Editor’s Intro: Children and the elderly: a great fit

posted by: By Gaye Bunderson

By Gaye Bunderson


There's day care for kids and there's elder care for old people. You'll generally find the young and old being looked after in two different places, far apart. Ever thought combining the two would be a good idea? Can you see the little ones and the older ones hanging out in the same facility, something like a “kid care senior nursing home,” all rolled into one? If that sounds outrageous, it isn't — it's being tried in some places to positive results.

Let's face it: we don't really live in a culture where the aged are valued for their wisdom and experience. The beauty of mixing the very young with the very old is that the little ones aren't as judgmental about things as some of the rest of us. When they look at an older person, that's all they see: a person. They may have some questions about wrinkles and that sort of thing, but that's not bad — there's usually a great story or two behind every wrinkled face.

“That wide-eyed acceptance and affection is enormously valuable to the elderly. 'Feeling worthy — having something of meaning to contribute, everyone needs that,'” according to Lois M. Collins, quoting family psychotherapist Fran Walfish in an article titled, “Young and old together: Why kids and the elderly benefit from close relationships.”

Frida Berrigan, in an article titled, “How children and the elderly enrich each other's lives,” writes: “While the older people are not actually changing diapers or feeding the babies and toddlers, they do feel needed and useful and are often more focused and happy when the little kids are around. In a society that has no place for older people and treats aging like a long and unpleasant illness instead of a natural part of life, that feeling of purpose and belonging is rare, treasured and life-affirming.”

People who know a lot more about this topic than I do say it's not quite as simple as just building a structure and throwing old and young in it together to fend for themselves. Catrin Hedd Jones, a lecturer in dementia studies at Bangor University in the UK who has studied the placement of young and old in the same setting, explains: “Interaction between the generations is not as simple as putting a baby and toddlers' day care center in a nursing home. It involves planned interaction between elders and college students, schoolchildren, or youngsters of other ages in a variety of settings. … The two groups cannot just be left in a room together; the idea is to build relationships, and help each person benefit from the enthusiasm, knowledge and attitudes of the other.”

According to Jones, the kinds of activities the two groups may collectively participate in are very broad — from reading books out loud to collaborating on musical performances or other skills-based projects.

There are a number of combined young people/old people centers in the U.S. The ONEgeneration Daycare near Los Angeles, for instance, promotes what it calls “intergenerational programming,” offering activities that children and seniors enjoy together. The daycare has found that both age groups like singing songs and playing games. What's really fun is when the older folks teach the younger ones songs and games from their childhoods, and then the younger folks reciprocate by teaching the elders about tech-based activities they take pleasure in.

It would be fun to watch a senior explain to a little one how to engage in an electricity-free, innovative and low-cost game played in the past millennium, and then in turn have the new millennium kid show a senior how to navigate his or her way around a high-tech game that can only be played on a device. Though many seniors are already pretty proficient at technology, they're thrilled to have children take their turn at demonstrating a tech-based challenge.

Knowing how much kids enjoy their grandparents, it shouldn't be too surprising that they're completely comfortable with those of advanced years. And of course, the older folks adore the ebullient kiddos and receive many blessings from them. Studies even indicate that the mental and physical health of the elderly gets an uptick from the presence of children. (See https://www.theatlantic.com/education/...preschool-inside-a-nursing-home/424827/.) 

Jones, who worked on a documentary about the blending of nursery school children with seniors in an adult day care facility, wrote: “After we filmed our documentary, one lady who (lives in) the care facility told me that you don't think about your age when you are in the company of young children. The little ones brought a new sense of vibrancy and fun to the center, and the focus was no longer on watching time pass but on living in the moment.”

Berrigan wrote: “A New York Times article (about ONEgeneration) notes that 'compared to their peers in traditional preschools, children in intergenerational daycare programs are more patient, express more empathy, exhibit more self-control and have better manners.'”

It's one of those win-win things we seem so darn fond of. Let's keep experimenting with ways of bringing all kinds of people together, including the “book end” generations of young and old.


Sources: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/...preschool-inside-a-nursing-home/424827/  





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