Deirdre Moore | September 2015

Harnessing the Power of Intergenerational Learning

For many years I have taught music and movement classes to families with children under the age of 5.

Often, whole families come to my weekend classes, including the occasional aunt and uncle or grandparent.  After a few years of watching the magic of families creating music and movement together, I thought how wonderful it would be to continue that kind of family learning once the children become school age.  What learning opportunities are lost when we accept that once a child is of school age, learning should only happen with same aged peers?  The question for me becomes “how can we in schools help encourage this kind of intergenerational learning to continue throughout the school aged years?”

Many schools already have vehicles in place to help address this issue.

The school system where I work holds “Family Fridays”. One Friday a month a meeting is held to disseminate information to families.  After the assembly, the families are encouraged to visit the classrooms.  Currently, the families come into the classrooms and sit to read with their children.  My principal, a colleague, and myself talked about how those could be used to facilitate parents and children dual education.  Each month can focus on a different content area, and the teacher facilitates some kind of hands-on learning activity.  Arts integrated lessons are a perfect way to create that active involvement of both parent and child. As well as, educating families about arts integration.

Some schools hold evening gatherings that focus on science, math or the arts.

Many times these events involve activities that visitors and students can do together.  Learning games and arts integrated lessons can be facilitated.  If materials can then be sent home with families, those same games and activities can be replicated or further explored in the home environment.  Allowing the students practice with content, and allowing others in the family to learn or better understand what the children are learning in school.  One might argue that this form of learning is beneficial, and more likely to happen than traditional homework assignments.

When I taught first grade, my team created backpacks containing a book, a journal and a stuffed animal related to the animal in the book for families to read together and write in the journals.  When the children returned the backpacks to school, they were rotated, and shared with another family.  This summer, I heard a presentation from a school who did the same thing with visual art.  They created art bags containing materials for art-making and instructions for art activities families could do together.  When the bags came back, artwork was shared, the bags were replenished, then sent home to a new family.

Intergenerational Learning Across the Board

Although schools may have some grandparents attending a Family Friday or a Math Night at school, generally speaking it is just the parents and younger siblings attending. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and retirement communities are examples of generational segregation providing a great opportunity for intergenerational learning with the older generations.  Schools may have an intergenerational dance, or have students present performing arts in a facility for seniors. But, how could that relationship be deepened?  Could seniors with skills/knowledge in a particular area come into classrooms to share their expertise?  Could students go to a local facility and have their teacher lead the same learning activities they would at a family night at that senior facility?  Or could the children teach the seniors?

Studies have shown the benefits for all participants in intergenerational learning including building stronger communities. Families with shared experiences have more opportunities for meaningful connections and conversations, and build stronger relationships.  Every school year presents another chance to try something new, and find innovative ways to deepen student learning.  Perhaps, this is the year your school decides to harness the power of intergenerational learning, and witness the benefits for everyone involved.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.