Bonding over books: The benefits of reading with grandparents

Research has shown that grandparents play a vital role in children’s wellbeing. Here’s how to amplify that effect by reading together.

25/02/2020
8 minutes to read

Reading together is crucial for a child’s development, but it can also have huge benefits for grandparents and older people. Here, Tricia Kings explores why reading with children is one of the most important activities you can do, and shows us how to get involved, even if you don’t have grandchildren of your own.

There are so many joys and benefits both for children and for older people being together, reading and sharing stories. A report from the National Institute of Education found that reading aloud to children is the single most important activity leading to their success in, and love of reading, and for older people sharing a book is a wonderful way to bond and create memories with young ones. 

For both there is the pleasure of simply being together, relaxing together – and connecting through a book or a story to build a close and lasting relationship. Reading together inspires you to learn from each other, and to discover more about each other as you share your own stories, thoughts and dreams.

For children, sharing reading with a grandparent will help them to develop key life skills, including social and communication abilities. It builds their language development, and their sense of cultural awareness, and inspires curiosity and imagination. When children learn to look at books, listen to stories, talk about them, think about them and ask questions, they’re preparing themselves for becoming readers – and for tackling some of the demands and questions of life.

Reading together gives an opportunity for more one-to-one attention, and may encourage children to open up about things on their mind. And hearing their grandparents’ stories can intensify the feeling of belonging to a family unit, and their place within it.

There is a sense of achievement too, through giving help to their grandparent, perhaps showing them how to use their Kindle or download an audiobook or simply reading to them when they're no longer able to read to themselves. And children may gain a growing understanding of age, and love and respect for older people. 

For older people, reading with children gives an opportunity to contribute to their development, and with that a sense of fulfilment and feeling useful and wanted. Research by the University of Oxford has found that grandparents play a vital role in children’s well-being, and a recent poll of older people found that most of them choose to spend quality time with their grandchildren by reading to them. They can offer advice and support, and a listening ear for confidences. They get more involved in children’s lives, and may well strengthen relationships with their own children too.

Being with children helps to prevent loneliness, especially through reading and talking together – and, best of all, it brings joy and energy. You can forget your age, keep up to date, learn new things, and enjoy a child’s sense of living in the moment. The Reading Agency partners with secondary schools in the UK to organise intergenerational reading groups, and the benefits to both the children and their reading partners are clear in this story about a reading group in Stirling.

 

Ways of sharing books and reading

  • You can enjoy a book together anywhere and at any time, but it’s lovely too to make special places and times to read together. This could be snuggling one-to-one in an armchair, or in a family group together in a reading den or corner.
  • Make regular trips to your local library and enjoy the choice of books, helpful librarians, and story times and activities.
  • Join in a national reading programme such as the Summer Reading Challenge, which is all about sharing books and reading, or Pyjamarama, a fun initiative to bring to life the importance of bedtime stories,
  • Give books as presents, so that children have plenty of books of their own to enjoy and treasure. Three in ten children have no books of their own, and this has been shown to be a real disadvantage as they learn to read.
  • Have a collection of books in your own home – comics and magazines too – so that there is always something around for children to read.
  • Share your own stories about your life, and the stories which you read and were told as a child – you’ll be passing them on for more generations to enjoy.
  • If you can’t be together with your grandchildren, use the internet to share, through programmes such as Skype and Facetime. Or record yourself reading a story on your phone or a CD to send to them.
  • You could also become a reading volunteer at your local school, through programmes like Beanstalk or Bookmark. Or see if your local library would like help with story times.
  • Young and old can also share in activities when schools and nurseries link up with care homes and other settings for older people, allowing young and old to share activities together. Reading Friends is a Reading Agency programme which tackles loneliness by bringing people together to read, chat and share stories.

Making the most of reading together 

  • For children and adults alike, life can be busy – just making five minutes for reading is good, whenever you can fit it in – sit down, take a breath, relax and enjoy!
  • Go with children’s choices. They will love some of your favourites but they will also want to get you up-to-date with theirs! And be happy to read the same story together over and over again – you’re building their confidence and reading skills.
  • Talk together about the pictures, it’s another way of sharing the story together, especially when a child is still learning to read.
  • When you’re reading the story, or if they’re reading to you, don’t ask too many questions, just go with the flow – but if they interrupt to tell you things they are reminded of, let them take the lead. The story has obviously sparked their imagination.
  • Sound effects! Make the most of any noises, actions or different voices in the story: children will love it and join in. 
  • Don’t forget non-fiction, lots of children are curious about the world around them. You can connect your reading with activities like cooking, helping in the garden and even housework.
  • Have a real mixture of reading material to share, including old favourites, new authors, fiction and non-fiction, comics and magazines, dual language books, nursery rhymes and stories from around the world.
  • Older children often still love to be read to, so do make sure they get the chance if they want it. They will also want to read for themselves and will probably enjoy talking about ideas the book has sparked with you.

 

Children’s books about family and reading

The Truth About Old People

by Elina Ellis

Book cover for 9781509882274

The Truth about Old People is a picture book which shows that the age you are makes no difference to how amazing you can be! Tackling ageism without being preachy, this is a funny and lovable tribute to grandparents and older people.

My Grandpa

by Marta Altés

Book cover for 9781529045109

‘My grandpa is getting old. But that’s how he is and that’s why I love him.’ Grandpa is beginning to lose his memory, but has a warm and loving relationship with his grandchild, sharing experiences together. A book to inspire understanding about getting older.

I Am Perfectly Designed

by Karamo Brown

Book cover for 9781529036152

A boy and his father enjoy walking and talking together. Loving each other for who they are, they realise the love and the bonds connecting them.

The Great Gran Plan

by Elli Woollard

Book cover for 9781447254799

This is a very funny twist on Red Riding Hood combined with The Three Little Pigs – When Pig discovers the hungry wolf’s terrible plan to gobble up Red Riding Hood’s grandma, it’s Pig to the rescue!

Grandpa Green

by Lane Smith

Book cover for 9781447218357

Inspired by topiary figures, an old man tells his great grandson stories about his life. He wasn’t always an old man; he was a boy with chicken pox, a soldier, a husband and an artist. Grandpa Green is an ode to the joys and sorrows of a life well lived.

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book 15th Anniversary Edition

by Julia Donaldson

Book cover for 9781529023466

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Another Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler classic, Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book celebrates its 15th anniversary this year! A celebration of the magic of books and reading, in this fun rhyming picture book Charlie Cook meets dragons, knights, frogs and more between the pages of his favourite stories. This special new edition, complete with shiny foil, is a brilliant way to get kids enthusiastic and excited about reading together!