Interacting with elderly people helps children prepare for their future lives and careers – Dr Jennifer Cartmel – ABC Education | #elderly | #seniors | #execrise
In Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds season 2, older adults who live alone in their own homes volunteer to spend time with 4-year-olds at a specially designed preschool. Dr Jennifer Cartmel, from Griffith University’s Intergenerational Practice Research Project, explains how relationships between elderly people and children have many reciprocal benefits.
International research demonstrates that relationships between elderly people and children have significant behavioural, educational, psychological and neurological improvements for both age groups.
Research shows that interactions between elders and children also have positive effects on parents, other carers, staff in aged care, teachers, an organisation’s culture and the broader community.
Elders who participate in these intergenerational activities may live in retirement villages, residential aged care homes or the family home, whereas the children may attend preschools, playgroups, early childhood learning centres, or primary and secondary schools.
Depending on the children’s age, these relationships can form through playful and recreational activities or purposeful and enjoyable discussions based on school curriculum topics.
Children develop positive attributes following interactions with elders
Recent intergenerational activities undertaken in partnership with Griffith University researchers conclude that school students are interested and curious about the information they gain from the elderly.
These discussions involved personal histories of elders, humour, and challenges and resilience to overcome adversities. The elders and children discussed many topics, including lifestyle, family, travel, skills and careers.
As a result of these interactions, children from all age groups and varying socio-demographic backgrounds developed positive attitudes towards the elderly. More importantly, research has found that children involved in these activities develop social skills, such as interpersonal communication and the prosocial skills of empathy and compassion.
These skills not only help children maintain positive relationships with their family and friends, but also prepare them for future careers in a multigenerational workforce.
Intergenerational programs benefit everyone involved
Outside of school, many children are cared for by their grandparents. However, in the last five years the number of grandparents caring for children after school has reduced, resulting in an increase in after-school and vacation care programs.
In 2018–19, the number of children in Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) grew to 651,180.
Some after-school care programs link with the elderly in the community so children don’t miss out on interacting with the older generations.
Research indicates that intergenerational programs such as these have societal, health, economic and productivity benefits.
Intergenerational programs focus on mutual benefit, with both generations experiencing a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life. These connections not only boost self-esteem but also develop meaningful friendships between the generations.
Programs such as these have brought about positive change, proving any negative stereotypes about old and young people to be wrong. These negative stereotypes adversely affect the health and cognitive and physical performance of elderly people.
Interestingly, young children and adolescents are most likely to have negative attitudes towards elders, but primary school children, aged 7 to 11, were found to have more positive attitudes.
Therefore, a crucial period for changing children’s attitudes towards older people is during primary school.
Intergeneration programs must engage both age groups
To ensure the activities are rewarding and fun for everyone involved, educators in early childhood, school and after-school programs need to ensure intergenerational programs are well-planned, appropriate and meaningful for both age groups.
Activities in after-school programs may include arts and craft; board games, including puzzles, crosswords and large floor games; cooking; celebrating special community events, such as NAIDOC Week; storytelling; reading together; construction games; card games; musical instruments; and children’s performances.
Some vacation care programs link with a local men’s shed, where children learn how to use tools to build cubby houses and play equipment.
Building intergenerational friendships are especially important to children who don’t have grandparents and to the elderly who may not have family or friends living near them.
Technology is helping generations connect
Mobile phones, tablets and computers have become an important feature of intergenerational programs in schools and Outside School Hours Care services.
Both the elderly and children benefit when using technology together.
For example, videos calls help students develop verbal and non-verbal communication skills; manners; respect; and admiration of the elders. Elderly people benefit by developing their technological skills.
Intergenerational Learning Australia has been working with schools in New South Wales to help facilitate weekly video calls — between residents in aged care homes and students — based on school curriculum topics.
These purposeful discussions provide students with different perspectives on the topic and historical lenses. Assessment tasks include writing biographies and poems about the elders; discussing major events, including wars and the Depression; families; careers; science; technology; history; and exercise, nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
These discussions also help children build their confidence in speaking and listening and, more importantly, the children experience a positive relationship-based interaction which promotes their self-esteem.
School-age children have said that sharing their knowledge of technology with elders is very meaningful, because they become a teacher instead of a student.
Following these interactions, teachers have reported that students with disruptive behaviours have been calmer and more attentive in class, with improved self-confidence and self-control and significantly fewer altercations. These changes have resulted in better grades.
Staff at the aged care home observed improvements in the mental health and wellbeing of the elders — they are happier and positively engage in conversations; some are sleeping better; and there have been fewer requests from elders to see their doctor.
Research about intergenerational programs and interpersonal neuroscience continues to inform educators, healthcare professionals and government agencies about the benefits of these interactions.
These interactions can also buffer and heal adverse childhood experiences by providing children a safe environment to develop healthy relationships with trusted elders – a critical element that’s not often acknowledged.
Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds is a unique social experiment that brings together elderly people and a group of four-year-olds.
Use the Teacher’s Guide to set up an intergenerational learning program at your school.
Image: Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds