Six Benefits of Intergenerational Parks and Rec Activities

Written by Brian Stapleton

Incorporate these six programs into your rec offering to bring local youth and seniors together.
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Your community exists to offer equitable access to all citizens, and your parks and recreation department is a cornerstone in your civic offering. Two often underserved population segments that benefit from access to public parks, affordable classes, leagues, activities, and events, include children and seniors. Not only do these groups enjoy socialization, physical activity, and mental stimulation from such activities, but they can double their enjoyment and gain even more pleasure when they have the opportunity to participate in local offerings together. Read on to learn about the benefits to your youth and seniors when they take part in combined parks and rec offerings, and check out our list of suggested intergenerational programs.

The Benefits of Intergenerational Activities

Studies show that interactions between children and older adults tend to elicit strong feelings of joy and companionship between both. When allowed to spend time with children and adolescents, seniors benefit from:

  • Improved communication
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Better decision-making skills
  • Improved memory
  • Feeling that they are assisting the next generation and making a difference in a future society
  • Feeling appreciated and valued

Children benefit as well, particularly in the following areas:

  • Improved academic achievement through senior mentoring
  • Feeling loved and enjoying dedicated attention
  • Gaining confidence through non-judgmental companionship
  • Emotional bonding
  • Being exposed to the knowledge and demeanor of older adults, particularly if they do not have grandparents engaged in their daily lives

A study from Kansas State University found that without valuable interactions with older adults, children are at risk of developing harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about older generations and negative feelings about aging. The study also found that intergenerational programs can help improve such perceptions.

A Booming Senior Population

The need for local government parks and recreation departments to support their senior populations with additional resources and activities is about to increase. Recent census data shows that within a couple of decades, aging baby boomers will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than age 65, which will expand the size of the older population so that one in every five residents will be retirement age. While the aging of baby boomers is putting a strain on local government employment, it offers a valuable opportunity for parks and recreation departments to support its seniors and youth with enriching non-familial intergenerational interactions and collaborative programming.

Six Intergenerational Program Ideas

Support the seniors and children in your community with enriching and mutually beneficial programming by implementing the following combination activities in your next seasonal offering.

  1. Arts and Crafts. This indoor activity requires minimal supplies and planning. By allowing seniors and children to work alongside each other while expressing themselves creatively, you give them both an opportunity to learn from one another and form genuine friendships.
  1. Reading. What is wonderfully beneficial about a senior-youth reading program is that both sides benefit emotionally and intellectually. Whether you ask children to practice their reading skills by reading to a patient, non-judgemental senior, or you ask seniors to provide some one-on-one time and attention through storytelling to children, everyone will benefit from one of the oldest forms of creative development and communication skill-building, all while forming friendships and lasting bonds.
  1. Cooking Classes. Pair children and seniors together to enjoy the art and science of cooking and baking. Children will learn new skills and develop kitchen confidence, while seniors will enjoy sharing their expertise and learning some new tricks and tips too.
  1. Outdoor Exploration. A walk outside in nature benefits everyone at every age. Support children and seniors with a safe, accessible nature walk, or discovery session. Pair each senior with a child on a nature scavenger hunt to stimulate dialogue and teach children team-building skills. For seniors who experience mobility challenges, offer a gardening class as an alternative where they can more comfortably enjoy time outdoors and where their younger counterparts can experience the excitement of growing and caring for flowers, vegetables, plants, and herbs.
  1. Board Games. Whether you host a team-based competition like Scrabble or hold an open recreation and game hour where children and seniors are encouraged to explore all of the games and puzzles your recreation center has to offer, both age groups will benefit from activities that challenge their cognitive memory skills.
  1. Music Classes. Music is an art form that brings people together and offers skills that can be refined at any age. Open music classes to all age groups and give youth and seniors a chance to learn a new skill—and perform—together.

There are so many life lessons, skills, and moments of enjoyment that can be possible when our two bookend generations collaborate and learn from one another. Local government parks and recreation offers the perfect opportunity to introduce local seniors to local youth and give them a safe space to enjoy impactful activities together. Once you establish your new program offerings, don’t forget to promote them to the public. Download our Parks and Recreation Marketing Tips eBook for low-cost, easily executable advertising advice.