By Beth Pinyerd

The 2021 school year has begun! I know we are all excited about a brand new school year full of dreams, goals, learning, newness and friends. As I engage in educational settings in which I have worked with the young and elderly adults, I have observed and seen the benefits of how the young and old are able to encourage one another. I know we have had an interruption with COVID this past year, but I still hang on to a star of hope of setting up everyday educational settings of how the young and old can encourage each other physically, mentally and emotionally. This can be done in family settings, schools and community settings. This article shares an intergenerational framework of how the young can bring joy, enthusiasm and encouragement to the elderly – and how the elderly can provide time, wisdom and guidance to the next generation.

This Baby Boomer, a retired teacher with 34 years of teaching young children, still gets so excited when the school bells rings. I love the smell of new crayons, sharpening new pencils, putting new notebook paper into brand new colorful notebooks, seeing the school bus stop right outside my home as children load on the bus with new backpacks, clean fresh uniforms and new shoes.

I reflect back on the poem by Robert Fulghum, “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It ends with the statement, “And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.” This is the truth in the relationship between the young and old.

The Baby Boomer generation, because we are many in number, will be setting new trends in the format of elderly care. Intergenerational programs will increase in years to come.

The National Council on Aging defines intergenerational programs “as activities that increase cooperation and exchange between any two generations. It has been shown that a relationship between young and old enlightens both generations.”

As I have been blessed to serve both the young and old, intergenerational relationships are something that goes beyond anything that money can buy. What is exchanged mentally, physically, socially and emotionally is so rich in benefits for the young and elderly. I have done so much research from an early childhood and activity assistant for the elderly points of view. I’d like to share some important facts about Intergenerational settings.

I invite you to share my heart felt dream of setting up intergenerational settings for young and old. I’d like to share my philosophies which I have gleaned from research and hands-on experiences. It’s my hope that you might could incorporate the few ideas I share with new ideas, visions and joy as we explore new possibilities for our young children and those young at heart, the elderly.

As we stroll into our Intergenerational Center, which we will hypothetically call “Rainbow School Across the Generations”.

1. We approach the table with intergenerational nametags and supplies. Nametags are so helpful for the adult-child pairs to get to know each other. Older adults and children work in pairs to decorate their nametags. The Intergenerational objectives achieved are interaction and communication; self-esteem enhanced; team work; encouragement of creativity; moderate exercise.

2. The art center has a fresh white sheet of paper stretched out on an easel or table, just waiting to be painted or drawn on by the hands of a young child and older adult. The blank easel page is waiting for the intergenerational artist’s touch. Paint smocks, washable paints and water wait for the chubby hands of the young child and the soft hands of wisdom of our elderly friend. Special rules or considerations are gently stressed not to eat the paint and for wet surfaces to be dried to prevent falling and slipping. This can be done by staff and volunteer facilitators who understand the needs of young children and the elderly. The project of painting portraits of each other creates a loving bond.

3. The intergenerational puzzle center offers objectives in cognitive development, social interaction, as well as team work and cooperation. Full body pictures of children, adults or animals offers teamwork challenges for the young and old to put the pictures together and offer good discussion time.

4. The block/Lego center provides small motor exercises as well as teamwork in creativity. The older adult can reminisce with his younger friend about how to build a car from the past.

5. Walking over to the Home Center, we see small trowels, seedlings and plant cuttings, gardening gloves, plastic containers, dirt and water cans all ready for an intergenerational gardening experience by a team of young and old.

6. Story book corner has a rocking chair for older adults and small chairs and carpet squares for the young children to gather around to listen to a good story. With the dynamics of our society and culture, many young children are away from their grandparents due to parents having to take a job far away. Storytime not only provides a warm time for listening and communicating, but it provides a socialization need of grandparenting as well.

7. Intergenerational math centers provide opportunities for hands-on counting which is good for the young and elderly mind. One-on-one correspondence helps young and older minds to recognize a set of objects and their assigned numbers.

8. Cooperative learning is taking place in the science center where young and old make a hypothesis. For example: on different objects that float and don’t float. Taking care of different kinds of pets is part of the shared responsibilities for the young and old.

9. Free play is a child’s work. Adults of all ages can still play too. We all instinctively know how to play. Intergenerational play promotes cognitive, social, physical and emotional benefits for young children and we older adults.

 I have provided just a very brief framework of thought of the advantages of the Intergenerational community. Young children provide such a spark of energy and enthusiasm to older adults. Children are truly blind to age differences. Effective intergenerational programming is very strong and benefits everyone involved. It takes a lot of work and perseverance, but when a staff and intergenerational volunteers witness daily the warm interaction of facilitating situations where the young and old come together, this complete outlook between the young and old is a blessing forever.

As we Baby Boomers provide new trends, I hope that intergenerational concepts and programs will be one of those positive trends. We Baby Boomers need to grab the hand of a young child and follow a rainbow of JOY!

Beth Pinyerd, Classroom Observer