You can learn from books. Or the internet, an app, even a podcast. But all those genuinely wonderful ways to increase one’s knowledge in the run-up to college are pretty much second nature to teens.

To learn in a new way, teens may want to try embracing a few old ways: by learning from Gram and Gramps.

The grandparents of many teens remember what life was like before Google and YouTube. And most of them know how to cook without a microwave, manage a budget and drive a car with a manual transmission. (If your teens can learn those last three things, they’ll be in better shape than most 30-year-olds.)

Here are five valuable skills for college — and for life — that teens can learn by spending some quality time with their elders.


For college admission, high schoolers will need to write an essay. An essay is a story, and grandparents tend to have lots of them. Encourage your teen to talk with their grandparents, not only to learn how to tell a story, but to learn more about the story of their own family. Ask teens to pay attention to how the story starts, what details are included and whether the storyteller offered facts and opinions during the telling. Those same storytelling skills can be used when writing an essay on a standardized test or a class final.

The personal touch

Technology can have an isolating effect. Grandparents can talk about how people interacted before smartphones. They can explain how they stayed in touch with friends and describe how important it is to greet people with a smile, make eye contact and shake hands.

Good penmanship

Writing by hand — and ensuring that it’s legible — takes concentration, practice and patience, all of which are good skills to hone. Plus, research indicates that cursive handwriting is still an essential skill. When writing in cursive, students activate different parts of their brains that are not typically activated by reading and printing. It’s thought that learning cursive helps students refine their fine motor skills. And, unlike texting, writing by hand gives students an advantage in reading and spelling.


We live in a casual world, and it’s getting more laid-back by the day. But plenty of grandparents lived in a time of decorum, when men wore hats, women wore gloves and people communicated by writing formal letters. To get a taste of how to address others more formally, your teens might like to see letters their grandparents have kept. They’ll likely see salutations (“Dear Dr. Winward,” rather than “Hey, Jennifer”) of the sort that they’ll need to use when asking for a letter of recommendation, thanking someone for an interview or communicating with a professor, teacher or adviser.

Preserving a family history

Consider all the knowledge that grandparents have to impart: their personal histories, the world events they witnessed. Invite your teen to ask his or her grandparents about themselves and record the conversations. What was it like to see a person walk on the moon for the first time? Where were they when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot? What was it like to fly in an airplane for the first time?

Your teen’s future self — and maybe even future generations — will thank you.