By Corita Brown sponsors a learning community for innovators who are testing or implementing strategies for engaging adults 50+ in the early care and education workforce. This blog shares ideas discussed by learning community members.

Innovative leaders eager to find more support for young children and families are leveraging a powerful resource hidden in plain sight: adults over 50. Here are eight roles — some volunteer, some paid — that older adults can play in strengthening early care and education to help our nation’s children get a strong start in life.

1. Classroom helpers
Perhaps the most well known role for older adults in early learning settings is the classroom helper. Hundreds of thousands of people have become Foster Grandparents and worked in classrooms across the country. Meet a few of them in this video about Foster Grandparents who are members of Jumpstart Community Corps, working with preschoolers enrolled in Los Angeles.

2. Family Resource Center volunteers
This video describes how FIRST 5 Santa Clara moved from a two-generation approach supporting children 0-5 and their parents in their Family Resource Centers to a three-generation approach, engaging older adults from the community (many of whom are caregivers for young children) to build the capacity of the centers and enhance programming.

FIRST 5 is now expanding the three-generation approach to all 23 Family Resource Centers in Santa Clara County.  

3. Community child care providers
Having a grandparent-like feel is a real strength for a family child care center and something very desirable for families,” says Dana Houlahan, director of professional development for All Our Kin. “Many 50+ family child care providers have years of experience in many different early childhood settings, making them real experts at meeting the varied needs of young children.”

AOK trains and supports community child care providers in New York City and in Connecticut — about 40 percent of whom are adults over 50.

4. Classroom teachers (lead, assistant, substitute)
Rainbow Intergenerational Learning and Childcare Center was started by Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers, a senior services center for low-income older adults in Miami, Florida. Decades ago, the organization put two key puzzle pieces together.

Staff at the center saw that older adults (who were often caregivers for their grandchildren) had wisdom, experience, the desire to transmit their cultural history — and the need to earn income. At the same time, younger low-income immigrant families in the area were in need of high quality, affordable child care and preschool for their children.  

Their solution was to develop Rainbow, an accredited child care center that recruits, trains and places low-income elders as part-time teachers and paraprofessionals — and has been doing so for more than 30 years.

5. Office workers
Some of the older adults that Rainbow Intergenerational employs want to work at the center, but don’t feel comfortable working with children, or don’t want to go through the training and certification process. Rainbow hires them in administrative roles (preparing materials, filing, entering data) as well as in food service, and maintenance positions. These roles run the gamut from volunteer to stipended to salaried.

6. Mentors/coaches
Some organizations engage professionals who have retired from jobs in early childhood care and education as part-time, volunteer coaches or mentors for staff and volunteers. It can be a cost-effective way to increase capacity and improve quality. And the flexible hours can be appealing to older adults, making it easier to recruit and retain experienced talent.

Jumpstart Community Corps in Los Angeles hired a retired preschool teacher with 30 years experience as a volunteer coach for classroom volunteers. The coach attended each volunteer’s class, providing feedback on how to elevate high quality instructional techniques. During the summer break, the coach also helped Jumpstart recruit more older volunteers.

7. Classroom observers
Observers use evidence based assessment tools to assess the level of quality instruction and inform program improvements for early learning classrooms. FIRST 5 Santa Clara has developed a training for community members to become certified classroom observers. This part-time, flexible role could be perfect for an older adult!

8. Temporary project-based consultants
Consultants are individuals with professional and technical skills from other fields who can provide temporary, project-based support to an early childhood care and education organization.

Examples include people who can, among other things, help:

  • Start new sites (architects, construction, legal/research)
  • Develop infrastructure, systems, or programs (knowledge management, HR, IT, program research and development)
  • Support volunteer or staff recruitment, training and retention (HR).

This type of role can be filled with an Encore Fellow — a seasoned professional working in a high-impact, paid assignment in the social sector. Fellows receive a stipend, which is often much less than the cost of hiring a full-time employee or consultant.

For more information about the early care and education learning community, contact  [email protected].

Interested in learning more about how to recruit older adults as volunteers? Check out the Gen2Gen Learning Hub.


Published: May 22, 2019