SOWN’s intergenerational program helps seniors and children learn – and teach
Children ask for help all the time – help undoing an extra tight knot in their shoelace, help pouring juice from a heavy jug into a small cup, help sounding out the name of the animals featured in their zoo picture book.
Adults on the other hand, we hesitate to ask for help. We’re supposed to have it together and already know what to do and how to do it. It seems like to older we get, the more difficult it is to ask for a little support to figure out a task.
For the grandparents enrolled in SOWN’s Philly Families Read Together (PFRT), however, offering and receiving guidance is all a part of their learning process too. PFRT is an early learning program for grandparents raising or caring for their grandchildren (ages 3-8) in which grandparents build learning tools and resources – with the benefit of peer support – allowing their families to share in literacy and learning together.
Through the skills and resources gained from the program, grandparents can help their grandchildren develop the learning foundation they need as they progress through school. “Ultimately, the goal is to prepare young children for school by getting them excited about learning” said SOWN’s Family Literacy Educator, Jessica Begley (MSEd)
Reaching such an important goal is no easy task for families, and the effort was made more difficult by the abrupt shift to virtual learning imposed by the COVID pandemic. Ollie Tansimore, Jr. recalled his difficulty trying to get his six-year-old granddaughter to focus and engage with her learning materials. “Her mind wanders a lot,” Mr. Tansimore said as he explained his granddaughter’s distraction.
Gail Pryor, who also has a six-year-old granddaughter, was stuck on ways to encourage her granddaughter to try reading on her own. Martha Hackett, who has three young grandchildren, ages three, five, and eight, struggled with her comfort showing her one grandson how to use the computer. She reflected, “I think I felt worse because I was the person he came to, but I couldn’t help him.”
Ms. Hackett’s troubles didn’t stop at the home computer. Her one grandson’s learning experience was overshadowed by bullying at school. In describing the family’s challenges, Ms. Hackett shared, “Not knowing the correct way to help him because he was very behind…I learned that you build…I didn’t know that and I was probably flooding a lot of things, maybe before he was ready for them. That for me was the worst part.”
In their search to help their grandchildren’s early learning, all three grandparents found their way to SOWN’s PFRT program. Mr. Tansimore was a participant in another SOWN program and was an early joiner to when the program first launched in the spring of 2020. Ms. Hackett attended one of Ms. Begley’s outreach presentations and was struck by Ms. Begley’s personality.
She noted that SOWN’s Educator seemed, fun, open, and friendly. “It makes a difference,” said Ms. Hackett. Ms. Pryor learned about the program through another PFRT participant and decided to join a group meeting. “It sounded like something I wanted for my grandchild,” she noted. Ms. Begley shared that PFRT’s curriculum is centered around three themes:
- Literacy at Home (grandparent as teacher, grandchild as learner);
- Literacy at School (grandparent as advocate, grandchild as student) and
- Literacy in the Community (grandparent as guide, grandchild as explorer).
Within these themes, grandparents learn skills to promote building blocks of literacy in their families, as well as how to strengthen their own digital literacy skills. “We use these themes to help the grandparents think through their ongoing role as ‘Literacy Champions’ in the lives of their grandchildren,” Ms. Begley explained.
Knowing how difficult scheduling can be for grandparents with caregiver responsibilities, PFRT offers a hybrid model, with both in-person and virtual meetings via Zoom so grandparents from all over the city can participate. This hybrid model extends to the curriculum’s Interactive Literacy Activities (ILA), which serve as intergenerational events that bring grandparents and grandchildren together for fun literacy adventures. PFRT participants also receive books and other learning materials so they can grow their own home library.
Since joining PFRT, Mr. Tansimore, Jr., Ms. Hackett, and Ms. Pryor are embracing their new learning tools and enjoying breakthroughs in their grandchildren’s development. Mr. Tansimore, Jr found some relief learning that his granddaughter’s distracted behavior was typical of child her age and now knows that he can roll with the distractions to keep the learning going. Mr. Tansimore and his granddaughter are growing into their own reading team. He said, “It’s motivated me and [my granddaughter] to study together, to read together. Before we go to bed, we have to read. And that really made me happy…and when I get tired and I don’t want to read, she forces me!”
Ms. Hackett’s grandson continues to progress as he catches up to his developmental level. “It’s a big difference,” she remarked. “He feels more confident…he knows his letters; he knows his words. And they call him the ‘Math Man’ now and his chest sticks out with that.” She added, “I don’t think he would be where he is without the additional help at home.”
Like Mr. Tansimore, Ms. Pryor and her granddaughter are turning into a dynamic reading duo. She said, “It brought a more consciousness to us doing things together actively, and that she reads along in a fun way when we’re playing games or watching TV.” Ms. Pryor also shared that when her granddaughter has playdates now, she loves to pull out her books and read aloud to her friends.
Learning in a group of their peers has felt significant to PFRT’s grandparents. “I can’t imagine not having this to come to,” said Ms. Hackett. She talked about how hard it was for her to seek help with aspects of the technology necessary for her grandchildren’s school, which seemed easy for other people to master. Ms. Hackett entered the program thinking she was getting help for her grandson, “…but I’ve had loads of support myself.”
Mr. Tansimore felt similarly about his learning journey, commenting, “I like that it brought other grandparents together. We’re all here for each other.”
For Ms. Pryor, the growth she’s experience with the other grandparents has extended to her neighborhood. While she has always made sure to serve as a welcoming and positive influence for the children in her community, she feels she has more to offer now. “I’ll give them food,” she said. “And now I can give them books.” For the grandparents in PFRT, asking for help no longer feels like an admission of defeat. It’s a way for them to learn and grow together, empowering them to write a new chapter in their family’s story.
Join the Program!
If you are a grandparent raising or caring for a grandchild (ages 3-8) and would like more information about enrolling in SOWN’s Philly Families Read Together, contact Jessica Begley at email@example.com or call 215-487-3000, ext 24. If you would like our program to hold an info session for your community group or event, contact Jill Smith, PFRT’s Outreach and Administrative Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-487-3000, ext 24.
ABOUT SOWN The Supportive Older Womens Network provides community-based services and information to generations of older Philadelphian women. A grassroots news partner with WHYY/N.I.C.E.
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This column was written by Lori Latimer, SOWN’s Director of Programs. Read last month’s column here.