What happens if you put a group of pre-schoolers into a room with members of the older generation, in a care home or day centre? If you’ve seen the Channel 4 series Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds, then you’ll know the answer. It’s a hugely positive experience for all involved with improvements to the social, emotional and physical wellbeing of the older members.
Channel 4 set up an experiment in the UK’s largest retirement community, in Nottingham, and created a pre-school nursery for ten weeks. Both the younger and older groups were monitored by a team of experts to observe the positive impact of the inter-generational contact. This followed on from the first series in 2017, where the experiment was so successful that the trust involved has set up a permanent nursery at one of their sites.
It’s a concept that has been operating in the U.S. and Japan for a number of years, with a growing push on combining nursery and retirement daycare. At one day centre in Seattle, there is a waiting list of two years for children to join the nursery. It’s such a simple concept, many care home residents and day centre members may not see their families very often, if at all, so the younger visitors make excellent surrogates. The Channel 4 series observed a significant improvement in mobility and levels of depression and loneliness. Plus it’s also a benefit to the children, as studies have shown that children can become more articulate and confident if they are used to being around older adults.
I had the great honour of attending a similar inter-generational session run by Katie Hunwick, who operates the Jo Jingles franchise in the Worthing and Arun area. ‘Standard’ Jo Jingles classes are for children under five and involve singing, dancing and playing musical instruments. Katie has been running a session in the Cornwell House care home in Ferring on a weekly basis and is now branching out into new venues.
We attended the class held at Sight Support in Rowlands Road, which is a day centre for visually impaired older people. They already have an extensive programme of activities, including art classes and needlework. For members who have difficulties accessing the centre, they provide a minibus pickup from home, so the room was full!
Katie started off by giving everyone a name sticker, to help us when we struck up conversations later on. We then got going with the session, which included plenty of nursery rhyme songs that all generations could join in with. It was really lovely when the children handed out the bells to the older members so that we could all join in with ‘Everybody Do This’. Everybody really came alive when the parachute and bubbles came out, with great interaction between everyone and a lot of smiling. Once the session had finished, we were free to mingle and have a drink, giving us all an opportunity to find out more about each other.
I took my five-year-old son along with me (as it was half term), and it was heartwarming to see all of the children enjoying the whole experience. It was as though they hadn’t noticed the age of the grown-ups, and they certainly don’t hold any of the baggage about socialising that we develop as adults. I would absolutely attend one of these sessions again, you could see the joy that everyone got out of it, both young and old alike.