With dizzying advances in technology resulting in wearable computers, self-parking cars and streaming television, the generation gap between tech-savvy children and pre-personal computer seniors has never been greater. Youngsters wrapped up in social media may find it difficult to connect with computer-challenged elders, while seniors may have difficulty keeping up with cyber-speed kids. Bridge the chasm between youth and the elderly with intergenerational activities designed to forge relationships, pay homage to the past and build skills.
Relationship Building Benefits and Tips
The benefits of developing intergenerational relationships include health improvements, emotional support and enhanced socialization skills for the elderly, according to the organization Generations United. For children, these relationships decrease negative behaviors, provide positive role models and teach appreciation for people and the past. While beneficial, successful intergenerational relationships aren’t guaranteed simply by engaging children and the elderly in activities. Make practical decisions regarding the attention spans of younger children and energy levels of seniors. Devise activities to capture the attention of both generations. Instruct all participants to interact with one another outside of their generational stereotypes and engage one another as intriguing people with interesting skills and stories to tell.
Pass It On
Some intergenerational activities provide the opportunity for elders to pass down treasured traditions, such as woodworking, gardening, sewing, photography or baking. Encourage seniors to share memories of their own grandparents performing these activities as they pass down family traditions or recipes. When discussing family customs, such as holiday rituals, bring out old photo albums depicting the traditions to help children identify and appreciate their place in the family and in history.
Years ago, when grandparents and great-grandparents were young, many household chores and goods required hands-on effort. Challenge today’s youth to complete old-fashioned activities, such as cleaning laundry with a washboard or mixing cookie dough by hand, to discover if they could have survived had they been born years ago. Engage seniors in the activities by staging a head-to-head competition, or assign each child to an elderly mentor to help coach them through the challenge. This activity teaches children to appreciate modern conveniences and to value the past, while providing the elderly with a nostalgic look back.
Ask children and the elderly what first comes to mind when you say the words “stream,” “virus” or “web,” and you’ll get widely varying answers. Youngsters tend to produce digital definitions, while the elderly are more apt to bring up creeks, illnesses and spiders. Dueling definitions begins with a list of words for both generations to define. Once completed, children and seniors exchange their lists and engage in conversation about how language has changed over the years. As an alternative, consider asking children to guess at the meaning behind the slang of the elders’ generation, such as 1930s slang “take a powder” and “know one’s onions." Laughs and knowledge will be shared as the seniors explain the true meanings.
- Generations United: Benefits of Intergenerational Play
- Virginia Tech: Generations United: A Guide to Successful Intergenerational Activities
- St. Thomas University: Why Bring Youth and Seniors Together?
- NYC.gov: Good Practices in Intergenerational Programming
- USA.gov: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
- GOTO_TOKYO/iStock/Getty Images