Grandparents should never be empty-handed. Now that doesn't mean that you must always come bearing gifts. One grandmother of my acquaintance explained that she doesn't bring gifts to her grandchildren because she wants to be the gift, and I like that way of thinking.
Still, a grandparent should always have something to amuse the grandchildren, whether you are visiting them in their home, going on an outing or meeting in some other location.
Many grandmothers have developed the habit of carrying a "grandma bag," and grandfathers can do the same, putting their goodies in a backpack or other convenient carry-all. A grandma's bag is different from your regular handbag, which is where you keep necessities such as tissues and wipes -- and money, so you can pay for all the goodies.
A good rule to follow is that what comes in grandma's bag leaves in grandma's bag. Often the parents don't want or need more stuff at their house. Also, the grandchildren will learn to expect certain items to reside in your bag, just as they know that you have certain toys for them at your house that stay at your house. Couple the expected items with some new things, and you'll have a recipe for pleasing the grands. Occasionally you may want to bend the rules and let a grandchild have an item that he or she is particularly taken with.
Toys to Tote
Most children are fascinated by small items, and that makes them perfect for a grandma bag.
The best grandma's bags have items that are good for seated play (for restaurants, doctor's offices and the like) and other items that are good for outdoor play.
Consider the following:
- Minifigs from Lego or Playmobil
- Matchbox cars
- Play clay or PlayDoh in mini cans
- Finger puppets
- Mini wind-up toys
- Pencils or markers and paper
- Coloring books or activity books
- Small puzzles of different types
- Bubble solution (tightly closed!)
- Playing cards, either standard or kids' versions
- Small books
- Pop beads
- Travel-sized versions of kids' games
- Bouncy balls
Treats in the Bag
Some grandparents include tasty treats in their bags. I try not to make a habit of expressing my love through food. If, however, you are going on an outing, it never hurts to have a snack in the bag. Something with some nutritional value, such as raisins or nuts, is preferable to candy. You want to avoid training the grandchildren to expect candy whenever they see you.
Low-Cost Ways to Stock Your Bag
You don't have to spend a lot of money to stock your grandma's bag. Make a habit of checking out the markdown aisle at toy stores and discount stores. Dollar stores have some fun items. Garage sales and yard sales are other good sources.
Done properly, a grandma's bag symbolizes what I want to bring to my grandchildren: some things that are fun, some that are educational, some that are intriguing and different, and some that are known and predictable.
By adopting the practice of the grandma bag, you are simultaneously creating a family tradition and communicating to your grandchildren what you want your relationship to be like.
Also of interest: Money-Saving Tips for Frugal Grandparents and Gifts for Grandchildren of All Ages.