Dalai Lama Center Heart Mind Online: Building Intergenerational Relationships

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Kyle Ellefson

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Kyle Ellefson

Burnaby North Secondary High School students recently produced a video illustrating the friendship between Maria Cortese’s junior kindergarten class and “Farmer Jim”, a neighbour in his nineties with whom Maria and her class formed a collaboration over four years, helping the children and their families learn about gardening and community.

“…Innumerable studies show the benefits of facilitating positive relationship between children and older adults. Children who build positive relationships with older adults are not only more likely to have positive attitudes about older adults, but intergenerational relationships allow all generations involved to act as learners and teachers at the same time.

“Plus, through building relationships with our neighbours, we can play a role in strengthening our communities at large. Social isolation is of particular concern in urban settings like Vancouver, where nearly one-quarter of residents say they do not feel a sense of community belonging.”

Maria offers five takeaways from her experience with her junior kindergarten class:

1. Let the kids lead the way: Maria included her class in leading their relationship with Jim, such as asking them how they would like to celebrate his 96th birthday. “W. Thomas Boyce’s study found that children in more learner-centered classrooms engaged in helpful and kind behavior at a greater rate. (Read more about learner-centred teaching approaches in this post).”

2. Bring families to the classroom: “Research has long shown that children benefit when families are involved and engaged in their education, from earning higher grades, to having better social skills.” Maria comments that many family members are intimidated to come into the school and talk with their child’s teachers. She proactively brings parents into her classroom by hosting an open house on the first day of school where students and parents work together on a craft project designed to create an emotional tie between home and school. “The kind of activities she runs are adapted to the needs of the schools she’s in. In her former school, a junior kindergarten on the University of British Columbia campus which had more transient families, she helped run a social time for moms at the school. At Our Lady of Perpetual Help, she realized many of her students were lacking intergenerational connections, which inspired her to begin working with Jim.”

3. Highlight children’s strengths: Two years ago, the class took on a commitment to help Jim with maintaining his garden, however, when the weather was cold, the children were sometimes resistant to going outdoors to the garden. Maria would tell them that “sometimes your friends need help and sometimes even your big friends might need help. But you know, we are younger and we have a lot of energy and so we are going to use our energy to help him.” Research has shown that “a strengths-based approach in teaching and parenting helps students in the long run, empowering them to realize their potential and responsibility in their community.”

4. Create space for knowledge-sharing: Jim taught the children gardening skills, such as how to space out plants and how much water to give. He also share stories of his childhood growing up on Quadra Island. Maria would encourage the children to ask their gardening questions directly to Jim, rather than going through her.

5. Encourage kids’ curiosity and openness to others: Jim and his wife recently moved from their home into residential care, so now Maria’s class gardens at a community garden plot nearby, where they have got to know other allotment gardeners and where the children’s openness and confidence in engaging with adults is playing a positive role in building community.

Stephanie Wong