a kindergarten in an EHPAD

“You can only give your children two things: roots and wings,” says a Yiddish proverb. This is one of the reasons for intergenerational relationships between our elderly and the very young.

Julien Dagbert has only adopted this adage. The mayor of Barlin, a town of 7,700 inhabitants in the former mining area of ​​Pas-de-Calais, came up with the innovative idea of ​​establishing a kindergarten within an EHPAD. The construction should see the light of day from January 2023.

Intergenerational: a win-win relationship between the elderly and children

Cape Retreat: Hi sir, thank you very much for spending a few moments with us. Who is behind this initiative to create base classes within an EHPAD?

Julien Dagbert: This is a joint initiative of my municipality, Barlin, and the manager of the establishment, AHNAC, the hospital association Nord Artois Clinique.

Since 2018, we have been working together on the “Ageing well in Barlin” project, which uses several axes, especially those of intergenerational.

CR: Can you define your project?

JD: We have transferred two kindergarten classes from the city, the small and the middle part, to an institution with two structures: an EHPAD and an autonomy residence.

This was close to my heart, after a documentary was broadcast on television in October 2020. This one, A life apartpresented the connection of children from the large nursery ward with residents of nursing homes for six weeks. Everyone benefited from the presence of the other, both the seniors and the youngest.

I told myself that we should act in this direction and continue the process within the structure. I wanted to try the experiment.

Comprehensive support for intergenerational relationships between students and seniors

Cape Retreat : Do you have any expectations for this project?

Julien Dagbert: We hope for more such initiatives. Of course, this project is still in the experimental phase in the municipality of Barlin. However, it could be reproduced (and why not?) Generalized in other cities in France. Some are interested in it.

We also received the green light from the national education system very quickly. The state supports us and still gives us subsidies.

The project will start halfway through the school year, in January 2023. Then we can very quickly determine the results of the first half at the end of the school year.

CR: Which children are affected?

JD: These are children who are just starting school until they go to primary school. So they will be between 2 and a half and 6 years old. We will manage the kindergarten classes: small section, middle section and large section.

After these lessons, the dynamics and learning changes: primary school students sit and write…

We really want to promote intergenerational activities around. Motor skills activities, for example between seniors and children, are fairly consistent. Especially soft gymnastics loudspeakers for seniors present almost the same movements to preschoolers.

For these ages, we see real interest in interconnection.

A Reciprocal Relationship With Mental Health Benefits

Cape Retreat: What are the long-term effects for seniors?

Julien Dagbert: According to the studies conducted in the context of the documentary, we can identify important effects on memory, the spatio-temporal signs.

The project reintroduces a temporality in the elderly: recreation time, noises in the yard… It also delays the symptoms of certain cognitive disorders. Likewise, seniors extend their social lives.

The beneficial effects also affect children. We work with a pediatrician who confirms the good mental health of the youngest. They have better concentration, listening and attention to senior audience. It is very positive for both target groups.

The project is currently being developed within the residence. However, it is a matter of opening this space on the city.

The project reintroduces a temporality in the elderly

A new perception of seniors from an early age

Cape Retreat: Are the relationships between children and seniors changing? In society, the older person is seen as vulnerable and sometimes excluded. However, a child who has not known his grandparents may feel a disconnection. Is it a way to reconnect the old generations with the new? Do you want to create a floating space for the integration of seniors in social and professional life?

Julien Dagbert: This reconnection is one of the strong axes of the project. It’s really for seniors to get back in touch with the life of the municipality and social life.

This allows young audiences who have not necessarily known their great-grandparents or grandparents to understand relationships with seniors. The little ones are faced with people who get older and may lose their autonomy.

It’s also about changing the way these people and this type of establishment are perceived. It’s a real challenge that we’re launching here.

CR: Did you encounter any difficulties in setting up this project?

JD: From the beginning of the project, we had to obtain all the necessary permits for the two structures: Director of National Education of the Academy of Lille, agreements of the representatives of the school council and the representatives of the life committee of the EHPAD.

It’s more hesitation on the part of parents, understandably, than inhibition: safety issues, relationships with seniors.

Some residents are very supportive of the project. Others prefer to be quiet and don’t want to take advantage of this connection. Essentially, we don’t want to force acceptance of the process. It is more a matter of persuasion, of proposing to participate in the project over time.

The next six months will be devoted to furnishing the buildings. Thanks to received grants, an entertainment space is transformed into two classrooms.

If municipalities or institutions want to embark on this great adventure, we have financial support to demonstrate its feasibility.

Respecting everyone’s pace at the heart of the intergenerational approach

Cape Retreat: When do the children have contact with the seniors?

Julien Dagbert: The children are always entrusted to the teachers. Residents are not required to supervise children during school hours. National education remains a priority in terms of learning and programs.

Interactions take place during activity times, in a common area. This will be for the preparation of the year-end party, events such as birthdays or even recreation and reading moments.

For the rest, it is a school that can be independent of the establishment. Strict separation can take place, as in a pandemic situation as we know it.

CR: And for seniors who don’t want to participate?

JD: Currently, the life of the establishment is very well organized. The animator manages the structure full time. As I said, it is not at all about questioning the times of animation proposed to the residents. If you do not want to participate, you can continue with the supervisor.

CR: Thank you for your time and congratulations again on this great initiative.

When some players in the gerontology sector want us to talk about preserving autonomy rather than treating addiction; this intergenerational initiative adds a new dimension. In addition to the autonomy of an older person, it is also about their inclusion and their role in society.

In a world of consumption where the senior with loss of autonomy is often seen as “useless” and marginalized; intergenerational exchanges are able to change mindsets. The old man is rich in lessons, he has a transferring role. An essential heritage for the development and proper functioning of future generations.

Sophie, Cap Retreat Advisor

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