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WOSTER: Grandma University fills gaps when school is out
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WOSTER: Grandma University fills gaps when school is out


Grandma University.

That’s what our sixth-grade granddaughter Macey calls Fridays with Grandma Mary here at our place.

That’s when “school” is in session. And it’s a school like I never knew. You might say the same.

It typically begins for the grandkids with buttermilk pancakes and eggs, which might not be on the menu at their regular schools. Then instruction moves to their regular assignments for the remote-learning option. Then recess, out in the backyard, usually, with badminton and Nurf-gun wars and retriever work with an arthritic-but-obliging springer spaniel.

And sometimes with an arthritic-but-obliging grandpa.

That is followed by art of some kind on the deck, and maybe a science experiment out in the driveway involving something that bubbles up or fizzes out or runs over in a gooey, colorful way.

Lunch on a recent Friday of fried catfish from the Missouri River led to assignments for Mick, the head angler in the grandkid bunch, to go online and research catfish biology. And on a recent Friday afternoon I dropped Grandma Mary and a pack of grandkids off at Dumont on the Mickelson Trail and picked them up near Rochford.

Call that recess or gym class writ large and beautifully. The trail and the landscape were instructive for the kids, as was the simple joy of pedaling a bicycle through gorgeous country with grandma and a helpful daughter-in-law.

The kids love Grandma University. Grandma is pretty fond of it, too. And she believes she’s making a difference. I believe so, too.

Grandma Mary isn’t alone, either. Across the Rapid City School District, grandparents are stepping up and stepping into teaching assignments, helping to plug the in-person-instruction gaps created by COVID-19.

When I inquired with Katy Urban at the school administration office about other grandparents involved in teaching this fall, she offered Ted and Sue Pederson as examples. And good ones they are.

Both 72 and retired, the Pedersons helped out with remote assignments for five grandkids after the sudden school closure last spring. And they’re working with three grandkids-— first, third and fifth grade--this fall, two days a week depending on what the fluid, changeable school schedule is at the time.

“We just feel that our grandkids are fortunate that we’re here,” Sue says. “And I don’t know how some people do it without having somebody like us to fall back on — a grandparent or aunt or somebody.”

Sue works with the first-grader in one area of the house while Ted goes down to the basement to work with the older grandkids, each of whom has a study area.

“With the older two, it’s really just making sure they’re on task,” Ted says. “They have their assignments, and they’re doing fine with them.”

Ted and Sue work to provide at least some measure of the structure that school would provide. And they give as much personal assistance as they can. Some things, like math, are different worlds than they used to be.

“As a retired pharmacist, I thought math and science would be my bag,” Ted says. “I learned that it’s a lot different than it used to be. The concepts are so much different, I had to hold back on trying to show them the way I did it.”

They work through those challenges, because it’s good for their grandkids and their education. It’s not bad for grandpa and grandma, either.

“Our grandkids are pretty much our life right now,” Sue says. “We really enjoy being around them. And as they get older they’ll want to go more to their friends. But so far, they still like being with us.”

And that’s a gift that gives both ways.

Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing

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