A pilot program has helped kindergarten pupils at Sesame Care and Kindergarten form meaningful relationships with older members of the community while reducing social isolation often experienced by seniors.
The program, called The Connection Club, started just over 12 months ago and has been so successful it is now being rolled out across more Sesame Lane centres.
It was created in partnership with Encircle – a not-for-profit community organisation which provides a range of support services and programs in the Moreton Bay Region.
The Connection Club aims to reduce social isolation among seniors in the community while supporting kindergarten children to build intergenerational connections.
It achieves this through activities and programs involving seniors once a week.
The program helps seniors by providing socialisation and mental stimulation and the opportunity to be role models for the children.
The children learn feelings of empathy and develop skills such as co-operation, sharing, taking turns and making connections to different points of view, ideas and opinions.
Seniors keen to be involved apply via Encircle and are interviewed to determine if they are suitable. They must also obtain a Working with Children Blue Card.
Once a week, they have been attending the kindergarten class at Kippa-Ring and interacting with 15-20 children.
The children often prepare morning tea, bringing along biscuits and slices they have baked in the centre.
Activities include art, craft, ball games, story reading, cooking, sharing morning tea and more.
Creating a village
Head of Sesame Lane Kerri Smith said: “There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, which is so true. We recognise that at Sesame Lane and we understand that many children don’t have that connection with extended family members.
“Likewise, often our seniors are disconnected from the younger generation. We know that these relationships are so important and it’s part of our strategic plan at Sesame Lane over the last few years we have been investigating ways to bring back our community approach. Having the first Connection Club on the Redcliffe peninsula has been a very exciting journey for us.
“The children have found this to be one of the highlights of their week.”
Sesame Lane Educational Mentor Mandy Alborn said there were about 50,000 people in the Moreton Bay Region aged between 65-80 years – a large number of people who had potentially reduced their working time and who might be looking for an opportunity to connect with the community.
“We, at Sesame Lane, have thousands of children who are looking to connect with older people,” Mandy said.
She said it aligned perfectly with the group of companies of which Sesame Lane is a part – Think 2 Be Group – which has the mantra, Think 2 Be anything you want to be.
“Connecting with the older generation, the seniors, gives them that opportunity to learn that wisdom of years of experience. The combination of the two generations coming together with The Connection Club really helps to realise the vision of what Think 2 Be Group is all about,” Mandy said.
The Connection Club was officially launched on March 22 and the event included a video with messages from seniors who loved being part of the program and parents of children who had benefited.
Senior Bob said: “The best thing about Connection Club is the kids. The brightness, the happiness … they are just like a big sponge, they are absorbing everything that we do. It’s really fun. I really love it.
“I love to engage with the children – the energy that they have, the desire for knowledge that they have and the fun that they like to have.”
He said the seniors had developed friendships among themselves but also with staff and children at Sesame Lane. Bob encouraged other seniors to get involved.
Senior Roz said: “I’ve had the best time at Sesame Lane with these children. I was an early childhood educator before I retired and, when I retired, it left a big gap in my life. This has done so much for me to be able to connect with the children in a safe environment and form the most beautiful relationships. It’s so much fun”.
Parents said it had been an amazing experience for their children to be able to connect with the seniors and understand older people are simply other members of the community.
They said children were excited to attend and spoke fondly about the seniors involved.
One father said it was also important to teach children respect for their elders.
Encircle Older Person's Action Program Co-ordinator Nicci George said the COVID-19 pandemic compounded feelings of disconnection for many seniors who were cut off from family and friends.
She says she first met with Mandy two years ago to discuss the concept.
“(ABC TV’s) Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds had just hit our screens, so we had quite an enormous response when I put it out, (asking) who would like to be a part of this program,” she explains.
She thanked the team for making the program a success by putting so much thought into the activities and experiences provided for seniors and kindergarten pupils.
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