Researcher spotlight: Welcoming families into the intergenerational tribe
Thursday, October 19, 2023
As a senior lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Chester, I was about to start the thesis stage of my Doctorate in Education qualification and the opportunity arose to focus my research on intergenerational practice with The Nursery in Belong. My initial focus was to observe the ways in which children, families and older people made connections with each other and how their relationships developed, while living and learning in such a unique setting.
As a senior lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Chester, I was about to start the thesis stage of my Doctorate in Education qualification and the opportunity arose to focus my research on intergenerational practice with The Nursery in Belong. My initial focus was to observe the ways in which children, families and older people made connections with each other and how their relationships developed, while living and learning in such a unique setting. This contrasted starkly with research that has taken place into intergenerational practice where the children from a local nursery go on a regular visit to see care home residents in a separate setting. What was of interest to me was how the relationships deepened between young children and their grand-friends when they were fully integrated in the same building, for the full duration of time the children attended nursery.
I visit the Nursery regularly and always join in with the weekly Intergenerational Stay and Play session where children, older people and their families, join in action songs and rhymes together using a range of resources, for example puppets, scarves, bells and parachutes. The lead educator is very skilful in creating opportunities for the children, families and grand-friends to interact, and through this I notice how even the youngest, pre-verbal children demonstrate their enjoyment of such interactions, with smiles and gestures. In this way, from the earliest age children are starting to build trusting relationships that give them a strong sense of safety and the confidence to explore and try new things. Key to fostering these interactions is the nursery educators themselves, who intentionally initiate and foster communicative interactions through the skilled use of the high-quality resources.
Another daily focus of wider family interaction is in the shared Bistro. This is the café area of the Care Village where children, families and residents mix to have snacks and lunch. On a daily basis, a group of older children (around the ages of two to four) are joined for lunch by their grand-friends and sometimes other family members. They welcome the children and engage them in table discussion, sometimes helping to feed them and model good table etiquette and manners. In this rich and joyful way the children develop their social skills and enhance their language development through even the briefest of interactions - a wave or a hello, a smile or a child recognising there's Bill with his daughter! All of these micro-interactions contribute to developing a spectrum of intergenerational relationships that grow and deepen over time.
I feel a deep sense of pride in being able to visit this incredibly special setting regularly and know families of both the children and older people feel the same. What has emerged and is building is a real sense of an interdependent community. It is a place which brings together the generations, not just the very young and the old, but the generations in-between. Parents feature very much as a part of The Nursery in Belong community and have strong friendships with the older people. I would challenge anybody who spends a day in this environment not to come away feeling enthused and positive at what is developing within a provision which encourages everyone to live and learn as one big family tribe.
Senior lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, University of Chester