Disconnection in Modern Society
It is a sad reality in our society that we have “places” for different age groups. Adults “work,” children go to “school,” and then we have various “elderly” programs. Traditionally, our different generations were not so segregated by these institutions. Often, elders lived with their adult children and helped the adults by helping with childcare and other tasks of the household or farm. In many cultures, people still live like this and family is the central social unit for all generations.
Today with institutions taking over various aspects of family life and with adults often living far away from their families of origin, people are not only geographically scattered, but also not typically working closely together.
These types of traditional arrangements led to natural connections. If an elder were too frail to cook or clean, he or she could teach an older child to sew or fish or read to a younger child. The adults also benefited from the perspective of an older person who had already lived through many of the trials of parenthood and work in the larger society.
We often do not really appreciate what we have lost in more modern times. Children today have a lot more time with peers than with adults and when they are with adults, the adults are usually their busy parents who may not have the energy or time left for the types of relationship building that comes best with leisure time. Older adults also miss out on being able to put their experiences and wisdom to use after retirement. There are few ready-made outlets for them to easily contribute in this way if they are not near family.
Several programs have been developed to help with this situation like the Legacy Project which created a wonderful guidebook for Intergenerational Programming with Penn State.
But, if you are not part of a special project, how can you do something in your own family to encourage intergenerational connections?
Ideas for Ways to Connect Grandparents, Adults, and Children
There is no reason that different generations cannot play together! Aside from physical limitations which may vary, most older and younger people can go for walks, go to the park, walk the dog, play Frisbee, pick strawberries at a local farm, rake leaves on a crisp fall day, or do gardening projects. While many of these things take place outside and depend on fair weather, there are also indoor ideas like active video games or do a light yoga video. You can also check out a local gym like a YMCA for classes, gym time to shoot hoops, or swim indoors.
Board games are universally appealing to most of us – young or old. This is also a great time to learn new card games from the kids and older games from generations gone by. Game playing allows for a lot of interacting, “teachable moments” for the kids learning to be good sports, and time to hear stories from elders.
We all eat! So, cooking and sharing meals is the most basic “family” activity. Invite others for dinner of different ages. Have jobs for grandparents and children to do together to make those connections.
Connecting Across the Miles
So, maybe you don't live near family. How can you connect anyway? We have great tools like "Skype" and Facebook to share moments or photos, etc. - but what about traditional old fashioned letter writing? Today, youth are bombarded with electronic messaging - not only from their friends, but also from school and strangers and companies trying to sell them their stuff! So, young people are often excited to get a real letter - more than you would imagine. It wouldn't hurt from them to send a real letter either - if young people still know how to write with a pen! Packages of goodies or trinkets to let you know that others are thinking of you are also great ways to connect.
Get Some Help
Getting elders to help in any way you can with children can be a double win. You get some needed breaks and your children get attention from other adults while your parents or other older relatives get to enjoy the kids. Kids need more than just their busy parents. It is good for them to learn from other adults as opposed to tweets or peers!
Get Out More
Consider vacationing with elders and kids. These trips are memorable and you have extra adults around to help with the kids. Also, consider movies, mini-golf, or restaurant outings.
Yoga studios, gyms, art centers, nature centers, local colleges and universities, and the public school system all may offer community classes on a variety of topics. Find some common interests and see if your elderly relative would like to take a class with you. You may find some that the kids can take as well.
Nothing gets people to gel like a common purpose. Do you need to build a shed or plant a garden – paint a room or fix up an old car? These kinds of activities can be a shared effort. It may take some time on your part to get “buy-in” – but having some regular time to work on a common project can be a great way to build a sense of “team” unlike many other activies.
Whatever you do, just think about including another person from a different generation and how that may benefit you all.
Activities for Seniors