Nearly 10 years ago, I had an “aha” moment about the magic that can happen when seniors and children spend time together.

At the time, I was studying at the Macklin Intergenerational Institute in Findlay, Ohio. (

In the corner, not far from where I was observing a program that regularly brought preschoolers into an elder care facility, a woman – who I’ll call Alice – seemed to be asleep. Her eyes stared blankly at the children’s games, and she didn’t move once, not even when a balloon drifted over her head. I’d seen her each day that week looking just the same – peaceful but not present. I wondered if she was taking in anything, if she heard the giggles and shouts, if she knew where she was.

At the end of circle time the children found their shoes in the shoe bin and did their best to put them on or to find someone to help. Many of the shoes had laces and were not slip-ons. I remember thinking this was too complicated for three- and four-year-olds.

One little girl who had found her shoes headed straight across the room to “Alice.” She lifted her shoes up to Alice and waved them near her.

At first Alice did not respond, but the more determined the little girl was, beginning to climb onto her lap, the more Alice began to take in the room. Then – without missing a beat – she helped the little girl up onto her lap, began to pull the little shoes on to her feet and tied the laces up snugly.

As she was tying the laces she stopped and looked up as if she’d just seen something. And then, feeling the laces in her hands and the weight of the little one on her lap, her face now animated, she spoke the only words I’d heard from her that week: “I think…” she said. “I think I used to have children once.”

She kept on tying, smiling and nodding. And for a few moments, after the girl had hopped off her lap, she looked out across the room smiling. I could see she must have been with them in her mind then, her little ones with shoe laces that needed tying, dirty faces that needed wiping, hungry tummies that needed feeding, all shouts and giggles and busy. For those few moments, she was with her children again.

I always remembered this inspiring scene I’d witnessed in Ohio, and so, together with my staff team, I am excited about moving forward to create opportunities for children, youth, families and seniors to build meaningful connections. Should we receive the financial support from the federal government’s New Horizon’s for Seniors Program, we expect to launch Powell River’s first Intergenerational Summer Academy for 9 – 12 year olds this year!

Renowned geriatric medicine activist Dr. Bill Thomas has identified the three plagues of aging as boredom, loneliness, and helplessness. Intergenerational specialist Dr. Vicki Rosebrook identifies three parallel or reciprocal needs in children: exploration, interaction and guidance.

The premise of the programs at the Macklin Institute is to counter balance the plagues of aging with the basic developmental needs of children: boredom in the aging is balanced by the children’s enthusiastic exploration of the world in shared activities and adventures; loneliness is countered by children’s need for interaction and connection; and helplessness is offset when participants find meaning in the guidance, mentorship and help they are able to contribute in the programs. A 2011 study found that children in intergenerational programs have personal and social skills that were enhanced by 11 months compared to children in non-intergenerational programs. Intergenerational programs prepare children for life and leave them with confidence and a deeper sense of connection.

Sometimes it’s as simple as tying a pair of shoes.

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