Grandparents can play an important role in a child’s life. Untethered by the responsibilities of being a parent, they often have more time for fun and play, listening and talking. 

It’s also indisputable that grandparents play an important role in educating the young, helping to shape their curious minds, teaching them about the past, and showing them how to get on with others.

Finland’s Mannerheim League for Child Welfare has harnessed the goodness inherent in grandparents and has developed a program that connects voluntary ‘communal grandparents’ with children in local schools, kindergartens and meeting centres for families – known as ‘Family Cafés’ in the Scandinavian nation. 

Here at HelloCare we understand the importance of the role of grandparents, and we thought many of our readers would be interested to know more about the community-focused program. 

We reached out to Mannerheim League coordinators Eevamaija Paljakka and Liisa Ylikojola, who answered our questions.

Take a walk in the forest, read a book, bake a cake

Ms Paljakka and Ms Ylikojola began by telling HelloCare that communal grandparents take part in all sorts of activities with the children. Activities are determined by the space they have available to them, the age of the children, the size of the group, and, of course, the particular interests and skills of the communal grandparent. 

“They can go for a walk in a forest, read books, bake – and the most important: they can play together! Playing is good for everyone!”

Where preoccupied parents and teachers can often be too busy for in-depth conversations with children, communal grandparents often have more time for chit chat.

“They are the extra ears, eyes and lap – communal grandparents have time to listen and tell stories, for example, about their childhood.”

There are also more targeted communal grandparents programs, such as ‘reading grandparents’. 

Forming human ties

“Children and the elderly usually have a special connection,” wrote Ms Paljakka and Ms Ylikojola.

“Children are happy about the full attention they get from communal grandparents. Both, the children and communal grandparents enjoy themselves. The time spent together brings them joy! 

“When children get to know them, they start to wait for the visits. 

“When the communal grandparent comes, the children run to them and give them a hug! The relationship is very important for both sides.

“Intergenerational programs also seem to have a positive impact for example on children’s social and empathy skills,” they noted.

And it’s not just the children who benefit.

The grandparents develop a great sense of feeling needed. “They can share their skills and life experience with children. They feel they are active citizens. They make new friends and get rhythm to their everyday life. 

“Being with children makes them happy. The activity has a positive effect on their mood,” they said.

Low barriers to entry

The threshold for becoming a volunteer ‘communal grandparent’ has been kept deliberately low, Ms Paljakka and Ms Ylikojola told us.

“There are no specific skills requirements. Everybody comes with their own skills and interests. Our professionals organise training for those who want to become communal grandparents. The training lasts three to four hours,” they wrote to HelloCare.

Training is provided

The training consists of:  

  • Introduction to Mannerheim League’s values and principle
  • The importance of intergenerational relationships
  • How to interact with children
  • What is the role of a communal grandparent? 
  • What can communal grandparents do with children? 
  • Why playing is so important for children – and for people of all ages? 
  • How an adult can support children playing? 

Promoting a sense of community

Ms Paljakka and Ms Ylikojola said they would recommend a program such as theirs for Australians.

“Absolutely! Building bridges between generations is very important. Many kids live without an active connection to the older generation. Communal grandparenting also promotes a sense of community.  

“When generations get together, it enriches both the children’s and adults’ lives.”

Image: a communal grandparent at a family cafe. Supplied.

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