Shouts of joy and laughter echo outside The Village of Tansley Woods as a large group of Grade 5 students from Cambridge’s Silverheights Public School play games under a beautiful May sky with friends who are several decades older.
After months of sending letters back and forth through a Pen Pal program developed by Silverheights teacher Laura Abel, who also happens to work part time in recreation at Tansley Woods, the children and residents have come together for the first time, and it’s wonderful to see. It also happens to take place two days before Canada marks its 13th Annual Intergenerational Day.
This is the perfect example of the beauty that emerges when younger people are given the opportunity to develop friendships with someone who hails from a different era. Laura says she does her best to pair residents and students together who share similar interests, and then she watches with excitement as they connect through the age-old art of letter writing.
Griffin Mosser and Ron Beckett, a retired school principal, are among the groups of friends who connected through the program. Griffin says he enjoyed learning about Ron’s opinions on certain subjects and loved to hear about his travels, especially a Danube River cruise he’d taken through Eastern Europe.
“Griffin has a very strong knowledge of Geography,” Ron points out, “I think because his dad travels, and he writes very good letters. They’re always so interesting.”
They then discuss places Griffin has travelled to with his family, like Iceland and Hawaii, and he’s looking forward to vising Portugal in the summer.
Though this is the first time they’ve met in person, Ron and Griffin chat away like old friends.
As a former educator, Ron appreciates the importance of encouraging young people to write and develop their communication skills. He applauds the effort made to create such a wonderful program that benefits both the pupils and the residents.
“I have great admiration for Laura because it’s a lot of work to put this together, and it’s great,” he says. “I always say, if you don’t engage young people, they will engage themselves and you might not like it.”
Eric Walker works alongside Laura as a Grade 5 teacher and was eager to get his class involved after seeing the success of the program last year. He says not only is this program a creative way to engage his pupils, but he also sees the benefits in bringing the generations together.
“It was a good motivation for them to write,” Eric says of his class. “They really looked forward to it and enjoyed it, and a lot of these were kids that weren’t motivated to pick up a pencil and write. The connections, too, were great; they really started to develop a bond.”
He says the program encouraged the children to think about what an older person might enjoy and what motivates them, and in the process the seeds empathy are planted.
He points out that a lot of the children brought gifts for their friends and they were thrilled to receive some, as well.
Perhaps the greatest gift, however, is found in the laughter and shouts of joy as young and old together play horseshoes or toss beanbags with music playing in the background – the gift of friendship that knows no age barrier.