In West Seattle, a preschool combines with a nursing home to make an Intergenerational Learning Center. This is the one of three intergenerational programs in Seattle and over 500 in the United States.
Why are intergenerational learning centers important?
Reflect on your own life and your experience with elderly people. Were they positive? What were some learned behaviors or tendencies you fell back on?
America is a great country, but one of our core values is self-sufficiency. That’s carried on from generation to generation and it takes hold in various ways. For many young adults, that self-sufficiency is expressed in distance; when they go off to college, many pick the schools that are furthest from their parents to be independent. That longing for independence stays with us well into middle-age where many adult children only visit their elderly parents with the family on holidays.
There are many children out there who don’t grow up with elders constantly in their lives. Some kids feel uncomfortable around older people, or those in wheelchairs or with walkers. Some don’t know how to communicate or relate to our seniors.
These are questions and problems that the Intergenerational Learning Centers remedy. Elders get together with preschool children – we’re talking ages 3 to 5 alongside ages 88 and over – to do art projects, play music, dance and read!
In most assisted living communities, there are countless activities, so this combines those efforts with children. For many of the seniors at the assisted living (at Providence Mount St. Vincent), this is the highlight of their day, playing with kids who are so full of life! And many of the kids love the setup as well.
Best of all, this acclimates children to elderly people. For our youth to be spending time with our seniors helps develop a healthy outlook on aging. Otherwise, many children (maybe you as well) grow up equating “old” with “death” since they only visit their grandparents during times of serious health problems.
Hopefully, if these intergenerational programs continue to expand, the coming generations will have a greater appreciation for our elders. Half the reason, people send their seniors overseas to receive care is because places like India, the Philippines and Thailand respect their elders – it’s deeply ingrained in the culture. As a result, seniors are treated with revere as opposed to being treated as a burden.
It’s no secret that there’s a deficiency of nurses in America – and even less that are focused on gerontology. Perhaps the intergenerational programs will help kids see the positive side of aging and actually want to help their elders. Only time will tell, but one thing is certain, this is an excellent start.