When the kindergarten class from South Park family school comes to visit Beacon Hill Villa, it’s more than a school outing; it’s part of a beautiful friendship.
Monday morning, however, was a particularly important day for both the children and seniors at the Victoria care home. For months the children have been nurturing a flutter of butterflies from eggs to caterpillars, to chrysalises to butterflies, and this week it was time to release them to the world.
“It was about developing an understanding, not only about the natural science of butterflies, but about the different stages of life. The children raised the butterflies to maturity and were ready to send them out into the world, just like the children will one day venture out on their own,” said Kassandra Kesztheliy, recreation director at Beacon Hill Villa.
The lessons learned about the butterflies are in line with what the children have been learning about the different stages of human life. Since January, the children have made monthly visits to the Villa to visit their “elder buddies.” The program is designed to be mutually beneficial to the youngsters and the seniors, teaching children about old age and the dignity that can be a part of aging.
“When we first started doing this, some of the children were quite nervous and almost a little frightened. A lot of them don’t have an older generation in their life,” said Kathy Inglis, the kindergarten teacher in charge of this year’s initiative. “They didn’t really know how to react at first, but now they are so comfortable. It’s been a wonderful inter-generational connection for them.”
The program nurtures that connection by allowing both groups to interact using activities and games designed to foster the sharing of stories and perspectives.
“The children do things like bringing a favorite thing to show their elder buddy, and tell them all about why that item is so important to them. It’s a reminder of childhood innocence and the wonder of discovery,” Inglis said.
“In return, the seniors find that the children help them to remember the past, and they will tell the children stories about their own youth, their children … and the past in general.”
Periodically, when the children are in the schoolyard and see one of their elder buddies being taken out for a walk, the kids will often stop everything to wave and call greetings to their friend. Inglis said the children have a very strong connection to the elders now and understand there’s a natural progression of life, from being a child to growing older.
And while a plethora of scholarly articles have indicated the benefits of inter-generational programming, the true test of this program’s success might be a lot easier to assess.
It could be found in the shared look of innocent joy the children and their senior buddies shared as the butterflies took wing and ventured out into the world.