Building Intergenerational Relationships Part II: Classroom Activities for the Young and Young at Heart

December 15, 2011

Building Intergenerational Relationships Part II: Classroom Activities for the Young and Young at Heart

[caption id="attachment_782" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image courtesy of Photostock"][/caption] Earlier this week, I posted about the importance of developing and maintaining intergenerational relationships among older adults and young children. I know from personal experience as a mother of two young girls that the presence of a grandparent or a figure who takes that role can have an enormously positive effect on the development of young children. However, the role that the older adult plays in the life of a child can be far more simple and fulfilling for both groups once boundaries have been established. Our Story: Why Oma Is So-o-o Much Better than Grandma My own grandmother, who is in her 70’s, is an excellent example of this different role that older adults can play. My daughter who is, in fact, named after her great-grandmother considers “Oma” one of her best friends and playmates. However, the formation of their bond was difficult at first, since the new role of Oma was foreign to my grandmother who always took the role of matriarch and caregiver with my brother and me (her grandchildren). It was only once she began to work with the Foster Grandparent program that my grandmother figured out that by-passing two generations (myself and my mother) to remain “in charge” was more work than she wanted. Instead, she was delighted to discover that she could enjoy the same freedom and “playtime” at the end of her life as my daughter does at the beginning of hers. Rather than try to “help” me with the chores of motherhood, when Oma comes to “play” that is exactly what she does – her focus is on helping my daughter instead, the relief she provides me in the process is just a bonus. It is this lesson that classroom teachers can help to reinforce when they invite older adults into their rooms. Activities for the Young and Young-at-Heart So, what activities are especially helpful to forge this intergenerational relationship in the classroom? Of course, the answer to that question varies greatly based on age and developmental ability. However, there are some fail-safe ideas that can be universally applied as long as the older adults involved willing:
  1. Reading Time Both pre-readers and emerging readers benefit immensely from practice and observation. While parents are encouraged to read a minimum of 20 minutes per day to their children, many still do not. Though group reading time is important, young children need to feel the special relationship of one-to-one interaction in order to build reading skills confidence. Whether it is helping build reading skills or simply reading aloud in a one-to-one situation, older adults will also benefit from the mental agility these activities demand.
  2. Recreational Activities Low-stakes activities are an important part of education at every level. In educating young children, the incorporation of recreational activities supports gross motor development as well as concepts such as sharing and taking turns. Allowing the integration of an older adult into these low stakes activities has the benefit of adding a new dimension to their role in child development. Many older adults may be mobility impaired, allowing them to engage in “fair” play with a developing young child. Similarly, their role as a non-authority figure can help to establish rules of turns and sharing without the threat of a teacher or parent intervening.
  3. Artistic Appreciation Most little children I know love to dance and draw. I often wonder if this is because of the element of creativity which eliminates “right” and “wrong” answers in these fields. Older adults, after a lifetime of “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad,” also seem to relish in the simple joy of coloring a picture or dancing with props. The freedom that these activities allow can help compensate for the lack of skill in either generation as well. Young children enjoy practicing skills such as “drawing Mommy” which can be encouraged and mimicked by the older adult.
  4. Life Experience Though somewhat lost on the very young, as children begin to become conscious of the changes in the world and the development of life, the experiences of older adults can help to tie ideas and historical concepts together. The stories offered by this generation often beat those recounted in a history book and can make any era seem much more real. Similarly, the skills of the younger generation, most especially as concerns technology, can be translated for the older adult. The process of teaching reinforces these skills for students and aids older adults in communicating in the digital age.
Intergenerational Relationships and the Future As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the most important results of fostering intergenerational relationships is the impact that it has on future perception. Much of our focus in diversity education has to do with cross-cultural communication, breaking down barriers between our students. While this element of diversity is certainly important, is it not the end of this curriculum element. As our population ages and more and more people begin to live well into their 80’s and 90’s, communication across the generations will become more and more imperative. By exposing young children to older adults early on in their education these future leaders are more likely to continue to consider this age bracket as they age themselves. In effect, by encouraging this dialogue between generations to begin at an early level, we make strides to combat discrimination based on age in the future and, hopefully, help our students to see life as a cycle which begins and ends much in the same way.



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