Oberlin College students Mikaela de Lemos and Marika Mortimer-Lotke embarked on a 30-hour class project about the benefits of intergenerational learning. They visited Kendal at Oberlin’s Early Learning Center and interviewed both community residents and parents of the children. Here are their observations.
We really enjoyed speaking with the residents of Kendal while looking into the benefits of intergenerational learning and communities. It made our approach more holistic: while reading about the benefits, we got to see them upclose and personal, which created a parallel that made the project more worthwhile and special.
Children Look Forward to Time with "Grandfriends"
When we were in the classroom before a read aloud, the teacher announced to the class that the kids were going to a party with their “grandfriends.” Immediately, the entire class jumped up, started cheering and packing up their toys as fast as they could so they could see their grandfriends. It was a truly touching moment.
We have compiled a list of other sweet moments in our observations and interviews with Kendal residents:
- “Playing with the children helps me focus on what I still have the ability to do - I can still comfortably sit on the ground with the kids, so I get to do that, and people who can’t do that help out in other ways”
- “I think that kids in intergenerational programs develop a broader view of life because of the diverse community at Kendal”
- “I would recommend this program for children who are shy - this is a great way to socialize in a safe, home-like environment”
- “It is fun for the residents too!”
- “The kids here don’t stare at my wrinkles or cane because they are used to interacting with people of all abilities”
- “I love to play with my grandfriends!”
- “This game is more fun when my grandfriend does it with me”
In addition to speaking with residents, we read 12 articles on the themes of intergenerational learning, communities, and programming. There are benefits for all involved in an intergenerational community, as well as benefits to the community itself. Benefits are highest when there is a set, shared location where people of multiple generations can come together, share skills and knowledge, learn from one another, create connections, and form relationships. It is not only youth learning from their elders, but adults learning from youth. The reciprocal nature of learning is vital to a successful, trusting, and cohesive intergenerational community.
Benefits to Intergenerational Learning
Both generations gain these new relationships and feelings of being valued, respected, and understood. Elders get to impart wisdom and knowledge on youth who use this as they go through life. Youth learn about past cultures and traditions; elders learn about current technology and modern values. Additionally, youth come away from intergenerational learning with academic and social advances, higher self-esteem and self-confidence, and gained life skills. Elders gain a sense of purpose, feel more positive towards youth on the whole, and have a higher overall life satisfaction.
For older adults with dementia, engaging in intergenerational programs decreases cognitive decline and increases positive behavioral affects. Elders are also often coming to terms with their own mortality, so they get to build a legacy and leave a positive lasting impression. Legacy building is an activity that renews elder’s sense of purpose and allows them to create something that will last beyond their lifetime. Elders who participate in legacy building leave the community or organization better than when they found it, which promotes positive change for generations to come.
How Can Communities Benefit From Intergenerational Programs?
Intergenerational programs unite communities at the micro- and macrosystem levels. If macrosystem policies changed where welfare and daycare were more closely aligned, those involved in both programs would benefit at the microsystem level through their interpersonal relations and the centers that directly care for them—whether that be assisted living, early childcare, or care centers for adults with disabilities. Using macrosystem policies to more closely align the microsystems benefits many community members. Additionally, through shared locations, there are fiscal benefits. It is less expensive to invest in all programs at once, rather than paying for each individual program, distinctive buildings, and all of the associated costs. Intergenerational programming is beneficial to communities on economic and social levels, making it a worthwhile investment for communities, like Kendal.
Kendal showcases the benefits we read about in a variety of ways. We have been blown away by the seamless integration between the senior living center and the early childcare center. Between intergen play groups, cooking club, literacy days, shelves outside bedrooms, and the variety of other programs, there is an undeniable strong, united community. Many of the articles we read discussed the difficulty in creating a cohesive community, but this is an area where Kendal excels.
We have loved being at Kendal, speaking to the residents and children, and seeing the importance and beauty of a solid, cohesive, and trusting intergenerational community.
Free eBook: Intergenerational Relationships are Good For All
Read more about the health benefits for youth and older adults, and learn ways that bringing generations together can benefit your community.
Authors Mikaela de Lemos (left) and Marika Mortimer-Lotke (right) are students at Oberlin College. This project was completed during their Seminar in Child Development during the fall of 2019.