Building Resiliency Through Intergenerational Connections


How often these days do children and youth spend quality time with older adults within their community, listening to stories of the good old days, playing games, or explaining how their new ipod works? Visiting with grandparents every week, common in decades past, is no longer the norm. Now, more than ever, there appears to be a visible disconnect of children and youth from older adults in society. Along with the physical and social separation of generations, attitudes about stereotyping, ageism and a lack of empathy towards the issues of growing older are generating critical misunderstandings that foster societal rifts.

Could this breakdown be turned around to become instrumental in building community resiliency?

The Canadian demographic is shifting to include a growing number of older adults (by 2035, 25% of Canadians will be over 65 years of age). Immigration has brought many children to Canada without the support of their extended families, and has left many grandparents alone while their grown families move across the country or around the world. Intergenerational (IG) activities can offer rich opportunities for our youth to benefit from the experience and maturity of these older adults. Generational bridging helps our older population remain active and involved and creates a climate for both generations to forge meaningful relationships within community.

As social issues arise from dis-connection of generations, our provincial and federal governments and the UN are becoming increasingly aware of the value of IG initiatives. In July 2010, the Canadian government moved to make Intergenerational Relations a top priority for the next year. The seed for such development lies in education.

Seeking to assist in bridging the generational gap, the i2i Intergenerational Society of Canada (helping generations see “eye to eye”) is a not-for-profit society that strives to promote and support sustainable IG activities between schools, communities and health care facilities. One of the many goals of i2i is to demonstrate to teachers how intergenerational learning is not just another subject to be taught, but rather can be easily integrated to enrich what is already being done in the mandated curriculum. A complete list of curriculum connections for IG learning, grades 4 – 12 (all provinces and territories), will soon be available on the i2i website.

Recent government funding facilitated i2i’s involvement in the creation of a National Intergenerational Curriculum. “Across the Generations – Respect All Ages” focuses on connecting 9 – 13-year-olds respectfully to older adults. It includes twenty-one classroom-tested lessons, leading from the example included in this article, to plans for full intergenerational immersion. The second resource, a grade 9 – 12 Teen Kit on “Elder Abuse Awareness,” was developed this spring for the International Federation on Aging, and the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse. This project-based learning kit fits well with Social Justice Studies, Behavioural Psychology, Conflict Resolution, English, Health, Home Economics and Arts courses in Middle and High Schools.

The i2i website will be hosting these two downloadable curriculums commencing this month. As well, this website offers lesson ideas, networking opportunities and a community IG calendar, an IG “Community Toolkit” developed for BC by i2i, a blog, photo galleries and IG activity suggestions. For any teachers interested in beginning an intergenerational immersion project, i2i is eager to assist in planning, development and implementation. As well, for school-based teachers, or teacher conferences, the society provides workshops on IG education, elder abuse awareness and community resiliency-building.

Get on the i2i Intergenerational Society mailing list ( and be the first to access these exciting resources as they come online. Also, share on the website any intergenerational projects you have done or are involved in now. Together we are better!


Time required: 30 – 60 minutes

Intent: Guiding questions

  • What does it mean to be old? (investigation of stereotyping)
  • What characteristics do we generally connect to something old?
  • Do these same characteristics apply to all things? to all people?
  • Are all older adults the same? How might they be different?
  • How can we change our views of older adults?

Participants will be given opportunities to reflect on how they personally view “old,” and through discussion they will list characteristics of things they believe to be old. They will be invited to reflect on differences they perceive between “old” and “new,” “young” and “aged” (Why were some ideas included on their list and others not?) There will be a discussion regarding perceived values attached to “old” and “young” as they pertain to people (as opposed to objects).

Design: Discussion

  • using comparison and contrast of old/new/ young/aged
  • reflection on previously held views—possible stereotyping

After opening discussion, participants will collect photographs from media that they perceive to represent “old” and “young,” with reflective guided discussion to follow.



  • whiteboard, chart paper, blackboard or smart board
  • 11X17 paper, one per child
  • felt pens, glue sticks
  • stopwatch (optional)
  • magazines and newspapers, scissors for each child


  • What do participants know about “old”? What is their perception of “old”? (Hint: use K and W of Know – Want to Know – Learned – Want to Enquire Further)
  • “K” – Start discussion of what it means to be “old” by recording participants’ opinions.
  • “W” – Define and investigate “What is a stereotype?”
  • Have participants inquire into perceptions of “What does ‘old’ look like, and act like?” Consider how some comments might be based on stereotyping.
  • From magazines and newspapers, have participants cut out photos of things that I would consider to be “old” and things that I would consider to be “new/young.”
  • Have participants share within groups why they selected these representative photos.
  • What do participants characterize as “old”? (Identify stereotypical thinking.)
  • The adult lead may guide participants in understanding “What does it mean to be an older adult?” by brainstorming a list or mind map of various aspects of “old” (e.g., young at heart, some retirees participate in their professions as volunteers, some continue or begin participation in hobbies and competitive sports, some have mobility issues, are unwell and require care, some travel, some must leave their homes for care, etc.).
  • Post this information on a wall for future reference.


  • Adult lead can request that individual and pairs of participants show this broader definition of “old” and “older adults” by: writing a poem, rap, song, creating a poster showing all aspects of “Being an older adult is…”, making a chart showing pictures of older adults doing a variety of things (selected cut-out images from beginning of activity), making a collage that unmasks stereotypical thinking about older adults.
  • Present these in a shared public space.
  • At the completion of this activity, have all the guiding questions been addressed?


Sharon MacKenzie
Sharon MacKenzie, BC Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence recipient in 2009, is the Executive Director, i2i Intergenerational Society, Canada.

This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s November 2010 issue.

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