Young find joy in elderly penpals

Young find joy in elderly penpals

Forrestdale Primary School teacher Anna Fletcher and student Kiara Dickinson. Photograph — Aaron Van Rongen.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has proven a particularly difficult time for our elderly, but one special intergenerational learning project has offered the perfect distraction. 

Since March, Forrestdale Primary School’s year five and six class has been busy writing letters to the residents at Armadale’s Opal Aged Care facility, forming relationships with those from a different generation in a bid to gauge what life was like several decades ago. 

The project was touted as an opportunity for the residents to share stories from their lives, answer questions and engage the younger generation by building mutual respect. 

In the last two months more than 70 letters have been exchanged, with students learning how to introduce themselves, carry a conversation, format a letter and collecting information about the past from their penpals’ first-hand experiences.

As a teacher, Anna Fletcher said she was simply looking for a novel way to engage her inquisitive class of 25 students and could never have imagined that the project would be so successful. 

“I have been pleasantly surprised by how engaged the students have been in this project,” she said.

“They are always asking if the school has received any letters and wait with baited breath when I read out who each envelope is addressed to.

“Students are learning about the past through first-hand experiences from their elderly penpals, who have shared what school, shopping and jobs were like over 60 years ago.

“Student motivation to open and read a letter that is personally addressed to them is far higher than studying some general information from the History book.

“The residents have expressed how delightful it has been to get letters in the mail, and to be able to share their stories, especially throughout isolation.

“Some of our penpals are not allowed to drive anymore or have lost their sight or can’t have visitors.

“Receiving handwritten correspondence the old fashioned way is bringing the older members of our community so much joy and excitement.” 

Letter recipient Ellena Wilson said the residents had enjoyed receiving their penpal letters and that the enthusiasm of the students had been touching.