When different generations of people come together, everyone benefits. In days past, those connections happened naturally, with seniors serving as mentors and trusted guides for young people. Today, close contact between people of different ages occurs less often.
Research has found significant advantages for seniors, children and society at large when intergenerational connections take place. When children interact with seniors, they develop better self-esteem and social skills, and they often do better in school. Seniors benefit through better physical health, lower rates of depression and more satisfaction with life.
Getting older and younger people together also helps defeat ageist stereotypes, and it helps younger people understand and become more comfortable with aging.
For Life Plan Communities (formerly known as CCRCs), taking a leading role in promoting intergenerational connections is a natural fit. If you’re interested in getting more involved in intergenerational activities, what are some of the ways you can begin partnering with the surrounding community?
Get Involved in Existing Projects
One of the easiest and quickest ways to begin contributing to connections between generations is to participate in existing programming within your local community. Gauge interest among your residents and staff members, then begin looking for opportunities to get involved.
Schools represent one of the biggest resources you’ll find for getting started with intergenerational programming in your community. Consider consulting with the principal of the elementary school closest to your community to find out what needs the school has and what opportunities are available.
Many schools seek volunteers, and they typically welcome seniors to assist with a variety of projects. From helping plan special activities to reading with students on a regular basis, the residents in your Life Plan Community can make a significant impact for your local students and schools. In some cases, local schools also may be looking for volunteer aides to spend time in classrooms, assisting teachers with a variety of tasks, and interacting with the students.
In addition to schools, other community organizations also may have opportunities for your residents to work with children. Local community organizations like the YMCA may have after-school programs that could use senior volunteers to help kids with their homework.
If your community is faith-based, you may wish to partner with a local church to set up homework and tutoring sessions or to partner “adoptive” grandparents with children for activities and simply spending time together. Local libraries also may offer activities like homework sessions or reading hours that require volunteers.
Set up Your Own Connection Opportunities
A second option, in addition to participating in existing intergenerational opportunities in your local area, is creating programming within your community. Before you roll out the welcome mat to area youngsters, you may want to spend some time considering the types of activities that will work best with your space resources and the needs and abilities of your resident population.
Make sure your activities are age-appropriate for the youngsters who will visit your community. Activities that are too elementary or too advanced for their intended audience may make it harder for your residents to engage with the children who attend. In addition, keep your activities relaxed and as simple as possible. Use small groups to allow seniors to begin connecting individually with the children and creating longer-term relationships.
Depending on the season and the weather, you can plan indoor or outdoor activities. Outside on your campus, you can have picnics, walks or bike rides, various games or treasure hunts.
If you’ll be indoors, consider starting a book club in which residents and kids choose books to read and discuss together. Homework sessions, games and Wii challenges also are welcome activities. If your dining director can get involved, consider cooking classes in which mixed intergenerational teams create dishes and award prizes for the best culinary creations.
Arts and crafts projects are another fun way for seniors and young people to connect. Ask your resident services team for ideas, and consider seasonal projects such as painting holiday tree ornaments.
Breaking Down Stereotypes, Promoting Understanding
Research has found that a lack of interaction with seniors can result in misconceptions and stereotypes among children about what aging means. By getting involved in intergenerational programming — both on your campus and within the greater local community — you help seniors and children make lasting connections.