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I drove 24 hours over the last 3 days to attend a wedding in Arizona (Death Star-themed wedding cake pictured above). I spent 16.5 hours of this prolonged, but welcome, silence listening to Homer’s story of the Iliad. It is an extraordinary tale, laden with rich characters, emotional conflict, and gruesome death scenes (‘…a cloud of darkness overshadowed him as he sank, holding his entrails in his hand.’ Ew.) But I was mostly interested in the story as an oral history, and I was glad I had the chance to listen, rather than read, the Iliad.

The story of the Iliad was likely passed on orally before Homer wrote it down in the 8th century BC. I like to imagine young people listening to the events being narrated by an older person, perhaps a parent or grandparent, over several days, and then learning to tell the story themselves. In this case, the Iliad was most likely studied, memorized and recited, and all in verse.

I believe oral traditions play an important role for children. There is value to learning to listen, and to remember and recite both the main story, as well as the details that bring a story to life. I could probably summarize the Iliad on Twitter in about 12 tweets. But that isn’t the point. The details of stories are what make it interesting and memorable. Also, the motivations of the characters Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector drive the conflicts, and teach moral lessons about greed, jealousy and holding grudges.

Grandparents can help kids appreciate stories, and become storytellers themselves. A grandparent’s life is itself a story, or a series of stories, with details that give a picture of life through time. And while many technologies focus on abbreviating stories, there are plenty that can allow a child and a grandparent to share richer, more detailed accounts. (Yes, DoubleScoop would work well here). A grandparent can play an active role helping to build a tradition of storytelling in a child’s life, and help a child gain the skills of storytelling – active listening, tracking plots, adding compelling details, and understanding people and their motivations. On top of all that, a child can learn about their family history, and strengthen their relationship with their grandparents.

We love summer in our house. Trips to the pool, fun camps, late, lazy nights followed by even lazier mornings, and the occasional camping trip or visit to grandparents sprinkled in. But, as a parent, I am hearing a lot more about the ‘summer slide,’ where a kid actually loses a portion of his or her learning over the course of the summer. This puts me in a tough spot. I want summer to be fun and relaxing, but I also don’t want my daughter to be shedding what she learned during the school year.

This is where a grandparent can really step in and make a difference. I got the idea watching how a neighbor of ours is using our app, DoubleScoop, with his grandfather. He is going into second grade and learning simple math. His grandfather is sending one math problem over the app, and the boy answers it and sends it back. And there are lots of fun ways to draw smiley faces, stars, whatever, to make it more fun. And the boy says it’s like getting mail!

I think this is a brilliant idea. When I ask my daughter to do something like a math problem, or write a story, I am met with a scowl and a whine. But if Grandma or Grandpa do math or writing using technology, it’s the greatest thing ever for her. So here’s my plan. My dad is going to send her some math every couple of days. She’ll figure it out. I won’t have to worry about it.

My other plan is to have Lydia write and illustrate a story with her grandmother. They can each write a short section, send it off, then the other person will illustrate it. I think this will be a great way to help my daughter write more and be excited about it. I’ll let you know how we do, and share some ideas for types of math problems and story lines.

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