Intergenerational Educational Plan – The Family Perspective

Renate Heinisch & Edeltraud Röbe

Questions for parents and pedagogic institutions:

  1. Does the child continuously live in contact with different generations?
  2. Do grandparents regularly look after their grandchild and are they reliable partners in childcare? (e.g.: “Grandparental leave” as a possibility to interrupt or to reduce employment to look after grandchildren; commitment as “au-pair-grandmother”; “Grandparents- Service- Points”)
  3. Does the child live in an intergenerational neighborhood with informal contacts that provide possibilities of chatting, helping one another and broadening one’s view of other generations?
  4. How do parents/educators speak about age, different ages and their own age?
  5. Where and how does a child get in touch with aged people? Which models of age get into their mind?
  6. Are educators and teachers aware of the children’s images of age? Are there selected books, films or works of art which represent images of age and initiate discussions?
  7. Has the community in which a child lives already worked out a program of culture and activities fit to intergenerational requirements?
  8. Does the community build a network of cultural institutions, of youth and senior facilitators, of artists and professionals in the social field to foster and promote intergenerational activities? (e. g. „ A village goes game-playing“– One week long, young and aged people discover classics and try new games together)
  9. Do children get the chance of making intergenerational contacts in the first pedagogic institutions they attend? Which range of age is the staff? Are older persons and younger professionals part of a greater social space and framework?
  10. Are older persons integrated in the institutions’ concepts with their skills as laypersons, in daily routines and in communication (e.g. Early Excellence Centres in Great Britain)?
  11. Are older people involved in activities with children and are they prepared for their voluntary work and responsibility?
  12. “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Is this African saying strong enough to raise the community’s interest in enterprises of more innovative intergenerational approaches and to contribute to social cohesion? Which social initiatives and communal coalitions may be important doorkeepers for intergenerational learning?

Why intergenerational learning and solidarity matter – the family’s perspective

From the day a person is born, the voyage of life begins. She or he encounters all kinds of people who convey many different ways of thinking, acting and cultural orientations. Thus, every family resembles a world of persons and meanings, deeply engraved in our memory as highly active images. Regarding society, family is the fundamental field in which a person is rooted by emotional bonds and relationships. Family is and always will be the ‚home port’ from which a child sets off to its lifelong journey.

Social changes in European societies are affecting lives, relationships and learning opportunities of all people, both of older people and young children. Children grow up in smaller families and have fewer chances to socialise with brothers and sisters and different age groups. Older people live longer but often are isolated from younger generations. Increasing separation of generations into same age institutions and spaces leads to the fact that young children and older adults will miss chances of interaction, mutual understanding and reciprocal learning and hence lose the major source of intergenerational bonding.

The birth of a child changes everybody’s role within a family. Grandparents often become a reliable and important support for the young family’s situation concerning daycare and finances. Grandparents are close and intimate with the child, but they react in a different way than parents and have a complementary role. At the same time, they personally and permanently benefit from the contacts with the young generation and the relationship to their own grownup children. Pedagogic institutions (kindergarten and first grades) have already started to invite voluntary (mostly male) seniors to share activities, read and learn, play, sing and have fun together with children. Older adults obviously possess a key to work with children: They spend time, good ideas and patience to listen to them. Thus, mutual understanding, emotional assistance, patience, reliability and feeling of individual value of the older contribute to the children’s human development. While exploring their world, children need partners who answer questions, who admire findings, who encourage curiosity, who are interested in creative ideas. Again it’s the older generation who has a central role in explaining and interpreting the world.

By story-telling in everyday life and in its literary forms, which until today is a central mode of transferring experiences and traditions, generations meet in a specific interaction where both members introduce their specific problems, interests and views. As such situations may cause psychosocial dynamics there is a great need of sensitivity. By explaining artefacts (e.g. toys, pictures, furniture, workshops, buildings, streets, also nature), older people seem to be a vital link to human history and cultural heritage. Children need their stories as a kind of vital memory, to find their own positions, to share values and to gain sense of identity and perspectives.

Obviously they are also engaged in similar topics, problems and solutions (e.g. questions of healthy nutrition, careful use of senses, facilities in everyday life like safe pedestrian bridges, pathways adjustable for prams and rollators, ect.). Activities which seem to be quite popular and successful are activities in music, acting, reading, nature, social life which is an important resource for solidarity and later voluntary engagement.

Current research highlights the fact that the younger generation’s image of age is the more positive the more frequent and enjoyable their contact to older persons is. In the process of socialization this positive attitude increases and expands to old people outside the family. Due to the findings, young children already differentiate their images of age by taking in account characteristics like appearance (look), personality, health and achievement ability and perceive differences of ageing processes, individual specifics and the importance of learning, activating and caring setting. Thus young people get to know that someday, somehow everybody’s life bends toward an end. Many old people are affected by illness, dementia and loneliness in early years; others represent a vital generation of young seniors taking care for their eighty year-old parents and friends.

The bottom line on from childhood shouldn’t be fear of age, disease and death and hence capitulation but rather prevention. And this is definitely more than cosmetics. It involves looking for tasks, mobilizing and inspiring engagement. It’s not running away from ageing but actively doing it. You have to reinvent yourself each single day and find out what’s possible and what’s not. This takes time, patience, nerves and attention for everybody’s journey in the old age.