Pensioners read bedtime stories to kids in nationwide programme designed to bring generations together
Over 200 elderly people volunteer in 130 kindergartens around Czechia in an NGO programme that aims to bridge the generation gap by having the old read to the young. And it appears to be mutually beneficial for young and old alike.
Bringing together the youngest and oldest generations is the main aim of this programme organised by the non-profit organisation Mezi námi (Between Us). The programme has proven enormously successful with both young and old, but since it started in 2015, it hasn’t always been plain sailing – particularly when the covid pandemic hit, as Tereza Tichá, head of the Brno branch of the programme, describes.
“Our program in Brno was in danger of falling apart. We had about 15 volunteers there at the time, which shrunk to about seven. People were afraid, kindergartens were afraid and not very interested in participating.”
However, the programme did survive, and today there are around 40 volunteer pensioners reading to children in 30 kindergartens in Brno. These grannies and grandads don’t just go in blind – they also receive training seminars as part of the programme, for example, in how to read aloud in an expressive and engaging way, says Tichá.
“We try to offer them tips and tricks for how to improve their delivery and make the reading more dramatic and interesting for the kids.”
For the pensioners, whose own grandchildren may live several hundred kilometres away or they may not have any at all, the contact with small children is enormously beneficial, psychologically and even physically. Several studies have even shown that regular contact with young children increases longevity for old people. The benefits are clear from the testimony of 76-year-old Mirka Kobylková, who volunteers at a kindergarten on the northern edge of Brno once a week.
“I am happy that the children pay attention to me and listen to me patiently, it’s such a pleasure. The older I get, the more I’m drawn towards being around young children. I have the feeling that we both need each other.”
And indeed, it is not just the elderly that benefit. The young children also enjoy it and actively want to participate, as Eva Tomášková, a grandmother who volunteers once a week at a kindergarten in Ivanovice, a suburb a few kilometres north of Brno, describes.
“We have one little girl who didn’t have her nap in the kindergarten originally, she went home after lunch. But once we started reading and she heard the stories while she was waiting in the room for her mum to take her home, she said she would rather stay. She even pulled up a chair next to me, took her own book and we read together.”
Mezi námi also organises other events and programmes designed to bring the generations together, such as intergenerational creative workshops and school or kindergarten visits to nursing homes. As more and more old people suffer from loneliness and social isolation, and society fragments further along generational lines, programmes like these are becoming ever more essential.