A small group of Princeton fifth graders and a number of senior citizens at Princeton’s senior dining center have been dining together and sharing conversations a few times each month.
It is an intergenerational activity now in its fifth year and run under the supervision of North Elementary staff member Judy Hovis.
Hovis helps the students prepare the conversation topics before they arrive at the dining center. The topics are designed to get the students and the senior citizens to share information about each other’s experiences from the distant past, leading up to present. A topic may be about each other’s forms of entertainment and another may be about what each other’s daily life is like.
The dining center is the site of a federally-subsidized program that provides a nutritious meal for senior citizens at low cost, and also fosters socializing among the senior citizen diners.
Having fifth graders mingle with the senior citizen diners every other Thursday during the school year adds the intergenerational component in which both groups learn more about each other’s world.
The fifth graders also help clear the tables after the dining center meal and sometimes provide entertainment. Sometimes that has been playing musical instruments, singing or putting on skits. Hovis talked about a fifth grader one time bringing a checker board around to tables and challenging senior diners to checker games. Sometimes there have been games of cribbage and to a lesser extent, games of chess, Hovis said.
One time some fifth graders challenged the senior diners to see if they could answer the kind of math questions that the students had on one of their Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests.
While some of the students are on the shy side to where the conversation doesn’t always flow so freely, it seems to work overall, judging by some of the comments from the Jan. 17 visit.
The fifth graders prepared questions that day to start conversations having to do with favorite games, colors, sports and songs. The topics also delved into each other’s Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, as well as goals for the new year, and how the day was going for the senior citizens.
Student Louden Sundet called his Jan. 17 visit to the dining center “awesome” because of meeting other people and learning about their lives. Sundet visited with senior citizens Patsy Behm and Del Anderson, and Behm’s son Tom and Tom’s wife Sue, who were guests there that day.
Student Skyler Goldbloom said the intergenerational activity is “good because you get to talk with other people,” and he learns something about how the senior citizens are feeling.
Marj Kiel, who with her husband Les were visiting with fifth grader James Wall on Jan. 17, said afterward: “We did enjoy the children and feel it is a good way to cover that generation gap by showing an interest in each other.”
One of the benefits of these exchanges is to “really learn to listen to each other and hear about each other’s experiences,” Kiel added.
Kiel also said she could see through the conversations the big differences between what her generation did for amusement as children compared to today’s youth. She explained that children of her age spent more time walking in the woods and watching animals build homes and nests, while the pastime of kids today is so related to TV and electronic games. Kiel said that she is glad she lived in the age that she did.
“I think it’s real nice they come over here,” said senior citizen Norene Dehn about the fifth graders’ visits.
Dehn also made mental notes on the contrasts between what children of her generation did for amusement compared to today’s youth and she too said she is glad she grew up when she did. Dehn explained that she preferred the slower-paced life she had as a youngster and having to “make our own type of entertainment.”
“We look forward to them coming over,” said senior citizen Ione Puntsack about the fifth graders. “It’s so great to share with them. It’s very interesting to learn where they are at and what’s happening in their lives, and (show) where we were at at that age. We can share stories with them and they can share stories with us.”
One surprise for Puntsack was the large number of blended families that she found to exist from talking to the visiting fifth graders. There are many situations of children living with stepchildren and in some cases children living with grandparents because of “broken homes,” Puntsack said.
Caley House activity
Another intergenerational activity took place on Jan. 22, this time at the Caley House assisted living apartments in Princeton. The gap between the generations was wider, as the visiting youth were of preschool age. Princeton Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) instructor Tiffany Glaser arranged the visit with the Caley House staff.
ECFE is a program in which classes and activities are organized that involve not just the preschool children but their whole family, therefore there were parents at the intergenerational activity at Caley. ECFE had done the same kind of activity the month before at the Sterling Pointe senior living apartments and the plan is to make this a monthly activity, switching back and forth between the facilities.
Glaser started out the ECFE/Caley activity by reading some children’s stories as the visiting children and their families sat with about a dozen senior citizens in a big oval.
Glaser gave credit to ECFE coordinator and community education director Gwen Anderson for thinking up this intergenerational project involving ECFE and senior citizens.
After about 15 minutes of Glaser’s storytelling, the senior citizens and the children moved to tables to make valentines together as parents watched from the sidelines. Sometimes there was even a different tier of intergenerational interaction, with some of the parents there talking with the elderly residents.
The communication between the Caley residents and the preschoolers tended to be more that of smiles and looks rather than talk, compared to the exchanges between the fifth graders and the diners at the senior dining center mentioned earlier.
But the residents at Caley House likely appreciated the preschoolers stopping over and doing the valentine-making together. Caley House resident Polly Ewing expressed it this way: “To be with the little kids, it’s something.”
“I just know how much our clients love to have young children in the building,” said Caley House director Robyn Bayerl. “For us, it’s just such a nice option, they (ECFE classrooms) are close by and during the week there are not many visitors (at Caley). It’s a great networking activity in the community.”