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Intergenerational practice involves the two age groups working and learning together in a range of different settings (TOY Project 2013). This is an important practice in contemporary Europe as without it learning like this would not exist due to changes in family structure, migration and new technology and the growing segregation between the ages. The European Commission’s report into an ageing population and the impact this would have in terms of budgetary requirements for the government revealed that as a result of current policies in place most of the public spending within the EU between 2010-2060 will be age related on things such as pensions and health and this is projected to be highest between 2015 and 2035 when those from the baby boom generation will retire (European Commission 2012). The concept of intergenerational practice has been around for decades but it was in the 1980s that the idea became particularly relevant to social issues effecting both generations such as marginalisation, low self-esteem and the fragmentation of family and peer networks by the start of the 21st century is was also seen as a way of dealing with tensions between the two age groups and there was a variety of projects established internationally (Beth Johnson Foundation 2011).Intergenerational learning is important so that both generations can come together and share their experiences, knowledge, culture and interests with a generation who may have never experienced any of these things. It is about lifelong and life wide learning for both generations coming together and it can help reduce the exclusion of both groups from society and help create more intergenerational spaces in society.
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In previous generations both older people and younger people would have been living together in the same household, but this is now less likely due to changes in family structure and migration. There is also the growing separation of both groups into same age institutions such as preschools and retirement homes which further leads to the two generations mixing and learning from each other. Shared site facilities can benefit both groups and are more cost effective than building same age institutions, recently architects, social scientists and practitioners have looked at the idea of creating spaces for both older and younger people where both groups needs are met. Intergenerational solidarity is another term that has emerged, and it can be defined as “the process that leads each generation to recognize its responsibilities towards the others” (Eurofound 2012). The idea of age friendly cities and communities has become an interesting policy response to the challenges of an ageing population and urban growth and this can be seen as supporting solidarity between the generations age friendly communities can be defined as “as one that optimizes opportunities for health, participation, and security as people age. In an age-friendly community, policies, services, and infrastructure are designed to respond flexibly to ageing-related needs and preferences.”. (World Health Organization 2007).Some factors that age friendly communities need to consider are outdoor spaces and buildings, social participation, respect, social inclusion and contribution to all areas of community life and younger people’s and older person’s perspectives need to be considered as cities are typically designed for productive capacities (WHO 2007).
Despite these measures that separate both generations grandparents continue to be a part of young children’s lives across Europe. The increase in the life expectancy of grandparents means that they have more opportunities to spend time and share their experiences with their grandchildren. A study carried out in the Netherlands showed that the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren has become stronger than it was decades ago. Grandparents role in the socialisation and nurturing of children has increased as a result of higher employment rates of mothers, increase in single motherhood and rising childcare costs (Toy Project 2013). There was even discussion here in Ireland about grandparents being able to earn 1,000 euros for minding their own grandchildren if it was up to 10 hours a week. In countries like Spain and Italy there was a lower level of childcare being provided by grandparents compared to Nordic countries grandchildren value their grandparents and the role they play in their lives according to a Polish survey. In Ireland in findings from the Growing Up in Ireland Study grandparents were a source of fun and companionship, I know this was the case when I was growing up as I spent every second Sunday at my grandparent’s house.
There are a number of things can be achieved through intergenerational learning and these may include: changing negative perceptions of older and younger people, older people tend to be seen once they have reached a certain age of being incapable of doing anything but they still have a lot of valuable knowledge to share and still want to have the opportunity to learn and experience new things. Younger people can sometimes depending on their background can be seen as reckless and not wanting to interact with their communities and they can have some negative perceptions of older people as mentioned above of being incapable and too old to do anything they like to do and older people would say that young people have no interest in the spending time with them. They can become mentors for one another and be positive role models for each other particularly if children are coming from a disadvantaged background and this can lead to lasting bonds being formed. Another thing that can be achieved through intergenerational learning is improving community cohesion and sense of place in neighbourhoods when older and younger people come together it brings the community together and shares the importance of intergenerational learning with the community who will then hopefully get involved in projects and help create shared spaces for all where older and younger people can come and mix together and share their experiences with one another (Beth Johnson Foundation 2011). When I was in Amsterdam last year in a square type area of the city there were chess tables built into benches and a giant chess board in the square where people of all ages could come and play against each other and it brought different generations and strangers together and people from the community would come to watch and share in the experience. This was an example of a shared space that I myself experienced.
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In conclusion there has been an increase in the recognition of the importance and value of intergenerational practice and learning. It has become an interest in policy area and within the ECCE sector as many settings have grandparents’ days where children can share their preschool experience with their family and their grandparents can share their experiences with children in the setting. People are recognising the need to bring these two generations together to bridge the growing gap between the generations that society has made by placing both in same age institutions. Implementing intergenerational projects in communities is the first step towards bringing these generations together and both groups are willing to get involved and work together and each have things they want to share and learn. Creating age friendly shared spaces is another step that needs to be taken, there are a lot of public spaces for people to mix in but older generations and the younger generations do not seem to mix together as much anymore according to research but as shown in the example I gave of my own experience of an age friendly shared space there are some places where these places exist. Intergenerational learning will forever be changing and developing and perhaps eventually we will see these spaces across the world, but I think it is something that needs to be worked on still and constantly improved and added to.
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