full circle friendship

Work

An innovative intergenerational learning program is producing surprising results.

Every Wednesday morning, the early childhood teachers at Melbourne’s Davis Street Kindergarten bring paint brushes, building blocks and storybooks to nearby aged care residence Carnsworth Community. Here, their 24 young charges foster friendships with residents, most of whom have some form of dementia, over common activities — board games are popular, so are puzzles — in a ground breaking program that has big benefits for all involved.

Davis Street Kindergarten Co-director Ruth Walbridge was inspired to create the weekly CIRCLE (Celebrating Intergenerational Relationships and Creating Learning for Everyone) program in June of 2016, after reading about a similar initiative in the US.

Internal fundraising and a bequest from a Carnsworth resident previously covered the $150 a week needed to keep the program afloat; however, it’s been running week to week since June 2017. In the CIRCLE approach, children are encouraged to investigate and explore freely. Ruth says it’s about getting children out of a classroom so they can form “authentic connections” with the community.

 

Sharing the benefits

 

While there are studies into the benefits of intergenerational activity for older people, there’s limited research around the benefits for children. Ruth and her team keep a scrapbook to document its value to both parties, as well as to support grant and funding applications.

Alongside photographs of the children and residents playing and learning together four year-old Ella writes: “I have another grandma; her name is Thea”; while the wife of a long-term resident notes that after an intergenerational painting exercise her husband put “pen to paper for the first time in five years.”

“When the children are here the residents really come alive,” says Carnsworth lifestyle and leisure coordinator Vindhya Mendis. She says the visits have brought out hidden talents. “Both parties feel good.” While attendance by the residents is entirely voluntary, it remains one of the most popular weekly activities at Carnsworth. “No one has told me that they don’t want to come to kinder,” Vindhya says.

 

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