No generation gap here

Intergenerational daycares bring together kids and ‘grandmas’ and ‘grandpas’

On the walls of reception area at Mt. Olivet Day Services, there is a long mural of a rollercoaster. Photos of happy faces are cut out and pasted into the cars so it looks like one big, long, exciting carnival ride. About half of the faces are framed with gray hair. The other half are the dimpled faces of babies and toddlers.

And all of them, babies and seniors, come to this cheery building on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis every weekday while their parents and caregivers work or get a little break. They sing and dance together, celebrate birthdays together, and, on one cold, bright morning in December, they boarded a bus together to enjoy the holiday show at Bachmann’s.

“And, of course, there are some things that just happen,” says Phyllis Porter, director of child services, in addition to the daily scheduled activities.

“Having the children here adds energy,” says Ginny Cullen, director of adult services. “Having a lot of age groups is a more normal situation.”

While several generations interacting and supporting one another may have been the cultural norm for centuries, it’s not very common anymore. Kids in daycare and preschool may not see any adults besides their teachers all day long, and they may never see the wrinkled hands, thin hair, walkers and wheelchairs that the kids at Mt. Olivet are accustomed to seeing every day. And, on the flip side, adult day and residential services can be quiet, subdued places where the 50-year-old staffer is thought of as the baby of the family.

At Mt. Olivet and a handful of other centers around the Twin Cities, those circumstances are turned on their head. Some, like Mt. Olivet, offer day services to both adults and children. Others are childcare centers and preschools located inside residential facilities that encourage the kids and residents to interact every day.

Elizabeth Cooper, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Childcare Resource and Referral Network, says her organization doesn’t have any numbers to support the idea that intergenerational care might be a growing trend, but she says that many families find it to be the right choice for them. The options for intergenerational care, in fact, are so limited that there’s no way to search specifically for these types of centers in the comprehensive listings on her organization’s website,

Porter has been with Mt. Olivet since it opened in 1995 and developed the infant and toddler program. She says prospective parents are usually excited about giving their kids the chance to spend time with older adults every day. “A lot of them say that their own grandparents are so far away,” she says. While she has met with some apprehension about the behavior of the adults — many of whom do suffer from dementia — she assures parents that the adults are all screened very carefully.

Caregivers who are looking into the adult daycare option often see the lines of little kids and ask warily, “Do they get sick a lot?” but Porter can assure them, “We’ve had full classrooms all fall.”

Mt. Olivet Day Services is associated with the nearby Lutheran-affiliated Mt. Olivet Home and Mt. Olivet Careview Home, both residential facilities. It is licensed for 70 children from babies to preschoolers and 35 adults ages 19 and up, though the average age is 79. Many of the adults suffer from dementia, Parkinson’s disease, depression and pulmonary problems and come to the center during the day because their caregivers feel it would not be safe for them to be home alone all day or because the caregivers themselves need a break.

To Grandmother’s house we go

About 10 years ago, several staff members at the Redeemer Health and Rehab Center, a residential facility on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have childcare for our kids available right here in this building?”

A recent renovation had added a wing to the building and left the old chapel unused. That large, high-ceilinged space became Grandma’s House, where 14 kids, from infants to age 12, now spend their days. While in the early years most of the kids’ parents worked in the building, today most come from the larger community. “And we never have to advertise, because we’re always full,” says Mary Ann Maple, who directs the program.

(While Maple founded Grandma’s House, as this issue of the Journal went to press, she was planning to move on to a new position as director of guest services at Redeemer and was searching for her own replacement.)

Maple schedules some sort of activity for the kids to do with the some of the 140 Redeemer residents every day. For example, one recent morning there was “dog time”: The kids learned about brushing dogs’ teeth and hair and trimming nails. While the kids were far more involved and the residents mostly looked on, it was clear that everyone was enjoying it. On another day, the children and residents might dance together, each holding one end of a brightly colored scarf.

“We do all kinds of things that if it were just for the residents it might feel just a little hokey,” Maple says. “The residents aren’t going to do the hokey pokey on their own. But with kids, they will.”

Having a daycare center right in the building also creates connections to the outside community that might otherwise not have existed. A Girl Scout troop led by one child’s mother comes to visit the residents. And a 13-year-old alumna of the daycare, now homeschooled, comes with her family to serve brunch every week.

And the kids in the daycare develop an understanding of and comfort with aging that many of their peers might not have. “My goal is to have these kids grow up without a fear of wheelchairs, walkers and wrinkles,” Maple says. “We talk about hands. You can see the veins in a grandma’s hand. And we feel the grandma’s hand. We talk about gray hair.”