Step Ahead Teacher with children

Young at heart: lessons we learn from visiting the elderly

At Step Ahead, we believe there is so much value in the social interaction between children and the elderly. We take the time to visit our local aged-care facility, Merrivale Rest Home, and step back and watch how these interactions brighten everyone’s day. Our children are always so excited to talk to and interact with the residents and we can tell by the wide smiles on their faces, we are most welcome there. We’re really looking forward to our Christmas Concert at Merrivale this month!

Studies have shown that having role models is essential for young children – they look to their elders to shape their behaviour, and develop traits such as empathy, patience and respectfulness. A 2017 study by the University of Otago found that more than 20% of the elderly surveyed described themselves as lonely. There’s also an increasing number of children who have little interaction with the elderly, with families more likely to live away from grandparents than in previous decades. Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead says, “Somehow we have to get older people back close to growing children if we are to restore a sense of community, knowledge of the past, and a sense of the future.”

Visiting the elderly teaches children to:

  • Accept differences and disabilities. Children are naturally curious, and allowing them to interact with a wide range of people in a safe environment, empowers them to ask questions and learn about what makes us different.
  • Learn different forms of communication: children are excellent at finding ways to connect with others. In a rest home environment, they may come across communication barriers and have to adapt accordingly. Perhaps someone is hard of hearing, has limited sight or is non-verbal. Communicating becomes a form of problem-solving and challenges children to try something new.
  • Understand ageing: the concept of ageing may be new to some children and possibly a little intimidating at first. With time, their apprehensions will fade. Having positive interactions with the elderly helps to normalise ageing, and take away the ‘scary’.

Most importantly, it’s just plain old fun to entertain, and play with, our elderly friends. Happiness is a powerful emotion – it’s hard to have a bad day with a group of happy toddlers and young children. These visits remind us of how easy it is to make someone’s day, and of the positive power of play.