A few years ago, a friend of mine – who had participated in a parent discussion group with me – called to ask if I would be willing to facilitate a group for bright elders. My friend said that she often interacted with older adults as part of her professional work. Furthermore, being the parent of gifted children and in coming to understand her own giftedness, she recognized giftedness in some of her elderly contacts and realized that they needed the opportunity to interact with others who shared their interests and intensities. Through participation in a gifted discussion group, they would learn about their own strengths and needs and assist each other in navigating elderhood as gifted individuals. While it is worthwhile to gather gifted elders together and promote their relationships with like peers, I choose here to share a different model, based on human history and experience.
The concept of age integration, in contrast to age segregation, is defined as a social structure, “that does not use chronological age as a criterion for entrance, exit, or participation” (Uhlenberg, 2000, p. 261). Throughout time, societies with extended familial and social networks were integrated age-wise. Young ones, adults, and the elderly together labored, learned, and interacted on a daily basis. In contrast, in our more recent past, we have delineated social boundaries in which schooling is for the young, work for middle adulthood, and leisure for the aged. Lately, we have seen some shifts in the age-segregated paradigm. For example, more older adults are returning to school and some professionals are opting out of the strict career track and creating other individual options such as job-sharing, choosing to stop work every few years for self-declared sabbaticals, or creating home-based cottage industries with limited work-focused hours. However, for the most part, we follow an age-segregated social model. This is perhaps most apparent in residential care facilities for the elderly.
An idea related to the concept of age integration is cross-aged interaction, which is achieved when individuals or groups of different age alignments (e.g., children, adults, elders) come together to perform activities together. There are some noteworthy examples of cross-aged social structures that are proving themselves beneficial. For example, at the Ebenezer Ridges Care Center in Burnsville, Minnesota, daycare means both senior care and child care. At the center, seniors and elders with an age range from 60 to over 100 play, draw, and read together with children from infancy through preschool. The elders benefit from the stimulation and being of service to others, and the children learn from and appreciate the elders.
A similar program in Seattle is Bayview’s Intergenerational Children’s Center, a day care for infant through preschool children that is housed on the campus of a retirement community offering independent, assisted living, and skilled nursing facilities. Teachers at the children’s center follow a curriculum that promotes positive interactions through integration of planned activities with seniors. Both groups benefit from these cross-aged arrangements. Seniors have sustained interaction with children, which improves memory and other skills. Additionally, the interaction with young students is a defense against the depression that isolated elderly often experience. Improved socialization skills and developing empathy for others are just two areas of positive impact for the children.
Age-Integrated Gifted Discussion Groups
I am a strong believer in offering a variety of gifted discussion groups to gifted individuals of all ages. Gifted children should have the opportunity to comingle with like peers in a safe, nonjudgmental environment where they can share their personal experiences of being gifted and support each other with difficulties (e.g., how to respond to teasing, ways to take advantage of – and cope with – intensities). Likewise, parents of the gifted need a forum in which they can discuss the intricacies of parenting gifted children, engaging in group problem solving as needed. Gifted adults, be they parents or not, are in need of the opportunity to meet with other gifted adults, to recognize, understand, and celebrate their giftedness. Lastly, gifted elders need to gather with their peers, as they navigate the great unknown – the life of the gifted elder.
It is also incumbent on the gifted community to assist in creating cross-aged gifted discussion groups. Just as I find as an elder that when I mentor elementary school-aged children both of us reap the benefits, cross-aged discussion groups will enrich each age group as well. The young will benefit from hearing about the individual journeys of gifted adults and elders. They will learn to differentiate wisdom from knowledge, and begin to develop executive thinking skills from others who have walked the path of giftedness. Additionally, the adults and elders will serve a role models to the young, who often have little chance to interact with more than two or three other gifted individuals in an age-segregated school environment. There can be tremendous benefits to participating in cross-aged gifted discussion groups for adults and elders as well. Adults will reap the wisdom of their elders and elders will feel less isolated and perceive themselves as more understood by having a chance to share their lonely journey with others.
The Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop charged the bloggers who are participating this month to explore the formation of gifted groups and to answer the following questions.
- Why do we need them?
- How do we form them?
- How can we maintain them, and keep them positive and forward-thinking?
- What groups would YOU like to be a part of?
In this post, I explored the first and second questions to an extent. I invite the readers to comment on any of the other questions. We will explore your answers and more in a future post.
Bayview Retirement Community. http://www.bayviewcommunity.org/intergenerational-childrens-center/pre-school-education/.
Estrada, H. M. (2011, 28 June). Two precious groups, one day care solution. Star Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.startribune.com/two-precious-groups-one-day-care-solution/124626328/.
Uhlenberg, P. (2000) Introduction: Why study age integration? The Gerentologist, 40, 261-266.
* Grandparents, jbstafford/Flicker/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: https://goo.gl/QT2wB1
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page April 2016 Blog Hop on Forming Parent Groups and Other Gifted Groups. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades.
Please click on the link below to see to the titles, blog names, and links of other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants.