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Sharing a Love for Learning Across Generations

Suited up in helmet and harness, Jay perched on the platform 40 feet off the ground.

“Ready to zip Papa?” the 13-year-old, Jay, called. Moments later, he and his grandfather were zip lining through the tree tops high above the forest floor of Vancouver Island, flying into a new world of discovery. For Dennis and Pat Iverson of Walnut Creek, Calif. and their eldest grandson, this foray into a camping, canoeing and flying jumpstarted a pledge to take each of their 10 grandkids to cities, national parks and museums across the country and Canada.

Grandparent and grandchild on the beach in front of a boardwalk, ready to go boogie boarding.

That was 2017. Since then, Pat, “Mimi,” and Dennis “Papa” have accompanied their junior family travel buddies on grand adventures to St. Louis, Mo., Chicago, Ill., Ventura, Calif., Portland, Ore., Galveston, Texas and more with Road Scholar. They’ve canoed and explored nature’s laboratory in the great outdoors, snorkeled and had close-up encounters with marine life, built robots and a rocket, experienced sailing in the Windy City and learned about future space explorations at NASA’s Mission Control. Alongside their grandkids, they’ve dissected a shark, whispered to horses and had “a lot of physical activities, a lot of hiking,” says Pat.

“We’ve been blessed to spend precious time with each of our grandkids alone, without their friends, their parents, or their siblings,” says Pat. She adds the couple made a purposeful decision to do one-on-one adventures with each child. “We’ve taken a gazillion pictures, stretched our physical boundaries and made memories we will carry in our hearts forever and hopefully they will too.”

Come fly with us

The Iverson’s aren’t the only grandparents reaching across the generations to discover the world, near and far. Since 2014, Road Scholar has offered 314 different grandparent/family programs with a total of 61,888 participants. The duo are also trendsetters. Intergenerational adventures are one of the hottest travel trends around. “Gramping,” or “skip-gen travel” is when grandparents take their grandkids on adventures, no parents required. Pat and Dennis say it’s a win-win for all generations: Grandparents and kids get a chance for one-on-one bonding, without the parental units. And, parents get a little me-time too!

For the Iverson’s the learning adventures with their grandchildren connect the long-distance communication divide — and give them a break from FaceTime —  to bond with their five adult children and grandchildren. The families live in cities across the country from Massachusetts and Virginia on the East Coast and the closet clans about an hour away in Sanramon, Sacramento and San Jose.

Grandparent and grandchild on a seat on a boat, smiling at the camera.

For Pat and Dennis, grandparent programs have been an opportunity to share their passion and their adventurous spirits with a new generation. They want to inspire their grandchildren to “dream big and explore the wonders of the world,” says Pat. The couple first discovered Road Scholar’s Grandparent Programs after returning from three months exploring Western Europe’s waterways by ship, in 2013.

“We love that everything is planned for you and the experts are super engaged in the learning and have a wealth of knowledge,” adds Pat. “All you have to do is show up and focus on your relationship with your grandchild.”

They celebrate the memories and excitement their grandchildren share about their experiences. The best part: Sitting down with each grandchild to peruse the Road Scholar grand adventures and ask: “Where will our next adventure take us?”  “We let each of our grandchildren pick from their own interests,” adds Pat. Dennis has created an EXCEL spreadsheet to track the adventures.

Exploring scientific wonders

“When we took Ayden, 11, to the STEM program in St. Louis, his eyes lit up like he was in a candy store when we walked into the science center,” says Dennis about the A Scientific World of Discovery With Your Younger Grandchild.  There, they worked alongside each other to build a Scribble Bot robot using a low voltage monitor, wires, batteries, markers and other household items. They took a second grandchild, Lacey, 13 to STEAM Chicago: Engineering, Art and Problem Solving with your Grandchild. “We went to every museum in Chicago from the Field Museum to the Museum of Science and Industry and loved every minute of the experience,” says Pat.

Grandparents and grandchild posing with a llama and alpaca

Where the wild things are

The Iverson’s say the experiences are invaluable because they are inspiring the next generation to take their passions and skills into the future. Kira 10, an animal lover, was thrilled when the group visited a horse paddock for an up-close experience with the horses. “She got to clean their hooves, and learned so much about caring for horses,” says Dennis.

Learning, reflecting and creating lifetime memories

“We’ve made a conscious effort to tell our kids and grandkids we are not going as the parents,” says Pat. “Of course we are going to keep the grandkids safe, but if they want to eat ice cream before dinner, well, were not going to have strict ‘you can’t do that’ rules. We want our grandkids to get to know us better and spend quality time with us, and that has been the gift. It’s about learning and fun!”

What’s next for the Iverson clan?  With experiences with eight grandchildren under their belt, Pat and Dennis are planning their next two adventures for summer 2024 with their remaining two grandkids. Meantime, granddaughter Aly, already is inquiring about a possible second round of learning adventures.

“Aly recently said to us, ‘Mimi and Papa, I think we should go on another trip and our parents should pay,” says Pat.