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Posted by Positive Aging SourceBook on 06/15/2022

Intergenerational Programs: Learning and growing together

Intergenerational Programs: Learning and growing together

A drive to create. A desire to learn. A yearning to be understood. There is more that unites young people and older adults than divides them. 

By focusing on the commonalities between older adults and children and encouraging more exposure and understanding, intergenerational programs can build connections and help participants learn and grow at every age. 

Generations United and LeadingAge teamed up with the Retirement Research Foundation to complete Intergenerational Programming in Senior Housing: From Promise to Practice, a report detailing findings from a year-long study on intergenerational programs in senior housing. 

The report explains that “[i]ntergenerational practice involves bringing people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities that promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contribute to building more cohesive communities.” 

Intergenerational programs tend to focus on shared interests and common goals. The programs typically leverage the resources that the young and the old can offer each other. Programs are designed so that both the older adults and the children or young adults stand to gain knowledge and connections. 

Intergenerational programs help to reduce social isolation and increase self-esteem and wellbeing. They also help individuals better understand and appreciate people who are not the same age as them. Ultimately, the programs help to foster good will and build strong communities. 

According to the study, many retirement communities are incorporating intergenerational activities into their programs—and they are seeing positive results for both residents and youth. Retirement community efforts tend to focus on specific intergenerational activities to engage residents and young people, such as art or technology classes or events. The benefit of these short-term events is that they do not require a major commitment from either staff or participants. However, utilizing single events can make it harder for young people and older residents to form relationships. While the interaction may be positive, it is not the same as building long-term relationships. 

Some of the most promising programs identified by the study included tutoring and mentoring efforts. These programs allow retirement community residents to support young people by providing guidance and professional development opportunities. 

Mentoring programs have been particularly effective for helping youth in foster care, special education students, and English as a Second Language students. Older adults can help young people improve their language and literacy skills or run after school homework clubs for youth.

While the report identified several significant challenges to implementing intergenerational programming, the benefits have the potential to far outweigh the challenges. Well-run intergenerational programs can help both older adults and young people feel more connected to their communities and more confident in their own worth and abilities. 

Most common intergenerational activities:

  • Friendly Visiting  27%
  • Arts  24%
  • Health/Wellness  18%
  • Oral History/Reminiscence Interviewing 16%
  • Language/Literacy 15%

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