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Beyond Child Care


By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

– Benjamin Franklin

With a growing recognition of the value of intergenerational engagement in combatting ageism, reducing social isolation, and building sustainable communities, there is increased attention in the United States and around the world to the concept of shared sites.  Although currently the majority of intergenerational shared sites involve young children interacting with older adults, the potential to engage other age groups in shared care, shared learning, and shared living is limitless.

This final section of the Toolkit highlights a variety of models that connect older adults with school-aged children, college students, and young adults in one location. Though they differ in focus, these shared sites are all intentional about creating space and time for intergenerational interaction. They are designed to include both structured and unstructured opportunities to build meaningful relationships, foster mutual learning, and enhance well-being.

Bridge Meadows

10.1 The Intergenerational School, Cleveland, Ohio

In 2000, the first Intergenerational School, founded by Peter and Cathy Whitehouse, opened in Cleveland, OH. It was structured around the ideology that people of all ages can learn alongside one another throughout the lifespan. Planned activities and flexible meetings were used to facilitate the exchange of generational knowledge, experience, and skills. There are now 3 Intergenerational Schools in Cleveland, all of which are designed to simultaneously increase academic skills and build meaningful cross—generational relationships. 

In each of these schools, students are placed in multi-age classrooms based on individual learning needs. Recognizing the importance of relationships in the learning process and the need for additional student support, the founders started a signature reading program called Learning Partners. The partners are mostly retired local citizens age 60 and over, representing a variety of cultural and professional backgrounds. They commit to at least two hours per week with students for one-on-one reading, sharing stories and building relationships.

The training for learning partners emphasizes the need to build a relationship with students through a shared experience around books. The goal is to create an equal relationship where the child is an equal partner and not just a recipient. An Intergenerational Coordinator in each school touches base with volunteers and is responsible for community outreach. In addition to preparing the older adults, the school also explicitly teaches the children about aging and how to engage with older people. Children learn what it means if a person is frail, hard of hearing, or experiencing memory challenges and how to adjust their own behavior accordingly.

This success of Learning Partners led to the development of other intergenerational learning programs such as oral history projects, gardening, drama, music and dance, chess, computers, investing, knitting as well as a variety of community service projects. Some activities take place at assisted care facilities, enabling residents with less mobility to engage in intergenerational learning. Regardless of the specific activity, the core requirements remain the same: relationship-based, interactive requiring the active participation and input from both members of the partnership, and joyful.

The physical design of the Intergenerational Schools is intended to promote informal as well as formal cross-age interaction. Spaces are designed to function as living rooms or family rooms rather than as traditional classrooms. Hallways have comfortable couches or chairs, small nooks and crannies are available for people to read together, and rooms are filled with book-cases and tables for intergenerational engagement. Moveable panels in some niches allow subdividing the space. The space has good natural light and is wheelchair accessible for older mentors with mobility and/or visual challenges.