Grandparents' Day. Lots of schools do this now. Grandparents and any older special friends in lieu of Grandparents come to school for an afternoon. At our school we serve a lunch, the older folks get speechified, they come into the classrooms for a while, then we come together as a whole school and sing a few songs to round out the day.
I admit that while we are gearing up for it, Grandparents’ Day feels a little like a chore. Especially this year. We lost a lot of time with the flooding in South Carolina. We were out of school for an entire week. The following week we had a two-hour delay. The week after that, a one-hour delay. It’s not like I count the minutes of instructional time – but that was a lot of missed school.
During those weeks of late starts, I nixed recess. I figured that the kids could have a lot of extra time to recreate before school started. When we saw other classes out on the playground on our way to lunch, there was a lot of, “MR. O’KEEFE! Why do they get to have recess and we don’t?”
“Because we only have a 5 hour school day. Think of all of your recess at home.”
“But why do THEY get to have recess?”
“Hmmm. Their teacher is a lot nicer than yours?”
So Grandparents’ Day was approaching. Last year we asked the grands to talk to us about race relations when they were young. Ours is a beautifully integrated school and the grandparents could share personal insights we could only read about in books. We had been thinking a lot about Civil Rights and who better to inform us than folks who had lived through segregation/integration? It was as wonderful as I could have imagined. Some grandparents got teary as they recalled the struggles, the triumphs, the personal changes in attitude. It was magic. They were slow to begin their stories, but once they got started, there was a flood of responses.
Once again, the grandparents would come into our room for about an hour. It doesn’t seem like a lot of time to fill, but I had put off thinking about it until just a couple days before. I asked the kids about it. “Maybe we could sing some of our best songs.” Check. This is a wonderful class of singers.
“How about we tell about the food drive and all of the math we do?” Check again. My class is so generous. Kids are buying food with their allowance, doing chores to exchange for food for the food drive, talking their parents and grandparents into making donations, spending their birthday money. We are charting the number of food items, the number of servings, the weight, the number of total calories. Good stuff.
At sort of the last minute, I suggested that we ask the grandparents to share their advice with us. Given their experiences and life lessons, what kinds of advice could they share with young ones about how to be happy, healthy, successful people? It seemed rather bland to the kids, but I thought there could be a lot of payback from that little question.
When the grandparents came in I invited them to consider the question. There were pencils and papers on each table. While we sang our songs and presented what we were currently working on in the classroom, I urged them to take a few moments to jot down their guidance, encouragement and wisdom.
The last song we sang before turning it over to them is a little known tune by John Denver called “60 Second Song for a Bank”. It was the perfect set up.
Oh I love the changing seasons
Green and growing all around
Smiling faces laughing children
Making such a joyful sound
In my dreams I see tomorrow
Time and children of my own
Someone who will stand beside me
Helping me to make ourselves a home
If your eyes can see tomorrow
Though it might seem far away
If you have some dreams to build on
May we help you today
The sharing began slowly. Then, as we passed the microphone around, more and more elders shared their bits of wisdom, their personal philosophies. It was wonderful. There were tear filled eyes, nods of agreement, a few “Amens” as the grands filled us up with words to live by…
Be kind to the poor... Never tease others… Use humor to diffuse an embarrassing situation. Learn to laugh along with others if you do something embarrassing... Be all that you can be... Don’t be afraid of challenges. Always strive to do your best...
If you say that you can’t– you have already defeated yourself... Continue to keep a song in your heart. Remember all that you are learning and the way you are learning. Your kindness to others is a tribute to your teachers and your parents.
Believe in yourself then do your very best. Be a good friend then you will have good friends. Enjoy learning. Love books! Always give thanks... Be kind to each other always. Eat your vegetables.
Never stop learning even when you are old... Make sure that you will be happy and proud of what you said and did... Exercise regularly. Get enough rest. You must endeavor to persevere. Learn something every day... Remember life’s lessons as well as the “facts”.
Your teachers, parents and elders really have your best interests in mind, no matter how you might disagree... Never speak badly about someone...
Learn to write well and write a lot. Learn a useful foreign language... Be aware of current events. Enjoy being outside...
Greet those you meet with a smile. Be respectful to those around you. Help your family with. daily chores... If you see someone who is sad, go give them a hug. Then ask if they want to talk about what is making them sad...
When the day is over go and rest. Give 110%. Only be satisfied if you have given your best... I advise my grandchildren to be obedient to the teacher... Always make time to play while you are young and carefree...
Give generously. Love diversity! Love one another. Cherish family and friends.
When the grandparents and older special friends left our classroom, going to find a seat in the Great Room (our little auditorium at the center of our school) to wait for the finale – the whole school singing a couple of our favorite songs – there was a lot of hand shaking and patting me on the back. So many of the grandparents were proud of the work their young relatives were doing and many said complimentary things about my teaching and me. I found a few notes left on my table thanking me anonymously for the fine work we do at the Center for Inquiry. But for me it was a humbling moment.
That afternoon wasn’t about me. I was not even looking forward to it, honestly. I was thinking it was one of those little hoops to jump through to get successfully to the end of the week. It was the Grandparents who made the difference. It sort of made me sad to think that having them in is a “special occasion” when they have so much casual wisdom to share. I only hope that those words of wisdom had half the effect on my students that it had on me.