Saint Joseph’s Shankill has had a thriving relationship with a local Montessori nursery who visited the home once a week with a group of 4 year olds. During the pandemic, these visits sadly had to stop and are still being thwarted by various other illnesses during the winter months. Catherine, the Activities Lead at Saint Joseph’s chatted to me about what makes the visits a success. “The most important thing is a good relationship and regular communication with the Head Teacher.” Catherine makes sure she finds out what the themes are that the school are covering and ties in some of the same activities for when the children come in. These are often connected to the seasons, so they might do something with leaves and conkers in the Autumn or create snowballs or snowmen out of cotton wool in the winter, for example. At one group, the children were learning their road safety, and so Catherine tells me they reminded the residents of the rhyme to remember the Green Cross Code. “It had changed a bit since we were all younger, so we had to learn the new one!” The group also has some fun sharing nursery rhymes and popular Irish songs. Another session they looked at all the flags around the world and learnt a bit about some of the countries.
She sets up a large table and finds that this creates a level of safety for the children if they are nervous as they can then sit opposite the older adults. “It’s not a barrier, as we fill the table with nice things to look at and do, such as colouring pages and pens, pictures and objects linked to the theme.” There have been lovely moments where you see an older woman busy colouring opposite a little girl, and whilst they are both busy doing their own thing, you can see there is a connection between them when they smile at each other from time to time, pass a coloured pen across the table or show their pictures. This lessens the pressure to have to have a conversation of some kind, but still brings them together in a very natural way.
Catherine shares that there are some important things to consider in terms of touch and creating some boundaries around this; “Some of the older people just want to hold the children and give them a cuddle, and some of the children are more comfortable with this than others.” She sometimes gives a doll or something else to hold to one or two of the older men she supports so that this lessens the likelihood of them reaching out to a child who isn’t wanting to be held.
Catherine is very skilled at creating some smaller activities for people to participate in, for example one of the men living in the home helping two children to play a bean toss or pin bowls game in a quiet corner of the room. He is gentle and patient in encouraging them in the activity and showing them what to do. The larger gathering can be a bit noisy and hectic, so relationships are more likely to develop if people are paired up or in groups of three or four doing an activity like this together.
Rachel (not her real name) is one of the women living in the home just loves to dance and one of the Nursery Teachers really enjoys dancing with her and two of the children link hands and join in. The Nursery Teacher is originally from Eastern Europe and tells me how much she misses her grandmother back home, so that these visits are one of the highlights of her week.
Playing with balloons is another very popular activity in the meetings as this encourages lots of physical fun and laughter for all.
The ideal is that with regular weekly visits, everyone’s confidence increases and friendships start to develop between the children and the adults. It is lovely when you see special connections being established between individuals, and faces lighting up when the children enter the room.
The important thing is that it is not just the children singing songs ‘for the old people’ but it is a shared experience where all can learn from each other.
Catherine’s final bit of advice is “Don’t be frightened of the unknown. Do some good preparation so you are ready for the visits, and to witness the intergenerational magic happen!”