June 1 has been declared Intergenerational Day in Canada in celebration of programs that bring school children together with seniors for part of their school year.
Grade 6 and 7 students at Cataline Elementary School have participated in an intergenerational project with the Seniors Village in Williams Lake for several years now.
The Cataline students celebrated Intergenerational Day a couple of days early on Thursday, May 30 by planting trees at Scout Island in the morning and joining their senior buddies at the village at noon for a barbecue lunch.
The seniors were also to accompany them to Scout Island but the weather was rainy so that part of the venture was just for the students.
Back at the Seniors Village for lunch the students helped out by fixing hot dogs or hamburgers and bringing them to their senior buddies.
A cake was also cut to celebrate Intergenerational Day. The mayor and councillors Surinderpal Rathor and Danica Hughes were on hand to visit and help with the event.
Sharon MacKenzie, executive director of the B.C.-based Intergenerational Society of Canada was also in attendance. MacKenzie, a teacher, helped to develop the original intergenerational project between schools and seniors’ facilities.
MacKenzie was recently hired by Retirement Concepts to start intergenerational school projects with other seniors villages in other communities around B.C.
She says there are eight or nine communities where projects similar to the Cataline/Seniors Village project are now being established.
She says the program has three basic components: curriculum based study, in this case at the Seniors’ Village; volunteering; and developing one-on-one relationships between students and seniors.
At Cataline grades 6 and 7 students move their classes to the Seniors’ Village for five to six weeks split between spring and fall.
In addition to regular class work, the students spend time with seniors reading, taking walks, playing games and visiting. Several of the students at the barbecue reported on the fun they had writing stories with their senior buddies as part of their class projects.
As part of their volunteer work the students volunteer with activities such as weeding gardens with the seniors, setting tables for lunch, and decorating for special events.
The social aspect of the program is huge in terms of building communication skills and confidence among students and giving seniors, who may be isolated, an opportunity to visit with young people, MacKenzie says.
“It is such an amazing learning and teaching opportunity,” MacKenzie says. “It is such a simple way of improving mental, emotional, and social and physical health … What we’ve seen in terms of health is unbelievable.”
Intergenerational Day in Canada also provides an easy opportunity to raise awareness in classrooms and in daily life of the many benefits simple and respectful connections between generations bring to education, health and community safety, MacKenzie says. “Stereotypes of both young and older people are broken down when they learn about each other. Isolation is diminished and empathy grows in both directions. Intergenerational Day Canada makes a powerful statement about the value of generational connecting within each and everyone’s neighbourhood.”