It is the Friday before half term and we have opened our school gates to 180 grandparents who, having been revived from their journeys with refreshments, are entertained with a varied concert and then given a tour of the school.
Grandparents Days are becoming an ever-increasing feature of the calendar in many primary schools and some secondaries in the UK and have been popular for the last 10 years or so. This is only our second; but then we are only 2 years old! They take children out of their lessons and incur a huge amount of organisation and effort in every corner of the school. So why do we do it?
I have heard cynics remark that in private schools, the event is held because the grandparents pay the school fees! Oh, ye of little faith! There is such a wealth of learning to be had from these occasions on both sides of the generation gap and this is a prime example of our ultimate goal: to teach above and beyond and provide education with character. With such a mine of advantages to describe, I am not sure where to start, so I shall start on a personal note.
My mother suffers from dementia. She was able to attend my son’s Grandparent Days year after year, but as she has deteriorated mentally, every new experience can cause her distress and anxiety and it has become increasingly difficult to facilitate such outings for her. At the very least it requires a mammoth task of preparation on my part. But my daughter (who to her great misfortune attends the school I teach at) did not want to be left without a grandparent yet again, so I arranged for my mother to attend.
The moment she arrived on site and walked through the corridors, she was struck by the vibrancy of the displays and the feeling of warmth (she worked in a school for 30 years and has dim memories that did not reflect what she was seeing).
Having been astounded by the exemplary behaviour during the concert (school discipline gets a bad press these days), and quite surprised to see her son in law stand up and make a speech (“What does he think he’s doing?” “He’s the Deputy Head, Mum!), she was led proudly away by my daughter on a tour (where she was heard to proclaim on several occasions very loudly, “Oh, I didn’t know they had boys here!”).
This to me is what makes Grandparents Days so special. No, not realising that my mother has forgotten once again what school she is in, but the pride on all the children’s faces. They want to show off their school, their work, their achievements that abound from the walls, even their teachers! It never ceases to amaze me how verbose otherwise shy children become in the presence of their adoring elders. Everything is described in minute detail: no display or reward sticker is left undivulged.
For their part, the grandparents delight in the enthusiasm. Schools in my day were very different to schools today so for many grandparents, this is an overwhelmingly new environment. They learn about education today as well as witnessing another side of their beloved grandchild. Technology proliferates while displays reveal that traditional skills, such as handwriting and mental maths, are still taught but they also impart the depth in which subjects are taught.
The bonding that takes place cannot be understated either. Sharing any experience is a pleasure, creating memories is a must and the fact that both generations are spending time with one another is invaluable. Of course there are other ways to share time, but this is unique with its ultimate benefit of granting an insight into the daily ritual of their grandchild.
Of course, there are those who do not have grandparents who can be there. All children are encouraged to bring any family member or close friend, but if this is not possible, there is always a grandparent willing to adopt another child for the morning and so it becomes a social education on all sides. One of the years that my daughter had no grandparent present, she was delighted to find that she had two teachers playing surrogate relatives: a tale that she still recounts with pride to this day.
It is a day of memories and pleasurable experiences. It is true that two hours after the event, my mother has forgotten what she did this morning, but my daughter will not forget and my mother will be aware that something good happened, although she does not know what. Next year no doubt our gates will open once more to a throng of eager grandparents and we are just as eager to welcome them in – whether they pay the school fees or not!