Moriah ECC began it’s intergenerational program with a small group of eager grandparents in the early 1990’s. Each kvutzah (age group) has at least one senior adult who volunteers to spend one morning a week in the classroom. These caring individuals are comprised of currently enrolled children’s grandparents, alumni grandparents, and seniors in the community. They bring energy and nurturing to the classroom and share a love for the children. In an age where many preschoolers are unable to have regular face-to-face contact with their own biological grandparents on a regular basis, this program provides the opportunity to experience the unconditional acceptance of a multi-generational relationship.
Over the years, the grandparents that began visiting classrooms when their own grandchildren were in them, have chosen to stay on long after their grandchildren graduated. Nineteen years after his initial visit to the Tiger room, Grandpa Larry walks into The Tiger room on Friday morning to cheers and chants of “Grandpa Laaaaaaaarry!!!!” He flashes his big, warm smile as the children stop what they are doing to run up and give him hugs and return the smile.
Within moments, they spontaneously break into the infamous “Grandpa Larry Dance.”
After the singing, dancing, and cheering subside, Grandpa Larry joins children in making challah, reading, dramatic play, and outdoor exploration.
The teachers are thrilled to have him in the room. He not only offers a warm and nurturing extra pair of hands in the room, but an extra heart in the room. Whether it be an intense game of checkers with an eager young opponent or curling up with a book when a child needs some special time, Grandpa Larry is attentive to the children and they are just as attentive to him. Each Friday, the children make sure to make him a challah, something that Grandpa Larry looks forward to, and his cited reason for coming on Fridays! On some occasions, at the neighbourhood mall, children spot Grandpa Larry and they excitedly inform the parents that he is in their class which always elicits big smiles from the parents and a story that gets shared back at school with the teachers.
Grandpa Larry has yet another special ritual that the children look forward to eagerly, and cherish for many years to come. When graduation draws near, we hear Grandpa Larry coming down the hall. Well, we hear his large, black boots. His leather boots precede him, and one look at his Harley Davidson shirt confirms what the teachers suspect- it’s motorcycle day! The children cross the park and can barely contain themselves as they see Grandpa Larry’s motorcycle parked in the back. He gingerly helps each one on and off so that they can have a turn on it (stationary, of course!). When children ask if they can go for a ride, he tells them “For your bar/bat mitzvah!” Then he chuckles, and adds to the teachers “Now I have to make it that long!”
The special feeling that he (and our other “grandparents” in the intergenerational program) bring, the feeling of Jewish continuity, the feeling of love, the feeling of family, the feeling of home, is unique to the dynamic between children, families, teachers and grandparents. No other visitors create this sacred feeling. It is a precious gift for all involved.