Dear Senior Citizen! Come back to School!

Bild av Colin and Sarah Northway, Flickr
Bild av Colin and Sarah Northway, Flickr

We have a lot of senior citizens living in our area. How can we engage them in school life and use their educational potential?

We work at a small school in a rural area that plays the role of the “heart of the village.” Cultural life thrives here and citizen integration takes place precisely within the school facilities. We live far away from major cultural centres, such as Poznań or Zielona Góra cities, so we have to take initiative on our own.

The world is changing really fast and the knowledge we acquire quickly goes out of date. Senior citizens are no longer considered to be sages and guardians of wisdom.  In modern times, older people learn from the youngest about the ways in which new technologies can be used. If no places for encounters between the representatives of different generations are provided, the young and the old know little about one another and rarely cooperate.  Stereotypes are fostered in this way.

At the same time, the needs of the senior citizens are growing rapidly, especially in rural areas. There are no places for them to meet, to feel needed. We decided to change it.

Learning from the young and old

Young people can still learn a lot from older generations. We decided to see if this common assumption has a practical dimension, so we involved senior citizens in education. We organised special education sessions during which older people were able to work together with children at school. These consisted of three meetings of 3 to 5 hours each.

One of them was entitled “Old and new playground activities.” As a part of the session, volunteers from the senior citizen group showed children how they used to play in their childhood. The children showed a lot of interest in these games. The aim of the initiative was to try to encourage children to take up traditional playground activities. Older citizens were to remember their youngest years as a part of the exercise. Senior citizens were also engaged in running handicraft workshops: knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidering and Christmas decorations making.

It is important, however, not to simply exploit the older generation, but to offer them something in exchange. At our school, children were teaching senior citizens new technologies, e.g. computer skills or text messaging. The older generation was also engaged in gymnastics and Nordic Walking courses. Other forms of activity included swimming and water gymnastics. This was an unforgettable experience for everyone: most of the women had never been to a swimming pool before. Rhythm lessons and gymnastics were organised with the use of the school’s sports facilities.

A joint Christmas Eve supper that concluded the project played an integrating role.

Engaging citizens resulted in other proactive initiatives. We are hoping for further fostering the ties between the participants and for establishing new friendships in the future. For the coming years,  we plan to include senior citizens in the school structure and try to make these voluntary actions regular.

Advice for followers

Proper preparation is needed to launch such an educational programme because neither older people nor children are used to working together. Senior citizens usually don’t feel comfortable when working with children. They need proper support on the part of the headmaster and school teachers who will make them feel important.  The first round of activities should take place in the presence of teachers.

Overview:

duration:
About 6 months

cost (free, low-cost, investment):
not particularly costly – around PLN 5,000

parties responsible, who to include:
teachers, students, headmaster, parents, local government
Author: Elżbieta Ryczek, Podmokłe Małe Education Centre