from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven

The following article, Joint Day Care for Young and Old, appeared on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, issue dated December 31, 1986. It is as relevant today as when it was first published.

The author, Tara McLaughlin, was a former day-care administrator in Washington, D.C. and, at the time of the publication, a research associate with the Urban Ethnic Research Program at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. I was preparing my first edition of grandpa stories and Ms. McLaughlin kindly gave me permission to include her article.

I believe the article deserves widedissemination to care centers for all age groups, schools, senior centers, retirement residential communities, health care institutions, and other places, especially to where young and old gather or reside.

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Joint Day Care for Young and Old

One evening after work, my husband and I picked up our three children from their day-care center, and we all went to get her great-grandmother at hers. As we entered the adult center, we were struck by the immediate outpouring of love from the elderly to our children.

The day-care adults spontaneously asked questions, and our children, delighted with having an audience, embraced and talked with their newfound friends. As any parent will attest, children and grandparents are allies, because the elderly have the perspective to realize that when a five-year old girl says she wants to be a ballerina, it does not necessarily preclude the possibility that she will become a nuclear physicist. The great expectations of exuberant and excited kids need to be encouraged by attentive adults. A child's special plans or ideas don't always keep on hold until after dinner. And, too, our raucous eight-year old son is never more attentive and loving than when he is with his great-grandmother. She, in turn, cherishes the time with him as she would a special gift.

Because over 50% of mothers work and many grandparents cannot remain at home all day without assistance, the time for wouldn't-it-be-nice-if kind of talk has clearly passed. Broader social issues are really the roots here. Why are we segregating these two groups in the first place? Our elderly are feeling they are being shuffled off to homes, and young people are growing up without the benefit of elderly role models. This is a society where most mothers work and most children don't live close to grandparents. Dual day-care is a simple, loving solution to this separation of the generations.

A Musty Room

As a former day-care administrator I have seen 30 children mobbing a teacher and clamoring for attention-praise for a project, a kiss for a hurt or applause for their ability to count all the way to 10. At the other end of the spectrum, one of my most haunting childhood memories is of making a Christmas visit with my Girl Scout troop to a nursing home, eager to 'brighten a day.' Instead I remember walking into a musty room and helping her to write a letter to her family. The quizzical look she gave me as she asked 'What shall I write about?' and my own awkward groping for an answer are a vision I carry with me today.

Day-care children don't have a lack of playtime; they have a lack of one-to-one attention. And the day-care elderly don't have a lack of time on their hands; they have a lack of someone to share and laugh with and glean excitement and energy from. Combined, dual day care, built on these needs, probably would cost no more and would disturb no one, and, in fact, it just might be the perfect solution.

Learning that a particular bird is called a sparrow or that a particular tree is called a pine is very special to children who cannot read and who have an active curiosity about the unknown elements of their world. Older adults can read and tell children about this existing world of ours, and what's more they have the time to share with the children. While the elderly would not have the special training of the early-childhood teachers, they would be a supplement to, not a substitute for, staff. Parents and grandparents, after all, don't need diplomas. Conversely, some day-care adults might have ambulatory problems that call out to children who have an intrinsic energy and desire to help. None is prouder than the child who has helped do something for someone else.

Voluntary Participation

Walk through a model dual day-care center for a moment. Most facilities for children wouldn't need to be modified, and adult centers would need only slight modifications. One room for adults, one for children, and a shared recreation room, eating room and yard. Simple.

Now, how popular could the idea become? Given half a chance, most elderly in day-care centers would enthusiastically welcome the idea. With voluntary participation, concern about temperament compatibility need not be a problem. But how would working mothers respond to this? How could they be convinced?

To promote the idea, working mothers could be offered half-price subsidies as an experiment, providing the initial incentive. The elderly could be bused to the children's day-care centers just as they are now being driven to their own. Schedules could be coordinated so that public school buses are used at times when they are not needed for schoolchildren. Each child would be paired with a designated grandparent.

Adored Attention

Preventing staff burnout has long been the problem of both adult and child day-care centers. Dual day care would take some of the pressure off. The two age-segregated groups can come together-kids will grow intellectually, gaining the knowledge of age and experience; the adults will recapture the spark of life from the kids; and both will gain the special gift of 'adored attention.'

Cost-effectiveness needs to be given a true test, perhaps by the government at its day-care centers for welfare recipients. This would free government funds for other people in the community. Of course, dual day care would be especially effective for families with both day-care needs.

As a mother, I see that the minute-to-minute problems, vital to kids, don't keep well and just can't wait until later. As an adult, I am not looking forward to my own future in adult day care, looking blankly at a piece of stationary because I have nothing new to write about.

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