Legacy Project
Side nav buttonsLegacy Project Homepage

Heart to Heart

"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old."

William Wordsworth

The heart is both a symbol and a vital part of life. From the earliest times, the human heart has been seen as the organ central to life. In primitive societies, it was believed to contain the soul. The ancient Egyptians thought of it as the source of intelligence. Today, science has helped us learn more, but we still associate the heart with emotions.

From a biological perspective, the heart is a central organ of the body, essential for maintaining life. When someone's brain is no longer functioning they may be considered "brain dead," but they are not officially dead until the heart stops beating. It is the heart which pumps blood throughout our body, and the thumping of the heart that brings a certain rhythm to our physical existence. The rate at which we feel our heart beating signals calmness to danger or excitement.

In terms of being a symbol, the heart is perhaps the most common Valentine's Day symbol. Hearts can be found on almost every Valentine's Day card. Heart-shaped chocolates (or chocolates in a heart-shaped box), candies, and cakes are everywhere. Popular gifts include heart-shaped pins, lockets, earrings, and necklaces. Not only does the heart symbolize the holiday, but also love. It symbolizes sincerity, compassion, and also represents the center of things. The heart as a symbol is usually red, which connotes warmth and feeling.

The activities that follow explore the heart in all its dimensions, from organ to symbol, all from an intergenerational perspective. Other activities in this kit that make use of hearts: "I Love You Heart Card" activity in the Story Steppingstones section; "Popping Love List Card" and "Color Me Love" activities in the Love-ly Crafts & Gifts section.

Activities: Heart Beat; Heart History; Heart Words; Guessing Hearts; Broken Hearts; Affairs of the Heart; Heart Tales; Heart of the Matter; Heart Tree; String of Hearts; Linking Hearts Young & Old; Kind Heart; Big Heart Award.


Heart Beat

Connections: Schools (Science); Community Groups; Families.

What You Need: Copies of "Have a Heart" sheet, with the materials listed; paper; pen/pencil. Optional -- pear; knife; encyclopedia or other book with a diagram of the human heart; Internet.

Doing It:

What does your heart look like? The traditional way of drawing a Valentine's heart is not exactly how a real heart looks. The human heart actually looks rather like a pear. Cut a pear in half. Turn one half upside down and remove the seeds. Cut out two smaller hollow openings at the top and two larger ones directly under them to represent the four chambers of the heart. You can compare this simple model to a more detailed diagram of a real heart in an encyclopedia or other book.

The heart is a pump connected to 100,000 miles (160,000 km) of "pipelines" that carry blood to all parts of your body. The blood is what carries oxygen to your brain and the rest of your body. As long as your heart pumps blood, your body gets the oxygen it needs, and you are alive. The heart pumps more than five quarts of blood in one minute. Your heart pumps enough blood each week to fill a medium-sized swimming pool!

Make a fist. Your heart is about the same size as your fist, and grows at about the same rate. Squeeze your fist for one second and then relax for one second. Keep going for 70-80 times (or until you get tired!). The heart pumps this way 70-80 times per minute.

Use the "Have a Heart" sheet to explore the human heart further. The sheet is from a book I've written called Science Is.... It's huge -- filled with over 450 fun, easy-to-do activities, projects, experiments, games, puzzles, and stories. I find that science -- which is really all about exploring the wonders of the world around us -- is one of the best ways to bring young and old together. You're never too young or too old to enjoy that "Hey, wow!" feeling of discovery. For more information on the book (and the special discounts available for schools and community groups), visit www.bigsciencebook.com or contact the Legacy Project at 1-800-772-7765.

In an intergenerational group, compare children's hearts to the hearts of young adults and older adults. Take the resting pulse of everyone in the group. Make a chart with three columns: person's name; their age; and their resting pulse. What do you see? Who are the people who have higher resting pulses? Who are the people who have lower resting pulses?

How does the heart change with age? Three changes gradually take place in the heart as a baby grows into an adult. First, the heart slowly increases in weight. At birth, it weighs only about 2/3 of an ounce (19 grams). At age two, it weighs about 1 1/2 ounces (43 grams). At nine years, it weighs 3 1/3 ounces (94 grams), and at about 16 years, about 7 ounces (200 grams). Second, the heart lies almost horizontal in small children. As the chest lengthens, the lower end of the heart shifts downward so that it lies in a more nearly vertical position in the chest. Third, a person's heart beats more slowly as they grow from a child to an adult.

For a terrific online look at the human heart from The Franklin Institute Science Museum visit sln.fi.edu/biosci/heart.html. In terms of books, take a look at The Heart: Our Circulatory System by Seymour Simon. This is a well-researched and effectively designed book for children that makes the human heart understandable. It includes computer-enhanced photos taken with an electron microscope. I'd also recommend The Heart: The Kids' Question & Answer Book by J. Willis Hurst and Stuart D. Hurst. Written by a former president of the American Heart Association and his grandson, this is a fact-filled, fun book that includes charming yet accurate illustrations -- for "kids" 8 to 80!


Heart History

Connections: Schools (Health, Science); Families; Community Groups.

What You Need: Paper; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

When people talk about family history, they usually mean family trees and the stories and memories passed down from generation to generation. But it's also important for you to know your biological family's health history so that you are aware of any health problems you may have inherited. Your chances of developing heart disease as you get older are affected by both inherited and non-inherited factors.

There are two types of risk factors for heart disease -- controllable and uncontrollable. Controllable risk factors are things you can do something about, like smoking, being overweight, eating a diet high in cholesterol and fat, and not getting enough exercise. Uncontrollable risk factors are things you can't do much about, like your age, gender, and family history of heart disease. If someone in your immediate biological family has a history of heart disease, heart attack, or high blood pressure, this increases your chances of possibly developing heart disease or high blood pressure. There are certain traits that are inherited, such as your body type, the way your body processes cholesterol, as well as other characteristics of your circulatory system.

Having a family history of heart disease does NOT automatically mean you are definitely going to develop heart disease. It does mean that your risks are higher, and so you need to pay extra attention to controllable risk factors. If you are aware of your family history, you can compensate for uncontrollable risk factors by making sure you have a healthy lifestyle. How long you live and how healthy you'll be are influenced by a number of factors. In general, heredity counts for about 20%. Another 20% is environment, with another 10% being medical. The remaining 50% is your lifestyle. So, good health in later life depends on healthy habits developed during youth.

Find out about the heart health of your family. Make a list of your biological relatives -- mother, father, maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, paternal grandmother, paternal grandfather, great-grandparents you know about (or that someone can tell you about), as well as aunts and uncles. Then, beside each name, write down if they've had heart disease, a heart attack, or high blood pressure. What does your family heart history look like? Have many people have had heart problems? Pay particular attention to immediate family members like your parents. For the people who have had heart problems, identify any controllable risk factors they may have had (i.e. did they smoke? were they overweight? did they eat a lot of foods high in fat? did they get very little exercise?). This will help tell you whether the heart problems are genetic or not.

For more information on understanding and preventing heart disease, visit the website of the American Heart Association, www.americanheart.org.

Study after study shows that cigarette smoking is a major factor in heart disease. Smoking increases the "stickiness" of blood; it decreases the time it takes to clot; it decreases the effectiveness of the lungs, making the heart work harder to deliver oxygenated blood to the body's cells; and some of the chemicals in smoke can damage the arteries. If you smoke, you greatly increase your chances of developing heart disease. As well, if your parents or grandparents smoke, and you inhale the second-hand smoke regularly, you can also develop health problems.

In an intergenerational group, talk with older people about smoking. Do they now or have they ever smoked? For how long did they smoke? How much did they smoke a day? Why did they start? Were they aware of the health risks? Why did they keep smoking? Did they try to quit? What worked or didn't work? Have they had health problems because of smoking? What would they have done differently?

Brainstorm some ideas for ways that adults, schools, and the media can discourage young people from starting to smoke. For more information, visit www.tobaccofree.org or call 1-800-541-7741. This is part of a foundation established by Patrick Reynolds, grandson of tobacco company founder RJ Reynolds. Patrick Reynolds saw his father, oldest brother, and other relatives die from cigarette-induced emphysema and lung cancer. He began an anti-smoking campaign that has made him one of the most effective, respected anti-smoking advocates. The website includes information on a powerful video for teenagers titled "The Truth About Tobacco," along with tips on quitting smoking, cool anti-smoking ads, and ideas for reaching young people with an anti-smoking message.


Heart Words

Connections: Schools (Language Arts); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups; Families.

What You Need: A dictionary can be helpful.

Doing It:

There are a lot of words and phrases in the English language that have the word "heart" in them. This is a game all ages can play.

Think of as many words and phrases as possible that have the word heart in them. Define the word and then use it in a sentence.

Here are some words and phrases to get you started: kindhearted; heartwarming; heartfelt; heart of the matter; heart-to-heart; heartless; brokenhearted; heartbroken; heartsick; heartbreak; heartbreaker; heartthrob; heartbeat; heartstring; heartwood; heartburn; hearty; by heart.

A stunning storybook for young and old is Voices of the Heart by Ed Young. It explores twenty-six Chinese characters, each describing a feeling or emotion and each containing the Chinese symbol for the heart.


Guessing Hearts

Connections: Community Groups; Seniors Groups/Facilities; Schools (Math).

What You Need: Several clean, clear jars of different shapes and sizes; red heart candies; box with slot; slips of paper; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

In the days leading up to Valentine's Day, try an intergenerational game of Guessing Hearts. No one is too old or too young to guess!

Get several jars of different shapes and sizes (rather than one large jar) to make it interesting and to give more people a chance to win. Number each jar. Fill each jar with red heart candies (count them as you fill). Leave slips of paper and a pencil beside the jars.

People can write down their name, the jar number, and their estimate of the number of candies in the jar (only one guess per jar per person). There are a number of guessing strategies you can use. One is to subdivide the jar in your mind into manageable sections, estimate the number of candies in one section, and then multiply by the total number of sections.

Have a box with a slot in the top into which people can drop their folded slips of paper.

On Valentine's Day, see who made a guess that's closest to the actual number of candies in each jar. That person wins that jar of candies -- and a hug! You may even want to give them a "Big Heart Award".


Broken Hearts

Connections: Schools (Math, History, Social Studies, Geography, or Language Arts); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups.

What You Need: Red construction paper; scissors; black pencil crayon or marker; box.

Doing It:

This is a fun classroom or intergenerational group game. Cut big hearts out of red construction paper. The number of hearts will depend on the number of people in the group; you'll need one heart for every two people in the group (i.e. take the total number of people and divide by two).

On one half of a heart, write a question in black pencil crayon or marker. It could be the start of a mathematical equation, or a question about history, current events, or geography. On the other half of the heart, write the answer. For example, one half could have 45 x 2 and the other half would have the answer of 90. Or, one half could ask "Who is the President of the United States?" and the other half would have the answer. You can also do words on one half and their definition on the other.

Cut each heart into two pieces, jigsaw-puzzle style (make sure each heart is cut in a different way so that only the two halves from a given heart fit together). Mix up all the halves and put them in a box.

Each person in the group then closes their eyes and pulls out a heart-half from the box. The challenge is to find the person in the group who has the other half of the heart. Move from person to person comparing questions and answers. If you think a question and answer go together, try to put together the halves to see if it's a perfect fit.

You can repeat this activity several times by mixing up the heart-halves again and again.


Affairs of the Heart

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Families; Schools (Social Studies, Health); Community Groups.

What You Need: Copies of "Love Life Layers" sheet; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

What is love? What are all the different kinds of love? A good companion to this activity is the "Top 10 Books to Say I Love You" activity in the Story Steppingstones section of this kit.

Romantic love is one kind of love. Share some intergenerationally-oriented storybooks about romantic love. In The Last Dance by Carmen Agra Deedy, Bessie and her husband Ninny express their lasting love for each other by dancing from childhood through old age. In How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman, a little girl tells the story of how her American sailor father meets her Japanese mother and how -- in secret -- they learn the other's way of eating and fall in love. In Tambourine Moon by Joy Jones, a moonlit night and a tambourine link past and present for Noni and her Grandaddy as he tells her how he met her grandmother.

Children can ask parents, grandparents, or grandfriends about how they met the people they chose to share their life with (for a detailed list of life interview questions and interviewing tips, see the "Grandparent Interview" activity in the Grandparents Day Activity Kit). Some possible questions:

  • What do you remember about your very first dance or first date? How old were you?

  • Did you have many boyfriends/girlfriends before you met your spouse/partner?

  • How and where did you meet your spouse/partner? How old were you?

  • What qualities attracted you to him/her?

  • What things did you enjoying doing together while you were dating?

  • When did you fall in love? How did you know?

  • How did your spouse propose?

  • How long were you engaged?

  • What was your wedding like?

  • Where did you go on your honeymoon?

  • What are things you have enjoyed doing together as a married couple?

  • What has made your relationship last?

  • What are some of your best memories as a couple?

Older adults can use the "Love Life Layers" sheet to create a list of all the people they've loved and when they came into their life. The sheet can be used for self-review, and for intergenerational discussion as a way to show young people all the different kinds of love we can value in our lives.

The lines on the "Love Life Layers" sheet represent a person's life, with different decades marked off. The arrows indicate the flow of a person's life through the layers. The sheet helps a person map their life and see how the layers of their life experiences have brought them to where they are today.

To complete the sheet, start by writing in your name, age, and the present date. Then fill in the lines after the heading "People Who Loved Me When I Was Born." Include people like your parents, grandparents, godparents, older siblings, aunts and uncles. Most of us begin life with a core group of people who love us.

Now write down, at the appropriate spot and underneath the line, other people who came into your life who you loved and/or loved you. For example, perhaps when you were 6 years old a sister was born. Write in her name and relationship to you (e.g. sister Beth) to the right of the triangle with the number 5. Then perhaps you met a boyfriend at age 17. Write in his name and relationship to you (e.g. boyfriend Jerry) to the left of the triangle with the number 15. Then maybe you met your husband when you were 22. Write in his name and relationship to you (e.g. husband Tom) to the right of the triangle with the number 20. Continue on with all the significant people who came into your life -- siblings, cousins, spouse(s), children, grandchildren, close friends, even mentors.

How many different kinds of love can people have in their lives? What does your "Love Life Layers" sheet show you about when loving relationships came into your life? What do you value about each loving relationship? How do you feel about the choices you've made about relationships? How would alternative choices have affected your life?

You can add another dimension to the "Love Life Layers" sheet by writing in when people you love have left your life or passed away. For example, maybe you broke up with your boyfriend at age 18. At the appropriate spot to the left of the triangle with the number 15, write in "broke up with Jerry." Perhaps your mother died when you were 42. To the right of the triangle with the number 40, write in "mother died." How long have most loving relationships been present in your life? How have losses of loving relationships affected your life? (Note: This can be a sensitive area for many older people. Don't push if people prefer not to talk about a relationship. At the same time, people may wish to talk about a relationship but may get emotional or start crying. That's all right. Show compassion, understanding, and support.)

Discussing a parent, grandparent, or grandfriend's "Love Life Layers" sheet with them can help a young person better understand human relationships over a lifetime. An intergenerational discussion can include young people making a list of all the people who have loved them since they were born. What do they value about the loving relationships they already have in their lives? What kinds of other loving relationships would they like in their lives? Would they like to get married? Why or why not?

The True Story About Love section of this kit has background information that can be useful during discussions that result from this activity.


Heart Tales

Connections: Schools (Language Arts); Families; Community Groups; Seniors Groups/Facilities.

What You Need: No materials. Optional -- paper; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

The True Story About Love section of this kit discusses some of the myths we have built around romantic love and how these myths may not always correspond with reality in contemporary society. How do fairy tales fit into the personal stories we create about love? Once upon a time... So begin the stories of our childhood. They are stories that center on heroic combat with forces of evil and romantic fantasies of true love. Many are tales that have been told and retold, refined and developed, over centuries. They speak to all levels of what it means to be human and often have a richness to them that modern stories lack. They are noble, brave, and alluring. They generally end with evil being eradicated, love triumphant, and everyone decent living happily ever after. These stories have a function and are instructive in many ways. They spark imagination. They can also educate, support, and liberate the emotions of children -- giving voice to their worst fears and their greatest dreams. But part of what makes a good story is the good conversation it can prompt. Particularly with a fairy tale, taking what exists in the story and linking it in some meaningful way to the real, contemporary world can have value.

Young and old discussing fairy tales can be a useful way to explore romantic myths. Talk about some favorite fairy tales and why they are favorites. Let children freely explain their interpretations of their favorite fairy tales. Older adults can then talk about what they remember learning from fairy tales they heard as children.

Choose one favorite fairy tale. Perhaps it's Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and The Beast, or Cinderella. Read it or recount the story. As you go through the story, think about the messages and images it presents. There are virtues to these stories, like having courage and overcoming obstacles. But heroes tend to fall in love with heroines because of their beauty, which symbolizes perfection. Being in love, the heroes must actively prove they are worthy of the women they love. Heroines, on the other hand, seem to passively accept being loved. Stories also often take us up to the threshold of love, but do not tell us what personal growth is required for the loving couple to remain together. And, as charming as it is to be loved by a "prince" or "princess," does it guarantee happiness?

What messages in the fairy tale do you think are worth keeping? What messages do you think have their limitations? Why? How do the perspectives of young and old vary?

Extension: In pairs of young and old, choose a fairy tale and write a few paragraphs about what happens after "and they lived happily ever after."


Heart of the Matter

Connections: Schools (Art); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups; Families.

What You Need: Red construction paper; pink paper; scissors; glue; old magazines; ribbon; black pencil crayon.

Doing It:

What do you love about the people you love? Here's a way to get to the heart of the matter and show them! Children can make this gift for parents, grandparents (it can easily be mailed to a long-distance grandparent), and grandfriends (e.g. in an assisted living facility). Older adults can also make this gift for young friends. Everyone loves to feel special sometime.

Cut a large red heart out of construction paper. Cut a slightly smaller heart out of pink paper and glue it into the center of the large red heart.

Look through old magazines and cut out words and phrases that describe the person you're giving the valentine to (e.g. sweet, generous, special, kind, cute, happy, etc.). Glue these words/phrases onto the pink heart at different angles.

Make a bow using a piece of ribbon and glue it onto the center of the top of the red heart.

Use a black pencil crayon to write on the visible portion of the red heart. Write who the card is to along the top, left side of the heart with the words "You are...", and who it's from along the bottom, right side.


Heart Tree

Connections: Schools (Art); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups; Families.

What You Need: Branches with many twigs; large vase; red, white, and pink paper; scissors; pencil crayons and/or markers; glitter glue (available in a craft store); fine ballpoint pen; gold thread or string. Optional -- white spray paint.

Doing It:

Make a heart tree as a decoration for a Valentine's Day party. Older adults participating in an intergenerational program can work together with children to make the tree. Families can make this decoration as a way to bring a whole new meaning to the term "family tree."

Get some branches with many twigs. If you like, you can spray paint the branches all white.

Arrange the branches in a large vase, putting loosely balled up pieces of paper into the vase to hold the branches in place.

Make hearts out of different colors of paper (exact size will depend on the size of the branches). On both sides of each heart, write a person's name (i.e. each person in a class or group, or family members). Decorate with glitter glue. If you don't have enough names to fill out the tree, decorate some hearts without names.

Make a small hole in the top, center of each heart using the tip of a fine ballpoint pen. Using gold thread or string, hang the hearts from the branches. The hearts will flutter in the breeze and sparkle as they catch the light.


String of Hearts

Connections: Schools (Art); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups; Families.

What You Need: A variety of children's valentines; red construction paper; red yarn; scissors; hole punch; tape; pencil crayons and/or markers. Optional -- glitter glue (to add some sparkle when you're decorating hearts; available in a craft store).

Doing It:

This is a colorful Valentine's Day decoration that symbolizes how young and old are all connected and can support each other in loving relationships. As part of an intergenerational program, young and old can make their hearts together and then put together the string of hearts. A class or group of children can also make hearts to represent each member of their family (i.e. parents, grandparents, siblings).

Start by cutting out a heart from red construction paper. If you're a child, make a smaller heart. If you're an adult (or are making a heart to represent an adult like your mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather), make a bigger, adult-size heart. Write your name (or the person's name) on the heart. Decorate the heart in any way you wish.

Get a variety of colorful children's valentines. Using a hole punch, punch two holes, spaced apart horizontally, toward the top of the hearts you made and the valentines.

Cut a length of yarn long enough to string the hearts and valentines. Alternate stringing hearts and valentines on the yarn (make sure the fronts of the hearts and valentines all face the same way) by running the yarn through one hole at the front and back through the other hole from the back. Leave about an inch between each item. Use a small piece of tape to secure the yarn to the back of a heart/valentine.

Hang up the string of hearts with pieces of tape at each end (it looks nice in front of a window or along a wall). Look at all the love around you!


Linking Hearts Young & Old

Connections: Seniors Groups/Facilities; Schools (Social Studies, Health); Community Groups; Families.

What You Need: Copies of "Tips for Communicating with Cognitively Limited Older Adults" sheet.

Doing It:

The Mentoring and Community Building section of this kit has information on validating and valuing all ages in a community. The oldest old in nursing homes and assisted living facilities can feel particularly marginalized and excluded from their community. They may feel abandoned at a time when they most need connections with other people, particularly the young. There are about 1.6 million older adults in nursing homes across the US, and perhaps as many as half of these people rarely have a visitor. Developing stronger connections between these older adults and the community can have tremendous benefits for young and old. In a society that doesn't offer young people (particularly teenagers) many meaningful ways to contribute, visiting a nursing home allows them to make a real difference. And even older adults with memory loss can still enjoy a visit, even if they don't remember it later.

While a single visit to a nursing home is a valuable experience for children and will brighten the day for older adults, an ongoing visitation program is most effective. Said one staff member in a nursing home, "We don't want it to be 'let's go see the old people' just like it's a trip to the Statue of Liberty." An ongoing series of visits allows the understanding and trust to develop which are essential for a real connection between people of any age.

Before children visit a nursing home, read and talk about some of these storybooks: Sunshine Home by Eve Bunting; My Grandma's in a Nursing Home by Judy Delton; Loop the Loop by Barbara Dugan; Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox; Always Gramma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; Remember That by Lesléa Newman; A Visit to Oma by Marisabina Russo; Old People, Frogs and Albert by Nancy Hope Wilson.

Talk about what to expect during a visit to a nursing home (e.g. residents in wheelchairs, unfamiliar smells, some residents may not seem responsive, etc.). Answer any questions or concerns young people may have. Talk about their feelings about visiting older adults. Many older people never have visitors and spend their days alone and lonely. Why do you think this is? Do you think it's because we don't want to think about growing old? Why or why not? Have you ever been in a nursing home or other seniors' care facility? How did you feel?

Now plan a visit to a nursing home or other seniors' care facility near you. Some general tips:

  • Be sure to plan a visit at least two weeks in advance. Let the activities director know you're coming. They can often suggest the residents who would most welcome a visit (some older adults are in higher care units than others). The best times to visit are generally mid-morning from 10:00-11:30 am, in the afternoon from 2:00-4:30 pm, and sometimes in the evening from 6:00-7:30 pm.

  • Since visitors may be rare, the activities director will probably put your visit on the calendar of events so that residents can look forward to it.

  • Babies and toddlers who are full of grinning energy make good visitors, as do older children and teenagers. For toddlers, make sure they've had a nap beforehand and are fed.

  • You can make the visit informal, just talking with and moving to various residents one-on-one, or you can plan to do a presentation like a short play or a series of songs (you can even invite residents to participate in familiar songs by singing along or clapping). Children can also bring gifts for the residents, like drawings or colorful, handmade cards (many ideas are included in the various Legacy Project activity kits). Or work on a project beforehand like making a scrapbook of funny cartoons (which children have either drawn or cut out of the newspaper) to share with residents. Other appropriate gifts for special occasions include live flowers, a colorful lap blanket or pillow, and warm, soft slippers (with a good tread) or sweaters. If you want to bring food, make sure you clear it with staff beforehand.

  • If you're going to be visiting with specific people, learn something about them beforehand -- their interests, background, limitations, and needs. And although some behavior may seem childlike, remember that older adults are adults, not children. Acknowledging a person's personal history and lifetime of experiences is what allows older adults to maintain their respect, dignity and, often, their connection to the world around them.

  • Remember that the care facility is home to the older adults and you should respect their privacy and living space as much as possible. When you're entering a room, even if the door is open, knock first.

  • One-on-one visits will vary. You may find residents in the lobby, hallway, garden, community room, as well as their individual rooms. Start a conversation by introducing yourself casually: "Hello. My name is... Would you like me to visit with you today?" Some people may not want to visit, but most will say yes. Your interaction will be short or long depending on the person. Even a few minutes can brighten a resident's day.

  • During one-on-one visits, children may need some gentle encouragement to get past their shyness. An adult like a parent or teacher can lead in some questions to get the interaction going. For example, children can talk about what they like to do in school, or what hobbies they have or sports they play in. This might lead into questions about sports or hobbies the older adult might be interested in, or their memories of their schooldays. Young children might bring a favorite stuffed animal to "introduce" to residents.

  • Don't be in a hurry. Most residents have time on their hands and your visit will probably seem short no matter how long you stay.

  • Don't feel obligated to solve the personal problems of a resident. Just being there to listen and empathize is important.

  • At the end of each conversation, before you move on to visit with the next person, thank the resident for spending time with you. You can shake their hand or offer to give them a hug. If a person doesn't want you to leave, try to get them involved in another activity, take them to be with a group of people, turn on the television, or place something in their hands like a small memento that they can hold on to.

  • Keep promises. Don't promise to return if you aren't able to come back. Never say anything unless you mean it.

After a first visit to a nursing home, talk about what happened and how young people felt. Do you think you made a difference in the lives of the residents? Why? What did you learn about older people? Do you think visiting older people is important? Why?

One of the biggest barriers to young and old coming together is often difficulties communicating. They may not know what to say to each other, feel uncomfortable, or are unsure about how to make a meaningful connection. A great introduction to communication in general is Aliki's storybook Communication. It explores the many forms and aspects of human communication and is a good starting point for intergenerational communication.

For older adults with few functional limitations, reading a picture book with a child can be a great icebreaker (see the storybook listing at the end of each of the Legacy Project kits for ideas). Reading takes the pressure off both young and old to "entertain" each other. Other simple activities to help older adults communicate with the young include the "Hot -- and Not List" and "Grandchild Interview" in the Communication & Storytelling section of the Grandparents Day Activity Kit, and the "Did You Ever...?" activity in the Storytelling for Hope section of the Holiday Activity Kit. Children might want to do an interview with an older adult using pages from the "Generations Scrapbook" activity in the Scrapbooking & Other Photo Fun section of the Grandparents Day Activity Kit, or use the "Grandparent Interview" activity in the Communication & Storytelling section of the Grandparents Day Activity Kit. Teenagers can take the lead in communicating with older adults using the "Fill-in-the-Blanks Life Story" in the Storytelling for Hope section of the Holiday Activity Kit.

To help children, teenagers, and young adults communicate with older adults with serious cognitive or other functional limitations, use the "Tips for Communicating with Cognitively Limited Older Adults" sheet. Discuss the tips on the sheet beforehand, and give everyone a copy as a reference.

The Ages & Stages section of the Grandparents Day Activity Kit has information and activities that can complement this activity.


Kind Heart

Connections: Schools (Health, Social Studies); Seniors Groups/Facilities; Community Groups; Families.

What You Need: Paper; pen/pencil; box.

Doing It:

Who doesn't love a secret admirer? There's an air of mystery to it that's exciting and fun. You can do this intergenerational activity during a single event, or over a period of time like a week.

Write the names of all the young people onto slips of paper, fold them, and put them in a box. Each older person chooses one name and must keep it a secret. Put folded slips of paper with the names of all the older people into the box. Each young person chooses one name and must keep it a secret.

The goal is to do one or two small kindnesses for the person whose name you've chosen. It doesn't have to be anything big -- it can be a picture you draw, a nice note or poem, a cookie or wrapped candy, having a coat magically appear when someone is ready to leave, etc. The hitch is that the person can't know who has done the kindness.

At a set time or day, identities can be revealed.


Big Heart Award

Connections: Schools (Health, Social Studies); Community Groups; Families; Seniors Groups/Facilities.

What You Need: Copies of "Big Heart Award" certificate; pen.

Doing It:

Why not let people know that you appreciate the loving, supportive things they do? You can give a Big Heart Award to someone as recognition when they've done something nice, kind, considerate, helpful, or when you just want to say thanks for a consistent pattern of support or caring.

The certificate can be given to both children and adults. When it's given to children by adults, use the award as an opportunity to explore what loving behaviors are. Talk about the kinds of behaviors that are nice, kind, considerate, supportive, and helpful. To avoid turning this activity into one in which children are seeking an external reward for "being nice," emphasize the process and the multiple discussions you have over time rather than the award itself. Help children develop an understanding and appreciation of what it means to be kind, and help them internalize these behaviors. Try to ensure that everyone, at some point, receives a certificate and that one person does not receive multiple certificates. When the award is given to adults by children, it can also be a teaching tool. Children enjoy being able to give an adult a "real award." The process of choosing award recipients gives children a sense of power and, over time, helps them develop the responsibility and decision-making skills that go with that power.

Families might choose a different family member each month. Schools might choose a new recipient each week (you can post the award with the child's name). If you're running an intergenerational group, older adults will be pleased to help choose an award recipient based on behaviors they've seen children exhibit during their interactions with them. Children can also choose grandfriends to whom they'd like to give the award. You could have one young winner and one older winner each month.

Who's in the running to receive the award? Anyone who has done a kind deed, helped someone else, spent some extra time with someone, helped someone complete a difficult task, shown consideration, been supportive, etc.

Recipients can be chosen in a number of ways. A designated adult or child can choose an individual. Everyone in a group can vote from a roster of candidates. Or, people can drop nominations into a box when they see someone doing something kind (include person's name and describe the incident), and then a winner can be pulled from the box.

When you fill in the award certificate, make sure you include a description of the specific behavior or incident for which the award is being given. People like to know the moments you consider important, and describing the behavior is also important for helping children understand what loving, kind behaviors are.

From Valentine's Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2004

Get a complete print edition of this activity kit

Get on our confidential Priority E-Mail List to be automatically notified when the next free activity kit is available

Go to the Table of Contents for this activity kit

Go to the main page for the Legacy Project