When kids connect with people from different generations, amazing things happen. Ageism among children declines. Seniors are happier and more fulfilled. Individuals in both age groups build long-lasting friendships.
And when this connection involves one of the world's oldest pastimes - storytelling - something even more incredible occurs. Family histories are passed from generation to generation. Children learn to look at the world from a different perspective. Kids who have been raised in a technologically dense world are given the opportunity to let their creative juices flow.
Seniors are the consummate storytellers, not only because they have experienced so much in their lives, but also because they grew up in a simpler time, when stories, rather than smartphone apps, were the currency of entertainment. When one considers that teens today spend a meager 4.2 minutes a day reading, it becomes clear that today's seniors have lessons to share with their younger counterparts.
Whether parents are looking for a way to build a connection between child and grandparent, or seeking a new opportunity for their children to learn from a friend (or soon-to-be friend) of a different generation, storytelling can serve as a catalyst for learning, creativity, and meaningful connection.
Holiday Retirement offers these simple tips for helping children and seniors connect through storytelling.
For younger kids:
1. Play "news reporter." Help your child understand what life was like in his or her grandparent's (or another senior's) childhood by setting up a mock news interview. Work with your child to brainstorm a list of questions to ask, and then set up a time to interview a special senior in his or her life. You can even videotape or record the interview and save it as a record of family history.
2. Collaborate on a picture book. Encourage artistic enthusiasm at the same time you inspire creative expression. Next time grandma or grandpa comes to visit, plan a time for your child and his or her grandparent to create a picture book that chronicles the activities they participated in during the visit.
3. Mix it up at bedtime. If grandparents live close by, invite them over to read - or tell - a story to your child at bedtime. You can also plan a special pre-bedtime trip to the grandparents' home or senior living community, and let your child wear his or her pajamas for a special bedtime story experience.
For older kids:
1. Volunteer. Stories do not always need to be told from a person of an older generation to a younger counterpart. Contact senior living communities in the area to see if there is an opportunity for your child to share original or favorite stories with community residents. Plus, volunteering is great for college applications.
2. Role-play it up. Most children of the '80s are familiar with the roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons. However, it is just one of a wide variety of different types of games that span different genres. In these games, a group of people engages in shared storytelling as they take on character roles and talk their way through accomplishing a mission. Family roleplaying game nights can be a great way to get video game-loving teens and tweens away from their screens and into an activity that requires creative thinking and quality time with parents and grandparents.
3. Create a real-life history channel. For teens who are intrigued by days gone by or who want to get ahead of next year's history class curriculum, seniors are the ideal source of information and entertainment. Encourage your teen to schedule time with a special senior in his or her life to learn more about the senior's experiences with a historical event, or contact a local senior living community to schedule a time for your teen to visit with seniors living there. Many of them have had incredible life experiences that they love to share with people from younger generations.
In an effort to cultivate cross-generational storytelling, Holiday Retirement has launched a national bedtime "story drive" focused on capturing tales, anecdotes, and fables that have been handed down from generation to generation. Budding storytellers of all ages are encouraged to submit an original children's story at sharebedtimestories.com. A selection of the stories will be included in a children's book to be published later this year.
Jamison Gosselin has served in the field of senior living for more than a decade in a variety of communications and marketing roles. He currently serves as the vice president of marketing, communications, and resident enrichment for Holiday Retirement, a provider of more than 300 senior living communities across the United States.