Fun ideas for Children and Older Adults to do Together
When my daughter was a year old my mother had a stroke. Since my mother was my child care and then she needed help, I stopped working so I could care for them both. My daughter got to spend most of her days during her formative years with my mother (who could no longer talk or use her right arm) and my grandmother who was elderly. I can’t begin to enumerate on the ways this situation benefited my daughter. She has always been comfortable around people who are elderly and/or disabled. She has high emotional intelligence and empathy. While they were living she counted them among her best friends.
The research is undeniable. Children who participate in mentoring programs with older adults have better social and communication skills, have improved problem-solving abilities, have positive attitudes toward aging, and gain a sense of purpose. They are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school.
Outcomes for the older adults interacting with youth are equally as impressive. Older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, experience fewer falls, and performed better on memory tests than their peers. (Generations United, www.gu.org)
Here are some great ideas for activities young and older people can do together from the Good Samaritan Society. If you like these, they have other suggestions on their Pinterest page!
- Become email pen pals
- Play games with food- pick-up sticks with pretzels, build towers with cookies, play marble games with round hard candy
- Find a project to do together- puzzles, cooking, jewelry making
- Let the child be the teacher, showing the adult how to use an iPad or smartphone
- Plant and nurture a garden together
Your child might be reluctant to interact with older adults because she/he is unsure about their appearance or mannerisms. You can help them overcome this concern by talking about the older adults who are already in his/her life or by reading books like Barbara Dugan’s Loop the Loop or Mem Fox’s Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. These books depict relationships between a child and an older adult. You can serve as a role model by interacting with older adults yourself and help your child identify ways they can help the elderly in your neighborhood or community.
My daughter started taking belly dance lessons when she was 4. At the first show she attended there were older adults performing (she identified them by their gray hair) and she decided that “grandmommies can belly dance too.” That began a series of belly dance lessons for my Mom and Grandmother with the cutest, sweetest teacher of all.