Last week my youngest daughter graduated from nursery, ready to start primary school in September. I calculated that in the five years since 2012 we have spent over £76,000 on nursery care for our two children. Childcare is clearly a booming business!
Whilst the care my girls received during their time at nursery was fantastic there were two areas where I always thought it could be improved: firstly by the introduction of male staff; and secondly by the development of links with the community and in particular local care homes.
In 2000 the BBC reported that for every 100 people working in childcare, only two are men. The Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC) questioned 1,000 parents about the issue of men working in nurseries. 59% of respondents said there was not a single man employed at the nursery to which they sent their child. The CWDC is calling for more men to consider working in early years settings. They say it is crucial for children under the age of five to have contact with a responsible male adult.
Whilst it appears to be difficult to persuade men of the benefits of working in the nursery care sector the benefits of regular interactions between children and older people are widely accepted. In 1976, a Japanese man named Shimada Masaharu trialled the operation of a nursery and care home on a single site in Tokyo. By 1998, sixteen such intergenerational facilities were operating in Tokyo alone. Around the same time similar facilities were developed in the USA and Canada. One particularly successful example is the Intergenerational Learning Centre which opened in Seattle in 1991 where a nursery is located within the campus of a care home. Children are taken to visit the residents on a daily basis and residents can visit the nursery, with both taking part in a programme of structured joint activities such as singalong time, craft activities and cooking.
In Singapore childcare facilities and senior centres are to be co-located in ten new projects in the next decade to provide opportunities for intergenerational bonding, as part of a £1.69 billion national plan to help Singaporeans age confidently and lead active lives. The Singapore government is also encouraging existing operators of elder care facilities to introduce innovative programming that allows the young and old to interact.
Numerous studies by the US National Institute on Aging have linked social interaction with decreased loneliness, delayed mental decline, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of disease and death in older people. Socialising across generations has also been shown to increase the amount of smiling and conversation among older adults, according to one Japanese study
. This seems to be borne out by a new Channel 4 documentary ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’
aired recently, which sees pre-schoolers swap their nursery for a nursing home as they join a group of pensioners at a care home for six weeks. The researchers noted an almost immediate improvement in the mood and emotional state of the elderly residents and, more surprisingly, an unexpected improvement in their mobility.
Whilst the benefits to the elderly of spending time with young children are well known, the impact this intergenerational interaction has on children has been less researched. It is suggested that children who are able to spend regular time with older people are more likely to develop a positive view of them, be less likely to view them as incompetent and leave them less likely to exhibit ageism. This can only be a positive influence on their early development.
The first nursery in the UK to share the same site as a care home and where children and residents will meet daily for activities will open in September in Clapham, London. ‘Apples and Honey Nightingale’ are to operate a 30-place nursery in the grounds of Nightingale House, a residential care home for serving the Jewish community. Nightingale House has around 200 residents at the site and the average resident is in their 90s, with 10 per cent of them aged 100 or older. The nursery has been running a weekly baby and toddler group based at the care home since January 2017 and prior to that Apples and Honey had been visiting the care home for about 15 years twice a term. The intention is for the elderly residents and the children to eat their meals together and for residents to become involved in many of the Early Years curriculum activities which are organised for the children. The operators are looking at how best to make the curriculum intergenerational, with children and residents spending time together every day, cooking and baking, doing exercise and movement classes, music and arts and crafts.
The idea of intergenerational care in the UK is being pioneered by ‘United for All Ages’, a think tank and social enterprise developing new ‘all ages’ approaches to key social and economic issues. They have been actively meeting with nursery groups, care providers and local authorities to develop the idea of co-locating nursery and elder care. Whilst some care homes invite children in from nurseries for visits this is very much a one-off and the aim of United for All Ages is to make co-location part of everyday life. Whilst this will likely be a slow process there is evidence that some operators are embracing the idea of intergenerational care. UK nursery group Busy Bees is opening a new nursery in Chichester next door to an Anchor care home, and Torbay Council in Devon has plans for an intergenerational care site. Lorraine George, a childminding development worker at Torbay has recently been awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to look at intergenerational learning and is to visit successful sites across the USA. Summing up her enthusiasm for intergenerational development Lorraine George said:
In my opinion intergenerational care appears to offer significant benefits for everyone involved, including the operators of such facilities who could undoubtedly benefit from cost savings in terms of design and operation of shared facilities. Hopefully with the support of pioneers such as United for All Ages, the development of facilities such as Apples and Honey Nightingale will become more widespread across the UK, bringing benefits for generations to come. In light of the recognised shortfall in nursery provision across parts of the UK there is a potential opportunity for care home operators to diversify their standard product to provide intergenerational facilities which not only maximise profitability but offer significant benefits for all their customers, both young and old.
 Morita and Kobayashi; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013