lounge. Parent volunteers can help supply this food. Some schools charge grandparents a nominal amount ($2-$4) for lunch. If you can't handle everyone at once, have two or three different lunch periods. Whatever you do, serve food efficiently so that grandparents don't have to wait too long in line.
If you're doing a meal for everyone at tables in the gym or outdoors, have teachers or parent volunteers on hand to help supervise children. They can get overexcited and some grandparents may feel overwhelmed.
To make things easier, grandparents and grandchildren can munch on bag lunches in individual classrooms. At some schools, parents supply bag lunches for both grandparent and child. You can also get bag or box lunches catered (again charging grandparents a nominal amount) – sandwich, fruit, potato chips, cookies, and juice.
Some schools feed grandparents separately from grandchildren. But it's my experience that half the fun is grandparents and grandchildren eating together. If you have to make a choice, go for simple and together rather than fancy and apart.
Make sure you allow for any dietary restrictions noted in RSVPs.
Have plenty of supplies like cups, plates, and napkins on hand. If you're doing a full meal, you'll need a set-up crew, servers, and a clean-up crew.
Decorations & Displays
Make your school festive with decorations, artwork and other displays in the halls, classrooms, and gym. Having displays available also gives grandparents something to do if they're waiting, or if they choose not to take part in a portion of the program.
Displays of student schoolwork are important because grandparents are interested in what their grandchildren are doing and learning. Children also love showing and explaining their work to grandparents.
Grandparents enjoy creative artwork. At one school, each grandchild drew a portrait of their grandparent. Portraits were hung in the halls and grandparents had to find their portrait (make sure children's names are prominently visible on the portraits so that grandparents can easily see the names).
You can also give grandparents an opportunity to get to know their grandchildren's inner thoughts a little better. One school read Dream with all the students. The story is told by a wise old star, who can be seen as a grandparent figure. Then students made Dream Stars with their dream for themselves or the world. Dream Stars filled the walls in the halls, and students were proud to show their grandparents their Dream Star.
Decorations can also include things like balloons and streamers in the gym. Get students involved in making big "Welcome" signs and banners at all entrances. They can make colorful signs marking various areas of the school, especially the washrooms. The assembly area should be clearly marked, and you may want to make big, colorful room number signs so that classrooms are easier for grandparents to find.
If you're decorating tables for a meal, children can make placemats, flowers, or other decorations that grandparents can take home as keepsakes. Make sure you arrange for volunteers to help with set-up and
At one school that's been running a Grandparents Day event for the last ten years, teachers and students make a "Memory Scrapbook" each year. Photos and stories from the event are collected into a binder. Binders from previous years are displayed at every event. Grandparents and grandchildren enjoy looking through the binders, and they become an important historical document for the school.
A school full of grandparents is an opportunity! BUT make any fundraising component an optional part of the program so that grandparents can choose to participate or leave.
Your fundraising component can be informal. For example, some schools sell A Little Something and Dream. As part of the Legacy Project's Connect Your Community initiative, quantity discounts are available on both books (call 1-800-772-7765 for more information). One of the goals of your Grandparents Day event can be to encourage and support intergenerational relationships. Grandparents will appreciate ideas and resources you suggest. A Little Something is an ideal gift book and How to Build the Grandma Connection offers grandparents practical ideas for building a closer relationship with their grandchildren, including a complete list of great storybooks they can share. Grandparents will be particularly interested in A Little Something if you use the story as part of your program. For sales, you can set up a table in a corner with signs. A teacher or volunteer parent should be available to answer questions and handle purchases.
For a more formal fundraiser, you can contact one of the many companies that do school book fairs. Grandparents will often purchase books for themselves and for grandchildren. You can also approach local businesses to do a craft or services fair.
One school approached local businesses to donate prizes for a raffle. Grandparents were asked to donate a small amount for tickets. Door prizes were then given out during the assembly.
At another school, a professional was hired to video record the Grandparents Day event. DVDs were then sold to interested families. A DVD makes a nice keepsake for the school archives, and for parents and grandparents.
You want to get to know grandparents and build community involvement in your school. You need grandparents – and they need to know that. Asking for grandparents' ongoing involvement in your school benefits the entire community, including their grandchildren.
Share information from the Across Generations guides with teachers and administrators. Then talk about your school's needs. Based on these needs, create job descriptions for the various types of volunteers. Circulate this information to grandparents through a flyer they receive as they register for the Grandparents Day event, with a thank you note after the event, or as a separate mailing after the event using the mailing list you've compiled for the event. On the event evaluation forms you hand out, make sure you have a spot where grandparents can check off whether they would like more information about volunteering.
During the Grandparents Day event, set up an attractive display about the volunteer opportunities available in your school. Include lots of photographs to bring the display alive. Highlight benefits – to the grandparents themselves, to their grandchildren, and to the community in general. Have forms that interested individuals can fill out immediately, and follow them up promptly after the event.
If you reach out to a local seniors group as a source of "grandfriends" for students without grandparents, use their participation in the Grandparents Day event as a stepping stone to encourage a long-term relationship with the school. Make older adults feel welcome and needed.
Another way to involve grandparents and other older adults in your school is to start a Grandparent/
Grandfriend Organization (GO). It can be a source of support for the school as well as an opportunity for intergenerational activities – there can be outings for young and old to theater or sports events, regular card games, craft sessions, or any number of other activities. The most important caution here is to encourage the GO to carve out its own identity and purpose (i.e. the school shouldn't run it).
You can also institute an annual Volunteer Grandparent/
Grandfriend of the Year Award. The award recipient can be chosen by teachers and/or students. The award recognizes an older adult who has made a significant contribution volunteering in the school. The award can be given out at your Grandparents Day event during the general assembly. Aside from being a way to honor a special individual, it gives you a reason to bring up volunteering during the Grandparents Day event.
Organizing a Grandparents Day event is an intergenerational initiative you can be proud of. You've put in a lot of hard work to make it a success, and the entire community should know about the event and celebrate with you. Grandparents also deserve to feel like stars for a day.
Let people know about the event as soon as possible and as often as possible. Highlight it in your school calendar, in newsletters, and on your website. Devote a special section of your school website to the event – promoting it beforehand and reporting on it afterward. Send special flyers home about the event (students can participate by coloring them). Students can even create posters to put up in local stores (you can usually get permission quite easily).
Two weeks before the event, invite local school board officials and politicians. Include a personally signed letter from the school principal outlining some of the reasons why the event is important to the school and the community.
One week before the event, send a news release out to local TV, radio, and newspapers. You might be surprised at how much media coverage you get (additional tip: mention free food). Local cable television, in particular, often likes the "warm, fuzzy" images they can capture. If possible, follow up the news release two days before your event with a phone call gently reminding the media about the event.
The big day has finally arrived! Everyone in the school is excited. Grandparents are excited too – and perhaps a bit anxious. Remember that grandparents' first impressions are the most important impressions.
The first challenge they'll face is parking (you should include parking information in the letter you send out with the invitations). Put up a number of big signs indicating where people should park. Do what you can to make ample parking available. Ask staff to carpool or park farther away from the school so that more parking space is available near the school. Another idea is to have parents drop grandparents off at the school (e.g. parents can pick up grandparents, or grandparents can park at the parent's house). Keep an area clear in front of the school, at the entrance, so that older adults with physical limitations can be dropped off before a car is parked. Note that if you're inviting older adults from a local seniors group, you may need to arrange transportation for them.
The first thing grandparents should see as they approach the school are big, colorful signs welcoming them. The next thing they should see are signs directing them to the registration table. Most schools find that grandparents come early – sometimes an hour to two hours early! Make sure your registration table is set up early.
The registration table should be set up efficiently so that grandparents stay in a good mood. Long lines can be frustrating and tiring. Volunteers at the registration table should check off an individual's name from the list of attendees and give each person a kit. Some ideas for what to include in the kit: