National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter
Karen DeBord, Ph.D.
Child Development Specialist
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.” Said the old man, “I do too!” The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.” “I do that too,” laughed the old man. Said the little boy, “I often cry.” The old man nodded, “So do I.” “But worst of all,” said the little boy, “it seems grown-ups don't pay attention to me.” And he felt the warmth of the wrinkled old hand. “I know what you mean,” said the old man.
Our society has the tendency to separate people by age groups. The media and other sources perpetuate this tendency by portraying stereotypical images of both the young and the aging. As a result, youngsters and older persons do not have many opportunities to interact or to learn about each other firsthand. In an effort to reduce age segregation, many agencies and child care programs are working to bring children and senior citizens together.
Intergenerational child care programs are occurring in a variety of ways. Child care centers are being established in senior center housing. Child care centers and school-age child care programs are hiring older adults on staff. Intergenerational centers are opening, and older adults are taking children into their homes as home-based providers. A bill introduced into the Senate calls for the establishment of “Grand Care” programs which would recruit and train senior citizens to serve as child care providers.
Intergenerational child care programs benefit both children and older adults. They give children and senior citizens the chance to develop meaningful relationships with each other. They also provide older people the opportunity to do valuable work in a field facing high labor shortages.
Benefits of intergenerational programs for children include:
– First-hand knowledge about the skills and physical capabilities of older persons, and an understanding of the diversity among older persons;
– Positive role models of aging adults;
– Opportunity to learn from the past;
– Opportunity to experience significant heritage skills available (carpentry, storytelling, quilting, etc.);
– Opportunity to experience a range of knowledge and a sense of perspective that develops as part of the aging process.
Benefits of intergenerational programs for older adults include:
– Opportunity to have a meaningful connection with younger generations;
– Opportunity to make new friends with common interests, combat loneliness, and isolation;
– Opportunity to develop new child-rearing skills to use with own grandchildren;
– A chance to pass on one's own being to others through such activities as music and storytelling;
– Opportunity to earn supplemental income.
It is important to take care in planning intergenerational programs. We must not assume that just because someone has raised a family she or he has the skills to care for and teach children in groups. A careful selection process and thorough orientation is necessary. Intergenerational programs must have a commitment to make these arrangements work well for both the children and the older adults.
Planning and developing intergenerational programs is a process that should consider the needs and emotions of all participants. For example, the physical limitations of older adults need to be understood. It is also important to remember that if too many adults come into, then leave children's lives, children may become confused or their trust may waver. If a child has a relationship with an older person who becomes ill, he or she cannot just disappear from the child's life without comment. The situation must be discussed and the child needs to be given the opportunity to express his or her feelings (Galinsky, 1989).
Galinsky, E. (1989). A case for intergenerational child care. In S. Newman & S. W. Brummel (Eds.), *Intergenerational programs: Imperatives, strategies, impacts, trends* (p. 239). NY: The Haworth Press, Inc.
Silverstein, S. (1981). The old man and the little boy. In *A light in the attic.* NY: Harper & Row.
Smith, T., & Newman, S. (March, 1993). Older adults in early childhood programs: Why and how. *Young Children*, pp. 32-35.
Newman, S., Vander Ven, K., & Ward, C. R. (1991). *Guidelines for the productive employment of older adults in child care.* Washington, DC: National Association on the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Order #763. $3.00.
Helfgott, K. P. (1992). *Older adults caring for children: Intergenerational child care.* Washington, DC: Generations United. Available through Generations United, $15.00 (see address below).
Generations United is a national coalition of over 100 non-profit agencies that distribute information about intergenerational issues and programs. Write to them at:
C/O Child Welfare League of America
440 First Street NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20001-2085
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging – call 1-800-677-1116 to locate the office or agency in your area.
Organizations in your area that can help you locate older adults who might be interested in employment or volunteer work are:
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)
State Employment Agency (some have specialists who place adults over 55 years of age)