Schools for All Ages: How Intergenerational Programs Nurture the Youngest-Young and Oldest-Old

Article excerpt

Each morning, two-year-old Molly checks into her classroom and then visits the "neighbors" next door with a teacher. She sees Tom, Margaret and other elders attending the adult day services program. Though she loves pre-school, Molly's morning separations from her parents are emotional. But starting the day with a visit to the Neighbor's Growing Together (NGT) program sets Molly off on the right foot. She delights in being with these older adults who welcome and look forward to her visits.

The NGT is a shared-site intergenerational program (IGP) in Southwest Virginia that represents a community response to the care needs of their families, young children and frail elders. With a schedule of multiple weekly intergenerational activities, the programming supports close relationships, skills development and maintenance to aid in grooming, eating and bathing, and a sense of community. Participation is voluntary, and activities are co-facilitated by adult-day and childcare staffs in an approach that builds on participants' emerging interests and social histories. Parents report more positive interactions between children and their grandparents, while the staff values the expanded sense of community.

The Beginnings

Non-familial IGPs began in the 1960s with the national Foster Grandparents program. These IGPs are meant to encourage diverse younger and older people to relate to one another, and compensate for a lack of intergenerational contact within today's families. Programs address varied needs, such as literacy tutoring, mentoring youth who are at risk of dropping out of school, practical and social support for isolated elders, and neighborhood beautification; they are situated in childcare centers, schools, nursing homes, community centers and other community locations.

Recent recession-caused budgetary constraints have motivated innovative programs to meld together for cost efficiencies, as well as for reaping positive synergies not found in single-generation programs. A shared-site IGP can pool resources (staff, curriculum materials and operating expenses) to support and benefit both child and eldercare programs.

Quantifying Results

In 2008, a study by co-author Shannon Jarrott and colleagues found that young children who attended an intergenerational childcare center earned 50% higher scores on social acceptance of older adults than did children attending a single-generation childcare center. This same group of children demonstrated statistically greater empathy toward elders.

Adults with dementia also respond well to IGP informed by theory and practice, according to a 2003 study by Jarrott and Kelly Bruno. For instance, in Cameron Camp's Montessori-based programming, elders with dementia were able to foster the children's development of new skills. …