Storytelling school

An intergenerational storytelling project brings residents and students together

The project, from the Bolton Clarke Research Institute, is part of a program using storytelling and reminiscence to reduce loneliness and bring happiness to older people living in nursing homes and retirement communities.

Through the project, quick friendships developed between residents of Bolton Clarke’s Westhaven Retirement Village in Toowoomba and students of Faith Lutheran College in Plainland.

Xanthe Golenko, a researcher at the Bolton Clarke Research Institute, says digital storytelling is a powerful way to give people a voice and capture their life experiences by combining speech, still and moving images and music or other sounds in a short digital form.

“Adding an intergenerational component to digital storytelling provides the opportunity for young and old to work together on a meaningful activity, which helps develop mutually beneficial intergenerational relationships and creates a sense of community,” says Mrs Golenko.

“It encourages residents to engage in the community and allows them to stay productive and feel valued as contributing members of society. It helps to strengthen their sense of identity, purpose and belonging. .”

The dancers were brought together to discuss their experiences, easily bridging the 60-year age gap between resident and student.

Meanwhile, Westhaven resident John was able to share his love of the outdoors with a group of 12-year-old students who had similar interests.

During the digital storytelling project, grade 7 students worked in groups with residents of the retirement village, with each group deciding on a story topic to explore together in detail.

“It’s wonderful to see the joy residents feel when they share details of their lives with students,” says Ms. Golenko.

John says he didn’t know what to expect at first when he agreed to join the project, but was pleasantly surprised by their group and their willingness to engage and listen to their stories.

“What amazed me about the five boys in my group was their taste for the outdoors and outdoor activities,” says John.

“I told them what life was like in 1937 with the [Great] Depression, lack of money and work and a lot of things not available – they find it hard to believe.”

Another Westhaven resident, Marlene, loved talking to her group of student dancers about her history with ballroom dancers.

“The best thing about the intergenerational program is knowing [that] the advantages that I give to the students that I follow [also] come back. It’s so important to learn from each other,” says Marlene.

“It’s really valuable for both parties to hear each other’s point of view. It’s been a buzz to meet these girls who really care about what I have to teach them.

“Even though we’re in different age groups, we still get the same things out of dancing and it makes me really happy to know that these girls are learning those benefits and applying them in different ways, in their own lives.”

Faith Lutheran College Principal Doug Braiden said the students look forward to seeing their buddies every Tuesday and are very proud of the stories they have created with their new friends.

“Their level of engagement with history and English has increased because students are learning authentically through living history,” says Braiden.

“We hope that after this trial project, the Intergenerational Digital Stories Project will become part of our Grade 7 curriculum so that students continue to learn about their world and our society in a tangible way from the old generation.”

Another generation is also added to the project mix with university students from the Griffith Film School following the same process. However, university students instead create and shoot a short documentary to show the importance of intergenerational relationships in Australia.

The project will be finalized on July 30 and students will make presentations to Westhaven residents, friends, family and community members.