By Hannah Lobb (TimeBanks USA Intern)
I have experienced this first hand, seeing the eyes of an elderly person light up when a young child walks in the room.
My grandfather’s favorite day of the week is Friday. That is the day when his great-grandson comes to visit him in his often lonely, often quiet retirement village.
When 3-year-old Flynn comes to visit though, my Grandfather’s living room is anything but quiet or lonely. They have an activity that they do together each week and despite being at very different stages of life, they both enjoy it.
My grandfather has always enjoyed playing music, so each Friday he spends times playing little tunes on the harmonica and having Flynn echo them afterwards. It is a very special exchange to witness and one that some people are making happen on a large scale.
In West Seattle, the Intergenerational Learning Centre (ILC) runs a preschool within a senior care center that is home to more than 400 elderly residents.
Included in the array of activities that the elderly participate in with the preschoolers is music, just like the Friday harmonica session that my granddad shares with his great-grandson.
However in the 5 days a week that the ILC children share with the elderly residents of the care center, they also manage to fit in dancing, lunches, art and storytelling.
Witnesses of the program report the same change in the elderly residents when the children walk into the room, as I have seen in my grandfather, and also indicate that it is beneficial for the children as well.
In particular, those parents who have aging parents, especially value the idea of sending in their young children to visit the elderly in the senior care center.
Caring for the elderly can be a difficult and complicated task and it is a big responsibility placed on a daughter or son, to decide what is best for their parents.
Perhaps a care center is not the most fun place for them to be, as walking into one often gives views of older people quietly nodding off in their wheelchairs. But at least they are looked after at all times and given the help that they need.
However people often get lonely in care centers, if their families are unable to visit frequently. The Intergenerational Learning Center preschool lends a solution to this problem.
Small children, as you can see in the short video, are patient and accepting in ways that adults may not be with elderly people. One child calmly repeated his name over and over, despite his elderly friend getting it wrong time and time again.
These children are at the opposite side of the life cycle to their elderly friends, but are able to enjoy and benefit from each other’s company.
This model of intergenerational learning is especially suited to a timebank model. It is evidence that the people who are not identified as contributors to society, really do have something to offer.
Young children and elderly residents are mutually benefitting from their interactions with one another. They are just spending time together and this is a core value of timebanking – everyone’s time is valuable and equal.