They're just what the pediatrician ordered, too. Family members and teachers say youngsters exposed to intergenerational programming are age-blind, as likely to call an 80-year-old their friend as a 4-year-old peer. "Parents tell me their kids are so comfortable with people of different ages and abilities, and don't fear when they look or speak differently," says Hoover. "The kids, in fact, are more comfortable than their parents in some of these encounters!"
Some youngsters work at a slower pace and benefit from the one-on-one attention these surrogate grandparents provide; others simply bask in their warmth. In one study, Jarrott and her colleagues at Virginia Tech found mixed-age initiatives enhanced empathy in preschoolers.
A college experience
On Jarrott's home turf at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., is Neighbors Growing Together Intergenerational Program, the nation's only university-based, shared-site intergenerational care program. Its adult day care, where Jarrott is director of research and an intergenerational specialist, is located on the same floor of an academic building as a child development center for ages 15 months to 5 years.
While their space is separate, the two generations share a common area where much of the interaction occurs. They take walks together, play games, make music, share snacks, work on projects and visit back and forth. The activities prompt both groups to think creatively and work on motor skills. Neighbors Growing Together cross-trains staff, conducts intergenerational research, develops and evaluates other programs, and presents how-to workshops nationally and internationally. University students get a chance to work at Neighbors Growing Together and, if they choose, can take a course in intergenerational and aging issues.
Staff are also giving these arrangements the thumbs-up. What sometimes prompts them to apply for a long-term care job — and to stay — say administrators, is the unique intergenerational feature.
A study conducted by Generations United also found that shared sites can be more cost-effective in terms of sharing rent and personnel, such as the kitchen cook, a physical therapist or an administrator. And experts predict the intergenerational component will be a draw for families in the market for adult day care or 24/7 nursing home care.