Written By: Isaac Prazmowski
I have always loved the idea of childcare programs embedded within seniors’ centres. My memories of growing up with the loving support of my grandparents are integral to how I interact with and treat elders. All children should have the opportunity to interact with seniors and establish relationships, and for those of us who already had these opportunities, it wouldn’t have hurt us to have a few more.
In addition to the creation of new memories, placing childcare services within seniors’ hubs has benefits for both generations. The Kanata Research Park Centre in Ottawa has been visiting the Chartwell Kanata Retirement Residence monthly since 2008 and registered early childhood educator (RECE) Meagan Bell has seen these experiences build compassion and empathy in the children. Programs like these also reduce ageism, as children see older adults in a new light, as educators who help them read, as musicians who sing with them, and as storytellers who share their wealth of knowledge (even if the stories may have grown larger over the years).
The benefits of these programs for seniors are wide ranging. Engagement with childcare programming, whether it is participating in “move and groove” sessions like those hosted at Toronto’s Kipling Acres long-term care home, cooking, singing, or reading, can benefit the health and wellbeing of seniors, and this concept is now supported by research evidence. Seniors who participate in these activities tend to have lower blood pressure, delayed cognitive decline, and feel less lonely and socially isolated. By bringing youthfulness and energy into their lives, children can be a spark of joy that not only brightens seniors’ days but also gives them a sense of purpose.
Living collectively with all generations is not a new innovation; as it is often said, it takes a village to raise a child, and seniors have comprised many of the members of that village throughout our history. Indeed, sharing the responsibility of child rearing is still commonplace in many cultures – including our own indigenous people – but is has been slow to make a comeback in mainstream culture. Canada is facing a shift in our demographics, as not only is our population aging – seniors aged 65 and older are projected to make up 22.7% of our population in 2031 – but our family sizes have also shrunk to 2.5 persons per household. The implications of these population shifts mean that the traditional structure of a nuclear family supporting each other may not be, and indeed are not already, sufficient to meet the needs of young children and older Canadians who require the most care. It seems only logical to integrate the wellbeing of these age groups and rekindle our villages, so that our children and our seniors can both benefit.