Most of us have experienced the power of music to connect people, be it at a concert or karaoke night. In Myself investigateI watched how it connects older adults with preschoolers, fourth graders, and college students, specifically. It was beautiful and entertaining to watch. We use music as a source of interaction between groups. From singing songs to rock band concerts, we found meaningful ways to connect age groups that enhanced their cognitive skills and provided positive intergenerational experiences.
In an experiment with preschoolers and older adults, we used songs to help preschoolers learn their sight words (words that a child learns to recognize without pronouncing the letters). Both the preschoolers and the older adults learned and recited the songs, and the older adults helped with the visual cues. We saw an improvement in word and song recognition for preschoolers, and they had positive and engaging experiences with older adults.
Each age group differed in how they connected. In the fourth grade experiment, it was sometimes awkward to get children and older adults to feel comfortable with each other. The shyest groups of fourth graders and older adults would hardly say anything without my participation. I used musical activities with structured conversation prompts to create an environment in which to interact. Fortunately, at the end of the program, things changed dramatically: I couldn’t get the fourth graders and the older adults to stop talking to each other. We included reading and writing exercises so fourth graders could practice these skills and older adults could help them. We saw fourth graders improve their academic skills and older adults felt a sense of reward. I remember there was an older adult who was not able to see his grandchildren very often and when he did, it was not a pleasant experience. She really enjoyed our fourth grade program because she was able to gain a positive intergenerational experience that she would not have had otherwise.
For college students and seniors, I used musical performance to connect the two groups by creating a rock band. Each semester, a group of college students and seniors performed a concert featuring pop music from the 1960s to the present day, such as “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Uptown Funk.” They sang songs, played instruments, and performed choreography. By reciting music and learning to play an instrument, they were able to develop cognitive skills, concentration, and attention. And the choreography allowed for more physical activity and coordination. The older adults really embodied the music, which helped them connect with the college students. And it translated into an increase in connection with their adult children: they could now sing when they heard the song on a playlist or watched TV. Playing in the band allowed his self-expression to increase while his sense of isolation diminished. The program gave them constant motivation to get out of bed every day and get out of the house, especially for those with depression. And both parties left the show with positive (and fun) intergenerational experiences.