Making Grand-Friends

The concept of “non-family intergenerational interactions” is centered around the simple idea that old and young can bring new energy, knowledge and enthusiasm to each others’ lives. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a relationship with a retirement community, where several of their residents would travel to our preschool regularly to read and play with the children. Since restrictions have been lifted, the Caterpillar Clubhouse Nature Preschool children have been traveling to the retirement community instead, every other week, to visit their grand-friends.

I was in awe that the simple presence of our preschoolers made such a difference in these grand-friends lives. I noticed how the kids completely accepted the physical and mental differences around them with such natural grace. And gained a sense of connection across the generations. Too often we underestimate the power of a hug, smile and children’s laughter…. I believe in the respect and dignity of life for people of all ages, young and old. This core belief is the thread interwoven through the fabric of our program.

What the groups do when they meet can be as relaxed as playing with play dough, a balloon game or reading a book together.

Valuing Older People

Older adults have a need to contribute to the next generation, and that doing so can give older people feelings of accomplishment or success, rather than stagnation, as they age. Intergenerational activities show elders that they are valued as individuals that still possess lifelong skills, rather than being passive recipients of care. One lady who attended the care facility told me that you don’t think about your age when you are in the company of young children. The little ones brought a new sense of vibrancy and fun to the center, and the focus was no longer on watching time pass but on living in the moment.

These days traditional families are separated by distance, time and lack of understanding between generations, but programs that bring children and older adults together could change the whole of society’s outlook.

Early Childhood Education is about building relationships. Research shows that students who have healthy intergenerational relationships have better self-confidence as well as a greater sense of empathy and tolerance. Children also develop a positive sense of aging and the interactions between generations reduce fear of older adults. Relationships between the children and elders also reduce fear of various abilities and disabilities.

Quote of the day: Grand-friend: I didn’t even know I needed that hug until I just received it.

Preschool students, Primrose residents find friendship in one another | News |

When I was a family child care provider I was lucky enough to live in the Chicago Metro Area and had a world of museums at my fingertips. I would choose every year to have a different annual membership and we would spend a couple of days every month exploring every nook and cranny of that museum. The next year I would move on to another museum. We spent hours and hours exploring Brookfield Zoo, the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Wonder Works Children’s Museum. It was relatively inexpensive for the annual passes and I could take as many children on the annual pass as I wanted.

Many of you are probably thinking I am crazy! Field trips can be very stressful I know. But, the trick is to not see it as a field trip, but rather as an extension of your learning environment. Having an annual membership that allowed us to visit a couple of times a month meant I was not stressed out about making sure we saw everything in one day. We would often go spend 3 hours just in one or two areas of the museum. There was never any rush. Today some museum policies have changed, you can’t always bring in as many children as you want and the parking (at least in Chicago) can be terribly expensive unless they offer deals for annual pass holders. But, it’s still worth thinking about. Many of you may have local small museums right in your backyard that you don’t even know about. These smaller museums are easier to navigate with young children, cater to smaller groups, and are often really excited you are there. It can be worth inquiring about a membership as a provider if information is not listed.

For example Wonder Works Children’s Museum is in Oak Park, IL, a suburb just outside of Chicago. It has free parking and is small at only 6,400 square feet as compared to the Chicago Children’s Museum at 84,000 square feet. But it packs a lot of fun into its small space. It has six experience areas including art, dramatic play, farm to market, outdoor theme area, construction, and gardening. Children will be happy to spend many days at this small museum and will love returning for things they remember fondly.

Though transporting children can be challenging (and this is especially true if you only venture out once or twice a year), it gets easier once children know the routine and understand why they are doing it.  So, don’t judge your outings based on that once a year jaunt to the pumpkin patch. It can be helpful to remind children “If we get settled in the car quickly, we can get to the museum and play sooner.” It is also helpful if the children know where they are going. I know that once I told my children it was a “Wonder Works Day”, they would begin to get excited and talk about what they would do once they got there, which made the transportation process that much easier. Please remember that you must always follow licensing guidelines when transporting children.

So check out the big and small museums in your areas and make them into an extension of your learning environment.