Written by
Roberta Sandler for GRAND Magazine

Grandparents have unique opportunities to help kids develop lifelong learning skills.

Reading well is at the heart of all learning, and according to the U.S. Department of Education, children who can\’t read well, can\’t learn.

As a grandparent, you may think of yourself as a role model, mentor, nurturer, babysitter, and provider of love, hugs and kisses. But did you ever think of yourself as someone who can boost your grandchild\’s reading power? You can!

You can encourage your grandchild\’s enjoyment of reading and help him or her to develop good reading skills, and you can do it in pleasurable ways that will benefit both of you.

“Reading together develops closeness between grandparents and their grandkids because it\’s a shared experience,” says Diane Early, an affiliate of the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. “It gives them something in common to talk about, and it often involves physical contact such as snuggling and lap-sitting.”

Children especially benefit from interactive reading-discussing what is being read, and being asked by the grandparent to predict what will happen and who their favorite character is. Early says that this helps kids improve their comprehension skills and shows them that important adults in their lives value and enjoy reading. “I would discourage grandparents from taking the role of directly instructing kids in reading,” Early cautions. “Parents and teachers are probably best equipped for that.”

Many activities can promote a grandchild\’s interest in reading. These include playing board games, taking grandchildren to the supermarket and asking them to read labels, cooking with grandchildren and asking them to read ingredients, and of course, everyday conversation.

“Children with large vocabularies have an easier time learning to read, so just talking to grandchildren and taking an interest in what they have to say will help reading skills,” says Early.

Stacie Ramey, a Wellington, Florida, speech language pathologist and president of Love 2 Read, a book club for kids, suggests that grandparents clip funny comic strips like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, and give them to grandchildren to read. Comic books work, too. Cartoon clippings have the added advantage of being easy to slip inside a letter.

Natalie Chimento, director of educational development for Huntington Learning Centers, headquartered in Oradell, New Jersey, believes that a gift card for book stores is an excellent gift for grandparents to give, not only because grandkids will be buying books to read, but because it encourages the grandchild to write a thank you note.

On Saturday mornings in Concord, Massachusetts (once home to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman) toddlers and their dads and granddads sit on the floor in the children\’s section during Story Hour at the public library, and they read and sing aloud together. “There\’s no question that this enhances the bond between grandparent and grandchild,” says Melissa Saalfield, a library board member.

Christine Crosby, a grandmother and great-grandmother, has been a successful entrepreneur, book and magazine publisher, and child/family advocate for 30 years. At 61, she is the perfect example of why the traditional grandparent images no longer apply. A dynamic, blond, high-energy entrepreneur, Christine is a passionate and articulate advocate for children who has worked for more than 20 years to strengthen families and protect abused kids, first as a book publisher and later as the founder and publisher of a chain of family magazines. Her own grandchildren and great-grandchild were the inspiration for GRAND Magazine, an unprecedented resource for today's grandparents.