The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Learning from Other Age Groups

A retirement/nursing home once had to expand its building

in order to accommodate a growing older population. The owners

realized that by expanding they also would need to increase their

staff. A larger staff would also require more day care

facilities. They therefore added a day care center to the new

building. That proved to be a stroke of genius. The young

children loved the older people and being around young children

made the older people feel happy and useful. There is now a very

long waiting list for this home. 

A day care center in a retirement/nursing home is the ideal

choice. However, one could think of other combinations which

also would be good choices. What about an animal shelter? I

once read a bulletin board notice asking for volunteers to pet

the animals in the shelter so that the animals would continue to

be friendly. What better volunteers than retirement/nursing home

occupants? What about a working farm as part of a

retirement/nursing home? What about a greenhouse? What about a

toy store or a book store or an artist studio?� 

As a matter of fact, why not have a retirement/nursing home

with direct access to a mall? One director of a beautiful

retirement/nursing home isolated in the country said the

residents tended to congregate around the visitors’ parking lot

because it was the liveliest spot around.    

Of course, people may be encouraged to go to

retirement/nursing homes far from the hub of activity in order

that they not be seen. “Out of sight, out of mind” as the saying

goes. Separating people according to age is a pattern we need

to change.

The pattern begins in preschool. Most preschools have a two

year old group, a three year old group, and a four year old

group. Rarely are the groups combined into several groups with a

three year age spread. Such a grouping seems more desirable and

is like a family grouping. Children learn a great deal by being

with older and younger children. They learn how to nurture and

to help those younger and to look up to and to emulate the older

ones. The pattern continues into elementary school. Students

are placed into classes according to their date of birth. These

groupings do not take into account developmental differences in

children and the many advantages of cross-age grouping.

When we isolate and separate people because of age, we are

missing golden opportunities. As one gets older, one gets wiser

and more knowledgeable. Younger people do not look on those

older than themselves as sources of wisdom and support mainly

because they have little contact with them. Someone once defined

old age as the time when you know all the answers but people

stop asking you the questions. This concept needs revision. 

We could start by changing how schools are constituted. We

now separate age levels into separate buildings and label them

elementary, junior and high schools. Why not have several

buildings which house grades kindergarten to twelve? The

facilities like gym, kitchen, cafeteria, auditorium, computer

lab, library, and so forth could be in the middle of the building

available to all of the students and to all ages of citizens. As

it is now, most of these resources are now duplicated and are not

used to full capacity not only because schools are open only 185

days a year but also because all grade levels do not use them in

the same way.  

Senior citizens would have access to these facilities which

would also be available at night and for more days than the

school year. Senior citizens, in using the facilities, would

interact with all ages of students and could serve as aides to

the teachers and support for the students. At the same time,

children would come in contact with people of different ages who

have much to teach them. 

We need to get rid of the artificial age barriers we have

created which make it difficult for different age groups to

understand and to help each other. The advantages of these

interactions for all ages are too great to let them go untapped. 








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