Sydney preschools needed to support cutting edge intergenerational research
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Sydney preschools needed to support cutting edge intergenerational research

by Freya Lucas

March 01, 2023

Researchers are currently exploring how Australia’s youngest and oldest citizens can be brought together to support each group to meet social and cognitive growth needs, and to maintain strong connections to community. 


A team of researchers from The University of New South Wales and The George Institute for Global Health, led by Associate Professor Ruth Peters, need to connect with preschools or long day care centres with preschool-aged children in the greater Sydney area to continue their research, and have prepared the following piece to outline the purpose of their research, and to seek further support. 


“We know that early childhood is such an important developmental stage associated with significant brain growth,” the researchers began. 


This time is a unique opportunity to bolster rapidly developing skills in language, empathy, and theory of mind. In addition, we know that children who have better skills in these areas also have better long-term outcomes. For example, children with strong language skills use this to assist them in making and keeping meaningful friendships and learning (both in literacy and numeracy skills) during their school years.”


Helping children to develop strong social and emotional skills and a capacity for empathy also helps their psychological development, they continued, encourages tolerance and acceptance of others, and is associated with more positive mental health outcomes.


The importance of brain health, however, is not just limited to the early years. 


The World Health Organisation recognises the importance of brain health across the lifespan to allow all individuals to reach their potential and brain health promotion is just as important for individuals later in their life as in their formative years. 


For older adults, there is an opportunity to preserve brain health and prevent deterioration, including cognitive skills that are essential in maintaining community and living independence. 


“We also know that social isolation is linked to poor health outcomes including mental health difficulties and dementia,” the researchers added.


“Given the importance of brain health, connection, empathy and cognition for both younger and older citizens, it makes sense to find a way to bring these groups together. After all, children and older adults are in all our communities.” 


“We know that children grow and learn within communities that are rich in social, cultural, and linguistic diversity. For children to feel a sense of belonging, they need to be active participants in their communities.”


“Older Australians, in turn, are part of a global phenomenon which sees the general population living longer, and participating in the world in more visible ways.”


Modern life often means that different generations are separated but researchers know that older adults enjoy teaching and interacting with children, and children can benefit from spending time with older adults. 


Because of this there is a growing interest in research bringing together children and older adults in preschool settings to undertake meaningful activities, to learn more about how these interactions benefit both young and old. 


Intergenerational programs within communities (like the ABC TV show ‘Old Peoples Home For 4 Year Olds’!) have shown potential for positive health and well-being outcomes for children and older adults, but the evidence remains largely anecdotal. 


“Our preliminary research findings have shown that child development, empathy and language skills might benefit from intergenerational activities where older adults and children join together to do physical, social and cognitive activities,” the researchers explained.  


“Inviting older adults into a preschool setting therefore presents a unique opportunity to enhance social connectedness and reduce isolation whilst simultaneously offering opportunities for the growth and development of the children as well as providing an enjoyable experience for all involved.”


To investigate and measure the impact of bringing old and young together in a sustainable way within communities, the researchers are currently working on the ‘Integrity Trial’. 


The pioneering research project seeks to bring preschool children and older adults together to engage in a 20-week intergenerational program to investigate change in brain health and cognitive skills for children and older adults. 


The program, which has been developed in conjunction with early childhood educators, will be delivered by preschool teaching staff with the support of the research team and presents a structured supported opportunity for preschool communities to welcome older adults into the children’s learning environment.


To support this innovative research, the Integrity Trial research team is looking to connect and work with preschools and long day care centres within the Sydney area who are interested in being involved in this research project. 


If your service would like to be part of this exciting intergenerational work, please get in touch with the friendly research team for more details by emailing [email protected].

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