With so much focus on helping kids achieve as much as possible during their earliest school years, parents put more effort into finding a good preschool program than ever before. Instead of just looking for programs focusing on building the foundations of academic skills, consider a program that brings elderly people into contact with the kids. Intergenerational preschools help young kids build a wide range of skills they'll use for the rest of their lives.
It's not surprising that preschool kids who spend time with elderly adults learn to appreciate people from different walks of life. Young children who make friends with elderly people are much less likely to exhibit traits of ageism in preschool and as they age because they learn to appreciate the person individually rather than making assumptions based on stereotypes. In fact, kids in intergenerational preschool programs tend to develop a broader sense of empathy and exhibit more kindness and understanding to people with any kind of disability or difference. This skill alone may be worth the extra effort of seeking out a program that fosters relationships between kids and elderly people.
Improving Self Regulation
Empathy is a good skill for preschoolers to learn, but it can be tricky to measure and quantify. A more measurable record of development is self-regulation, which is a challenging skill for preschoolers to build without a lot of one-on-one help. Research shows that kids in an intergenerational preschool program enjoy better self-regulation skills than their counterparts in general education groups, which results in helpful abilities like
- Concentration for difficult and time-consuming tasks
- Control of emotions during challenges like disagreements with friends or the loss of a pet
- Patience when waiting for a turn
- Sharing with friends even when the child would prefer to keep playing with a specific toy.
Practicing Social Skills
While improved self-regulation obviously helps preschoolers make friends and build relationships, interacting with older adults also encourages young children to practice other skills that they may not necessarily apply to their peers. For example, talking with an elderly friend encourages a child to focus on using their manners and active listening skills since the conversation partner already has these skills and responds positively to them. It can be tricky to manage the conversational manners of an entire preschool class trying to practice with only a few adults to guide the conversations, so bringing in elderly adults increases the number of conversation partners who can focus on reminding the child not to interrupt.
Interacting with Non-Family Role Models
Preschool-aged children are practically sponges and love watching adults for behavior to model. However, kids can only pick up on behaviors from adults that they're interacting with on a regular basis. Bringing in a group of elderly adults with a wide range of personalities, interests, and life experiences allow the preschool class to learn a much wider range of behaviors. You never know what kind of inspiration a young child could find by coming in contact with adults outside of their family that can serve as a role model for the rest of their life.
Learning to Help
Finally, elderly people offer children a unique chance to learn to help with less risk. Preschoolers are eager to chop up food with a knife or join in on dish washing, but their lack of fine motor skills makes these chores somewhat dangerous for them. Elderly adults often need help with very basic tasks that even preschoolers can manage, like sorting puzzle pieces by color and cleaning up after fun activities. Preschoolers get to join in and actually help people in need of support, and seeing the happiness of their adult friends after receiving help encourages them to keep caring for others for the rest of their lives.
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