What Happens When You Put a Preschool in a Nursing Home? Lives Change.

Our favorite viral video phenomenon this winter? The trailer for the upcoming documentary Present Perfect, slated for release in the summer of 2017. Highlighting the work being done at the Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC) at Providence Mount St. Vincent Senior Community, it’s definitely a must-watch:

It’s not hard to understand what makes this video so poignant. While Providence Mount St. Vincent – located in Seattle – is in many ways a typical assisted/independent living community for senior citizens, the presence of the ILC, an award-winning preschool housed squarely within the facility, sets it apart.

The upcoming film based on the center will explore the very human experiences of growth – both in growing up and growing older – through the eyes of 4-year-old kids at the preschool, and 84-year-old residents of the community. The film promises to offer a hopeful message that speaks to the human need for social connection and solidarity across all demographics.

At the center of all this heartwarming interconnectedness is one very important factor: play.

Keeping Loneliness at Bay

The purpose of the ILC is to foster growth for both seniors and preschoolers. When these two drastically distinct age groups play together, young children learn important skills for developing into compassionate, whole people, becoming more open-minded and aware of humans different from themselves. On the flip-side, seniors find daily joy and delight in their experiences with the kids, actively combating one of the hardest parts of growing older: loneliness.

According to an AARP survey, more than one-third of older adults – over the age of 45 – are categorized as lonely, and feelings of isolation only increase as they age. Elderly adults are particularly susceptible to isolation for a number of reasons. Many seniors are retired from the workforce and no longer see their colleagues. Many older adults are widows or widowers who live alone. Additionally, when seniors no longer drive, they are often unable to leave their homes to attend social gatherings or to see family without help.

The Need for Play

Research has proven time and time again that play is critical in fostering all aspects of young people’s development. Children and youth benefit cognitively, socially, physically and emotionally from engaging play. In fact, play is so important for child development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as a universal right for children.

The best kind of play is free and unstructured, allowing the greatest potential for creativity and imagination. Unfortunately, with increasing focus on rigorous academics at the expense of recess and other free play time, American children have fewer opportunities to develop skills critical for healthy functioning throughout their lives.

Play remains important throughout adolescence and adulthood – though many are quick to dismiss it as unproductive or, worse, a guilty pleasure. Across the U.S., adulthood is synonymous with seriousness, and the only kind of play most adults regularly engage in is competitive in nature – and, according to psychological research, this is incredibly unhealthy, no matter your age.

Take gambling, for example: It comes down to the difference between taking pleasure in a strategic game of cards and solely getting involved to win a million-dollar jackpot. Creative play offers a surprisingly vital role in fostering positive relationships and honing problem-solving skills. It can take many forms, and one of the best ways to engage in play is to spend time with young children.

Just For the Joy of It

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute for Play, play is “done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

At the ILC in Seattle, fostering play-based interactions between preschool children and seniors means that all participants can laugh, move and share unconditional love. “There is only one time to be happy, and that time is now,” says a speaker in the “Present Perfect” trailer. For both age groups, playing together is about living in the present, and what’s more perfect than that?