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Triumph of ages – How old and young learn from each other

Posted: 14 May, 2018

Practitioners in early childhood education, social care and community development from across Europe will gather in DIT this week for an immersion course in bringing older people and young children together.

Social Sciences - TOY May 2018

The participants have just completed a pilot online training course in intergenerational learning created by researchers in DIT in collaboration with European partners. Now, they will meet in-person to share their experiences of working across generations in their respective countries, and to do further training on how to build and sustain intergenerational initiatives. The week-long course includes field trips to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, The National Botanic Gardens and The National Museum at Collins Barracks, to learn innovative approaches to bringing people of all ages together.

Dr Carmel Gallagher, a Lecturer in Social Sciences and one of the researchers on the project for DIT, explains why this project is more important than ever, “We’re responding to a lack of opportunities for learning and interaction between young children and older adults. People are living longer, but older adults and young children are having less and less contact with each other. Parents and grandchildren often migrate far away from grandparents. In many countries, older adults and young children are spending more time in segregated settings, impacting their opportunity to participate in their communities.”

The course is part of the Together Old and Young (TOY) project - an international consortium of university, non-governmental and local authority partners founded in 2012 to work on increasing intergenerational learning between older people (60 years plus) and young children (0-10 years) in seven European countries: Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Northern Ireland, The Netherlands and Greece. The goal is simple - to create new possibilities for older adults and young children to learn together and benefit from each other’s company.

Anne Fitzpatrick, a DIT Lecturer in Social Sciences and researcher on the project, says that the benefits are immense, “Children can teach older people to look afresh at the world. Older people can act as teachers, mentors and cultural guardians, and share their knowledge through activities such as paired reading, modelling good behaviour, or simply engaging in conversations with young people. Children and older people enrich each other’s lives and provide new perspectives on learning for each other. These experiences can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation in older people. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun, which can enhance feelings of wellbeing.”

Extensive research carried out by the TOY team has also shown clear benefits for communities at large. “Intergenerational learning promotes greater understanding between generations, which can contribute to increased social cohesion in the community by bridging the gap between different social groups in society,” says Ms Fitzpatrick.

One of the course participants, Jacinta Lowndes, describes an intergenerational programme, Kaleidoscope developed by Fingal County Council in partnership with Bright Sparks Montessori, Donabate, which Jactina manages, "What happens when a group of four year-olds invite seniors into their classroom? - very positive, enthusiastic connections. Initially planned as a six-week programme, Kaleidoscope was so successful that we kept it going for three months, with different activities planned for each week by the groups, from arts and crafts to music, songs, baking and charity work. Local history was chatted about, nature walks were taken, and bird feeders made. It culminated in a Christmas concert in Donabate Library where children and seniors entertained families and friends. But the most important part was what happened next, the children would meet the seniors in the village and chat away to them, inviting them back to their school. The result was happiness, smiles, a sustainable community - the citizens of the future working, playing and singing with the senior citizens of their village."

One of the big challenges for intergenerational learning projects is ensuring sustainability - how do you ensure that intergenerational initiatives continue to thrive in the community?

“That’s where the idea for creating an online course came from,” says Dr Gallagher. “The course will be offered as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses)– it will be free and open to anyone, providing an affordable and flexible way to develop the knowledge and skills to build and sustain an intergenerational initiative in your community. The course participants can come from a variety of backgrounds: preschool and primary school teachers, social care workers, youth and community workers, or volunteers. They will bring what they have learned back to their own communities across Europe, extending these benefits to more children and older people with potentially major impact.”

The TOY project is funded by the prestigious Erasmus+ programme, the EU’s flagship funding programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe.