Friendships between young and old can be grand

Author Helene Block Fields urges you to help your children mine for gold in your neighborhood—no, not real gold but the invaluable knowledge of elderly neighbors. In her new book, Don’t Cheat the Children: Connecting Generations Through GrandFriendships, the retired professor of early childhood education shares heartwarming stories of friendships between young and old and gives tips on how to provide your child with a rewarding GrandFriendship.

“When children have an older person in their lives… the research shows that those children are advanced in every area: social, emotional and cognitive,” Block Fields says.

In the‘70s, long before research supported her beliefs in the benefits of GrandFriendships, she pioneered intergenerational programs at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines for neighborhood children whose grandparents lived far away. Today, she’s working to initiate intergenerational programs in DuPage County.

In her book, she includes testimonies of 30-year-olds who recount times spent in a nursing home during childhood and the positive impact of those experiences today."Children who get this extra dose of love and caring from trustworthy seniors in their neighborhoods, in their places of worship, in schools, are gifted,” Block Fields says."It helps them learn compassion, a healthy attitude about aging and a feeling of being involved and needed.”

She offers four action steps:

1. Explore your children’s perception of aging. Talk with them at dinner about what it means to be old and to gauge their interest in friendship with the elderly.

2. Find GrandFriendships in your neighborhood. Block Fields separates these relationships into three categories—from casual to super-involved, where the senior becomes an extended family member.

3. Initiate a school effort. Talk to your child’s school council about senior-student programming.

4. Help children make the connection with frail older adults. Not only will your child gain a friend, but they’ll grow more compassionate.

To read more about these action steps and to buy the book, visit

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