The planning of the GrandPals project is a crucially important phase. In the end, the project can only go as well as the plan that’s been laid out for it. As the late Stephen Covey wrote, ¨All things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows
a blueprint.¨

Choosing a Direction

One of the first things to consider, is what the project is going to look like in your particular community. What kind of experience do you want for students and seniors? Will they be pen pals? Will they work together to develop a lifebook for the senior? Or will the whole project take more of a book club format, in which students and seniors meet together to review books and share ideas? Once you have laid out where the project is going, the other parts of the planning process can then start to fall into place more easily.

I think one of the most important things about starting up a GrandPals Program is finding out initially who’s going to be involved, whether it’s going to be somebody from a local senior centre, or somebody from the community, whether you’re going to be Skyping with somebody or pen palling. But you need to establish the ¨who¨, and then you need to establish what format the program’s going to take – whether you are just going to be exchanging emails, or phone calls, or letters, or whatever that’s going to be. Then, after that, you need to figure out how often you’re going to visit. Will it be weekly, monthly, bi-weekly? You have to figure out that time frame. Then after that, it’s about how you are going to formulate the result, the product – what kind of product are you looking for, what are your goals, what do you want the seniors to achieve from it, what do you want the students to achieve from it?    Lynda Brown – Grade 5 Teacher

Pairing Students and Seniors

After deciding on the general direction of the project, one of the next issues to deal with is the pairing of students and seniors. At this point you will have a list of recruited seniors who are will and able to be involved. They will have a certain ease of relating, will enjoy young people and have an understanding of both their limitations and abilities of these young people. The next step is to pair each of these wonderful seniors with the students.

When creating the pairings, the ratio of senior to students can vary. For example, you might decide to have one senior meeting with two students; or perhaps three students or four students meeting with a senior at one time. Alternatively, two seniors could make a pair, meeting with a small group of students. It should be noted that pairing a senior with a larger group of students (e.g. 4) can help the shy members of the student group learn to relate more easily. A larger number of students can also be helpful when dealing with students who miss visits. A larger number of students does make the interactions less personal however. So there are positives and negatives to different scenarios. As an additional possibility, students of different ages can be paired together with a senior.

When considering things like interests, abilities, personality or gender, there are a number of different approaches that can be taken – depending on the goals that you have for your project:

When you’re considering pairing students up, I think it’s important to know what the seniors’ interests are, what the students’ interests are, and to try to pair those up, if you can – just finding ways that they’re similar so they have something to talk about. Especially for those initial startup meetings and conversations, you want them to have something in common. And you also want to make sure that if the senior is a very intellectual person, maybe you pair them up with a student who’s going to be able to meet their intellectual level, and be able to communicate on that higher level.
Lynda Brown – Grade 5 Teacher

We were fortunate because we could do a one-to-one pairing which we felt was probably the best approach. We looked at gender, because I think it was important for us to have that role model for the students – but other than that, we really didn’t know what the interests were until the letter writing started to happen. So we were very fortunate that some of our pairings turned out to be quite successful. The biggest ¨take away¨ was that the seniors and students discovered a lot of common interests. That was the beauty of the program. They discovered that they weren’t as different as they thought they were at the beginning of the program.       Cecilia Vespa – Community Librarian

When pairing students with seniors I think there’s some things to think about. I think if you have an opportunity to screen the seniors or just get to know them a little bit in advance, you could pair a senior with a student who has a similar kind of personality or a common interest. I think that would really start them out on the right foot. But at the same time, if you don’t have that opportunity, a real-world life skill is getting to know people who are different than you, and building relationships with them – that’s really important as well. I think both could work very well.
Tim Buchan – Junior & Intermediate Teacher

There are several things you should consider when pairing seniors with students. The first week we showed up to the long term care facility, we had one senior in a wheelchair, two with walkers who were quite old, and one with dementia. I thought, “I didn’t think this through”….But we couldn’t have been more blessed. These seniors are probably the most lonely. Repeatedly, they are the ones who didn’t get visitors, and several of them don’t get any visitors. So you might want to think that through. My students handled it with such tremendous respect, caring and sensitivity.
Kristie Walraven – Grade 5/6 Teacher

I find with our students and kids, and especially with the co-op students I’m getting, we shelter our children too much. Why not let them see exactly what you are going to get? Get them comfortable. These are the individuals who are going to be running this country in twenty years. Why would they not learn how to interact with someone with Alzheimer’s or with Parkinson’s or with Turrets. I mean, this is what we are suppose to teach them: How to be inclusive. If we shelter them from individuals that have these behaviours, what are we actually teaching?
Anna Hardy – Program Manager – Long Term Care


Preparing for GrandPals Lifebooks: Three Parts

When planning for a project that will involve the writing of life books, there are really three components to consider. First there is the big picture pre-teaching, then the actual interviews, and then the post interview writing and media creation. When planning each of these stages, there are important considerations to take into account. Of course, these three parts can be tweaked and modified, depending on what you choose to include in your own GrandPals project.


The current GrandPals project guide contains activities for teaching big ideas, keywords, and reviewing particular books about intergenerational friendship.

Teaching of big ideas is of importance because it has the effect of anchoring all of the student learning that takes place during the project. For example, although the big idea is introduced early, students come to deeply understand ideas like “Age is only a number” or ¨We are different, but the same¨ over the course of the project.

The teaching of keywords is important because it provides students with a vocabulary to help articulate their experience during the project. Words like dignity, honor and respect are all part of what they’re learning about as they interact with their Grandpal.

Books on intergenerational friendship also help students understand the nature of the connection they’re having with their Grandpal. A book like “Me and Mr. Mah” is especially appropriate for junior students, as it gives them a framework for the experiences they will have in the project. A book like “Tuesdays with Morrie” might be more appropriate for intermediate or high school students.

My advice for teachers or coordinators who are planning to do this project is to take time on pre planning – big ideas, key words. That’s all really well laid out in the project guide. That made me the most nervous before I started, so I suggest reading the suggested stories and making the document wall, and getting the students to engage in the big ideas and the key words – because that sets the stage.     Kristie Walraven – Grade 5/6 Teacher

Pre-teaching the big ideas and the concept vocabulary is critical to this project. What you’re doing when you pre-teach those words is creating the mental velcro for all of the learning that is going to come following. When students have that schema, and all of that vocabulary already placed like file folders in their heads – when the new information is coming in, they have some place to put it. An understanding – albeit shallow – an understanding and a place where that information can reside. That makes their learning much deeper and much richer. It also enables students to CONNECT ideas, so that they begin to see that these are not words that reside all separate. And in and of themselves, but rather that the ideas are linked, and that the learning is very rich.      Paola Argentino – Principal

The obvious thing for pre-teaching is writing. We do that as part of the curriculum; different styles of writing and just what the format would look like. You introduce a number of different ways they can set up their writing. It is something we have to pre-teach. But more importantly than the academics is the pre-teaching about the elderly, breaking down misconceptions or ageisms that the students might have. For this pre-teaching I provided a whole pile of books. Lots of books that I took out from the library and I had the students read. The students were afraid when we brainstormed just the word “grandparent” afterwards. They would say they are ¨wise¨. They ¨bring gifts¨. All those nice things about grandparents. But it was very hard to get the students to say they are ¨old¨; they don’t have teeth; they can’t hear. They were afraid to vocalize the real things they face when they look at their grandparents. And so pre-teaching involves recognizing that we also have these other ideas of what an old person is like. You have to breakdown that subtle ageism and let the child see that there is more to a senior; that they were once children; that they had parents; they played games; they didn’t like to go to school. They had all of the same sorts of problems and issues and fun things that students go through nowadays. They are human beings.      Donna Calanchie – Teacher


There are several things to consider when preparing for the interviews that students will be having with their GrandPals. First, is considering the questions that will be used. Some coordinators might choose to have students generate the questions themselves. This might be more appropriate for intermediate or high school students. The development of these questions can be prefaced with teaching about the concept of various life stages, concept of open versus closed questions, or how to use Q charts when generating questions. As students are generating their own questions, you can use a shared Google document or a flipchart to gather questions under lifestage headings. If working with younger students, you might choose to use some of the question banks built in to the GrandPals project guide. Currently the questions are organized under eight lifestage headings, or alternatively, five life themes. Another option is to have the seniors involved in the project generate questions that they would like to be asked during the interviews. Some seniors might have an area of their lives that they would like to spend more time on. Encouraging them to create the interview questions allows them more control over the process.

Second, it’s important think about how students will actually collect the information and stories they uncover during interviews. Students can use clipboards to record answers to questions or bring their own devices to actually record the interview.

Organize should also consider how long they want to spend interviewing on each stage or theme, along with how long the interviews themselves will take. Usually about an hour works perfectly for individual interview slots.

Finally, organizer should consider what time of year they want this project to take place. Fall and spring seem to be much more convenient than the winter season, when flu and weather seem to interfere with the best laid plans.

Post interview writing and media creation

Last piece to consider, when planning a Grandpals project, is what the post interview writing and media creation will look like. As students are writing up life book entries, will they use paper and duotangs? Or will they type up material and do additional research on a computer or Chromebook?

Aside from students working on pen pal letters or a ¨lifebook¨, other components of the project might involve an oral presentation, or the development of an art project. As an organizer, you can choose to use the presentation template found within the Grandpals project guide or have students develop a different format for an oral presentation.

Likewise, for the arts portion of the project, you could expose students to the different artistic techniques through the shading portrait, the portrait made with words, or the portrait made with Zen tangle. All of these approaches are found detailed in the project guide. Alternatively, you might come up with a different option – and in this case we would love to hear from you!

Preparing for Grandpals Bookclubs

For organizers that prefer a less involved project, a Grandpals Bookclub could be organized. In essence, the Bookclub involves seniors and students meeting together to read and discuss books together. While there is much less to organize, some of the same considerations still apply. Organizers should consider how they will pair students with seniors. They should think through the logistics of meeting location, schedule, or transportation needed for the undertaking.

Preparation for a Grandpals Bookclub diverges from the Lifebook project when it comes to developing resources. As an organizer, planning a Bookclub for older students, you should look for book or novel sets and novel discussion questions for meeting times. When organizing book clubs for younger students, picture books are much more appropriate.