These days, grandparents often have to compete with smartphones and other screens just to get some quality time with their grandkids. The games and programs available to kids are virtually endless, so they can easily get caught in the digital web. There comes a point when they really need some outside perspective to help them detach and remember what real-life adventures are waiting for them beyond those two-dimensional playgrounds. As a grandparent, you can help to not only wake them up from their screen fixation but also engage them with their creativity and their evolving role in the wider world.
This summer, take advantage of some of the unique activities the San Francisco area has to offer. You might be surprised how many things there are to do with grandchildren in the Bay Area if you just get creative about how you connect together. Whereas a simple afternoon hike might tire and overwhelm kids, setting them up with an explorer’s resources and a mission could energize and empower them. A trip to the art museum might be difficult to relate to, but if kids are able to connect with their own artistic process first, that may be just the window they need to see even sophisticated works of art more clearly. If you can tap into the truly endless supply of creativity—yours and your grandkids’—your opportunities for things to do together become endless, too.
What Out-of-the-Box Things Can You Do with Your Grandchildren in the Bay Area?
Here, we’ve gathered a wide range of things for grandparents to do with grandchildren, indoors and outdoors. What makes these activities really unique is how you and your grandkids approach them—by changing up the usual routines, by being crafty and getting involved more directly. Take a look at these ideas we’ve brainstormed, and don’t be shy about developing your own ideas or following your grandchildren’s lead!
Visit Kid-Friendly Art Museums in the Bay Area
The Bay Area has a wealth of special art museums like the de Young and the Legion of Honor. But how can kids enter these cultural institutions in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating or just go right over their heads? By setting aside some time for arts and crafts, you can help your grandchildren accept the idea that their artistic process may not be so different from some other artists whose work is on display for the world to see. Draw or paint or collage together, and ask them to talk about what they are doing and why they feel moved to do it—though always with an attitude of enthusiastic curiosity rather than judgment. Help them feel that their creativity is unconditionally perfect—simply because it exists!
The Bay Area also has art museums created specifically for kids, like the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco and the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. These places aim to give kids an interactive, hands-on experience and to actively encourage their own artistic exploration. This can be a great place to start, especially for your really young grandkids.
If you are planning to visit an all-ages museum (not designed for children in particular), here’s an idea for how you might navigate the environment together: If the museum has a gift shop with postcard reproductions of some of the artwork in the museum galleries, it can be fun to stop in the shop at the start of your visit and have the kids select some of the postcards that intrigue them. Then, you can let that stack be the guide that leads you through the museum to find them. As you do move through the galleries, ask the grandkids what they see. Maybe take turns being the pretend tour guide, giving kids a chance to feel like they have an important role and that their creativity is valuable.
When it’s your turn to share, try to tap into your more passionate and emotional connection to what you see, beyond just your intellectual understanding, setting an example to help kids engage and trust their own spontaneous reactions. In this way, you’re stretching yourself to see the creations fresh through their wide eyes, and you’re also stretching them to see things more deeply through yours.
Enjoy Some Kids’ Theater on the Stage and at Home
Live theater performances can be a great way to open kids’ eyes to the versatility of the creative arts. I’ll never forget when I was young and my grandparents took me to see an opera house production of Where the Wild Things Are. I remember feeling simultaneously overwhelmed and inspired by its magic. When we got home, my siblings and I proceeded to choose parts and put on an encore performance for our parents and grandparents.
The Bay Area Children’s Theatre and the East Bay Children’s Theatre are two local options for family-friendly productions that are really accessible for kids. Check out the shows that will be running this summer, and plan a whole day—or even a whole weekend—around it. Before or after the theater, help your grandchildren put on a performance of their own.
Maybe they want to create puppets, choreograph a series of dances, or pull together costumes and act out the story from one of their favorite books. Kids often love to focus on all of the related details: they can create invitations and tickets to hand out, and they might even want to usher guests to their seats before heading backstage to slip into costume. If you have a camera or phone with the ability to record the show, it can be a great keepsake to watch with them years into the future. These kinds of projects encourage kids to practice many different talents and facets of creativity, including their imagination, public speaking, emotional empathy and expression, and even task management.
Explore Some of the Bay Area’s Parks and Hikes for Kids
Nature is also an abundant and accessible source of inspiration and creativity—especially during the summer when the wildlife is thriving and you don’t need to worry about getting rained out. Check out this website that can help you to find hiking trails all around the Bay Area. It offers quick reference regarding the length and difficulty of each hike and whether they are well-suited for kids.
Help them get ready for your adventure: fill a backpack with binoculars, a notepad and pencil, crayons for doing rubbings of leaves or other discoveries, a flashlight for looking into the shadows, and a reusable water bottle. A vest with pockets is also a great way for them to feel prepared at a moment’s notice. You could also set them up with a ready-made scavenger hunt. Here’s a printable one created for a hike in Nisene Marks State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Alternatively, you could take a walk not far from home and find ways to make the ordinary interesting while getting some fresh air. Bring along a camera and decide on a theme for their photography mission: have them take photos of things starting with a certain letter or things of a certain color or even things they want to learn more about. With that last theme, you could print out their photos, paste them into a book with empty spaces for them to add notes once they do some library or computer research about those things that piqued their interest.
Help Wake Up Your Grandchildren’s Creativity This Summer and Beyond
Do you remember your childhood looking and feeling a lot different from that of your grandchildren? The landscape of their lives is certainly different, but they are still kids just as you once were. Recall some of your favorite things to do as a youngster—games, outings, crafts—and introduce some of them to your grandkids. Not only will you be reminding them of the interactive fun that’s possible when they’re unplugged, but it will also open up a new way of connecting with them by tapping into your own distant childhood spirit. It’s never too late to reawaken your child at heart, and this summer, it can be a joint venture with the kids who are still discovering their youthful inspiration.
For more resources, services, and programs for grandparents and other active, aging adults, reach out to Institute on Aging. We would love to help you and your family make the most of what the Bay Area has to offer.