The joy of intergenerational learning

The increase in the average life expectancy of Americans in the last century is an unexpected gift of an additional 20 to 30 years, full of possibilities. How we use this extra time can have a profound impact on our communities as well as our community our personal physical and mental health. There are several elements of a healthy and empowered life, including connecting with others over the generations, focusing on the most important things and looking for happy moments every day. One of the most important of these is training. As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has shown, “growth thinking” – the belief that talents can be developed through practice – has a positive effect on health and well-being. This thinking, which is of great importance for the development of schoolchildren, also brings great benefits throughout our lives.

Often, the stories of Americans around old age show that it is natural to drop out of school after leaving the workforce due to a lack of compelling economic reasons to acquire or improve skills. But beyond this narration, there are many examples that tell a different story. In some of the most active adult populations around the world, healthy living tends to coincide with continuous learning and regular collaboration between the older and younger generations.

In Sweden, for example, older adults, in addition to changing housing and healthcare options, regularly meet in after-school classes in community clubs and join community dances with people of all ages. In Icaria, Greece, one of the “Blue Regions” of the world, known for its extreme longevity, older adults take part in events full of music and many generations of the community, such as outdoor dance festivals and religious gatherings. In Singapore, which is home to another long-lived population, partnerships are being developed between youth and the elderly in recreational centers between generations and target communities.

Closer to home, in Newton, the village of Lassell, a community of generations living and learning, located on the campus of the University of Lassell, has introduced new ways of integrating adults and adults throughout its 22-year history. The village requires residents to engage in 450 hours of education each year, including classes, physical and cultural exercises, volunteering, and professional work. Why 450 hours? It meets similar educational requirements for its senior students, making it suitable for university students.

Classes cover a variety of topics such as the history of fashion, forensics and exercise science, with younger and older students and teachers learning from each other. For example, in a popular course on social movements, classmates replaced the personal stories of the women’s movement of the 1970s and the Black Lives Matter movement today. Older adults return to campus decades after completing their formal education, often reporting new interests as well as new ones and approaching life with fresh curiosity. The result, as one enthusiastic resident described it, is “research” thinking.

What is important is that knowledge flows on both sides; Lasell residents often offer their wealth of knowledge and experience for the benefit of younger students. For example, residents and students collaborated to develop a professional panel in which young people who are pursuing a career in medicine, business, or education shared with residents who have a lifetime of experience in these fields. A retired doctor paired up with a student and a graphic design professor to redesign playing money cards for the visually impaired and sell the cards at the Carroll Center for the Blind. When COVID-19 discontinued private classes, more than 50 residents volunteered to teach. There were a variety of fascinating topics that were taken from lifelong experiences, from literature to military history and cultural experiences. Several residents have even joined a team of PhD researchers at MIT Media’s lab to help individual robots address daily needs, such as medications and reminders of appointments or forgetting their keys.

This shared commitment to continuous learning is a key component of the life and learning model. As we continue to receive knowledge from communities around the world, including Sweden, Greece, and Singapore, others are now learning about the Age Friendship Institute movement, which is now endorsed by higher education institutions in five continents. One of the 10 core principles of age-friendly Universities is to “promote intergenerational learning to facilitate the sharing of experiences among students of all ages”.

Good sex means rejecting stereotypes about what it means to grow old. This means looking for new models locally as well as worldwide. It means integrating life models and educating generations into adult life design to innovate and create a sense of purpose. It means looking forward with a sense of opportunity.

Recently, a 70-year-old friend told me that the key word is “forward”. “We will continue,” he told me. “We use opportunities to redefine, re-invent and re-imagine. . . that each new transition period will be effective. ” This is advice that should be lived at all ages.

Anne Doyle is the president of Lassell Village.

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