There is a kind of magic that happens when we bring young children and elders together. These two generations seem to understand each other. This is not to say that older people are child like, rather it is that both groups are innocent of hidden agendas, power plays, phony emotions. With both groups, elders and young children, what you see is pretty much what you get. They seem to understand and appreciate this lack of pretense in each other and are amazingly comfortable with each other. This may sound like we are painting with a large brush, but we have witnessed this phenomenon many, many times over the years in all sorts of situations. It is always the same; the young children and elders are drawn to each other.
We introduce Montessori materials and exercises into these intergenerational programs as a common tool that the older people and young children can work on together. Sometimes, the older person is the teacher and sometimes the child is the teacher. The roles go back and forth quite easily. Both groups understand that they are working on these projects together. They understand that they are there to support and help each other. It is a truly wondrous experience to see the power of the Montessori materials being shared by the very young and the very old.
We have seen the magic of Montessori and two different generations many times. One time that stands out for us was a summer day with Veronica. Veronica was a gentle woman who no longer spoke. Her doctors, the staff and her family believed that Alzheimer’s had caused her to lose completely her ability to use language. She smiled often and would sometimes watch our work with interest. She was still able to join in singing with the choir that had been formed in her facility, but she had not said a word in months.
This particular afternoon, Veronica sat with a group of little boys, watching while they worked on some geometric puzzles. When they were able to complete the puzzles successfully, Veronica would smile broadly and hit the table beside them in a movement of encouragement.
We knew that Veronica loved flowers and so we brought over the flower arranging exercise for this group. Veronica began helping the boys trim the flower stems and place the flowers in the vases. Then, to our utter amazement, Veronica began asking the boys to hand her things. She would ask for a vase or the scissors, just as though she had been speaking on a regular basis all along! We collectively held our breath while Veronica continued to work with the boys, talking to them about the flowers and the work that they were doing.
When the children left, we filmed Veronica as she talked to us about the children. She had some very profound things to say about children. She talked to us about her belief that children were good, that it was the things that happened to them later on in life that turned some of them bad. Veronica was thoughtful and eloquent on this subject.
As the following days went by, Veronica returned to her silence. She was pleasant, she smiled and sometimes joined in activities, but she did not speak. When the children returned for their next visit, Veronica would again speak to them; when they left, she would lapse into her silent self. This was the pattern that would continue for Veronica. No one could explain how or why it happened. It was as though the children unlocked something inside of Veronica. Whatever the reason, it was quite wonderful to watch Veronica chatting with the children during each of their visits. This was one of many little miracles we observed in our work with Montessori and intergenerational programs.