The Grandparent Effect on Reading

Image by Richard Duijnstee from Pixabay

Grandparents are magic. Fact.

Whereas your children might be fighting with each other at your house, they go their grandparents and act like little angels. Whilst they might argue at the dinner table with you, eating at the grandparents is a relaxed affair. Even though they will refuse or cry about having to read to you, they’ll pick up a book voluntarily to read to their grandparents.

What is this strange phenomenon?

It’s time. Plenty of time.

Those retired oldies don’t have the stress of managing the cleanliness, education, nutrition, mental-health, physical exercise and everything else you have to manage for your children.

Grandma and Granddad have been there and done that. Now they’re retired: relaxed, chilled, taking it easy.

So, when you’re trying to listen to your unwilling child read painstakingly slowly, whilst cooking a guilty but fast, non-nutritious meal and simultaneously trying to remember what important appointment you needed to make and for which one of your children… Grandma and Granddad are pottering around their immaculate home looking for something to do.

You arrive at their picture postcard bungalow early Saturday morning with your PJs on under your outer coat, your wet freezing hair piled on top of your head, hoping desperately it looks like a trendy “scruffy-bun” dragging three half-dressed, sleepy, crying children along with you. The grandparents are already at the door and delighted to see you all. As you leave, the stress and frustration that is part of being a parent and house manager, leaves with you. The door slams shut and the tranquil peace of Grandma and Granddad’s home wraps itself around your children.

Instead of their usual arguing and fighting, the children sit down together and tell their doting grandparents about all the mundane things that interest them. Grandma and Granddad who were bored and frustrated and stressed when you were a child are now relaxed and genuinely interested in what the children have to say. The children pick up on that: there’s no competing for attention because they know their grandparents have time for all of them.

Grandma and Granddad give your children biscuits and juice for breakfast. “Where is the nutrition in that?” you berate them down the phone. “They’ll be off their nuts running around screaming and fighting!” But they’re not. Because they’re at Grandma and Granddad’s. Grandma and Granddad are magic.

After a while Granddad sits in his chair to read the paper. The smallest child sits on his lap so Granddad reads her a story book instead. Middle child comes and listens. Eldest child asks Grandma if he can read to her. “Whaaaat?” you stutter down the phone, “but I can’t get him to read anything, we fight every night, the school’s constantly nagging me.” Grandma didn’t have the boring school reading books. She had some picture books that were written for parents to read to children, not the other way around. If you asked the school, they would tell you the words are far too difficult for such a young child. Grandma doesn’t know this. Eldest child doesn’t know this. Eldest child believes he can read this. It’s his favourite book at Grandma’s that she has read to him a million times before. He knows every detail of every picture. He is able to remember or guess most of the words. Those he doesn’t know Grandma fills in. She doesn’t care about breaking the phonic sounds down. She doesn’t know about graphemes, phonemes and split diagraphs. She’s just enjoying spending time with her grandchild.

Later Granddad shows all the children a new book his neighbour dropped off for them. They all look excitedly at the cover and try to guess what the story might be about. Granddad reads the first page with all the children looking over his shoulder at the words and pictures. The youngest doesn’t quite understand what is going on, so the middle child, patiently and importantly explains it to her. He then guesses what is going to happen next. Granddad reads on and middle child is delighted to find out he was right.

Grandma and Granddad have just used a combination of Pace Reading, Reciprocal Reading, Modelling and Scaffolding. But they didn’t know it. Grandma and Granddad had time. Time to read to the children. Time to let the children read to them. Time to talk with the children. Time for the children to take their time. This is the magic of grandparents. This is the secret: Time.

Schools are catching on to this Grandparent-effect. Recently a 100 year old WWII veteran was awarded a British Empire Medal in recognition of his volunteer work helping young children to read at his local primary school. As he points out – the benefits go both ways. He began to volunteer after his wife passed away and it brought joy back into his life. Sometimes people are short of conversation when visiting elderly relatives in care homes or hospitals, having the grandchild read to them is a pleasurable space filler for all present and then stimulates conversation around the book. There is a charity that asks school children to read to elderly people who don’t have visitors showing that it is both sides who benefit.

So next time you berate yourself because you weren’t patient enough when they refused to read or read really badly to you, cut yourself some slack, and pack them off to their grandparents for a couple of hours. The grandparents and grandchildren will love spending time with each other and you can sit down for ten minutes with a cuppa, knowing everyone is happy and safe, before you return to tackling the one million jobs you assigned yourself this weekend!