Exploring the Value of Intergenerational Connections

Connecting with people from different generations is important for developing compassion, respect and empathy in a child, all of which are key beliefs of the International School of Amsterdam. Exploring and developing these intergenerational relationships is vital to the growth of children as it provides opportunities for empathy and guidance, while fostering respect between people of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. In developing the leaders of tomorrow, the real wisdoms and life experiences of older people is an invaluable tool for teaching students values such as integrity, compassion and reflection.

At ISA students are provided with many opportunities to engage with elderly community members in the Amsterdam region, ultimately resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship of understanding, friendship and admiration.

De Luwte and Middenhoven

These intergenerational connections were on show recently when residents from local care homes, De Luwte and Middenhoven, visited the school to watch, and take part in, the bi-annual ISA music concert, organised by Middle School Music teacher, Judy O’Callaghan.

The presentation featured solo performances from students on the piano, violin and guitar as well as a group ‘tin-whistle’ performance from the Grade 6 music class. The songs ranged from traditional Irish compositions to newer popular songs including When We Were Young by Adele, performed by student Cezere on the piano.

“Through the preparation and then the performance the students are learning really important skills about collaboration, being respectful and working together. Skills such as thinking, social, communication, self-management and research are encouraged and developed through the music programme,” O’Callaghan commented.

The audience was also treated to a special performance from the popular Dutch accordion group TAVENU who performed a range of traditional Dutch songs. O’Callaghan herself was a former member of group, having participated and performed with them at a number of events.

O’Callaghan believes the bi-annual event was a great example of everyone working together really well for the benefit of others. “We want the students to leave having experienced what is to share their time, energy and skills. The students grow together through the semester and they are intimately involved in each part of the presentation – including the event program design, and the preparation and serving of the afternoon tea.”

These relationships are mutually beneficial too – the developing minds of children are open and willing to learn, and their optimism was reflected in the smiles of the senior community during the performance.

Community building

ISA students have also previously connected with local senior community groups through the Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) part of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum. Recently, students participated in the Global Issues Network conference in March this year to present projects that connected them to the local community and overcome linguistic barriers. One of the projects included a visit to the local elderly centre, Klaasje Zevenster, where students used art as a tool to connect and integrate with the local Dutch-speaking community.

Another CAS project, ‘The Buddy Project’ will also be hosting a community event at the end of the school year, inviting refugees and the elderly community for a day of fun and activities in Amsterdam Bos. CAS Coordinator Vlad Gogelescu remarked on the positive experiences gained through students interacting with the elderly community.

“I feel that our students have a lot to learn from these experiences, firstly by understanding challenges faced by others and interpreting events from a different perspective, but also by developing and practicing their inter-relational skills with people who have very different backgrounds and cultural expectations.”

The Netherlands is considered a leader in developing innovative ways to connect younger and older generations which includes local initiatives such as the providing accommodation for university students in elderly living facilities to develop lasting relationships between young and older people.

The project, which is currently being undertaken in Deventer, has received worldwide attention for its innovative solutions to the challenges of housing, social isolation and intergenerational connections. Currently, there are six students in accommodation at the facility who are required to offer 30 hours of time to being ‘a good neighbour’ and connecting with the elderly community, in exchange for no cost accommodation. Research has shown that reducing loneliness and social isolation amongst older populations improves wellbeing, which this initiative aims to address.

The initiative also gives young people a greater sense of compassion and connection with older people and build valuable volunteering skills that are continued well after their studies. Providing similar opportunities for volunteering and connection with local elderly care centres in Amstelveen and Amsterdam is key to ensuring that students at ISA develop important life skills including compassion and empathy as well as valuable volunteering experiences that will help them in their careers after school.