Many of us can remember having grandparents either living in our family home or possibly just down the street. The majority of children in our programs today do not have that benefit. Their grandparents often live in another state, or if by chance they are in the same area, they are working or living a busy, full life. The advantages of living close to an older generation cannot be denied. Research validates that children’s lives are enriched by having the older generation to help them navigate life. The average nuclear family has both parents working while juggling a host of activities that fill every waking moment of their children’s lives.
Approximately five years ago, after many hours of prayer and research, the Celebration Center, in Brentwood, California, launched a senior day program. This program invites seniors that are often living by themselves or in their adult child’s home to spend their days with other seniors at our school.
Our school is comprised of toddlers, preschoolers, elementary children, an after-school program, and now senior citizens. While the senior program has its own separate format, the children and the seniors have opportunities throughout the day to interact and participate in activities together. The senior program has its own classroom and outside porch area so that they are provided with the opportunity to both observe and participate with the children.
To observe the interactions between seniors and children is priceless. Our children and seniors seem to have an unspoken affinity for one another. Children will walk over and take a senior’s hand as they stroll to the playground together, sometimes talking but most often just enjoying each other’s company. The school-age children often visit with the seniors after their school day is over, and they play games or work on projects together. It is pure “magic” to see them interact.
Looking at the Research
You may be asking yourself, what good can come from such a program? The short answer: the good is immeasurable. I was surprised by the amount of research that has been done on this topic.
The seniors we are ministering to are considered Baby Boomers and are from the largest group of seniors in recorded history. Due to the strides made in the medical field, people are living longer and have a greater quality of life. Too often these seniors are sitting in their home day in and day out watching TV and not having any outside conversation or social interaction. This program allows them to get out of the house, be with others, and most of all, interact with young children who adore them!
Current research validates that both adults and children benefit by spending time together: “It is noted that children benefit from extra nurturing and attention and seniors benefit from the sense of being needed and appreciated” (Goyer, 2001). For older adults, regular interactions with children result in an atmosphere that is more “family/home-like” and promotes social enrichment and a renewed interest in others (Foster, 1993). Older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments experienced more positive effects during interactions with children than they did during non-intergenerational activities, with an impressive 90 percent of family caregivers indicating that their family member benefited from the intergenerational program (Jarrott and Bruno, K., 2001).
The benefits aren’t just for our seniors. Preschool children involved in intergenerational programs had higher personal/social developmental scores—by 11 months—than preschool children involved in non-intergenerational programs (Goyer, 2001). Children who regularly participate with older adults in a shared site program at a nursing home have enhanced perceptions of older adults and persons with disabilities (Foster, 1993). The vast majority of parents surveyed believed the intergenerational program is beneficial for their children (Robenberg, 2001). The research validates that the intergenerational shared site approach can make a difference in the lives of children, families, and older adults!
A Final Note: Care for the Caregivers
I would be remiss if I did not include another arm of this program. The ministry to the caregivers who are caring for their loved one is beyond measure. Often, this family member is managing a situation that is overwhelming with the knowledge and probability that their responsibilities will only increase. Caregivers come through our doors exhausted and needing a break or a few hours during the day to themself. Our goal is to not only to provide them a break, but also to offer periodic luncheons or opportunities to be with other caregivers, or possibly hear a speaker. These caregivers are the unsung heroes of our society.
While I love all of the different ages here at Celebration, we feel we have a special calling to make sure that those who are close to the end of their earthly life are loved and cared for. I can’t tell you how excited we all were when an 85-year-old senior in our program accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Can you tell this program has touched all of our hearts?
Foster, K. 1993. Creating a child care center in a nursing home and implementing an intergenerational program. ERIC Document Reproduction Service: ED 411 053.
Goyer, A. 2001. Intergenerational shared site and shared resource programs: current models.
Generations United Project SHARE Background Paper. Washington, D.C.: Generations United.
Jarrott, S. and K. Bruno. 2003. Intergenerational activities involving persons with dementia: An observational assessment. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias 18(1): 31-37.
Robenberg, M.A. 2001. ONE J.O.Y.: A Process Evaluation of an Intergenerational Day Program. New Orleans, LA: Paper presented at the meeting of the American Society on Aging.
About the Author
Jeneane Stevens, MEd, president of Christian Education Development Co., has served as the executive director of Celebration Christian Preschools in Brentwood, California for the past 21 years. With 40 years in the field, she has served children in a variety of roles, including Christian school administration, children’s pastor, and college professor in early childhood education. In addition to starting Celebration Center, Jeneane helped start Christian Community Schools in Fremont, California, where she served for 15 years as preschool director, elementary principal, and superintendent. Jeneane has a passion for school improvement and served on the ACSI Early Education National Accreditation Commission for five years.
Jeneane has great enthusiasm for learning and growing, both personally and professionally. She enjoys mentoring others in the field, speaking at conferences, and strengthening early education programs through personal consultation and ongoing training.