Since I was a young child, I have learned differently from most other students. I first recognized this when I was about 5. At an extended family get-together, all the cousins were drawing pictures. When we were done, my older cousins laughed at my picture. I had scrawled a continuous line weaving in and around the paper without lifting my crayon, and then colored it in to make an abstract pattern. Everyone else's picture was very literal, with identifiable objects. Fortunately, for me, the adults liked my picture. What could have been a humiliating experience turned into a positive reinforcement, perhaps my first experience in appreciating the value of "universal design education."
As my grandson Sage heads towards the 2nd half of his third year of life, I am interested in how he learns. He especially loves to cook with me, build structures (especially at the Bay Area Discovery Museum), play with other children, read and tell stories. We also clean the house together.
At the same time, I become more aware of how I learn. I am a big picture futurist, who is usually ahead of the crowd, writing, talking about, and implementing concepts that take others months or years to grasp. When others reach consensus with my concepts, I am already onto something new. My concepts are often based on concepts and practices from history or from other original thinkers, such as Dan Pink and Joyce Goiya.
Dan Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind," and former publicist for Al Gore, said people learn in different ways, through their senses:
- Design – Moving beyond function to engage the senses
- Story – Narrative added to products and services - not just argument. Best of the six senses.
- Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
- Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
- Play – Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products.
- Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.
Dan Pink says we have moved beyond the agricultural age (farmers), industrial age (factory workers), and information age (knowledge workers) into the conceptual age (creators and empathizers).
Joyce Goiya agrees. In her summery of what 2018 will bring in the work world, she says, "More companies will hire for soft skills and culture fit:" She says:
For years, we have heard employers say, I hire for attitude and train for aptitude. We are beginning to see that taken to the next level. Case in point, Jay Patel, CEO of Wintergreen Hospitality in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. Patel focuses on essential interpersonal skills, reflected in emotional intelligence, writing, speaking, empathy, clear communication, and conflict resolution. He looks less for traditional and formal credentials and more for life experience and wise talent.
I believe the way we work, volunteer, and move from youth to old age, is the way we learn. Sage and other young "elders," as well as older folks, including those with memory loss, teach me how to be in the present, which is primarily through the senses described above by Dan Pink, Joyce Goiya, and following in a discussion on Universal Design Education.
Universal Design Learning for All Ages
"Universal Design Education," is a way of learning that originated in universal design in architecture, a design process that enables & empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health & wellness, & social participation. Universal design for learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. The National Center for Universal Design for Learning says:
UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.
I am especially interested in how and where universal design for learning is applied in the San Francisco Bay area, since that is where I live. Upon initial research, I found that UDL is in the mission/vision of San Francisco State University. UDL is also practiced at the San Francisco Day School, where teachers design curriculum to insure learning that works for all students.
In a 2016 discussion with Claire Copenhagen Bainer, co-director of BlueSkies for Children, an innovative pre-school in Oakland, we shared the belief that elders and young children learn in similar ways. BlueSkies, a private, nonprofit 501(c)3 program founded in 1983, is the only NAEYC-accredited childcare center in Oakland. The pre-school is one of the most diverse full-time childcare centers in the Bay Area, and a model of excellence for teachers studying early childhood education.
Applying University Design Education in Age-Friendly, Intergenerational Communities
By 2040, people over the age of 65 and under the age of 18 will make up over 20% of the population. Why not design intergenerational curriculum that works for both populations? Following are a few resources and commentary on universal design in learning for multi-generations.
What can you do to conduct an effective program in a space that was designed without children or older adults in mind? In Creating Spaces To Enhance Intergenerational Relationships (2013), DeBord, Jarrott, and Kaplan provide strategies to accommodate the developmental needs of both groups in a shared intergenerational space including traffic flow, features to promote interaction, placement and use of materials, storage, and more. The authors note that a livable community offers a variety of accessible, affordable, and visitable housing options so that older adults have a place to live. They assert that a livable community has features that promote access to the community, including safe and walkable neighborhoods , transportation options, safe driving conditions, and emergency preparedness. A livable community provides a wide range of supports and services, and opportunities to participate in community life, including health care, supportive services, general retail and services, healthy food, and social integration.
At Generation United's 2017 Conference, Ann Basting, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, author, and TimeSlips founder, presented on "Creative Expressions Across Generations." She will be one of several international leaders presenting February 9, 2018, at Creating a New Old San Francisco, sponsored by Creative Aging International. This free event will take place at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco, 9 am to 5 pm.
According to Ghazaleh, Homsy, and Warner (2011), multigenerational planning is a holistic approach that takes into consideration the needs of all age groups throughout all stages of planning (from needs assessment to visioning, plan making, design, implementation, and evaluation) and how government policies, zoning, and building codes can be changed to ensure generational equality and access. in their 2011 paper, In their paper, Multigenerational planning: Using smart growth and universal design to link the needs of children and the aging population (Chicago, Ill: American Planning Association), the authors discuss four key points: #1: Multigenerational planning creates new coalition-building opportunities; #2: Civic participation and engagement is fundamental in multigenerational planning; #3: Multigenerational planning uses smart growth principles; Multigenerational planning applies universal design principles.
In Living Community Indicators for Sustainable Aging in Place, a 2013 report conducted with Stanford Center on Longevity, Lehning and Harmon found that a livable community offers a variety of accessible, affordable, and visitable housing options so that older adults have a place to live. Features include the following: safe and walkable neighborhoods, transportation options, safe driving condition, and emergency preparedness. In addition, a livable community provides a wide range of supports and services, and opportunities to participate in community life, health care, supportive services, general retail and services, healthy food, and social integration. The report was based on an indicator system using existing research, rather than the preferences of older adults.
In a Working Paper at the Children, Youth and Environments Center, University of Colorado, Van Vliet (2009) discusses "Creating livable cities for all ages: Intergenerational strategies and initiatives." The paper was prepared for UN-Habitat’s Global Dialogue on Harmonious Cities for All Age Groups at the World Urban Forum IV, Nanjing, November 3-6, 2008. Among the contributors to the paper was Janet Blanchard, who presented at AgeSong's Poetics of Aging Conference in San Francisco (Gelardin, 2011).
Kaplan, Larkin, and Graves. (2007), in a Metlife presentation on "Designing Intergenerational Environments to Promote a Sense of Well-Being, suggest the following elements and strategies that relate to human development and well-being: (a) consider design elements that allow accessibility; (b) consider spaces that accommodate age-diverse abilities; (c) consider design strategies that afford opportunities for both social interaction and privacy; (d) consider design elements that signal expectations for autonomy and connection; (e) consider objects that stimulate curiosity and the 5 senses.
Where Do We Go From Here?
My county has the highest percentage of people over the age of 65 in California and one of the highest percentages of individuals over 65 in the country. For the next 30 years, aging boomers will be opening gates for intergenerational learning opportunities. I'm participating in a planning group in my town for the first intergenerational program in the county. I welcome you to join me in exploring universal design that can accommodate all ages, stages, and abilities.