The Power of Intergenerational Play

Play is not just for children…or even just for humans. We have all seen our cats and dogs play with us and other pets, and studies have established that nonhuman primates engage in sophisticated play. Playful behavior has been observed in lizards, turtles, and birds – even fish have been shown to amuse themselves.

As far as humans are concerned, play is a key factor in the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development for children and as we age. Just as play helps children understand and learn to navigate the world around them, play can help older adults to stay mentally sharp and physically fit. This is where we see the value of intergenerational play. Children who play with adults demonstrate higher levels of problem solving and language skills, in addition to greater levels of creativity than children who play only with other children.

For older adults, play is not only fun, it also helps to maintain cognitive skills, like memory and problem solving, that improve quality of life as we age. Active games benefit adults in the same ways they benefit children, by increasing muscle tone, coordination, reaction time, and ability to adapt to change. Playing with children has been shown to reduce stress and promote relaxation, both of which lead to lower rates of disability and disease.

Historically, daily contact between the generations was a matter of survival. In our changing society, we often divide our communities and activities by age. Children’s museums provide a place where families can learn and play together. Participation in unfacilitated activities and facilitated programming can help strengthen bonds between parents, grandparents, and children, leading to tangible benefits for all generations.

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Children's Museums, Professional Development

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