With 8 children of her own, 20 grandkids, 11 great grandkids and one more on the way, Grandma Marvel is a professional grand matron. She fits in perfectly with the Foster Grandparent program in Fort Dodge where she has worked for 22 years in a classroom helping children K-2 stay focused on their work of reading and learning computer skills.
“You think they’re working but they’re day dreaming or goofing around,” she tells me over the phone, laughing. The task of keeping young children focused on books and reading is never-ending, but she loves it. “I love seeing all the different kids; I just like seeing them succeed and move on.” Helping young people succeed has a perceptible effect on the Grandmas, too, she tells me: “I feel good helping the kids and I get a lot out of it. I don’t know what I’d do without [being a foster grandma].”
When a child has finished their reading and quizzes without missing any words, they move on up to a different classroom. Grandma Marvel’s program sees about 66 children a day, 5 days a week, and hopes to help them move on and up to the next levels of reading. She recalls several memorable encounters.
“One time I was in the 1st grade classroom, this little boy said, ‘I have a Grandpa.’ And I said, ‘Oh, you do?’ and he said, ‘Yeah he’s in a retirement home.’ I said, ‘Oh well that’s nice.’ And he said, ‘would you like to meet him?’” Grandma Marvel laughs and I ask her if the boy may have been trying to set her up with his Grandpa. It seems he was.
Most of the time, Grandma Marvel tells me, the young children aren’t familiar with common idioms like ‘get your ducks in a row’. As a result, there can be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. One little boy who had gotten a buzz slip (a reward for completing his reading assignments with no mistakes) was advised by the other volunteer not to lose it. Grandma Marvel says, “I told him, ‘stick it in your back pocket.’ He was walking away and he stopped and turned around and said, ‘stick?!’ and I laughed and said, ‘put it in your pocket!’” Grandma Marvel laughs as she tells me the story. “There’s so many,” she says about idioms. “And these kids have no idea.”
“You have to be a lot of things to be grandma,” Grandma Marvel tells me. She lists attributes like “flexible, have a sense of humor, nurturing, ability to praise, good listening. Need to encourage and praise them.” She emphasizes the last two, listing them more than once. Telling children what they are doing right and where they are excelling is just as, if not more, important than telling them where they can improve.
“It’s fun,” Grandma Marvel says kindly. “You never get enough of them.”