Nurseries urged to interact with older people to boost children's life chances

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A new report recommends all nurseries and schools link with care homes to improve children’s educational attainment.

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Apples and Honey Nightingale, the UK's first intergenerational nursery

Published today by the think tank United for All Ages, the report says that ‘urgent action’ is needed to tackle the ‘worsening crises’ facing children and young people, and that bringing younger and older people together can tackle the ‘big social ills’ facing the next generation.

The Next Generation claims that intergenerational interaction can improve children’s life chances and solve ‘tough issues’ - including poor health, low educational attainment and lack of social mobility.

Based upon evidence from existing intergenerational projects, it finds that bringing young and older people together can boost children’s well-being, language use and acquisition, their social interaction and change attitudes towards ageing.

According to the report, children involved in intergenerational projects have better reading and communication skills, are more ‘school-ready’ and demonstrate more empathy. For example, it says that children engage in interactive learning with older people about history and ageing.

It also finds that projects can improve health, tackle poverty, promote social mobility and create opportunities for disadvantaged children.

The report features examples from projects including the UK’s first intergenerational nursery, Apples and Honey Nightingale in Wandsworth, London (pictured), Little Wrens Nursery, which is co-located with a Wren Hall Nursing Home, and music group Songs and Smiles for children aged from birth to four, their parents and care home residents.

Another project from Activate Learning sees health and childcare students work hand-in-hand to provide engaging activities for older and younger participants, while promoting recruitment and retention for ‘hard-pressed’ care and childcare workforces.

 

Recommendations

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • Every nursery, childminder, parent/toddler group and children’s centre link with a local older people’s care home or housing scheme and vice-versa.
  • Every primary and secondary school involve and engage with older people in their community.
  • Every community explore opportunities to develop places where younger and older people can mix and share activities and experiences – creating 500 centres for all ages by 2023.
  • All local authorities develop a strategy for building communities for all ages where meaningful mixing is part of everyday life.
  • Investors look outside the box of age-related silos to invest in imaginative co-located care, learning and housing schemes that bring younger and older people together.
  • Government to support and promote mixing between different generations through intergenerational care, learning and housing.

Stephen Burke, director of United for All Ages, said, ‘There is no bigger challenge than creating a better future for all our children and young people. The scale of the challenge in Britain is massive as the next generation faces a crisis in childhood and beyond – from poverty to mental health, crime to family breakdown, educational attainment to work and housing. These issues can be tackled by action nationally and locally, not least by much greater intergenerational interaction between young people and older people.

‘More meaningful mixing can create opportunities for children and young people – from building confidence and communication skills to getting school ready and achieving potential to networking and social mobility. Bringing older and younger people together can increase mutual understanding and tackle ageism. By starting as early as possible in children’s lives, we can change culture and attitudes for the long term.

‘Every pound invested in the kind of projects included in The next generation report produces dividends across the life course of individuals and for our society as a whole. The return on relatively low levels of investment and the more fulfilled lives which result are why we need concerted support for early intervention, engaging people of all generations to help the next generation.’

Commenting on the report, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, 'This timely report shows that intergenerational learning has become mainstream. From the outside these sort of initiatives can look like a passing trend – but the reality is the impact on all participants is quite profound. It’s absolutely right to call on Government, educators and providers to recognise the opportunities and do what they can to ensure more of these projects and partnerships happen. 

'So far, the majority of the discussion around intergenerational projects has focussed on what it means for the older people involved and that has meant the impact on the child participants is sometimes overlooked. Interacting with older people provides children with unique learning opportunities; that could mean the chance to take on the responsibility of ‘looking after’ an older person or to learn from someone who has experienced and overcome challenges. And, crucially, perhaps because it’s not being imparted as a ‘lesson’, it grounds children’s learning in the real world and gives them the confidence to share what they know too. We should always be looking for opportunities to learn through play, experience and sharing stories should be prized however it comes about - but there’s something particularly worth cherishing when it involves to two generations at different stages of life.'
  • The report is available here
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