Ann Mroz

Classrooms to Care Homes fights lockdown loneliness

Children are being encouraged to write to nursing homes and care homes over the festive season to lift the spirits of older residents

Classrooms to Care Homes fights lockdown loneliness

When primary school teacher Sally Kawagoe asked her colleagues to help gather some data on the words they were most commonly using in class, the results surprised them. Despite its being probably the most frequently spoken or written word in the world, she wasn’t expecting “OK” to top the list, at 27 times per hour.

Is a word that means “fine” or “satisfactory” really one that should be so prevalent in a school setting? “Do we really want our children’s most frequently heard word to be one so staggeringly lacking in ambition?” she asks.

But then she thinks again. What if we looked at it another way? “There’s something both calming and comforting about ‘OK’, which is pertinent at the moment. We are OK,” she writes.

Indeed, we need to get used to the fact that being OK is OK – in these troubled times, it’s actually more than OK. Many people are suffering with their mental health, cut off from families, friends and work colleagues. Loneliness is an enormous problem. So if you’re OK, count yourself lucky.

How many school staff feel OK at the moment? They may have many serious hardships to bear but they do have one glorious thing in their favour: the company of others and especially of children.

The headteacher I spoke to last week said that when all the health worries, logistics, planning, and unofficial track and tracing start to get her down, she comes out of her office to look at the children and see their happy smiling faces. They never fail to cheer her up.

In fact, there’s no one better than a child to show you exactly what joy looks like and to lift your spirits. And there’s a bottomless well of that happiness and enthusiasm to be found in our schools.

That is why we at Tes have launched our Classrooms to Care Homes project.

Residents in nursing homes and care homes are the loneliest in society, having been isolated since March with few or no visits allowed from family or friends, owing to Covid-19 restrictions.

The Christmas holidays can exacerbate that feeling of isolation and loneliness, so we are asking schools to get their pupils to make contact with these elderly people and, hopefully, form a bond that cheers them up over the festive period and beyond. Schools are encouraged to get their pupils writing letters or recording videos for care home residents and staff, sharing poems, drawings, jokes, riddles and stories about their festive celebrations.

“Older people have really missed the visits from young people, and it would be lovely if people could share videos of carol services, cards and letters,” says Lesley Carter, charity Age UK’s clinical lead. Every older person would be able to recognise something that has been made by a child, she says, and it will bring back fond memories for them.

It’s not only beneficial to the elderly people; children will get a kick out of it, too. It will teach them empathy and compassion, and make them feel good to be bringing joy and happiness to others.

It will also have a more practical benefit: having a real recipient for their writing is very motivational and it’s an excellent way for them to practise their writing skills, according to the National Literacy Trust.

Thus far, thousands of schools have signed up to take part in the initiative (one school has said that it will have every year group taking part). So please do join in: despite everything, many of us are fortunate enough to still be OK, but many in society are not. This is one way we can try to make things better for them.

@AnnMroz

This article originally appeared in the 27 November 2020 issue under the headline “Children rule OK at Christmas in the fight against loneliness”

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