Act your Age! Challenging Stereotypes of Young and Old

3-4 November 2011

The 2012 European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations is intended to raise awareness of the contribution that older people make to society. It seeks to encourage policymakers and relevant stakeholders at all levels to take action with the aim of creating better opportunities for active ageing and strengthening solidarity between generations. The New Dynamics of Ageing Research (NDA) Programme have also been looking at inter-generational relationships.

As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science in 2011, the NDA Programme created a workshop aimed at challenging stereotypes of older age which was taken into a Sheffield primary school Year 6 class. Act Your Age! Challenging stereotypes of young and old aimed to develop childhood understandings of later life and facilitate informed reflection on the differences and similarities between people at various ages. Participants were encouraged to explore representations of age in the media whilst recognising and challenging stereotypes of older people. The topic converges with numerous components of the Personal Social Health and Economic Education (PSHE) part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum, such as exploring the ways that media present information and reflecting on the ways that we understand people who are different from ourselves. In addition, it highlighted key areas which are often neglected in children’s social education. These issues have relevance in children’s everyday interaction with others, as well as their own futures. The workshop linked with one of the NDA Programme’s  research project – Representing Self, Representing Ageing (also known as Look at Me!) -  which challenges the current societal perceptions of older women.

As encouraged in the PSHE guidelines, the workshop provided an opportunity for children to engage with the wider community through the involvement of older people from local groups and also the NDA Programme’s Older People’s Reference Group (OPRG).  Members of this group collaborated on the design of the event and also participated over the 2 days on which the workshop was run. Through direct engagement with older people, the children were encouraged to develop intergenerational relationships with members of the wider community and think collaboratively about methods and means for challenging and overcoming negative perceptions of older people, as well as respecting differences.

The workshop used various activities to encourage involvement from 'getting to know you' sessions to dressing up activities to show visual stereotypes.

Five images were selected from the Look at Me project to discuss. The participants were asked to describe the pictures in one word and choose their favourite images. 

Kathleen and Eleanor

One of the children on that day said:

“I have learnt that you need to look at each person individually as older people are really the same as us, just a bit older. They are still fun and have lots to say”.

Feedback form the teacher:

“The children really enjoyed the sessions. It was great seeing the children interacting with different people from different communities. Children's ideas were challenged and the sessions led on from the work we had done before for Black History Month. We had lots of discussion about families and society which allowed the children to understand more about their community, first impressions and people’s responses”.

For more information please contact Sarah Howson, NDA Administrator

Sarah Howson and Dr Lorna Warren presented a sesson at the Birtish Society of Gerontology on the Act Your Age Workshop. Please click here to view a copy of this presentation.


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