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. However, there seems to be world-wide ‘push’ towards more integrated programs and learning systems to try and regain what was lost. There are various forces behind this shift, from the Government down. The most important, I feel, is that a large percentage of ‘retirees’ are interested in taking jobs or volunteer to improve their quality of life and their community.
Intergeneration Programs offer younger and older generations the opportunity to interact, share their talents and resources and build important relationships with one another that benefit both the individual and the community as a whole. Intergenerational learning increases levels of connectedness and lowers the chance of becoming socially isolated. It also increases self-worth. Both young and old are viewed as assets, not problems that need to be solved.
What does the research say?
These programs 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
Around the world
In America, the nonprofit Generations United is facilitating this type of interaction by tracking the co-location of senior centers and child-care facilities, along with other arrangements bringing children and seniors together.
Another innovation is the creation of ‘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.
In New Zealand
In New Zealand, the Ministry of Social development began funding an intergenerational program called SAGES in 2010/2011. Sages is a community-based mentoring program that recruits and trains older people as mentors and then matches them with families and individuals and younger parents to provide one-on-one life and home skills mentoring. Intergenerational programs like SAGES, enable children and young people to learn from and appreciate, the wisdom and life experience of older New Zealander. There are also other programs run by public and private groups such as Super Grans who share the skills and experience of people who have bought up families with people who are just starting out. Surrogate Grandparents is another initiative that aims to facilitate this type of intergenerational learning and socialising. These groups and others can be found on Eldernet here.
Intergenerational programs are a great way to fill gaps in services provided to children, youth and older people. There is a strong need for tutors, role models and mentors for children and youth in urban and rural communities as well as increasing numbers of older people with varying supportive needs will require more innovative adult care programs. As the old saying goes, could get the two birds with one stone. Intergenerational programs can share sites and resources thus making funding work more efficiently. This also could mean that community services could also expand their services to meet the needs of more people.
If one nation is willing to pour $3 billion in new developments “to maximize opportunities for intergenerational interactions”, maybe our government should review their options too.