Continuing this week’s topic of the German education system we thought we’d provide you with a heart-warming story about an activity which many German schools (generally primary schools, sometimes even Kindergartens!), particularly in smaller towns and villages, take part in.
When people make time for each other and engage in meaningful conversations, relationships start to form. These relationships are what make life worth living! The bond which develops is the reason why children in second grade want to go back to a nursing-home after their first visit or why children in sixth grade are visiting some of the lonely seniors in their spare time or starting a Brieffreundschaft (they become pen pals) with some of the elderly ladies.
Some German schools have strong relationships with local Pflegeheime (nursing homes) or Altersheime (old-age homes). School classes will occasionally visit these homes and spend time with the elderly – cooking for them, baking cookies with them, doing arts and crafts, singing Christmas carols, playing board games together (often old favourites such as ‘Mensch ärgere dich nicht’) or simply having a chat. As in Australia, many elderly residents in these homes either have family living far away or family who are very busy and therefore unable to visit regularly. Whilst some residents may receive (several) weekly visits, some receive none. Having school students visit and foster these relationships is beneficial for both the children and the elderly. For example, in some cases, dementia patients were starting to make progress, as they started to recall things from the past as their long-term memory was activated during children’s visits.
Children start to learn at an early age that things change when people become older – their vision starts to worsen, they may not be able to hear properly and they often start requiring assistance for even simple tasks, such as eating. Some schools prepare their students with so-called ‘Empathieübungen’ (empathy-practice/ exercises), such as putting cotton wool in their ears to mimic partial deafness, wearing a blindfold and letting another student safely guide them through the room to build up trust, spoon-feeding each other pudding or sitting on an office chair with wheels to practice pushing a wheelchair.
Many students end up forming close relationships with some of the elderly residents and even choose to visit them on the weekend with their parents! Others may send letters or postcards and even bring them a small handmade present for Christmas.
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