The personal connection between an elder and a child—who, during this long, seemingly endless stretch of distance learning is also likely to be struggling with feelings of isolation—has helped enormously, according to the Eldera co-founder Dana Griffin. “We found we were giving kids something they needed even more than curriculum,” she told me. “They needed one-on-one adult attention, which they weren’t getting from teachers, and [sometimes] not from parents either.” During sessions with their mentors, she said, “they get to be interesting to someone. You’d be surprised how much kids have the need to be interesting to someone.”
If what schools are lacking now is direct, focused attention for each child, we grandparents might be just the folks to offer it; we know all about cherishing. And even those of us who are still working, such as my husband and me, have more time on our hands than most parents of children do; there’s no need for us to feed, entertain, educate, or bathe anyone but ourselves.
So use us.
This could work in several ways. Anyone who has spent any time on Zoom, for instance, knows that small groups are better than big ones; faces on the “gallery view” screen are easier to see when fewer people are present, and children are more likely to pipe up and be heard when fewer voices are competing for attention. That’s where grandparents could come in. Imagine a second-grade teacher trying to keep control of a remote classroom of 28 little kids. How much easier the teacher’s life would be, and how much more rewarding the lesson would be for those 7-year-olds, if the teacher could make use of four grandparents from among those 28 families, for even one hour. The class could be divided into smaller groups, each one headed by a grandma or grandpa who could review the lesson and make sure that all the children in their group understood it. The children would spend some of that time talking enthusiastically among themselves too, and they would probably enjoy the chance to meet and chat with a brand new grown-up.
We grandparents could also help in other ways. Outside of the classroom, we could donate our (relatively free) time to help schools and parents manage the complicated logistics of pandemic education. I would be happy, if asked, to assist with a phone tree or email chain to arrange learning pods or microschools for the days when kids are scheduled to be at home—or, when the inevitable happens, to help alert parents when someone at school tests positive for COVID-19. What’s more, in this fragile economy, with so many parents facing pay cuts, job furloughs, or layoffs, the “fixed income” of retirement can start to look pretty good, and I bet a lot of grandparents would be willing to share. If there were an easy mechanism to do so, I would be delighted to pitch in to buy air filters or box fans to improve the ventilation in my granddaughter’s elementary school.