The Time of Their Lives LISA'S EARLY LEARNING CENTRE

For young and old alike, intergenerational communities are an opportunity to share in the rhythms of everyday life.

In the short time since Lisa Brown first swung open the invisible doors of her Early Learning Centre in Roachville, New Brunswick, Jack the Donkey has become something of a local celebrity. To the children who visit him, Jack is the four-legged friend who bucks up at the sound of their voices. As he runs down the hill to greet his daily audience, it’s not hard to see how such encounters would bring out the child in everyone.

Moments like these are made possible by the generosity of people like Murray Otis, a local farmer who lets students at the neighbouring forest school visit as often as they like. Otis’s willingness to play host is key to the success of Lisa’s intergenerational approach: in its efforts to foster lifelong learning, the school pairs people of different ages to address the needs of the community as a whole.

The freedom to be

“Everyone learns to be themselves. That’s what education should be.”-Sherry Sharp, Volunteer & Lifelong Learner

Intergenerational programs promote community and continuity through shared, informal activities that enrich the lives of all involved.

At her Early Learning Centre, Brown’s own parents are key to the success of these endeavours. Her father, David Sharp, plays guitar for the children, while Lisa’s mother, Sherry, teaches the children how to garden.

As Mr. Sharp explains, spending time with children provides seniors with an outlet for the experiences they’ve accumulated, as well as a sense of rejuvenation.

“They like to hear the stories we tell and the tunes we play. Keep you on your toes, for sure. And limber!”-David Sharp, Musician & Lifelong Learner
“Children need to learn that carrots come from the ground, not from the grocery store. Who better to teach that to children than the elders in our community?” -Lisa Brown, Director of Lisa's Early Learning Centre

Meanwhile, students at the learning centre gain another source of encouragement and guidance as they continue their journey through childhood. For Quinn Baxter, a junior leader at Tír na nÓg, the freedom they’re given to explore makes forest school all the more appealing.

“Usually, we don’t realize we’re learning,“ Quinn explains. “We’re just playing. Experimenting, basically.”

FOSTERING PERSPECTIVE

“They know more than we do now,”

Otis remarks of the children who visit, hopeful that a few memories of the farm will stay with them in their travels. In the intergenerational community that he’s helping to build, the past and future are never far from each other, and the places where they meet feel both promising and hospitable at once.

The success of Lisa's Early Centre intergenerational approach serves as a reminder of the pressing need for diverse learning communities. The interactions they make possible have, arguably, never matttered more.

Given the extent to which technology has encroached on their lives, spending time with someone from another generation provides children with needed perspective: Brown believes that they are grounded by these interactions, and, as a result, are better able to grow in their appreciation for the world most immediately around them.

Whether it’s by planting seeds in the garden, or visiting Mr. Otis’s farm, children learn that living things only reach maturity over time. The end result, Brown points out, is a stronger sense of belonging that fosters perspective and growth.

The long-term plan at Lisa's Early Learning Centre is to develop a series of daycares that meet the needs of children and seniors alike. At the very root of intergenerational programming, Brown explains, is the belief that all people have value; by sharing their lives with each other, different generations develop a sense of purpose that not only connects them to each other, but also to the shared environment that sustains them.

“Planting a garden, planting trees, playing music, picking berries—all those nature-based, hands on activities that we all need to experience.” -Lisa Brown

“My dream is to combine programs for children and seniors that would enable them to come together and to collaborate,“ Brown adds. Free from the compartmentalization of the conventional classroom and the potentially restrictive nature of the retirement home, Brown believes that fresh air, along with the freedom that open space allows, will help make this possible.

IN THE KEY OF GREEN

“IF YOU REALLY WANT TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY THE GUITAR, YOU GOTTA LEARN HOW TO PICK OUT THE WILD WOOD FLOWER.”-David Sharp

Environmental engagement and musicality go hand-in-hand at Tír na nÓg, where gatherings around the campfire give children the chance to experience aspects of childhood that have existed for generations.

Small ceremonies like picking out wild flowers and learning songs are daily rituals that teach children to find expression in the world around them.

Sharp believes that as the children begin make such connection for the experiences they share will leave a lasting impression.

“They’ll remember this forever.”

A MORE HOLISTIC APPROACH

“CHILDREN MAY NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT COMMUNITY IS, BUT THEY FEEL IT.”

For such programs to become more common in Canada, Brown believes that we need to take a more holistic approach to education, one that values all aspects of the child while, at the same time, actively seeking out strong role models who understand the challenges they’ll face.

Generosity, it seems, is key to this process, too.

As Mr. Otis looks out on the land he’s farmed for decades, it’s not hard to tell he takes great pride in what he’s able to share. For the generation that will grow to lead his community, having access to the land now, at such a young age, deepens the close ties they’ll need to take up its care.

One by one, the children wave goodbye to Jack and make their way back across the fields, and as they do, Otis turns his attention to the work at hand, knowing it won’t be long until another wave of young voices returns to his farm.

“They know more than we do now,” he remarks, hopeful that a few memories of the farm will stay with them in their travels. In the intergenerational community that he’s helping to build, the past and future are never far from each other, and the places where they meet feel both promising and hospitable at once.

“They’re welcome,” he says, “any time.”

WHAT OUR CAMERA CAPTURED

Check out this quick clip, which helps explain why we’re so excited about intergenerational learning communities finding a home in New Brunswick.

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