At the recent sock hop at Casey's Pond, local children donned 1950s-era clothing and danced the night away as residents re-lived a period in time for which they love to reminisce.
There wasn't a face in the room that wasn't grinning from ear to ear. The age differences might have reached as high as 90 years, but age is only a number in an environment such as this.
The sock hop, a popular 1950s dance for teenagers, was the culmination of intergenerational learning throughout the school year between children at the Mountain Village Montessori Charter School and residents at Casey's Pond, a senior living community in Steamboat Springs. This collaboration is just one of many programs that exemplify the spirited culture residents enjoy at Casey's Pond.
"We are not a place people go to get care through their last years of their lives — we are a place to engage and thrive," said Melissa Lahay, the sales and marketing director at Casey's Pond. "The older adults living here exhibit strong purpose in life, one of which is to interact and share their life experiences with younger generations."
Research shows that when children and older adults get together, the educational benefits — which include cultural benefits — are vast for both sides. This is called intergenerational learning, which is more than a facet of intergenerational relationships, according to a report in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships in 2017.
"On the one side, it enables the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, skills, competencies, attitudes, and habits in both directions — from the younger generations to the older ones and the other way around," according to the report. "On the other side, intergenerational learning opens up a space for generations to learn more about each other, to understand perspectives of other generations without necessarily adopting them."
Longevity research points to sense of purpose as one of the secrets to living long and healthy lives. When older adults lose a sense of purpose, they risk losing so much more, both mentally and physically.
"Interaction with the children gives the senior adults a sense of continued usefulness," said Joyce Delancey, the director at GrandKids Child Care Center in Steamboat Springs, which also collaborates with Casey's Pond for a variety of regular intergenerational learning experiences. "Seniors are empowered and are able to draw upon their own skills and backgrounds when interacting with the children."
The benefits go both ways. Young children learn important emotional life skills, too.
"These skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and social interaction, influence social connections and sense of purpose," according to a report by Laura Carstensen, a Stanford University psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center for Longevity. "They are key to success in school and work, and they enable people to contribute meaningfully to society."
Why it's significant
Carolyn Dillhyon's 12-year-old daughter was part of the Montessori School group that put on the sock hop event. She saw the learning first-hand as a parent throughout the time the kids spent time with the residents at Casey's Pond.
The kids were able to practice public speaking and prepared their presentations for a target audience, she said. They shared stories and gleaned wisdom from the stories told by the residents. It helped the kids gain perspective about living in another time.
Delancey said the experience also helps children develop more positive attitudes about the aging process.
"Children and seniors develop a sense of unconditional acceptance of each other," Delancey said. "They come together in a partnership of giving — both generations have the opportunity to nurture each other. Children and seniors have the opportunity to help and be helped, teach and be taught, love and be loved."
Research on intergenerational living proves this anecdotal evidence seen here in Steamboat Springs. The Legacy Project, an independent research, learning, and social innovation group that works across generations, references this back-and-forth reciprocity between all generations as a significant benefit of intergenerational learning.
"Elders can help socialize children, teach them empathy and character, and give them an unconditional form of love they can’t find elsewhere," according to Legacy Project Founder Susan V. Bosak. "Children, in turn, can be an endless source of joy for elders, share affection and play, and provide assistance with many simple tasks. Children can participate in the work of adults, and provide enjoyment and love. Adults, in turn, provide food, shelter, clothing, and nurturance to children. And so a strong, healthy, intergenerational web of community goes."
For the local children and residents at Casey's Pond who have already experienced this first-hand, the joy alone is reason enough to spend time together. The other long-term benefits are just icing on the cake.
This story originally appeared in Steamboat Pilot & Today and is used by permission.