40+ Ways to Build Sticky Faith in Your Grandkids

Tips for Senior Adults

Kara Powell

When I think of the movie Up, balloons come to mind.

I also think of that powerful two minute montage about dating, marriage, and the loss of a spouse in old age (pass a tissue please).

But on a deeper level, I think about the bond between young Russell and Mr. Fredrickson, a senior adult.  A bond which started shallow, but grew to have deep roots. 

One of the interesting themes in our Sticky Faith research and conversations has been grandparents.  As we have spoken at churches, met with families, and talked with leaders, we are struck by:

  • Grandparents’ deep care for their grandkids.
  • Grandparents’ desperate desire to build Sticky Faith in their grandkids, and how complicated this is if their kids have drifted from God.
  • The special tenderness between teenagers and senior adults.
  • The ways senior adults can be wonderful surrogate grandparents to teenagers. 

We decided to ask grandparents who are part of the Fuller community and walking this Sticky Faith journey to share their best ideas to build Sticky Faith in their grandkids.  Whether you and the grandparents you know live close or far away, hopefully these ideas will spur you to think about the powerful difference that senior adults can make in kids.  Like the relationship that developed between Russell and Mr. Fredrickson, any older adult can serve as a grandparent-figure in a kid’s life. So consider sharing these ideas broadly with senior adults you know.

On a personal note, I don’t remember the last writing assignment that has brought me to tears as many times as this article has.  Maybe it’s because my own grandparents were part of the village that raised me.  Perhaps it’s because Dave and I feel so blessed by the way our parents are investing in our three kids’ lives.  Or maybe it’s just because I have a soft spot for connecting kids and senior adults. 

Whatever the reason, we hope these ideas are a catalyst to help you live out the wise words of one grandfather we interviewed:  “The bottom line is TIME—our grandkids just want to spend time with us.”

IDEAS THAT CAN BE DONE ANY DAY, AT ANY TIME

Take a few hours to teach your grandchildren about being “mindful”.  As you eat together, talk about where the food comes from and who was involved with growing and transporting the items.  Take a walk in your neighborhood together, making an effort to be mindful of what you see, hear, and smell.  As you are struck by something beautiful, thank God for it.

Start a summer book club with your grandkids.  Have them keep a list of books that they’ve read (or that someone has read to them) and after they reach a certain goal, reward them with a small prize, activity, or special outing.  Or perhaps you and your grandchild agree to read the same book on your own, then get together to discuss it over a treat.

Invite your grandchildren for individual “sleepovers” at your house.  While they are over, do some of their favorite activities together. 

Pray with your grandkids.  As you pray, thank God for the special qualities he has given them. 

Create a drama of a Bible story with your grandkids.

Have a talent show together.  Adults and children can participate. No act is too small!

Teach your grandchild a new skill or one of your favorite hobbies, e.g. fishing, skiing, bicycling, jewelry making.

Let your grandchild teach you a new skill or share a hobby with you.

Take your grandchildren to a live butterfly exhibit and talk about the wonder of God’s creation, the life cycle of the butterfly, and if possible, let them see one emerge from a chrysalis.

Purchase or create a craft or science project that you can do with your grandchild.

Enter a race and run/swim/ride or walk it with your grandchild.

Talk with your grandchild about a family tradition that you enjoyed with your own grandparents and/or parents, and have passed along to your children. Then continue that tradition with your grandchild.  Examples could include seeing fireworks together or going to a parade, having campfires and roasting marshmallows on the beach, seeing the Nutcracker ballet or making tamales during the Christmas season, or riding bikes to a favorite ice cream place. 

Bring out photo albums and talk about when your grandchild was born, how you prayed for them even before they were born, how excited you were to first hold him or her, and how blessed you feel that they are now part of your family.

Serve together at a local ministry.

Feed folks who are homeless together.

Play games with your grandchildren.

Teach them to sing and enjoy singing with them.  In the car, play a singing game by having each person take a turn humming a tune of a song you all know. The one who guesses gets to hum the next song.

Plant a plant or tree with your grandchild.  Commemorate occasions (whether they be celebrations or challenging times) by planting special trees or plants.  Seeing those plants together in the future gives you a chance to share about God’s presence in the “highs” and “lows” of life.

Watch value-laden films together, ranging from Veggie Tales for younger children to movies geared for adolescents or young adults. Take time afterward to talk about them together.

Cook with your grandchildren.  Play loud music and sing and cook (and sometimes dance) together.

Build something with your grandchildren. 

Share times when you have blown it, or disobeyed what you sensed God was telling you to do.  Let them know how glad you are that Jesus is bigger than any mistakes. 

IDEAS FOR GRANDPARENTS WHO LIVE FAR AWAY

Choose a book series to read with your grandchildren.  Read to them using Skype, or as they get older and the books get longer, read them individually and then discuss the highlights of the book by phone. 

Write letters to your grandkids, telling them how much you love them, what you specifically love about them, and the gifts you see in them.  Tell them how thankful you are that God has made them so special (Psalm 139).

Have breakfast together once a week using Skype or FaceTime.

Start a collection of something with your grandchild, e.g. dolls from other countries, interesting stones, coins, colored glass, etc. and continue adding to the collection when you travel or when you are together.

Text them on an ordinary day and let them know you’re thinking about them.

Pray for your grandkids, and let them know the specific things you are asking God to do or show them.

Send packages! Especially at holidays and birthdays when you are apart, packages with even small inexpensive gifts or treats are really memorable to kids.  If they move away from home for college, be sure to send an occasional package to school with homemade cookies or a gift card to a coffee shop.

Call or send a letter when kids have special events or milestones at school or church.  For instance, while you may not be present for a baptism, calling your grandchild on that special day is still very memorable.  The same can be true of soccer tournaments, school plays, or after a church retreat weekend.

If financially possible, offer to pay for your grandchild to travel to stay with you for a long weekend or more, without siblings or parents.  See the below list for more ideas about what to do together during these times.

IDEAS INVOLVING VACATIONS OR EXTENDED TIME TOGETHER

If possible plan a vacation for a weekend or more to all be together.

On extended family vacations, try to have morning or evening devotions that include questions that all family members can answer.  This way the children hear their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins share on a deeper level. 

Every morning on vacation, choose a particular fruit of the spirit to emphasize that day.  Share together at the end of the day how you saw other family members live out that fruit of the spirit. 

At the age of 12 or 13, take your grandson/granddaughter on a weekend away with the other significant males/females (of the same gender as your grandchild) in your family, e.g. dad, uncles, grandfather/mom, aunts, grandmother. Have a planned activity that you’ll do together (skiing, hiking, going to a Broadway show, camping, etc.). Include time to discuss what it means to be a Christian man/woman.  Give him/her something lasting that will remind him/her of things learned over the weekend and commitments that are made.

Have “Camp Grandparents” with your grandkids either at your house or another destination.  Do things together that they’d do at camp—crafts, sports, singing, cooking, treasure hunts, etc. This could last one day or several days. Or find a camp that hosts weeks for grandparents and grandkids to come together, letting the camp plan the programming and details.

Go on a mission trip with your grandchild, either locally or abroad.  Consider making this a rite of passage experience at a certain age with each grandchild.

If possible, pay for your grandchild to attend a church camp and have them share about it with you afterward. 

HOLIDAY IDEAS

Spend time when you’re together as a family sharing how God has blessed you over the past year and include the grandkids.  Christmas morning after you open gifts is a great window to talk about blessings.

At Christmas time play Secret Santa.  At Thanksgiving everyone in the family who will share Christmas draws a name.  One gift is bought for that person and at the end of the Christmas gift sharing, each person has to guess who the gift is from.

On Christmas Eve, spend a few minutes sharing with each of your grandchildren what you hope for them during this next year.  Share some of your spiritual dreams for this next year, as well as ways you already see God at work in and through them.

At birthdays, have everyone gathered share what they really like (such as a characteristic or personality trait) about the birthday person.  Consider also having each person share something they have done with the birthday person in the last year that was special. 

Serve together at a shelter, food pantry, or gift drive during the Thanksgiving-Christmas season.  Make this part of your family holiday traditions.

For the holidays and birthdays you spend apart from your grandchildren, intentionally take time to pray for them and their families, and let them know you spent part of your holiday doing so. 

Action Points:

  1. If you’re a grandparent, which of these ideas inspires you in your own relationship with your grandkids?  If you’re a parent, which of these ideas might fit your extended family?
  1. If you’re a youth leader, how can you facilitate relationships between teenagers and the senior adults in your church?  Which senior adults could you meet with in the next few months to start brainstorming?
  1. If you’re a senior adult who doesn’t have grandkids, or whose grandkids live far away, which of these ideas could you implement with kids in your church or neighborhood as a grandparent-figure in their lives?

Published Sep 19, 2011
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary. As a youth ministry veteran of over 20 years, she serves as an Advisor to Youth Specialties. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women You Should Know", Kara is the author or co-author of a number of books including Sticky Faith, Essential Leadership, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum.

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