Date: 27-11-2019

ICDI’s new edited book: Intergenerational Learning for ECEC practitioners

This month, ISSA Member International Child Development Initiatives (ICDI), launched the book Intergenerational Learning in Practice, which is published by Routledge[1]. Intergenerational Learning (IGL) brings together young children and older adults, or those who are at “two ends of the lifelong learning spectrum.” The book leverages ICDI’s successful IGL initiative Together Old and Young (TOY)[2], which in partnership with other organizations, has built a case for IGL involving young children and older adults, with evidence demonstrating how it helps to improve feelings of wellbeing, decrease loneliness and enhance social cohesion. 

While there are many promising practices that bring together young children and older adults taking place around the world, the knowledge and expertise in this area has not yet been combined in one resource. This unique publication brings together the most current research as well as practical examples. The book is set to become the IGL go-to for practitioners, leaders, and researchers across sectors.

It also presents a special opportunity to highlight some noteworthy practices taking place in the ISSA Network. Editors of the book, Margaret Kernan and Giulia Cortellesi of ICDI discuss the importance of intergenerational learning, what this book is all about, and their other work on the subject.

How did TOY start and what makes it such a meaningful initiative? 

We started looking at this in 2011 when we were seeing societal and demographic changes in Europe that are still happening. It is about migration - so children growing up away from their grandparents. It is about age-segregation - so children growing up in institutions with other children and older adults segregated in aged care facilities. We also have the fragmentation of social life in our neighborhoods. There are towns where young families are living in certain neighborhoods and other neighborhoods that become the homes for older adults.

Isolation and loneliness was and is another big issue. IGL addresses these concerns. Children benefit from having focused attention from older adults or mentors who have time for them and are interested in them and give an understanding of what it was like to be a child years ago. It is also a way for children to develop social skills, norms of behavior. Older adults benefit from feeling needed, involved, valued and being more physically active. The engagement with the children has a very positive effect on their health and well-being. It is important to emphasize that both groups learn from one another.

The broader family network also benefits. Parents really value their children having more contact with older adults, particularly parents who are really busy or do not have a strong relationship with the children’s grandparents. It also contributes to the general community health, creating a sense of social cohesion in the community. It gives communities the feeling that they look after one another and everyone has a role in the community and a contribution to make. Often it is the young children and older adults that are forgotten in discussions about the sustainability of communities. The focus tends to be on the employed generation so IGL gives value to these two age groups.


When we look at social inclusion we also look at it from a diversity standpoint. We believe that IGL can contribute to the promotion of intercultural dialogue. If older adults are involved as volunteers or mentors for young children with a minority, migrant or refugee background it is easier for the family to adjust to the new reality and it is easier for the hosting society to overcome stereotypes and build relationships with the newcomers or minorities. This was also the rationale of the TOY for Inclusion project[3]. The project gives older adults from the Roma community a chance to share their knowledge, their passions, and their traditions with children from various backgrounds, which helps the majority overcome stereotypes and prejudices against Roma. 

We see this as a growing movement worldwide. We would like to see this become structural childcare and aged care.

"Intergenerational learning is a catalyst, a mobilization tool for communities." 

- Giulia Cortellesi, ICDI

What communities is IGL for - do you focus only on urban communities or is it also for rural communities?

This is for everyone, everywhere.

A lot of learners participating in the TOY Online Course at the moment are talking about how relevant IGL is for their rural communities because people are feeling more isolated in rural communities. The TOY initiative makes absolute sense because it reminds them of what multi-generational community interaction can mean—and what it used to mean in the past. It is a reminder that it is healthy for different age groups to spend time together.

Intergenerational learning is a catalyst, a mobilization tool for communities. It can be a tool or it can be a goal in itself. Sometimes you want to facilitate intergenerational learning because there is a lack of relationship between the generations. In some other cases, it is a tool to use to reach more indirect goals like social cohesion, inclusion, and so on.

Say there is a park that needs to be redesigned, who do you consult and how do you consult them? We propose a way that is friendly to all ages instead of just consulting one age group. Instead of building new spaces in a community for one age group, why don’t we think about sharing sites? We can have childcare and aged care under one roof and staff that is trained to work with the different services.

It can be an approach to address many issues in all communities.

What does IGL look like? 
It can take many different forms. It can be formal or informal. In the Netherlands, a group of older adults is supporting teachers in primary schools as teacher assistants. They receive training to support teachers and students. They are actually embedded in the school system.

Sometimes it is about institutions cooperating together and creating shared sites; in some other cases it is organizing activities or events together. There is an example of a multigenerational summer camp in Italy. For the last 5 years, they offer a summer camp for older people from a care home and children whose parents are working, so they can spend their time together during the school holiday. There are intergenerational activities purposely designed for them during a period of 6 weeks.

And it isn’t just about meetings between frail older adults living in residential care homes. It is also about recognizing the role of active adults who may be in their 60s and 70s, possibly retired or with some free time who would like to give something back to their community as volunteers. They can share their hobbies and interests with children in different settings such as in community arts centers, libraries, museums, or visit children at home to read to stories children.

"This is a living topic, people are aware of the importance of connecting these age groups..." 

- Margaret Kernan, ICDI

What can you tell us about the book?

We were really keen to invite authors from different backgrounds. In the book you’ll see chapters from people who are experts in pedagogy in early childhood and working with families and community. You will also read insights from people who are expert in older adults, gerontologists.

There is also a chapter written by two architects from Denmark who describe themselves as spatial practitioners and describe with lots of photos and drawings how age-inclusive spaces might be developed.  

This is a living topic, people are aware of the importance of connecting these age groups and it is something that is being discussed in Australia, United States, Canada, as well as in different countries in Europe. So, the book has contributions from many different countries and contexts.

We wanted to have a book where there was enough theoretical contribution, as this is a new field of research it was good for us to bring together people from different disciplines to write about pedagogy, architecture, etc.

And, we also wanted this to be an inspirational book for those who want to start their own intergenerational initiatives. So, we tried to collect as many examples of practice as possible and also give some practical tips. All the chapters in the second half of the book contain suggestions and tips for implementation.

You will read about intergenerational learning as a way to promote environmental sustainability, as a way to promote cultural transmission, as a way to promote social cohesion, as a way to promote age-friendly planning and design.

We also managed to bring in some well-known intergenerational initiatives like the TV program broadcast by Channel 4 in the UK and replicated in other countries. It is now in four or five countries. There is a chapter in the book from the first group who did it.

Why was it meaningful for ICDI to write this book now? 

TOY is a programme which ICDI has been leading for 7 years now, and it was really time to bring the research and the practice of IGL to a broader audience. As far as we know, no one else has written a book on intergenerational learning focusing on young children and older adults. 

It was also an opportunity to give our partners a chance to write about their work and reach an international audience.

Who is this book for?

Practitioners, researchers, community development workers, primarily but it could also be for architects and town planners. It is a very multidisciplinary area of work and it really benefits from perspectives from planning, from pedagogy, from housing, from social care. This work is rooted in the community. It is best understood when you think about it from the perspective of the child, from the perspective of older adults, from the perspective of community workers, and families. We’ve tried to reflect that in the selection of the authors—IGL is multi-sectoral and the understanding of the topic is enriched if you look at it from all these different perspectives.

We really would like the book to be a recommended or even essential text for courses about working with families in the early years, but also in social care. Our publishers, Routledge are primarily marketing this book for practitioners and leaders in Early Childhood Education and Care, but it is equally relevant for people working in social care or aged care, or community development. 

If you are a researcher or lecturer and you are really interested in reading the most up-to-date research in this area, this book is also useful for you. If you are thinking about developing new research on IGL then the first half of the book is particularly useful for you.

If you are a practitioner interested in developing this new way of thinking and working then there are some inspirational practices and really practical tips and tools in the second half of the book to help you.

We also recommend the book to those taking the TOY Online Course[4]. This is a self-paced online course for ECEC, social care and community development practitioners worldwide runs twice per year, and is free. We recommend the book as a companion to the course. See more about the online course below.

What other materials/tools do you have related to IGL?

The TOY course includes discussion forums, video lectures, quizzes, and readings. It is very reassuring for those taking the course to hear that there are people doing similar work in other parts of the world—all with the belief that these two age groups need more attention and that there are huge opportunities to link young children and older adults.

We are also hearing from those in the course that they would really like to start this work but they need support from us and the course in thinking about a plan. So, we provide planning templates on the course which is very helpful for them.

This is the direction in which our TOY for Quality programme[5] goes to as well. We’ve developed a self-assessment tool, which is also included in a chapter in the book. We define 6 dimensions of quality in IGL and we provide guiding questions and indicators so that groups of practitioners that would like to start, or are involved in IGL, can reflect on their own practice and also identify areas for improvement.

We are really building the tools that practitioners and services need to scale-up their IGL work.

Where can you access all these tools and resources?

The book provides loads of first-hand experiences and case studies. ISSA has been lucky enough to witness some of these practices first-hand. If you are interested in reading about some of the case studies buy the book and visit the TOY Blog.

The next TOY online course begins in March 2020, learn how to join here.