Did you watch the Channel Four documentary “Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds”? If you did, chances are you were moved by this simple idea to let older people and young pre-schoolers learn and laugh together.
Inspired by the show, we’ve forged close links with local Burnt House Lane pre-school Chestnut Nursery. Each week a group of 10 pre-schoolers are spending time making things, singing, reading, and chatting with our residents.
Merle Weiner, Green Tree Court’s Head of Activities, who has helped get the initiative up and running, commented: “So far we’ve only had a couple of sessions. But it’s already clear that our older residents and these young children have a lot to offer each other. Children love the one-to-one attention that they get from our residents, who have the time to talk and show them how to do things. And having the children here helps our residents by becoming a new reason for them to stay active and engaged. Residents have a new sense of purpose as they’re needed to help out – whether it’s to give advice on decorating fairy cakes or showing them how to do a pom pom dance! And of course the children’s smiles, laughter and straightforward way of talking lifts everyone’s spirits, and gives us something to talk about for a long time after their school bus has pulled away. As it’s a weekly activity, it’s not long that we have to wait until our next visit!
“The children and residents will get the chance to really get to know each other as it’s the same 10 children coming each week to spend time with the same residents. With the cold weather we’ve been staying mostly inside doing things like craftwork and painting together. But as the better weather comes, we’ll be aiming to get outside as many of our residents are keen to help the children have their first go at gardening.”
Cathryn Boxall, Early Years Foundation Stage Lead Teacher Chestnut Nursery added: “We wanted to give our children the opportunity of developing their understanding of the world. Our aim is to broaden their experiences by talking with different generations of people and taking part in mutually enjoyable activities. The visits to Green Tree Court are developing the children’s confidence and extending their language and communication skills as well as giving them the chance to make new friends from a different age group. We hope that this partnership will continue for a long time and plan to invite the residents to visit nursery and meet with the children’s parents.”
The Channel Four show ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’, found improved mobility, mood and memory after just six weeks of the pre-schoolers regularly visiting the group of older volunteers from a retirement community in Bristol. The idea of mixing the generations has come from America. Here it’s used successfully to help reduce isolation and improve health and well-being for older people. In Wales a similar programme took place in a day centre. Researchers studying how the children and older adults interacted were struck by how the children who spent time with the older people increased in confidence, and developed their language skills.
Why combat loneliness and feelings of isolation?
Research suggests that feelings of loneliness and isolation from other people can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of death by 26%. And yet one in 10 older people are reported to be in contact with family friends or neighbours less than once a month.