In today’s transient society, families are often separated by long distances. Children move away from home to pursue career opportunities and ultimately raise a family in their new city. Grandparents may only see their grandchildren during summer breaks and holidays. This can make it more difficult for kids to have the opportunity to develop healthy attitudes about aging and to appreciate the positive contributions older adults can play in their lives.
Bridging the Intergenerational Gap
Research shows that children who don’t have enough opportunities to interact with grandparents and other seniors in the family are more likely to have negative feelings about aging. For them, the stereotypes about old age are more likely to make them fearful of growing older. By helping connect kids and seniors, however, we can overcome these stereotypes.
A project at the University of Missouri identified these key components of successful intergenerational relationships:
• Education – Focusing on helping children learn from and develop positive images of seniors while giving the seniors an opportunity to gain a sense of fulfillment from working with children is a key component.
• Friendships – This component is important in helping increase the feelings of understanding and respect between children and older adults.
• Caring – The key to truly bridging the gap between the two generations lies in helping children develop genuinely caring relationships with seniors.
Intergenerational Learning Programs
How can families and senior organizations establish intergenerational activities that will successfully connect these two generations?
Here are a few things to consider:
• Start early. Preschool aged children and early elementary school kids are curious and interested in the world around them. Matching older adults with projects like a children’s reading hour at the library or at an assisted living community can help bring these two generations together. Be sure the book choices are ones that portray older adults in a positive way. If you need suggestions, Generations United has a list of recommendations.
• Establish age appropriate activities. When you are trying to connect children with the senior generation, make sure the activities are age appropriate. Having activities that are too advanced or too simple for kids will only make it difficult for older adults to keep their attention. Sites like Wonderopolis can help you come up with interesting and fun ideas.
• Keep it simple. Be sure to keep the intergenerational activities you establish simple and relaxed. Try to have small group sizes. This type of environment allows the senior to establish meaningful conversations with the kids and begin to build a relationship.
Activities For Grandchildren and Grandparents to Enjoy Together
When trying to build a strong bond between grandchildren and grandparents or trying to establish an intergenerational program for your community organization, coming up with activities these two generations can do together will help. Depending upon the time of year, activities can range from having a “camping trip” in the yard or living room to enjoying a mani-pedi afternoon in the living room with Grandma.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
• Start a book club. The members will be limited to just these two generations. Grandparents and senior citizens can read with kids while they are together and then agree on a few books they will read after they are back at home. When grandparents live far away, they can have regular book club meetings via Skype.
• Wii challenge matches. Consider investing in a Wii or other electronic games young children and grandchildren enjoy. It will give kids the chance to teach seniors how to play their favorite games. For senior organizations, having intergenerational teams and competitions can be a great way to help build relationships and keep kids coming back to visit.
• Whip up a favorite dish. Pick out a favorite family recipe and make it together. A plus for grandchildren is to have a grandparent write the recipe down in their own handwriting so the child will have it to keep forever.
• Create a scavenger hunt. This event can be held indoors or out. Develop a list of things to find before the children arrive. Once they are there, separate the group into intergenerational teams and head off to find all of the items on the list.