A recent television program highlighted a retirement/nursing home which needed to expand its building in order to accommodate its growing older population. The owners realized that by expanding they also would need to increase their staff many of whom would need day care facilities for their children. Therefore, they added a day care center to the new building. That was a stroke of genius. The young children loved the older people and being around young children made the older people feel happy and useful. There is now a very long waiting list for this home. A day care center in a retirement/nursing home is the ideal choice.
However, one could think of other combinations which also would be good choices. What about an animal shelter?
I once read a bulletin board notice asking for volunteers to pet the animals in the shelter so that the animals would continue to be friendly. What better volunteers than retirement/nursing home occupants?
Children learn a great deal by being with older and younger children
What about a working farm as part of a retirement/nursing home? What about a greenhouse? What about a toy store or a book store or an artist studio? As a matter of fact, why not have a retirement/nursing home with direct access to a mall? One director of a beautiful retirement/nursing home isolated in the country said the residents tended to congregate around the visitors' parking lot because it was the liveliest spot around. Of course, people may be encouraged to go to retirement/nursing homes far from the hub of activity in order that they not be seen. "Out of sight, out of mind" as the saying goes. Separating people according to age is a pattern we need to change. The pattern begins in preschool. Most preschools have a two year old group, a three year old group, and a four year old group. Rarely are the groups combined into several groups with a three year age spread. Such a grouping seems more desirable and is like a family grouping. Children learn a great deal by being with older and younger children. They learn how to nurture and to help those younger and to look up to and to emulate the older ones.
The pattern continues into elementary school.
Students are placed into classes according to their date of birth.
These groupings do not take into account developmental differences in children and the many advantages of cross-age grouping. When we isolate and separate people because of age, we are missing golden opportunities. As one gets older, one gets wiser and more knowledgeable. Younger people do not look on those older than themselves as sources of wisdom and support mainly because they have little contact with them. Also older people cannot isolate themselves from the problems of the young.
That is irresponsible behavior which may eventually affect their own well-being. We could start by changing how schools are constituted.
We now separate age levels into separate buildings and label them elementary, junior and high schools.
Why not have several buildings which house grades kindergarten to twelve?
The facilities like gym, kitchen, cafeteria, auditorium, computer lab, library, and so forth could be in the middle of the building available to all of the students and to all ages of citizens. As it is now, most of these resources are now duplicated and are not used to full capacity not only because schools are open only 185 days a year but also because all grade levels do not use them in the same way.
Senior citizens would have access to these facilities which would also be available at night and for more days than the school year. Senior citizens, in using the facilities, would interact with all ages of students and could serve as aides to the teachers and support for the students.
At the same time, children would come in contact with people of different ages who have much to teach them. We need to get rid of the artificial age barriers we have created which make it difficult for different age groups to understand and to help each other. The advantages of these interactions for all ages are too great to let them go untappped.
First published in 1994