In the last 30 years or so, intergenerational programs have blossomed worldwide. In the Netherlands, the Humanitas Retirement Home in Deventer invites students to live rent-free in exchange for 30 hours of their time each month. Students end up doing many of the tasks that care providers at the home don’t have time to do, such as playing games with the seniors, taking them shopping, doing the shopping for them, or just having a leisurely conversation. Both young and old learn from each other.
In the US, programs that pair schools with retirement or nursing homes are common. In some programs, elders come to the school to tutor or mentor the children. In others, students visit the care home on a regular basis.
In Ontario, a series of programs out of Brantford called SKIP (Seniors and Kids Intergenerational Programs) contain a school visitation component, a career mentoring component and a music component. In Belleville the Grandfriends program places seniors in classrooms to work with 3 or 4 kids on school projects, cooking and crafts, or even just playing educational games such as Scrabble.
Other programs across Canada, such as i2i, Prime Mentors of Canada, and Volunteer Grandparents provide one-on-one mentoring to children and promote intergenerational awareness. There's even a Toronto documentary called "Cyber Seniors" about youth teaching seniors to use technology. See our blog post from a few weeks ago for more details.Intergenerational relationships help the young, the old, and the community in many ways:
- Provide an opportunity to learn new skills for both youth and seniors, with seniors teaching youth about careers or other knowledge and youth teaching seniors how to use technology.
- Help youth to understand and accept aging, and promote a healthy cultural attitude toward aging
- Fight violence and crime by giving young people purposeful activity
- Give older adults more energy and something to look forward to
- Fill a need for children who do not have grandparents, or whose grandparents live far away
- Reduce depression and isolation in the elderly
- Keep family history alive
- Give older adults a way to stay connected to the community and strengthen the sense of social responsibility in young people
- Break down stereotypes each generation has about the other
Canada’s population is aging rapidly. In 1984 about 10% of Canadians were over age 65. Currently 15.7% are over 65, and by 2065 (50 years from now) 24% - 28% will be. Sometime in the next few years there will be more seniors than children under the age of 14.
Such a “population explosion” of seniors is expected to strain the economy and society in many ways. Intergenerational programs today can help to ease that strain by giving both generations a focus outside themselves, promoting a sense of usefulness, accomplishment and fulfillment that will serve our larger society as well.