A Play Date between our Youngest and Oldest People
Article written by Christine Payne on behalf of The Health and Community Service Workforce Council
At Bribie Island, Fridays are special, and I was very fortunate to recently find out why.
‘Hello, what’s your name? Did you know this is Gubbi Gubbi Country and we’re going to see the oldies today?’ This was my greeting from Leila when I arrived at Bribie Island Community Kindergarten. BICK is an award-winning community-based service. It has been awarded an ‘Excellent’ rating for the second time from the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA). Narelle is the Director at the kindy and she has been there for over 24 years. The service philosophy at the kindy recognises the significance of cultural and community connections and the team’s enactment of this in their practice is very clear.
There is significant evidence about the benefits of community connections and the benefits of working across human services sector types where there is alignment. In human services, we are all working with people; little people, older people and everyone in between, there are connections at a micro and macros level, direct and indirect. The purpose of my visit to Bribie was to find out what this means in practice for an early childhood and aged care setting.
We sat down in the homely lounge area of the kindy to get ready for our visit. Narelle provided introductions to the team and the children.Uncle Ron is a Wiradjuri man from NSW, he has lived on Bribie Island for many years, purchasing a block of land with his family for $800 in the 60s. Uncle Ron is a volunteer at the kindy but more aptly describes himself as ‘part of the family’. There were three boys and four little girls ready for our visit. The girls were dressed in amazing princess dresses, intricate and constructed of second hand material by Nanna Sue, who lives up the road. There was an excited buzz in the air, the princesses weekly visit to the oldies is a special occasion.
To get to the Churches of Christ Aged Care Facility was a short walk. We started off by walking through the bush track behind the kindy. Uncle Ron pushed Igor in his heavy duty pram and on the way pointed out some of the highlights; the humpy the children have been building and some of the places they like to play, digging in the earth like the Aboriginal children of the past. Uncle Ron told me about some of the many places of significance on the island, the scar trees and bora bora rings for example. Our conversation was cut short as Georgia reminded us on the way ‘shhh, the bats are trying to sleep’ in recognition of the flying fox that make their home in the trees. As we crossed the creek that flows to the ocean using the small bridge the children chatted about the flow of the tide. One little boy was disappointed to see that there was rubbish in the creek flowing towards the ocean. Often the children will pick up rubbish as they walk and play in this area. Our walk continued past several houses and the four little princesses picked flowers on the way.
When we arrived at the Aged Care Facility we were warmly greeted by some of the residents in the foyer. One lady was delighted with the pretty mauve flower she was given and placed it in her hair where it matched her silver grey perfectly. Debra is the Lifestyle Therapist and works with Narelle to coordinate the visits. Debra was supported by Ria who is a volunteer and they had a rock painting activity planned for the morning. The children were very excited to be told that after painting they could join in the music therapy. The oldies were very happy to see the children, many knew each other by name and greeted each other warmly, like old friends. The children were confident and not at all daunted by the wheelchairs and walking frames; in fact, they didn’t seem to notice them at all.
I sat with Georgia and Enid, who also had a flower in her hair, to do the painting. Enid has recently had her 100th birthday and told me that she was a school teacher. She painted a purple and yellow rock and reflected ‘abstract is best when you’re almost blind’. Georgia painted the Aboriginal flag on her rock, Uncle Ron painted a butterfly. These rocks will be hidden across Bribie Island as part of Bribie Rocks Community Engagement project. Enid and I had a long chat, she told me that it’s very good for children to visit and spend time with older people ‘they get used to wheelchairs and that’s important because when they go to school they won’t be afraid if they have someone in their class at school with a disability’.
‘it makes me happy to visit the oldies’
After painting we went for a walk around the facility and said hello to some of the residents who didn’t want to or were unable to leave their room, and then we joined the music group for singing.
I talked to many of the people I met, the oldies, the children and the staff of both centres. The benefits they mentioned in this type of intergenerational experience included:
• Supporting the children’s development of empathy. Debra recounted a story about a little boy who attended the kindy last year, who started, all on his own, a lemonade stand at the local market and raised $50 which he donated to the centres activity fund.
• The children notice when one of the residents has passed away and age appropriate conversations support the development of their understanding of the human life cycle.
• Helps people to connect across different age groups which is beneficial as many people on Bribie do not live close to their extended family. For example, some of the children rarely get to see their own grandparents. Some of the residents have few visitors because their families live far away.
• Breaks down barriers for people of difference, for example, supporting children to feel comfortable with people with disabilities.
• Builds sense of community across the staff of both centres and the people they work with and their families.
One of the children described why the visits are beneficial simply ‘it makes me happy to visit the oldies’.
Narelle and Debra both highly recommend that services work together to explore opportunities for this type of work. Just call and have a chat and go from there; make the connection, get started and adjust as you go to get the process right.
Rita, who is a volunteer, mentioned that sometimes it can be tricky to have someone available to take the children around to see everyone but on those days the visit can simply involve sitting and having a chat. She mentioned that a common conversation is focussed around the games children play, now and in the olden days, what’s the same and what are the new games that children play now.
It would be great to share more stories about cross sector partnerships such as intergenerational care. If you are doing great work across human services through collaboration please contact us if you would like to share your story, we would love to hear it and share it with others. You can also contact Bribie Island Community Kindergarten if you would like to learn more about their program. Narelle is happy to assist any service wanting to embark on building similar relationships within their own communities.