Building in intergenerational spaces

Throughout history, intergenerational cooperation and learning has been a fundamental part of many communities and cultures. Somewhere along the way we moved away from that model. Family members began living further apart from each other; therefore, they lost their natural intergenerational composition. Society as a whole has also become more age-segregated which provides little opportunity for interaction between the generations.  Although the ideal thing would be that this happens organically, sometimes this is not possible. So how can we build to facilitate these intergenerational relationships?

Around the world

In Cleveland, USA they have created ‘Intergenerational schools’. These schools create places where intergenerational relationships and learning can occur. These facilities help develop positive ways for older people to remain valued members of society. The Intergenerational School in Cleveland has seen increases in stimulation in the intellectual development of both older and younger people.

Singapore is implementing plans to make the co-location of both aged care facilities and child care facilities the rule, not the exception. The Singapore government is pouring $3 billion in new developments “to maximize opportunities for intergenerational interactions” and encourage innovation. All so Singapore can become the envy of the world’s rapidly aging societies.

The research

Intergenerational activities benefit both generations. For older people, these interactions enhance socialisation, stimulate learning and increase emotional support. They also improve health, with older people who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, experience fewer falls and perform better on memory tests than their peers. Also, those who suffer from dementia or other cognitive impairments experience more positive effects during interactions with children than during non-intergenerational activities.

There are also many positives for the children. These include improved academic performance, enhanced social skills. It enabled young people to develop social networks, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, a sense of purpose and a positive attitude to aging. Researchers also saw a dramatic decrease in negative behaviour and an increased sense of stability as children and youth gained positive role models with whom they interacted with on a regular basis.

New Zealand

There are already a large number of aged care providers who have reached out to nearby preschools and kindergartens to facilitate intergenerational play and learning, however there are a number of barriers that they have to overcome. Should some pressure be applied to retirement village operators who are building new retirement villages to think more intergenerationally? Or should the government be the one to facilitate the intergenerational spaces? If one nation is willing to pour $3 billion in new developments “to maximize opportunities for intergenerational interactions”, maybe we should review our options too.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.