Why Intergenerational Learning Works Well for Kids and Seniors

A new trend is finding more schools incorporating senior citizens into classwork. Find out why intergenerational learning is taking off – and its benefits.

The next time your child takes a school trip to a local nursing home or passes out valentines at the local senior center, you can rest assured that your student is getting plenty out of the experience.

More and more, schools are leaning on the experience of senior citizens to enrich student learning.

It’s a trend that has seen day care centers, preschools and K-12 schools finding unique ways to get older getting more engaged with students.

The Indiana Gazette recently featured a story about this topic, highlighting the national trend in which seniors and young students are interacting on a regular basis through intergenerational learning programs.

“The idea is that different generations can learn from each other and provide one another with companionship,” Baltimore day care director Kathleen Richardson told the Gazette.

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“Older adults often love the structure and sense of community, but can also help children practice focusing, being patient and accepting people who don’t look like them or speak the same language.”

A growing trend

These intergenerational programs range from limited relationships between schools and senior communities for occasional get-togethers to full day care programs being housed inside of senior centers.

In Boston, for example, a high school and senior center are even housed in the same building, The Atlantic reports, where they share pottery and dance rooms – plus plenty of fun interactions.

“We like to see young people,” one senior told the publication. “It’s just a lovely feeling, having them nearby.”

Interest in these programs has “skyrocketed” in recent years, according to the Indiana Gazette article, citing reports from Generations United, a D.C. organization that advocates for bridging the generational gap.

A study published by Cambridge University Press in 2018 found a positive impact on children and elderly participants in intergenerational learning programs. “The positive impact on children of intergenerational programs is proved at both short- and long-term,” it notes.

Local options

The trend can be seen here in metro Detroit, too. In Livonia, an intergenerational preschool brings 4- and 5-year-old students for weekly visits with residents at a nearby nursing care center.

“It’s been so beneficial both ways,” Maria Mueller, president of the child care center, told Metro Parent in early 2018. “There’s back-and-forth learning between the elderly and the young. There’s such a joy and purpose.”

How to get involved

If you’d like your child to take part in an intergenerational school program, ask around at area child care centers, preschools and school districts about what options may be available. You could also speak to local senior centers to find out which schools visit often.

If you don’t have any luck, though, consider getting involved to make it happen locally – for the benefit of your own child and other children and seniors in the community. If you do, you could be part of a growing “movement,” as one source in the Indiana Gazette article describes it.

“I see it as almost like a movement,” Matthew Kaplan, a Pennsylvania State University professor who has studied intergenerational programs, says in the article.

“There’s growing recognition that for the health of individuals … we really need to have strong intergenerational connections.”

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