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The power of the written word

THE phrase “age is just a number” has never been a more relevant than when intergenerational interaction occurs at St. Raphael’s Primary School in South Hurstville.

Once a week, residents of St. Bede’s Residential Aged Care cross the road to engage in reading lessons with the kindergarten class. It’s an exciting occurrence for residents and students alike, with children flocking to the classroom windows upon seeing their guests arrive.

The reading program has been running for several months, with a group of approximately six residents visiting St. Raphael’s.

For a cherished few hours, the residents share their knowledge and wisdom with the children, working through various books and taking small steps to improve their literacy.

The residents regularly sit with a small group of children to offer closely-focused attention on their reading skills, a feature of the program that the teachers of the kindergarten class greatly appreciate.

“It really gives the children the opportunity to work through their various reading levels with one-on-one attention, and you can really see them developing a bond with the residents,” says Jacqui Pribilovics, kindergarten teacher at the school.

“They really look forward to seeing each individual resident week upon week. Sometimes they really surprise you – they’ll even notice if one of the regular residents is missing. They have a really genuine friendship with one another.”

This week, the children are doing a little less reading and a little more listening, as the residents share their experience of the concept of ‘celebration’ – an integral part of this year’s learning curriculum.

Comparing events like Christmas, New Years Eve and birthdays, a mutual excitement for celebration draws an even stronger connection between the residents and children – who are completely oblivious to the generous age-gap between them and their reading partners.

“There really is no concept of age from the children’s perspective,” says Jacqui. “The program is so effective in getting them adjusted to the idea of a normal integration between the generations from a young age – it removes all division that we so often see in regular society.”  

Studies assessing the impact of intergenerational interactions have shown a significant benefit to older people and children. Children’s social and emotional skill development was one of the most significant findings from the various intergenerational projects, as well as an increase in older people’s self-esteem and long-term friendship development.

This sense of positivity is hard to ignore with so many eager faces in the room – a mutual admiration between young and old, and a bond unbreakable regardless of the generations between.

“It’s these kinds of programs that could change our future and the way we look at society,” says Jacqui. “If it can work here, why not somewhere else?”