Would you please give my husband and me some advice about entertaining and educating our two young grandsons (ages 10 and 7)? They will be flying to us next month and will be here at least two weeks -- maybe more, maybe less.
We are familiar to them, but only see them about once a year, so we will need a little time to get reacquainted. I truly want their visit to be happy and fulfilling.
We know that they are both interested in arts and crafts and I hope to find someone at a local swimming pool who is capable and willing to give them at least basic swimming instructions.
We are their dad's parents but it's been a long time since we've been around little boys and we have mostly forgotten what our son liked to do at that age.
We just don't want them to be lonesome, homesick or bored.
The boys are bound to get a little unhappy at times -- as children do anywhere -- and they'll get homesick, too, even though they may not tell you. It will help if you have already put their parents' picture in their room before they arrive and help them unpack quickly when they get there.
They also should feel more comfortable if you take them on a few long walks around the neighborhood the first day or two, so they'll know their way around, and if you introduce them to some other children, so they can be included in the pick-up games that blossom at those ages.
All of this will help them feel at home and so will the assignment of a few regular duties, but give them on the first day so they won't feel so at home that they'll complain.
You'll also want to do some spoiling at first, with an outrageously sumptuous supper at a fast-food place or at a make-your-own ice cream sundae parlor. Grandparents have some perks.
Getting acquainted is quicker if you flip through old photograph albums together, so they can see and hear about their dad when he was 7 and 10 and find out some of the silly things he did -- and to look at your own childhood pictures and hear what it was like when you were young.
Although children can be quite reticent at this age, such reminiscences will invite them to tell you what they do at home (and what they wish they could do). They even may tell you what they want to do when they grow up -- not what label they think they want to live by, but how they'd like to spend their time.
This will help you refine your plans so you can build on their interests.
Your idea for swimming lessons is great, for children yearn for competence in the middle years and swimming is one of the best: it's fun, it gives them another kind of self-protection and it soothes the savage soul.
But that's just part of the world of wonders you can offer.
When caring grandparents can spend time with grandchildren, on their own turf, they have the chance to open up horizons that will never shrink again. Culture shocks are at the heart of this expansion.
Give them a list of adventures drawn from the many museums and battlefields and events in your area, then let your grandsons choose a different one each day. Since they won't have time to see everything, they may want to crowd their schedule, which is a bad idea. Children would much rather have a single goal and the chance to explore it fully.
Nor does everything have to be educational or exciting. Boys are delighted to spend an hour (and all their spare money) at a surplus store, which stocks so many items they can add to their beloved collections.
Ideally, you'll schedule any trip in the morning, when everyone's fresh, occasionally followed by a surprise lunch that is a culture shock in itself -- egg rolls, tacos, curry -- and then the pool in the afternoon, with time afterwards to fool around. Children need to assimilate what they've learned, just like you.
The late afternoon is a good time to play with any art supplies you've gathered for them -- newsprint pads; oil crayons, watercolors and colored chalk; pipe cleaners, glitter and stickers; paste, clay and, if you can stand it, Silly Putty.
These shouldn't be their only interests. Many children say they like arts and crafts because no one has opened the doors of science to them.
You can tease this interest by letting them write a short letter home on newsprint, dipping an empty pen in invisible ink (otherwise known as lemon juice). This means that their parents will have to press the letter over a glowing light bulb to read it.
Or give them two new Addison-Wesley paperbacks: Scienceworks from the Ontario Science Centre ($7.95), from which they can learn how to collect fingerprints, or Naturewatch by Adrienne Katz ($7.95), which will let them discover how flowers drink (among other things).
Just being around the boys will remind you of all the things children like to do and that you and your husband can do so well, like cooking, fishing, gardening, star-gazing and reading aloud from that wonderful favorite for boys, Treasure Island, a chapter every night.
* Those boys are in for a great time -- and so are you.
bybio Questions may be sent to Family Almanac, P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.