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Ohio State University Extension


Nurturant Grandfathering: Recreation Work

Family and Consumer Sciences
James S. Bates, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Field Specialist-Family Wellness, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences

More than 63% of grandfathers who participated in a recent survey reported that their role in the family was that of playmate for grandchildren and over 35% reported doing recreational activities with grandchildren at least monthly. Indeed, leisure activities are likely the most common types of activities grandfathers and grandchildren do together, regardless of how frequently they see each other. Recreation work refers to a grandfather’s effort to organize, facilitate, or participate in fun and enjoyable activities with his grandchildren. Recreation work fulfills grandchildren’s interest in and need for diversion and leisure. 

Grandfather following grandson down the beach at the edge of the ocean.

Figure 1. Grandfather walking down beach with grandson. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

The types of recreation work a grandfather participates in are influenced by many factors including the grandchild’s age, interests, and abilities, and the grandfather’s health, mobility, and interests. Financial resources are an additional factor that shape the type and frequency of recreational activities. Recreation work also depends on how near or far the grandfather and grandchild live from each other. Grandfathers who live close to their grandchildren may more consistently spend time doing activities such as playing cards or board games, eating out, watching TV or videos, or attending local events together. Grandfathers who see grandchildren only occasionally because of geographic distance may center their leisure activities on large family gatherings as well as on activities done outside the home such as going to an amusement park. In any case, imagination and creativity are often required in carrying out meaningful recreational activities in which both are willing and interested in participating.

Recreation work is an important dimension of grandfatherwork, which is “the effort, energy, time, and resources grandfathers put forth to care for, serve, meet the developmental needs of, and maintain relationships with their descendants” (Bates 2009, 338). Simply being a grandfather does not take much effort. However, grandfathering is more than being a passive observer; it implies action and engagement. It means that a grandfather makes a conscious commitment to be present and participate actively in his grandchildren’s lives. It also means that a grandfather takes a personal interest in helping his grandchildren reach their potential.

Grandfatherwork is grounded in the human developmental stage of generativity. Life span theorist Erik Erikson proposed the term generativity in 1950 which refers to the motivation to teach, establish, contribute to, and care for subsequent generations. Grandfatherwork is one way aging men can practice generativity. By teaching, guiding, and nurturing grandchildren in and through various activities, grandfathers are fulfilling their own developmental need to be generative. If aging men are not actively engaged in generative activities they are not working toward their developmental potential and may become stagnate and self-absorbed (Erikson 1982).

Benefits to Grandchildren

A grandfather’s recreation work can be influential on his grandchild’s personality traits, values, and beliefs. Research indicates, even after accounting for the amount of contact, that a grandfather’s efforts is associated with his grandchild’s outgoingness, friendliness, intellect and creativity, family ideals and cultural identity, work ethic, and success in the future. This suggests that by participating in recreational activities with his grandchild, a grandfather influences many areas of his grandchild’s personal growth and development.
Doing leisure activities with grandchildren is one way to relieve tension and anxiety that grandchildren may feel about visiting their grandparents, especially when contact is infrequent. When both the grandfather and the grandchild are engaged in amusement, laughter, or diversion, the grandchild will be more comfortable around his or her grandfather. In addition, a grandchild learns to trust his or her grandfather, view him as someone who has similar interests, and as someone who they can share relaxation and enjoyment with.

Benefits to Grandfathers

Research on grandfathers who participate in recreation work has found that greater involvement is related to enhanced grandfather-grandchild emotional closeness and to relationship satisfaction. This means that doing recreation work strengthens a grandfather’s personal connection with his grandchild and makes their relationship more meaningful and satisfying. Recreation work is also related to the satisfaction a grandfather experiences as he has fun with his grandchildren. As he seeks out opportunities to spend time with grandchildren in enjoyable leisure activities, he, in turn, experiences greater satisfaction knowing that he is fulfilling his role in the family. Research has also found that grandfathers engaged in recreation work also reported fewer feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness, and anxiety and increased sentiments of happiness, hopefulness about the future, and life enjoyment.

Activities for Grandfathers to Do with Grandchildren

There are countless recreational and leisure activities that can be done with grandchildren. However, to increase the likelihood of having a successful leisure activity, grandfathers should first be aware of his grandchild’s interests and what kinds of leisure activities the grandchild enjoys doing. In some instances, it is helpful to allow grandchildren to take the lead of the activity and for grandfathers to follow along in order to observe and learn what grandchildren enjoy the most. Here are a few activity ideas.

  • Tell jokes and swap stories.
  • Turn on music and dance and sing together.
  • Play board games, strategy games, puzzles, or charades.
  • Go exploring around the farm, garden, orchard, or neighborhood.
  • Travel to a new place or explore new parts of their city or state, including attending local cultural events.
  • Go fishing, stargazing, camping, or geocaching together.
  • Share talents by playing musical instruments or sports games together, or by doing arts and crafts together.

Note: Data mentioned in this document are from the author’s research project titled “Grandfather Involvement and Health Survey.” This is the first time these data have been published.

This fact sheet is part of the Nurturant Grandfathering series, including: Let's Get Involved (HYG-5800), Lineage Work (HYG-5801), Mentoring Work (HYG-5802), Spiritual Work (HYG-5803), Character Work (HYG-5804), Recreation Work (HYG-5805), Family Identity Work (HYG-5806), and Investment Work (HYG-5807).


Bates, James. 2009. “Generative grandfathering: A conceptual framework for nurturing grandchildren.” Marriage & Family Review, 45, 331-352.

Erikson, Erik H. 1950. Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Erikson, Erik H. 1982. The life cycle completed. New York: Norton.

Originally posted Aug 31, 2021.