Dear Barry, I Love You and I Don’t Know Who You Are

Kindies and Oldies connect with the written word… and some Zooming.

Kindergarten children and Hunter aged care residents have bonded during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Above ~ Margaret and Acacia’s art at Calvary Nazareth Retirement Community, Belmont.
Below ~ Edgeworth Heights Public School kindergarteners Holly (left) and Acacia teleconfer with Margaret

Instigated by the University of Newcastle’s Occupational Therapy (OT) program, kindergarten students from Edgeworth Heights Public School and aged care residents from Calvary Nazareth Retirement Community at Belmont joined a pen pal program to overcome social isolation during the pandemic.

As the world raced to lock down in response to COVID, the detrimental impact on school-aged children and those in aged care facilities became abundantly clear to us,” said University of Newcastle Lecturer in Occupational Therapy and program facilitator, Dr Kylie Wales.

We know that social isolation promotes dementia, lethargy and an array of other adverse health issues in older people. Home-schooling was also proving a challenge for young people learning without interaction with teachers and other students.”

Dr Wales said her team arranged the mutually beneficial intergenerational program.

“With any unprecedented disruption, communities begin looking to their civic leaders for advice and guidance. That’s the role we felt we could play for our partners,” Dr Wales said.

As we offer occupational therapy clinics at both primary schools and Calvary aged care facilities locally, we knew the opportunity to connect the two cohorts during isolation was a great way to use our position to support our community.”

In occupational therapy, ‘occupations’ refer to the everyday activities undertaken as part of daily life.

The occupation identified for the school children was reading, writing and spelling. For the aged care residents, it was recall and cognitive function. Letter writing was the perfect way to facilitate these tasks, especially from the confines of lockdown.”

Edgeworth Heights Public School classroom teacher, Ms Vanessa Armstrong, said the result has a been a beautiful connection and intergenerational learning between kindergarteners and their elderly pen pals.

Some of the kids don’t have grandparents or older members of their family to talk to, so the integrational learning element has been priceless for them. They tell stories to one another and discuss their likes and dislikes,” Ms Armstrong said.

We’ve seen some really lovely friendships form over the past months.”

As a culmination of their efforts over the term, the two groups are meeting for the first time in the virtual world.

The kindergarteners have been asking to meet their pen pals ever since we began the program, and we’re excited to finally introduce them,” Ms Armstrong said.

We’ll be performing a rendition of I Can Sing a Rainbow – complete with Auslan signing – to be played to the aged care residents, who will respond with their own performance.”

Ms Armstrong said she hoped to her school’s relationship with the University continued to provide unique opportunities.

I’ve watched the kids not only upskill in their academic skills, but also develop their social understanding and compassion – it’s been a delight,” Ms Armstrong said.

We’re so thrilled that our connection with the University of Newcastle provided us with the chance to take part in this unique program. It’s been a joy for the pen pals, but also reassuring for us that our kids are still reaching milestones during such a difficult time.”