What older generations can still teach us today

Britain has an aging population. There are 10 million people over the age of 65 and, as people are expected to work longer, the older generation are offering a vital contribution to our communities. The worlds of business, politics and culture all owe a great deal to older heads to pass on their experience and, as 71 year old Sir Alex Ferguson retires, football has lost the last of a generation of managers with a management style and set of skills that are rarely seen in the game today. As society changes and technology evolves, the way we approach tasks shifts but sometimes, the old ways of doing a job are still the best.

A photo of Ann Rowley
Ann Rowley (right) passing on her 75 years of sewing experience


There are numerous things we all do in our daily lives that we may not realise have been passed on by our families. A 2008 Department of Work and Pensions survey found that the skills most widely passed on by family members were growing vegetables, baking and cooking a roast dinner with playing traditional party games topping the list of activities with 89% of people agreeing they had been taught them. As technology has evolved, practical skills such as manufacturing furniture and clothes and navigating by the stars were known by less than half of people and over three quarters of people surveyed felt that traditional skills were dying out.

Arguably the most important skill we learn from our parents is parenting itself. We automatically rely on our family for help with child care and support with the relationship with grandparents being one of the most important for children as they grow up. Many working families rely on grandparents as free babysitters and for nearly all grandparents the role is positive and life affirming. Many of the nursery rhymes and stories we are taught as children date back hundreds of years and the connections to our family history we learn from our grandparents are amongst the most important lessons of our young lives.

The majority of us will have an old family recipe taught by our parents or grandparents. With money tight and scares about the content of processed food, younger people are increasingly turning to their elders to learn how to cook with raw ingredients. Processed food and ready meals are so easily available today it is far too easy to live without cooking a square meal. Food though is becoming more ‘rock and roll’ though with celebrity chefs and television shows celebrating the art of cookery and more people taking the time to learn their way around a kitchen.

As computers have become integral to our work and social lives, some old people can feel left out. The elderly, who have long relied on their grandchildren to programme video recorders, are showing an interest in technology and are increasingly becoming more conversant. Grandparents may not necessarily live just around the corner anymore but most children still have weekly contact with grandparents and that is increasingly through technology such as Skype. Libraries in Britain offer computer courses aimed specifically at older people (or ‘Silver Surfers’ as they have become known) and there are many websites aimed at retired people. The website www.silversurfersseventy.co.uk  helps old people to use the internet with a handy ‘Teacups’ system rating sites according to how easy to navigate they are.

A photo of the Amazings teaching how to be clowns
Lesley and Jane from The Amazings teaching the art of clowning


Families and communities still rely on their elders and there are groups around the country which allow generations to link up. One such project is run by www.theamazings.com which is a website allowing the over 50’s to share their knowledge and skills with younger generations. From music and storytelling to head massages and dry stone walling, The Amazings allows skills which may have been forgotten, to be passed, all the time doing it with a smile.

“Society has always learned from its elders but somewhere along the way, we have lost that connection between generations — which means losing rich, valuable, and rare skills.” theamazings.com

People today are living longer and playing a much more active role than they may have done in years past.A photo of a mother teaching baking The baby boomer generation born after World War II were brought up through hard financial times without the help of computers or mobile phones; sometimes the practical solutions are still the simplest and easiest to manage. We shouldn’t take our grandparents for granted and respect what we can and indeed have learnt from them. If an 80 year old man can reach the summit of Everest, there is nothing to stop any of us achieving what may appear impossible.

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