Changes in family structures, immigration and the economic crisis, among other issues, make the generational bond difficult. For this reason, the urgent need to create shared spaces in which different generations relate to each other is emerging.
Based on this premise, the school environment offers an ideal context to work on the intergenerational vision. In fact, the intergenerational experiences that take place at school help create an educational ideology for life, promoting bidirectional learning, and nurturing the active participation of both older people and students.
Our intergenerational and intercultural project located in Vitoria-Gasteiz has established a collaboration between schools, non-governmental associations and centers for the elderly to foster a relationship of mutual support between children, the elderly and professionals.
It is based on the Person-Centered Care Model and positive humanistic psychology , so that, although it has a structure, it seeks personalized strategies for different realities.
The fundamental slogan is that, at a minimum, in the space and time of the project each person (boys, girls and adults) contributes the best version of themselves. And that he does it from the authenticity, considering each person from an appreciative approach, valuing the best of each one.
To this end, two preparatory sessions were held with teachers, in which the foundations of the project were laid.
Shared goals, links and reading
The shared goal is that, through an enjoyable activity, children improve their reading skills and love of reading, while establishing a positive bond with older people that is meaningful to their lives. 18 elderly people (between 61 and 91 years old) and 24 children (between 9 and 12 years old) belonging to 11 different nationalities have participated.
The project has been developed over several years. It started in the 2017-2018 academic year. The students of 5th grade of Primary Education, through activities of first-person experience and approach to the reality of the elderly, observed the importance of creating accessible and friendly environments so that all people can function autonomously and comfortably.
An example of these activities are the training sessions on the importance of accessible and friendly environments. On the one hand, they reflected on the importance of accessibility . And on the other, through a simulator , several dynamics were carried out that allowed the students to experience first-hand the difficulties that a person with reduced mobility, low vision or deafness suffers in their day-to-day life.
Support for reading with the elderly
Based on this experience of collaborative work between the school and the community, in the 2018-2019 academic year we launched the literacy support program. The Easy Reading format was adopted and, despite the pandemic , it did not stop .
The project was developed in the educational center itself, and the students were in charge of preparing the space, both for the needs of the older people who were going to attend, and for the needs of the activity itself.
For example, for small group reading, up to four rooms were used at a time. This allowed to have a more intimate and quiet space. At the end of this task, a large classroom was prepared with chairs in a circle for the older people to sit on, while the students sat on the floor.
The itinerary within the center itself was also taken into account, since the use of the elevator was made easier for people with greater mobility difficulties. Likewise, the role of the students was encouraged as a guide for the activity: they prepared presentation and closing dynamics supervised by the teaching team and the educator of the Kokuk entity .
It was agreed to hold a one-hour weekly session. In addition, both the older people and the students had to prepare these meetings in advance through parallel reading selection activities with their peer group throughout the week. All the texts were selected with the aim of enabling a final group reflection, putting topics such as friendship, loneliness and respect on the table.
Positive relationships, trust and affection
Throughout the process it has been possible to observe how positive relationships have emerged between children and the elderly. This bond has been forged from trust and affection. The children who have participated in the experience express how positive it is for them to have contact with older people:
“I have also learned a lot from this experience, because before the grandmothers, the older women, did not appear in my life, and since I am in this activity with the older women I have begun to relate more.” (Student of 6th Primary Education)
Likewise, they have created a relationship with the elderly that has helped them discover different ways of living:
“I have discovered that in the generations everything is very different, since the older men have lived before and it is very different from what we live now. Before there was no internet, no televisions, no mobile phones; Now there are gadgets that make life easier for us. And the generations, although they are different, for me they are very equal, although the older gentlemen when they were little were the same as us, only with fewer resources.” (Student of 6th of Primary Education)
On the other hand, older people perceive that participation in the experience has influenced their state of mind, since they have participated with enthusiasm and satisfaction in the experience. In fact, they have expressed their sorrow that the activity ended with the school year:
“I would be every Friday; I would be because I have been very happy; I’m sorry it’s over.” (70-year-old participant)
Along the same lines, the promotion of interculturality and feeling an active part of society are the most notable advantages of participating in intergenerational experiences, according to their own words:
“Learning from other cultures, living with children, being able to teach them what I know. Above all, give love.” (86-year-old participant)
All this has meant an experience of generativity, where both groups project themselves and are useful to other people, in addition to benefiting from the two-way affective bond.
A link between academia and reality
It should be noted that throughout this process of collaboration between the academy and real life, it has been possible to feed back said collaboration with the creation of networks and improvement plans, both in the development and evaluation of activities.
In short, the intergenerational project stands as a magnificent opportunity to create synergies that allow learning, teaching and growing. Because through coexistence and reading, students and the elderly open up to new and rewarding ways of learning to know, do, be and live together. A reflection of this is the recent award of the seal of quality as a pioneering intergenerational project awarded by the European entity TOY .
Author Bios: Amaia Eiguren Munitis is Professor of the Department of Didactics and School Organization. Faculty of Education of Bilbao, Jose Miguel Correa Gorospe is Professor of the Department of Didactics and School Organization, Maitane Picaza Gorrotxategi is Doctor of Education, Department of Didactics and School Organization and Naiara Berasategui Sancho is Professor in the Department of Didactics and School Organization all at the University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea