The United Nations reports that population aging is at the highest level ever seen in human history. Fertility rates are declining while life expectancy is increasing. Population ageing is a global trend that will not reverse itself in our lifetime. That’s one of the reasons that intergenerational learning is becoming more important. Formal programs that encourage a bond between old and young can benefit children, the elderly and the community. This is exactly what is happening at a living facility in Washington State.
Providence Mount St. Vincent Living Care Facility
These programs were introduced to a senior living facility in Seattle, Washington. When you visit the Providence Mount St. Vincent website, you can navigate to the Services tab. There, you’ll find a spot for senior care as well as child care. Although the two sound like polar opposites, they work in harmony with each other.
Older Americans suffer from mental decline where children are just beginning to develop their mental capacity.
The Intergenerational Learning Center, or ILC, provides educational services and daycare for preschoolers within an elderly residential home. According to U.S. News, 13 percent of Americans aged 60 or older experience memory problems and confusion. Mental decline can lead to social isolation and depression.
The number of adults over 65 is expected to double in the next quarter of a century. Filmmaker Evan Briggs says that she is surprised by “how generally segregated we’ve become as a society.” In 2013, she filmed a documentary at the facility.
Briggs shot the film by herself but needed to fund the editing and marketing of the movie. Her Kickstarter campaign raised more than $50,000, and the film, entitled “The Growing Season,” is slated to be released this year.
In a TEDx Talk, Briggs tells a story about going to sing Christmas carols at a nursing home with her family when she was younger. Her parents prepared her by telling her that the residents would be thrilled to see young people and she had to be friendly and smile a lot. She was ready to do that until she walked in and saw an elderly woman in the corner who was repeatedly banging a naked doll on a table. Briggs froze.
She goes on to explain that she began to fear getting older. In her late 20s, however, Briggs realized that she could live with her negative expectations or change them. After all, getting older is inevitable. That’s when she began to notice that many people devalue the elderly.
Cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies encourage people to buy products to hide their age. The elderly are not realistically represented in movies and TV shows. Most people say that they never want to end up in a nursing home.
Briggs asked herself, “What are the repercussions of approaching life in that way, not only for our elders but for us all?” Through her film, she hopes to bring attention to that life approach and encourage people to think differently about aging.
When she learned about Providence Mount St. Vincent, she assumed that the concept of pairing a preschool with a nursing home was a new concept. She soon found out that the establishment had been in place for 25 years.
The concept of intergenerational learning is not unique. Educa explains that these types of educational programs exist in the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Africa, Spain, and Australia. Older adults are natural leaders and role models. Children acquire something that scholars call generational intelligence as they interact with their elders.
“The Growing Season” asks: What can the very young and the very old offer each other, if given the chance?
The answer, according to the Providence Mount St. Vincent website, is complex. Children get to learn about the natural aging process and learn to accept individuals with disabilities. They become involved with an extended family of people who are several generations apart from them.
Elderly residents get opportunities to laugh, play and benefit from physical activity. They become empowered and renew their sense of self-worth as they take the role of leaders and story tellers. Both young and old learn what it’s like to give and receive unconditional love.
Briggs spent a year filming in the facility, where she saw a little bit of everything. Children helped the adults, and the grown-ups helped the kids. The experience was empowering for both.
One of the most poignant things that Briggs noticed was the way that the children helped the seniors come alive. The elderly residents at the home appeared lackluster and disinterested until the kids walked into the room. Then, they would create art, dance and sing together, and the atmosphere would spark with vivacity.
What also stood out to Briggs was that people were really present with each other. In a society that places value on getting more tasks accomplished in less time, we don’t often show our appreciation for others by simply being present with them.
Becoming more aware of our interactions with other generations can help us become more connected with the present, past and future. This brings us a perspective that can help communities thrive as time goes on.