The “Flow Downhill”: It’s a good thing

A recent article on the Huffington Post highlighted the many benefits for both seniors and students derived from intergenerational learning experiences. Co-written by Michael D. Eisner, chairman of The Eisner Foundation, and by Marc Freedman, founder/CEO of and a visiting scholar at Stanford University, the piece cited real-world examples of how intergenerational interaction can lead to wider educational opportunities, improved skills, and deeper personal satisfaction.

One such citation is from the Intergenerational School in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite the high poverty rate of the student population, this charter school boasts scores which are near the top of educational performance charts in the state. The secret to the school’s academic success, they write, is its strong alliance between its students who need social, emotional, and academic support and Cleveland’s growing senior citizen population that has been ready, willing, and able to nurture the next generation. According to Eisner and Freedman, fostering such intergenerational relationships is an excellent way to address the rapidly shifting demographic terrain in which there will be “more people over 60 than under 15 — and by 2030, more over 60 than under 20.” Rather than a “collision of kids vs. canes,” the examples show how valuable seniors are to children who need adult guidance and support.

Furthermore, they write that older adults experience a powerful desire to nurture the next generations — what visionary psychologist Erik Erikson called “generativity”– and because of their efforts are three times more likely to be happy in later life, according to research by George Vaillant of Harvard Medical School.

The International School in Cleveland is not alone in discovering the valuable connection between children and older adults. Similar positive outcomes have been experienced by the Foster Grandparents, Boomer Corps (seniors sharing their large knowledge base with startups), AARP Experience Corps, and our own Bridges Together, all of which utilize the skills of older adults to support better futures for the younger generation.

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