How Everyone Benefits From Intentionally-Designed Intergenerational Shared Sites

It is the relationship–what is happening between generations–that really matters. Intergenerational activities and programs are a means to building a culture of caring relationships.

– Saez, Ponazo, and Sanchez (2007, pg.186)

Recently, I wrote about designing shared spaces for intergenerational engagement that can foster deep connections. Using an age-integrated, rather than an age-segregated approach, intergenerational shared sites aim to strengthen the support circle surrounding families and communities.

Meaningful intergenerational engagement is at the core of high-quality intergenerational facilities. Beyond providing services, shared sites intentionally foster personal bonds and feelings of affection, support, trust, and companionship. Relationships become an end in themselves as people of different ages engage in shared experiences. This focus on being together with people of different generations in a safe, caring place can foster empathy, mutual learning, and a sense of connectedness.

In these spaces, people of different ages come together to learn, grow, improve and play. These are more than just physical spaces; they have collective meaning for participants of different age groups with a relational focus. Other multigenerational sites are designed to accommodate needs and abilities, not necessarily to promote cross age interaction. This is the distinction between multigenerational and intergenerational shared sites—relationships.

Models for shared sites that focus co-locating services and programs for young children and older adults include:

  • Intergenerational community care centers
  • Child care centers housed at a retirement community
  • Child care centers located in a nursing home
  • Kindergarten classrooms located in a nursing home or assisted living facility
  • Co-located adult and child daycare center

Models that involve older adults and school-age children, youth or young adults include:

  • Schools and senior housing co-located on the same campus
  • Intergenerational centers serving specific populations
  • Co-located senior centers and schools or Head Start programs
  • Intergenerational co-housing

 Intergenerational sites share some common characteristics. They are places where:

  • Formal and informal Intergenerational interaction occurs on a regular basis, with relationship-building as a primary focus.
  • Programming is age -appropriate and inclusive of various abilities, races/ethnicities, and cultures.
  • Space is accessible, safe, welcoming for all ages/abilities, and designed to promote cross-age interaction.
  • Partners serving children/youth and older adults work collaboratively to plan and implement quality programming.
  • Staff understand the needs and strengths of all age groups, best practices in intergenerational programming, and the value of cross-age connections.
  • Interdependence, reciprocity, and inclusion are shared values.

Research indicates that shared sites,  also an antidote to loneliness, isolation and disconnectedness, are beneficial to children, adults, parents and caregivers, staff, organizations and communities. For example:

Benefits for Children

Social/Emotional Development
Cognitive Functioning
Physical Activity
Improved self-esteem and self-confidence
Enhanced communication skills (e.g., listening, expressing feelings)
Improved fine and gross motor skills
Increased understanding of older adults and aging
Improved vocabulary and reading
Better eye-hand coordination
Enhanced mood
Increased ability to cooperate and problem-solve
Increased appreciation of diversity (e.g., age, disability)
Increased knowledge of aging and the life cycle
Increased comfort interacting with older adults
Improved academic skills

Benefits for Older Adults

Social/Emotional Development
Cognitive Functioning
Physical Activity
Enhanced life satisfaction/well-being
Enhanced problem-solving skills
Increased physical activity
Increased self-esteem/self-worth
Enhanced communication skills
Increased brain stimulation
Reduced feelings of loneliness
Increased understanding of children and child development
Improved perception of health
Decreased depression
Increased comfort with technology
Increased socialization and engagement
Increased confidence

fam games

Benefits for Parents/Care Givers

  • Increased confidence that the care environment is stimulating and caring
  • Satisfaction that their family member is engaged in 1:1 and small group interaction
  • Reliable child or older adult care during emergencies

Benefits for Staff

  • Increased staff retention
  • Improved staff morale
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • On-site child care for employees who need it

Benefits for Organizations

  • Increased collaboration across departments or with external partners
  • Increased financial stability due to diversification of revenue
  • Potential cost-savings through cost-sharing
  • Improved quality of care due to reduced adult-child ratio
  • Increased visibility in the community

Benefits for the Community

  • Increased awareness of the power of intergenerational relationships and the efficacy of shared sites
  • Development of new jobs and sources of care for families
  • Opportunities for community revitalization, including new public spaces
  • Increased empathy and understanding across ages, races, and cultures

Intergenerational shared sites represent an innovative, yet intuitive strategy for reducing loneliness, increasing social engagement of older adults and fostering generational empathy. Interacting with older adults can also shape children’s lifelong ideas about aging and older adults completely. Generation ‘gaps’ can no longer describe cross-age disconnectedness, disrespect and disregard between generations. Shared sites offer opportunity for familiarity and mutual respect. In these spaces, the focus is on process, not product. Positive interaction between age groups is more important than the successful completion of an activity.

Gone are the days when the default in program and service design is to separate people by age group.When thoughtfully planned, shared sites, that will address health and safety, academic, personal and societal issues while also fostering connections, can significantly impact the quality of life for all generations.

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