If you’ve ever witnessed a young child spending time with an older adult, you’ve likely noticed how much enjoyment both seem to derive from the interaction. Children seem to be almost magnetically drawn to seniors and vice versa. In addition to boosting the spirit, aging experts say friendships that span several generations offer mental and physical health benefits.
Intergenerational activities can aid in lowering a senior’s risk for a sedentary lifestyle and the medical issues associated with it, such as diabetes, depression, and obesity. It can also provide an older adult with a sense of purpose knowing they have a buddy out there looking forward to seeing them.
The younger generation benefits from these friendships in a variety of ways, too. When younger people have a chance to make friends with seniors or develop especially close bonds with family elders, they build healthy attitudes about aging. Instead of fearing growing older, children and teens see it as the positive time in life it can be. It’s a winning experience for everyone involved.
You’ll find examples of intergenerational friendships at Sunrise Senior Living communities every day. In fact, many of our communities are located very close to schools which helps makes building those connections much easier. Sunrise of Fairfax in Northern Virginia shares a space with neighboring Merritt Academy, a private elementary and preschool, and the newly opened Sunrise of New Dorp on Staten Island is just across the street from New Dorp High School. In Alexandria, Virginia, a group of four year old’s from Bright Mind Preschool visit Sunrise of Old Town in every Wednesday.
If you are the caregiver for a senior loved one wondering how you can help build intergenerational bonds in your own family, we have some ideas our residents have tried.
Ways to Promote Intergenerational Bonding
- Adopt a sports team: Having a favorite sports team to follow can be fun for all ages. Whether it’s a local NFL team or a European professional football team (often referred to as soccer in the US), having a sport you can both watch from wherever you call home opens many possibilities for bonding. If your loved ones are able, you could consider planning an intergenerational outing to watch a game in person.
- Plan regular movie nights: Whether it is streaming the latest children’s flick in your living room or setting up a backyard movie theater using a projector and screen, technology makes hosting movie nights much easier. This list of 35 top family movies might be useful in making your selections. There are also ways to watch films together remotely via Netflix, HBO Max and more using the services’ “Watch Party” features or Teleparty.
- Plant and grow a garden: Gardening is a hobby that can be adapted for fun at every age. For example, if the senior in the family lives in a retirement community with a patio, the two generations can plan container gardens full of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. If a grandparent lives in a home that is close to the grandkids, the younger members of the family can help with watering and garden maintenance. Gardening via Zoom can be an option for those separated by greater distances.
- Spend time in nature: Whether its bird watching in the backyard or strolling along the nature trails at a nearby park, the great outdoors easily lends itself to bonding. Many local park systems offer guided tours to help people of all ages learn more about nature and all of the creatures who live there.
- Take a class together: Families that learn together can grow together, and grandparents can be great mentors. You’ll likely find intergenerational activities offered at art museums, libraries, zoos, parks, music stores, and more. Or you could search for projects on sites like SkillShare and Pinterest.
- Get messy: Engaging in arts and crafts projects is another way for several generations to enjoy their time together. The good news is that you don’t have to be especially creative to come up with ideas for the two generations. Craft stores have prepackaged projects, such as jewelry, bird houses, garden stones, paint-by-numbers, and model cars you can purchase fairly inexpensively.
- Bake family classics: Many families have recipes that have been passed down through the generations, and seniors are often the keepers of them. Another intergenerational activity for grandchildren and grandparents to explore could be learning how to make some of those favorite family recipes. Pick a few seasonal favorites each time they gather and don’t forget to use the video camera on your phone to capture the memory!