Kindergarten children from Hunter develop “iso friendships” through penpal program

Kindergarten children from Hunter develop “iso friendships” through penpal program

by Freya Lucas

October 06, 2020

Aged care residents in the New South Wales Hunter Valley region have developed new friendships during the COVID-19 lockdown thanks to intervention from the University of Newcastle’s Occupational Therapy (OT) program

 

Working with Kindergarten students from Edgeworth Heights Public School, the OT students facilitated a letter writing program, which saw a flurry of letters being exchanged during lockdown. The program culminated in “a heart-warming musical meeting” recently.

 

The residents, from Calvary Nazareth Retirement Community at Belmont, were connected for a pen pal program to combat the effects of social isolation during the pandemic.

 

When the world “raced to lock down” in response to COVID, the detrimental effects of social isolation on vulnerable communities, such as young children and the aged became “abundantly clear” University of Newcastle Occupational Therapy Lecturer, and program facilitator, Dr Kylie Wales said.

 

With children struggling with missing interaction with educators and friends, and with older people at risk from social isolation, which promotes dementia, lethargy and an array of other adverse health issues in older people, Dr Wales wanted to find a solution which would serve both groups, and harness the University’s unique position in the local community. 

 

“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,” she added.

 

Although many associate the word occupation with a paid job role, in occupational therapy terms, ‘occupation’ refers to the everyday activities undertaken as part of daily life.

 

“The occupation identified for the 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,” Dr Wales said. 

 

While the initial intention was to keep minds occupied, the results of the program have had a much wider reach, with Edgeworth Heights Public School classroom teacher, Ms Vanessa Armstrong, outlining the “beautiful connection and intergenerational learning” happening 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 the program, residents and children met through using technology to share another universal language – song – in a COVID-19 safe manner. 

 

The children performed I Can Sing a Rainbow, complete with Auslan signs, while the residents responded with a performance of their own. 

 

To learn more about the University of Newcastle, please see here

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