Kendal News and Blog

Life After Nature Preschool

Kendal at Oberlin - Sunday, July 29, 2018
Life After Nature Preschool
Exploring the Long Term Effects of Nature-Based Education
By Catherine Koons-Hubbard

BannerNature Preschool2

So much has been written in the past few years about the benefits of nature play, particularly its place in early childhood education. It's not hard to find an article about the effects of nature on fine and gross motor skills, stimulating executive function, or developing an emerging environmental ethic. There are dozens of well-written, thought-provoking articles out there that stress the importance of spending time outdoors in childhood.

Do the benefits of nature play last beyond childhood?
As someone who works in the field of nature-based early childhood education, it is thrilling to see this increasing documentation of the value of a nature-and-play-based approach to children’s learning. It reinforces what I see daily; playing outside builds resilience, encourages sensory exploration, and promotes meaningful relationships with nature and our community. What has been less examined, however, is whether or not the benefits of nature play last beyond early childhood. And if they do, how?  

It is extremely difficult to trace the impact of a child’s early education experience into later years, regardless of whether those initial experiences were nature-based or not. Most of the efforts to examine the benefits of preschool in general have focused on academic success. The results of these studies are varied. This is probably because, in the words of leading Early Childhood expert, Deborah Phillips, “learning is continuous and cumulative, which makes pinpointing cause and effect within a child’s education difficult.” (Pre-School Effects: What the Research Does and Doesn’t Say, May 2017)

According to a 2017 study issued by the Brookings Institution (in cooperation with the Duke Center for Child and Family policy) there is convincing evidence that children who attend pre-K programs are more ready for school than children who do not, and that these same children show initial improvements in such academic areas as literacy and numeracy. The children who often benefit most are lower income, or non-native English language speakers, but all children appear to gain when the program features a “well implemented, evidence-based curriculum” and includes continuing professional development for teachers.

In 2001, a group of researchers from Georgetown University began tracking children enrolled in the city of Tulsa’s universal pre-K program. They followed these children all the way through middle school, and found that, in general, the children who had attended the pre-K programs tested higher in math, were more engaged in class, and were more likely to be enrolled in school honors programs. (It is worth noting that there were some exceptions, most notably among black adolescent males, but that even within these exceptions, students were less likely to be held back if they had attended a quality pre-K program.)

Test scores can't evaluate kindness, empathy, or environmental awareness.
The quality of the pre-school program is an important factor in these studies. Researchers tend to measure the quality of a preschool by the education and certification levels of its teachers, as well as by the strength of the curriculum. In the Brookings report, researchers concluded that a poor quality program could actually reveal “null or negative longer-term impacts” on a child’s academic career.

All of this research is very exciting to those of us who work in this field. Nevertheless, I do, at times, get frustrated that the only way we seem to be able to measure a child’s long term success is through academic test scores.

Obviously, test scores are more tangible than social or emotional skills, which makes them a useful method of evaluation. But I do think it’s important that we look beyond test scores when measuring the benefits of preschool. I think this is especially important when measuring the benefits of a nature-based program, as academic test scores do not and cannot evaluate our goals of promoting kindness, empathy, or environmental awareness.

When our nature preschool was founded fifteen years ago, one of our primary aims was to help children connect to nature in a positive, meaningful, and hopefully long-lasting way. We wanted the children who left our program to continue to find comfort and joy in nature, and for their early experience in nature to translate into a sense of responsibility and advocacy as they matured. Our program was designed to lay a foundation for a lifelong relationship with the natural world, the first in what we hoped would become a series of outdoor experiences.

That is not to say that we disregard academics entirely. Nature-based programs can and should incorporate early literacy and math into their curriculum in ways that are authentic and meaningful. We strive to create critical thinkers who will actively observe and engage with the world around them. But we do not measure our program’s success by future test scores. Rather, we look at whether or not the children leaving our program enjoy learning. Do they like school? Are they excited by new ideas and by gathering information? Do they ask questions, seek answers, and share what they’ve learned with the people around them?

We also look at how they interact with their peers. Do they act with kindness and compassion toward others? Do they view their classmates as potential friends and teammates? Do they have empathy toward other living things?

And of course, we look at whether or not they continue to interact with nature as they grow older. Do they continue to spend time outside? Do they take comfort in nature? Do they care about the protection of natural spaces?

Gathering these answers as the children age out of our program is clearly not easy. We rely on communication from area teachers, who let us know how the children are faring as they progress through elementary school. We rely on parents to remain in touch, years later. So far the information we have received is purely anecdotal. But what we have learned is that in many cases these early experiences in nature do help shape the people our students become.

Take for instance, the Eagle Scout who returned to the nature center years after he aged out of our preschool program to develop his Eagle Scout project—a portable reptile teaching unit—and who made a point to invite his nature preschool teachers to attend his court of honor. “I like to give back,” he explained, “by giving younger kids the same kind of childhood I had and getting them interested in nature.”

Nature Preschools strive to lay a foundation for a life-long relationship with the natural world.

Take the now ten-year-old former student who arrived for a visit to our preschool one muddy morning and immediately headed out to the nature play space to revisit her favorite spring-fed puddle. It was still there, as deep as ever, and she was immediately up to her ankles in thick, boot-sucking mud with an enormous grin on her face. Her mother, in between snapping pictures, informed us that her daughter still plays outside in every kind of weather and wants to be a wildlife biologist.

Take the Facebook post from a former nature preschool parent, declaring that her soon-to-be-middle school son “still hugs Grandpa Tree” whenever he visits his former preschool.

Then there is the seventeen-year-old boy who, years after graduating from our program, attended the Conserve School in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin, a single-semester high school program that emphasizes conservation. He was quick to credit his time at Nature Preschool for setting him down what may well be a lifelong path of environmental stewardship.

Of course, these stories are not the same as carefully conducted studies. I recognize that these young people are part of a self-selected group. Those who come back as volunteers, or to visit, naturally feel a connection to nature or else we would never see them again. Those who continue to play outside in all kinds of weather, or pursue hobbies and even careers based in nature, tend to have parents who support and encourage their interests, parents are who are often just as passionate about the natural world as their children.

 Being part of a community does not end when preschool ends.

But I think it is fair to accept a small portion of praise. Part of the purpose of Nature Preschool is to lay a foundation for what comes next. This means not only developing environmental awareness. It means developing an understanding of community, of feeling that one is valued, and valuing others in return. It means developing respect for all living things, and understanding the interdependence between animals, people, plants, and habitats.

It also means developing self-efficacy: the realization that one has the skills necessary to achieve one’s goals. Whether the skills are physical (balance, coordination, spatial), cognitive (knowing how to problem solve, ask questions, and seek answers), or emotional (having control over one’s own feelings, being able to make friends and interact in a group) part of our purpose is to help children develop confidence in their own abilities. This goes beyond self-esteem, which is based on receiving praise from others. Self-efficacy comes when children are challenged, take risks, overcome, and know for a fact that they can succeed, because they have the strength, determination, and ability to do so.

Having confidence in one’s own abilities does not end when preschool ends. Being part of a community does not end when preschool ends. When we talk to kindergarten and first grade teachers, they tell us our former Nature Preschool children are often the peacemakers at their new schools. They are also actively engaged with their own learning. They look outside on a rainy day and wonder about what’s out there. They jump in puddles. They connect. No one has ever left our nature-based program and found they could not handle the academic content of kindergarten and first grade. (In fact, what they generally struggle with is sitting still and completing worksheets when the world outside the window beckoned.)

As more and more of our former students turn twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and return to our preschool as volunteers, we continue to be thrilled by their expression of comfort and joy in nature. Their academic interests and hobbies may vary. Some are computer experts, others solve puzzles, dance, play music, are on multiple sports teams, or perhaps write fan fiction. They enjoy steam punk, theater, soccer, spy games, chemistry, physics, and art. Some are homeschooled, others attend large public high schools, some are at small, private, religious academies. Some soar academically. Others may struggle. But when asked why they want to come back and spend time at their former preschool, their answers are the same: because being in nature matters to them. They want to share the same experience of playing and feeling joy in nature that they had with a new group of children.

If these are the types of people our former students have become, then I would deem the long term effects of nature-based early childhood education a success. What we need now are researchers who can test this hypothesis in ways that look beyond test scores, examining children’s interests, compassion, and their personal connections to nature, in the years beyond preschool. 

Fun Fitness Week at Kendal

Kendal at Oberlin - Sunday, October 22, 2017
Fun Fitness Week at Kendal
By Molly Kavanaugh

 Every spring, Jerry Berner takes to his bully pulpit to promote the benefits of Fun Fitness Week at Kendal at Oberlin, the key word being “Fun.”

“We have a fitness room, exercise classes – this week you’re not just getting your fitness, it’s fun too. And it’s about participation not performance. We do not keep results of scores,” Jerry tells residents and staff members.

Fun Fitness Week is held in June and consists of five days of playful and creative fitness games and events, held both outside and in. There are activities for all ages, including children in the Kendal Early Learning Center, and all levels of mobility, including residents who use a wheelchair.

The 12th Fun Fitness Week is now in the books, and Jerry, who co-chairs the event with Wellness Coordinator Jill Connone, has lots to report.

• 183 residents, 96 staff and 20 children participated;
• 22 activities were held, five of which were completed at the participant’s convenience (observation walk, cycling, lap swimming or water walking, perimeter walk and miniature golf);
• 3 events were designed for residents in the Stephens Care Center;
• children participated in 5 events;
• some especially fun-filled events were the water balloon toss and Wii games.
• the most popular events were Baggo (a bean bag toss game), bowling (using lightweight balls and pins), and observation walks

“Lunch is the most popular event – it’s held on the last day and free for anyone who participated in at least one activity,” Jill said. The meal features healthy foods, such as fruit, salads and whole wheat bread.   

The idea for Fun Fitness Week grew out of a conversation Jerry had with a man who was visiting Kendal and lived at a retirement community in Washington. The visitor was chair of the community’s fitness committee and told Jerry about its popular Senior Olympics event.

“We could do something like that,” Jerry and other residents thought. They decided to create a program that included staff, and focused on participation rather than performance.

In the beginning, they did post some stats, like the top three male and female participants, but the committee eventually decided to drop numbers altogether.  

Every year soon after Fun Fitness Week is over, the 2-dozen committee members regroup to decide how to improve the following year. What events should be moved to another location or a different time slot? What events should be added or dropped?

“We’re maxed for the number of events,” said Jerry, who participated in 15 of the 22 events.  

One of the new events in 2016 was a mini-obstacle course, coordinated by Katherine Caldwell, who moved to Kendal eight months ago.

“Jerry is quite a motivator. He makes an effort to get people involved,” Katherine said.

 Katherine, a retired physical therapist, designed the course so residents could either walk or use a wheelchair. “It worked out,” she said.

Katherine also participated in a number of events, including daily walks with her dog, Mylee, a walk with her 94-year-old aunt, who also lives at Kendal, and basketball.  “I haven’t shot hoops since high school,” she said.

Other new events included a remote-controlled sailboat race on Kendal’s Triangle Pond, badminton and mini-croquet.

One perennial favorite for Jerry, and his wife, Jeanne, is the observation walks. Instead of collecting items as if on a scavenger hunt, participants pick up a sheet of paper listing a route – find the pink flamingo in a resident’s yard, a painting with six little chickens, etc.  

This year there were three routes – two outside and one indoors.

“We did all three,” Jerry said. “The observation walks bring people to different parts of the campus and you discover new things.”

The walking relay race brings staff and residents together. Each team is comprised of 2 residents and 2 staff. “Some of the staff have to be admonished ‘no running,’ ” Jerry joked.

Jill said one of the biggest benefits of Fun Fitness Week is the interaction between residents and staff. “Residents learn a little more about us, and vice versa,” she said.

Photo Credit: Eleanor Helper

Benefits of Intergenerational Relationships

Kendal at Oberlin - Friday, September 30, 2016

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh   Sept. 12, 2016



The joys of being a grandparent are pretty much universally accepted and understood, even among those who do not wear such an insignia. Grandchildren also benefit in ways small and big, from “My grandma lets me eat ice cream in bed” to exciting vacations and college funds.


Today, we talk in more general terms about the joys and benefits of intergenerational relationships that include people of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds. And there are ample opportunities for such rich relationships to develop, especially in life plan communities, college towns and urban areas.


“There is magic when you mix experience, wisdom and fresh perspectives,” proclaims Generations United, a national organization that focuses on improving the lives of children, youth and older adults through intergenerational strategies.


The Benefits


The first widespread intergenerational program was developed in 1963. Called the Foster Grandparent Program, low-income older adults were paired with special needs children to help ease the isolation and poverty experienced by both.


The program’s success led to more programs, and now the benefits of intergenerational relationships for both young and old are widely recognized.


Benefits for older adults who regularly interact with the young include:

•Improved physical health: They burn more calories, experience fewer falls and are less reliant on canes.
•Improved mental health: They perform better on memory tests, and those with dementia experience more positive effects than in non-intergenerational activities.
•Improved emotional health: Feelings of isolation and depression decrease and self-worth and happiness increases.

Self-esteem also increases for children, along with improved behavior.


A Big Brothers Big Sisters study compared children who were paired with a mentor to those who were placed on a waiting list.


Researchers found that after 18 months of spending time with their Big Brother or Sister, the children were:

•46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs;
•27% less likely to begin using alcohol;
•52% less likely to skip school;
•37% less likely to skip a class;
•33% less likely to hit someone.


The community benefits too.


According to Grantmakers in Aging, intergenerational programs give a community:

•Enhanced awareness and appreciation of cultural heritage and traditions;
•Increased collaboration between local organizations;
•More vibrant and cohesive communities;
•Greater community support for school and youth programs


Intergenerational Opportunities for Older Adults


In The Gift of Years, Joan Chittister writes about the importance of agelessness to those who are older.


“Children give us a lifeline to the present and the future that is denied to us if we sit alone in an independent-living unit. They don’t play checkers much anymore, but they can teach us all about video games. They might not sing lullabies, but they know the words to every song on the radio. They tell us what the new language means. They keep us in touch with a warm and breathing world. They keep us warm and breathing, too,” she writes.


Joan Chittister is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, which operates the Neighborhood Art House for at-risk children in Erie, PA. Along with providing children with literary, visual and performing arts opportunities, the youngsters develop relationships with the volunteer men and women, of all ages and backgrounds, through reading and other programs.


Want to get involved with the younger generations?


Generations United maintains a directory of intergenerational programs, but it is not comprehensive. A good way to find a local program is to contact community organizations in your area that work with children and ask about volunteer opportunities. Depending on what age you are looking for, contact libraries, schools and colleges, senior centers, hospitals, churches, homeless shelters, daycare and after-school programs.


If you can’t find a program, maybe you can help an organization start an intergenerational program. What a gift that could be for so many young and old in your community.




Intergenerational Programs Thrive in Oberlin

Kendal at Oberlin - Friday, September 30, 2016

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh on Sep 26, 2016 4:46:09 PM

When Polly and Al Carroll moved to Kendal at Oberlin in 2003, they were excited to meet new people, especially those who shared their interest in foreign countries and diverse cultures.

Ten years later when Arlene and Larry Dunn moved to the retirement community, they sought out musicians, composers and others who appreciated music.

The result? Both couples now have friendships and informal relationships with people of all ages, including college-aged students and young adults.

“It keeps me feeling young,” Arlene says about the intergenerational relationships in her life.
Larry adds, “It gives me hope for the future. There are a lot of spirited young people here who won’t let turbulent times quash their dreams about making a difference in the world.”

Benefits Go Both Ways

Young and old benefit from intergenerational connections, according to Generations United, a national organization that focuses on improving lives of all ages through intergenerational programs.
Studies show that older adults remain in better health when they are active and engaged. Being involved with children and young adults create many opportunities to be active and engaged, including:
• Enhanced socialization;
• Learning new skills;
• Increased emotional support;
• Improved health, both physical and mental.

For children and young adults, academics and social skills improve and negative behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, decrease when they are involved in mentoring and other intergenerational relationships.

Communities Strengthened

“Intergenerational programs bring together diverse groups and networks and help to dispel inaccurate and negative stereotypes. Sharing talents and resources help to create a unified group identity. Children, youth, and older adults are less alienated while the community recognizes that they can be contributing members of society. These programs also help preserve historical and cultural traditions, enhance community spirit and strengthen partnerships among community organizations and individuals,” according to Generations United.
Both Kendal at Oberlin and the city of Oberlin have been recognized for their efforts to promote intergenerational living. The life plan community was named as a “Program of Distinction” by Generations United for its intergenerational programming, and the city was named in 2012 as one of five “Best Intergenerational Communities” in the country by Generations United and MetLife Foundation. 
Kendal has many formal and informal mentoring programs and other activities with Oberlin City Schools and Oberlin College.  Kendal is also home to an Early Learning Center.

Building Bridges

Every Monday, Polly Carroll volunteers at the center, helping teachers and playing with the pre-schoolers.
This fall, she and Al will be paired with a first-year student at Oberlin College who is enrolled in the “Ars Moriendi: Death and the Art of Dying” course. Students follow a hefty syllabus and attend class three times a week, but not residents. The student and resident meet informally for at least an hour weekly to talk, attend lectures, share a meal.

“It’s not about academics, it’s about relationships,” Michele Tarsitano-Amato, Director of Creative Arts Therapy, tells residents. “How have you lived your life and what would you say to someone younger of what not to miss?”

The Carrolls’ main focus is interacting with international students on the college campus. The couple lived in England for 2 ½ years and appreciated all the hospitality Brits extended to them, and they want to do the same for students far from home. Plus they worked with international families and scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory before coming to Kendal, which also fueled their interest.

Some of the couple’s activities have included driving a student to a store to buy her first winter coat, providing food for a student’s senior recital, taking a student to her first zoo, attending a student’s rugby game – a first for the Carrolls.

And, of course, food is often involved. Polly likes to cook meals, especially a Chinese, Thai or other dish from a student’s native country, or they all eat together at the Kendal dining room or in a restaurant.  “Students are always hungry,” Polly says.

The interest in having an intergenerational relationship goes both ways, Polly has found. “The students love having connections with older people,” she says. Both parties learn about each other’s cultures, everything from food and having fun to religion and politics.
“I feel like we’ve gotten to be a smaller and smaller world, and this is a way to build bridges to other cultures,” she says.

Making Things Happen

Arlene and Larry Dunn recently spent a day planting fruit trees at the Oberlin Legion Field Community Garden, where volunteers of all ages are working hard to feed residents in need with homegrown vegetables. The John Bartram Arboretum at Kendal donated the trees to assist in the effort.
“It was inspiring,” Arlene says. “What you learn is that you can make things happen.”

Larry is on the board of the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra, which offers a myriad of performance and learning opportunities for youth, fourth grade through high school.

The couple has made many lasting friendships with students from the college’s Conservatory of Music. They have shared meals, museums, movies and like outings with other college students, too, including those who have participated in Arboretum activities through the Environmental Studies community service project, and in the Ars Moriendi class.

Larry and Arlene have also met students while they were auditing classes at the college. “A professor told us that students really appreciate having older adults in the class for their experience and perspective,” Larry says.
He added, “One former student we know said the best friend she made in her time in Oberlin was a Kendal resident who audited her first-year philosophy class.”


Stressbusters: How Do You Relax?

Kendal at Oberlin - Thursday, January 07, 2016
Colby, only 3 years old, knows how to deal with stress.  “I watch the gerbils,” says the preschooler at Kendal’s Early Learning Center.

Learning how to handle stress at a young age is wise, given that it is a lifetime companion. Sometimes it even moves in with us, zaps our energy and steals our sleep.You probably have a list of trusty stress busters, but you might want to check some of these out, compliments of Colby’s classmates:  

“I go to the park and it makes me feel better to play with somebody.” Evelyn, 5
“My mom always throws a pan in the air and it helps me.”  Jonathon, 3
“I look at pictures of my family.” Curtis, 4
“I get kinda anxious and frustrated and I go somewhere to be alone until I feel better.” Phoebe, 5

As for the Early Learning Center teachers, Sara eats chocolate, Robin drinks wine, Karen goes to Target, and Jeni eats and shops.

Ask the Experts

Over the years United Methodist ministers Gary Olin and Sally Nelson-Olin have come to rely on a few phrases when talking to church members, relatives and friends about stress.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Sometimes the casualty is minor – a less-than-perfect dinner party – but other times it can be a life changer. Regardless, Sally says, it helps people to look at the bigger picture and “name” their fear, which lessens its ability to cause stress.

“Let’s make a plan.” Gary says this simple statement is important for two reasons: It includes the listener in the plan, which helps the anxious person feel better, and the plan gives the person some control over what might feel, and be, an uncontrollable situation.

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Sally says this mantra is a good reminder to let go of the stress we take on because of the drama and antics of another person.

The couple, now retired and living at Kendal, finds music, meditation, prayer, yoga, deep breathing, walking and other physical activities helpful in reducing stress.  They follow the news and keep informed, but limit their exposure to the constant coverage.

Therese Borchard, host of Project Beyond Blue, an online community for persons with treatment-resistant depression and other chronic mood disorders, has 10 Stressbusters.

Here are 5 of them:

Use Pencil, not Pen
Give Away your (Superhero) Cape

Speaking of laughter, watch this short video from Laughter Yoga and your stress will surely slip away as you laugh along!  

Developed by Dr. Madan Kataria from India, the idea behind Laughter Yoga is that even “fake” laughter brings oxygen to the brain, which creates energy and relaxation and reduces stress and illness.  We all remember how Norman Cousins recovered from a debilitating disease, in part, by watching funny movies, recounted in “Anatomy of an Illness.”

Kendal Residents

Laughter is heard a lot on the Kendal campus, and not just from the Early Learning Center. Along with laughing, residents have lots of other methods to help them mellow.  

“Nothing better than a warm cat or two.”  Jean Slonneger
“A jog (2 miles) in the morning, 20-minute nap after lunch, gardening in the afternoon, and writing short stories in the evening.  A good night’s sleep also helps.” Don Parker, 81
“Just living at Kendal relieves the stress many of us experienced in the ‘working world.’” Grace Tompos
“I like to make watercolor paintings. It takes total concentration, so the wheels spinning in my brain slow down and I end up making something beautiful.” Louise Luckenbill, 79
“I remember all the stressors that moving to Kendal jettisoned from my life.” Marjorie Porter, 77
“Bicycling in good weather, baking bread in all weathers.”  Bob Longsworth, 78
“I knit. I snack. I do online jigsaw puzzles. I snack. I read. I snack!” Priscilla Steinberg, 82
“I relieve stress by holding a purring cat while reading a good book.” Nancy Garver, 80

Kendal Staff

CEO Barbara Thomas has a daily recipe. “I start or end the day with exercise and finish with 40 minutes in my massage chair. Yum,” she says.

Other staff recipes:

“Conversation and a glass of wine with a dear friend. Works every time!” Maggie Stark
“Exercise, Exercise, and more Exercise!” Rey Carrion
“Ride my bicycle in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, especially on a warm, sunny day.” Terry Kovach
“A visit to the Kendal gym with some (don’t judge) surprising heavy metal music, the best part is it is free. My other favorite stress reliever is walking my dog Angus. He doesn’t talk back and will listen to anything I say as long as I have a treat in my hand.” Lisa Wilken
“Go for a walk in nature. Observe something in nature for 15 minutes or more. Sit in silence. Shamanic Journeying.” Jill Connone
“I love to swim in the morning before work.” JoDee Palmer

Written by: Molly Kavanaugh

4 Benefits to Intergenerational LIving

Kendal at Oberlin - Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Older adults and younger generations can all prosper from sharing experiences together. Intergenerational living has become a growing trend across the United States – even in the White House. There are so many good things that may come of intergenerational relationships.

Their retirement living field may market intergenerational living as an innovative new concept, but in reality, it’s not. In fact, it reflects a more natural way to live. Our culture is only now re-discovering the benefits that were once a seamless part of life. Generations have lived in harmony benefitting mutually for all of recorded history.

Variety in age is just one element of the diversity Kendal strives to create. We are fortunate to have multiple avenues by which we are able to enrich the lives of our community members with intergenerational friendships. Through programs like the Kendal Early Learning Center and our effort to employ high school and college students, children and young adults are always engaging with residents resulting in positive benefits to both.

4 Can’t Miss Advantages of Intergenerational Community

Uplifting Spirits

Young children provide a spark of enthusiasm to older adults. Kids have a certain optimism they carry about that rubs off on everyone around them. These relationships are a great way to add joy to your day. A child’s laughter is contagious!

Genuine Friendships

Children are blind to differences in age. A friendship with a child can be truly special. A child will look at a bond with a mature adult the same way he or she does with a peer at grammar school. Regardless of age, one can never have too many great friends!


It’s true that these relationships have been proven to be beneficial for both children and retirement community residents, but it is also clear that the staff gets a boost as well. Think about your time at work. What would witnessing such a warm interaction have done for a dreaded case of “the Mondays”? The benefits become exponential when shared! And many communities with child care and education programs offer priority enrollment to staff.

Providing Some Guidance

Do you ever think of what you could have done with your current pool of knowledge in your teens or 20s? As young adults we can be a bit hesitant to listen to our parents, but a friendship like this may be just what we need to see the light. And it always feels good to give back. Real wisdom and life knowledge cannot be drawn from anywhere else.

Hundreds of these programs have been popping up across the nation for these very good reasons. This natural, comfortable living is positive for everyone involved. Gaining new perspectives and more complete outlooks is a blessing that will last a lifetime.

Intergenerational Programs Benefit Young and Old

Kendal at Oberlin - Tuesday, November 10, 2015
To some in western society, the concept of intergenerational living may seem like a new idea. In truth, though, it’s a timeless idea that is still practiced in many other countries and one that offers many benefits to all parties involved.

Historically, older people have played active roles in the care and teaching of the young. They were the storytellers and teachers in their villages, tribes, and communities. They had lived long lives and had stories to tell that not only delighted young children, but also taught them important lessons about history, survival, courage, and life.

Benefits to Young Children

The times haven’t changed so much that children have nothing to learn from the elders in their communities. In fact, children today stand to gain as much from this contact now as ever before – perhaps even more in a world that’s increasingly connected to the internet and disconnected from the people they spend time with every day.

Children today need to hear stories about the past in order to connect to the world outside of mobile phone, tablet, and portable game screens. Children learn about real life experiences and improve social skills by interacting with older generations.

Benefits to Older Adults

Older adults aren’t only giving in intergenerational environments. They also enjoy quite a few benefits of their own. While it is certainly exciting being part of a vibrant social community in retirement, being around young children also sparks the imagination and energizes the community in a unique way. Their playful approach to friendship makes the people around them feel more youthful and energetic.

Young children are inherently accepting. They are willing to forge friendships with new acquaintances regardless of age and other factors – even excited to do so. And don’t overlook the physical aspects of intergenerational programs; older adults who work with younger children may also enjoy the physical activity that is required. Working with children gives older adults an opportunity to enjoy the time spent together.

Benefit to the Community

From intergenerational programs like Generations United to informal opportunities to explore intergenerational activities (like the programs offered at Kendal at Oberlin) there are many possible benefits for the community as a whole.

There’s a wealth of shared knowledge and engagement among younger children, teens, college students, and older adults. Some of the benefits that result from these experiences are more respectful interactions between the generations and more empathetic people in all age groups who are able to see the world differently.

Diversity is an element that’s instrumental when it comes to keeping life interesting and inviting new opportunities to learn from others. Part of the appeal of intergenerational communities is the fact that there is diversity in age, background, education, and so much more. This provides opportunities for the excitement of the young to bring out the vitality and exuberance of the older ones, while the wisdom of the older adults brings out the thirst for knowledge and the natural curiosity of the young.

Intergenerational Friendships Benefit Everyone

Kendal at Oberlin - Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Written by: Molly Kavanaugh

Two Minnesota residents, 30-plus years apart in age, found common ground on a frozen lake. They have been skating together ever since.

“The benefit of older friends is that they have perspective and knowledge,” says 54-year-old Erik Wardenaar about his skating partner, Penny Jacobs, 88.

Penny adds that, by sharing of herself, “I am giving Erik the benefit of my experiences.”

Ask older adults involved in an intergenerational relationship and they are likely to tell you that it enriches their life, bringing a vibrancy and freshness that is different from friendships with people their own age.  

Three Positive Benefits

1.  The opportunity for a mutual knowledge exchange. You’ve had experiences the younger generation has only read about in their history books. Something as simple as having to use a payphone to call home is a completely foreign concept to today’s children and teenagers. Sharing your firsthand knowledge is a great way to leave a legacy and impart some wisdom. Don’t think your young friends don’t have knowledge of their own to impart! Ask them for help to learn more about social media or see if they know any tricks to get the most from your newest tech device.

2.  The chance to grow your support system. We may experience the loss of family and friends as we get older. Building relationships with younger generations is one of the best ways to combat the feelings of isolation and loneliness that can lead to depression in older adults who have lost people that were close to them.

3.  The ability to improve your overall health. Spending time with children can cause older adults to burn 20 percent more calories per week. Older adults who make the most of intergenerational socializing opportunities are also less likely to experience a fall and tend to perform better on memory tests.

Leaving a Legacy

“Older adults have an opportunity to leave a powerful legacy, to make a difference,” writes Susan V. Bosak, chair of the Legacy Project. “They can send a message into the future through a grandchild or young friend. Relationships across generations can fulfill our desire for immortality.”

These lasting contributions can involve: teaching a skill, such as quilting or wood carving; imparting knowledge, such as a deeper understanding of poetry or music; or sharing wisdom gleaned from experiences of love and failure.

Or the legacy can live on in a community rather than a person. “If we can improve the standing of older adults in society, and nurture what they can bring through intergenerational connections, then we can achieve a better community with a better quality of life for all ages,” Susan writes.

Keep in mind Margaret Mead’s quote:  “Connections between generations are essential for the mental health and stability of the nation.”
How to Make Intergenerational Relationships Happen

Volunteering at a school, library or with a youth group is a wonderful way to spend time with the younger generation.  Just contact the organization or your local United Way for more information about volunteer opportunities.

Join a club or activity or sign up for a class. You might choose something you enjoy doing, like playing chess or sailing, or a skill you want to learn, such as a speaking a foreign language or making jewelry.  Whatever it is, you are likely to be able to interact with people of all ages.

Consider moving to an intergenerational retirement community such as Kendal at Oberlin. Residents have many opportunities to form intergenerational relationships with students of all ages, including children who attend the Early Learning Center, located on the Kendal campus, and students from Oberlin College.

And finally, be bold. Skater Penny Jacobs approached Erik with the idea of skating together. Not only did the two find a beloved activity to share, but have become friends off the ice too. If you’d like to get to know someone, ask them if they’d be interested in meeting for coffee and conversation. You might be pleasantly surprised at their response.

The Importance of Sensory Play

Kendal at Oberlin - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Early childhood educators like to emphasize that young children learn with all their senses. From the time they are born children learn about their world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing. Which is why it is important to have many sensory experiences available at school and also at home.

  • As children play in the sensory table they are enhancing their sense of touch which in turn leads to developing their fine-motor muscles.
  • Materials that can be put in a sensory table can be rough or smooth, wet or dry, warm or cold, etc. By working with these materials children are learning classification or sorting skills.
  • Math skills are learned by such activities as: comparing who has the biggest pile of sand or how many cups of rice it takes to fill up a container.
  • Problem solving techniques such as how to retrieve a small car stuck in a paper towel tube, or what materials to use to build a ramp from one end of the sensory table to the other are practiced.
  • Language and literacy skills are used constantly as children talk with one another and use descriptive words about what they are doing.
  • Sand and water tables offer many opportunities for creative art and imaginary play, as children pretend to make “cookies”, and wash their babies.

Too often we find reasons why we don’t offer this type of play to our children; such as not enough room or too messy. But with a little imagination, time and tolerance we can overcome these reasons and provide this important type of play to our young children.

In order to protect floors could you use plastic office chair mats? If space is a consideration maybe plastic dish tubs could be filled with your sensory material, then they could be put away when your child is done playing. If having a mess is holding you back, remember having your child help clean up when the playtime is done is an opportunity for creative problem solving. Enlist their ideas on how to clean up the messes.

While we all instantly think of sand and water as the stock materials for sensory tables try to think “out of the box”. Mediums such as dried beans, bird seed, shaving cream, potting soil, snow, dried field corn fallen leaves, and yes, MUD, are just some of the many different sensory items you can use. (But remember the age of the child who will be using the sensory table as some of these may be a choking hazard.)

To keep your sensory table appealing, interesting and to promote different learning experiences don’t forget to vary the add-ins you put in these different mediums. Along with the various tools such as: spoons, cups etc., other ideas could be tweezers, sponges, PVC tubes, turkey basters, alphabet letters, sea shells, egg beaters etc.
But above all, remember, that although sensory play provides an opportunity for our children to engage in active learning, it also provides us another opportunity to play with our children and for us to have an excuse to get a little messy!

"I Don't Want to Live With Old People"

Kendal at Oberlin - Monday, January 23, 2012

Myth Dispelled – “I Don’t Want to Live With Old People…”

“I don’t want to live with a lot of old people.” We residents of Kendal at Oberlin hear comments like this from some of our friends when we encourage them to consider moving into our community. To tell the truth, some of us may have spoken those exact words – until we actually saw how intergenerational life is here at Kendal. We have an Early Childhood Center under our own roof, so even those of us who don’t volunteer in the Center are cheered by seeing youngsters as they take excursions along our corridors and walkways or play next to our cafeteria. The high school students who are our dining room servers provide another level of interaction, highlighted every spring when they bring their prom dates to show off their “dress-up” attire. And our other staff – housekeeping, facilities, wellness, nursing, etc. – in the process of performing their tasks help us feel we belong to a multi-age community. And when storms close the public schools, our KORA “Snow Day Teachers” provide activities for the children of these staff members.

Kendal is not a “gated” community in any sense. Non-residents, including members of Kendal –at-Home, are attracted to many of the programs presented by KORA committees. Increasingly, community organizations, most notably the Oberlin Heritage Center, make use of our facilities for public programs that bring overflow crowds to our auditorium. Because Kendal residents are so active in community and church groups, many meetings of these groups take place here – as becomes apparent when trying to schedule the Crossroads or Green Room. And our mile-long circular Kendal Drive attracts college students and others for jogging or just a leisurely walk to watch the birds and other wild life in our ponds, woods and natural meadow areas.

Oberlin College and Conservatory students volunteer to assist in the Stephens Care Center, present recitals in our auditorium, and provide programs for our committees. Many Lorain Community College and Joint Vocational School students receive part of their training here. Students in the Oberlin Public Schools, including the Model U.N. participants, Ninde Scholars and International Baccalaureate candidates, give talks about their studies and display their projects. In return, Kendal residents write “publicity plugs,” provide “grandparent” readers for kindergarten students, staff the “listening post” for middle school students, tutor and occasionally teach courses in the high school.

Among the small town advantages of Oberlin is that within easy walking and biking distance are a magnificent art museum, a world-class Conservatory of Music, and the full range of Oberlin College academic, athletics, drama and other facilities – all of them open to Kendal residents. Many of us audit classes and/or participate in winter term and Exco courses – free of charge. With the College’s 1200 events a year, including concerts, operas, plays, dance performances and lectures, at little or no ticket price, we Kendal-ites have far more opportunities to mingle with audiences of all ages than time and energy permit. We offer our own talents to the community by participating in the Musical Union and church choirs, and by showing off our Lawn Chair Precision Drill Team in such events as the annual city-wide Big Parade. Some of us also serve on City commissions and many of us on church and community boards and committees.

So, it’s true, we Kendal residents live with a lot of old people – very fascinatingly talented, experienced and wise old people – but we keep our curiosity, creativity and intellectual capacity alive thanks to the extraordinary intergenerational opportunities that Oberlin provides.

John Elder, KORA President

KORA is the Kendal at Oberlin Resident Association. Visit their web site at