Connecting old and young

Connecting old and young

Covid-19 struck just as intergenerational learning was gathering momentum in England - and everything was put on hold as the two care sectors, early years and elder care, worked hard to protect the most vulnerable.

Noah (left) and George (on screen) have developed a special friendship as a result of the intergenerational programme in the Warberries Care Home in TorbayDownload image
"Each time they meet, whether virtually or distanced, the children and adults are bought closer together" - Lorraine George, Fellow

Much has been written about the impact of the pandemic on older adults, particularly on those in residential care who have been isolated from their families. However, little has been written about the impact of lockdown restrictions upon the intergenerational friendships that for some just stopped.

Many families today are time-poor, leading pressured lives, working long hours and often geographically distant from the support and help of their extended families. As a consequence, young children can spend many hours in childcare. To counter this, childcare settings created intergenerational opportunities for children to widen their social experiences by enabling the children to develop loving relationships with older adults.

Earlier this year, I worked with Kay Jodrell (CF 2019) to establish an intergenerational programme in the Warberries Care Home in Torbay. This innovative programme enables childminders to work from the premises on a daily basis, enabling the Childminders to support the children to engage with the residents throughout the day. Prior to Covid-19, the children spent the whole day with their elderly friends, sharing meals, engaging in activities and learning together, enabling the children to develop empathy and understanding, valuing diversity and difference.

Covid-19 restrictions severely reduced children’s social circles, in fact some children have only recently returned to their childcare settings. It’s no wonder therefore that many children have regressed, having difficulties in transition and separation. Now more than ever, there is a need for a surrogate grandparent friendship that offers an abundance of love, time and cuddles. The problem faced by early years settings is how and when to reconnect the old and the young safely, in a way that is meaningful to the participants yet avoids close physical contact. Ultimately this will depend upon many factors, such as the pandemic itself, vaccination programmes, confidence within the care home sector, guidance set by regulators and the government and the wishes of the residents’ families, who may understandably not want children to be on-site.

Noah (left) and George (right) engaging in a socially distanced session at the Warberries Care Home in TorbayDownload image

What alternative methods are there of connecting these particular age groups, who generally both need to be supported in order to engage together?

Many organisations in the UK have risen to this challenge during the pandemic, setting up initiatives such as postcards and letters, online platforms, support groups and phone buddy programmes. Throughout the pandemic the intergenerational childminders at the Warberries Care Home have tried a variety of different creative methods of keeping in touch, each with its own challenges. Examples include:

  • Weekly online sessions using story telling or music to make connections. The success of this varied and was totally dependent upon the wi-fi connection and the engagement of the children and the adults. Those with dementia particularly struggled. Music was definitely the better medium for engaging everyone online and provoking fun and conversations, as well as being an opportunity just to be together in that moment in time, even if not in the same space.
  • Sending pictures, photos and ‘hugs in the post’ to the residents. This worked to some extent by reminding the adults of the children and initiating conversations about them.
  • Distanced window visits, which have expanded and lengthened as we have moved through the pandemic. Without doubt, these have had the most impact, as the children and residents can see each other. They’ve even shared a distanced lunch either side of a large window with microphones, so that people could talk to each other: you could see how pleased everyone was to see their friends.

The challenge throughout the pandemic has been to try and find something for the children and adults that recreates that sense of love and contact, that feeling of ‘skin-ship’, holding hands, sharing a book, eating a meal together. On reflection, I now do not think this can be replicated - and maybe that’s the lesson I’ve learnt.

I have come to realise that whilst the interactions may not be of great quality, the camera may be pointing the wrong way, the wi-fi may keep cutting out, the weather may not be great for distanced visits - actually none of this matters. What matters is our intent of purpose in maintaining connections and ensuring that the children and the adults are active participants, benefiting from just wanting to be together, however the interaction turns out. Each time they meet, whether virtually or distanced, the children and adults are bought closer together, so that when they are able to meet again in person they meet as old friends who have missed each other’s company - and that in itself is very special.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.

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