Students and seniors connect through art
In a special class at Duke of Connaught Public School, Jenny and Olivia sit side-by-side knitting dishcloths from multi-coloured yarn.
As knitting goes, it’s as simple as it gets – three plain stitches, three purl, 51 to a row.
For Olivia, a Grade 7 student, it’s a step up to her next project: scarves.
Truth be told, she already has more knit things than she can handle.
“Let’s just say I have almost two bins full of slippers, hats, and gloves from my grandmother’s knitting,” she said, laughing.
“But all the scarves she used to make were torn apart by my cats.”
For Jenny Harper, a local senior who joined the class through Applegrove Community Complex, helping Olivia and other Duke of Connaught students is a chance to share her knitting know-how, and to have fun doing it.
“I can teach them something, even though I’m old and grey,” Harper said.
“And they like me – that’s what I like.”
Starting with woodcarving last fall, Applegrove’s Connecting Through Arts program now pairs students and seniors to try a whole range of crafts.
While Jenny taught Olivia and two boys to knit, painter Nell LaMarsh walked around the class helping students and seniors to paint ocean scenes full of sharks and jellyfish, plus one student’s rendition of the LA Clippers logo.
Book maker Mairead Lavery was also helping out, showing crafters how to make “meander books” that fold out in ‘M’ shapes, and other books with accordion-style or traditional codex bindings.
Renate Schober, a seniors program worker, said the idea of a seniors-student class came up last summer at a seniors’ crafting session in the Applegrove lounge, which shares a hallway with Duke of Connaught.
“We thought, ‘We’ve got older adults with many different skills, we’re inside the school. We’ve never done anything intergenerational before – why don’t we try?’”
Over the summer, Schober said the seniors came up with a name – the Colour Crafters – and chose what crafts to do. An Ontario seniors’ grant provided materials funding.
This spring, Schober got to teach one of her own favourites – making greeting cards and posters with pressed flowers that she harvests from local gardens.
“Sometimes I’m a bit of a thief,” she admits, opening a binder full of mailing envelopes with colour-sorted petals that she keeps in the freezer.
One man joked that he wanted $20 for a rose, she said, but in the end he and other gardeners are proud to have their flowers made into art.
Teacher Patrick Darkhor said the seniors’ visits have made a big difference in the Grade 7 and 8 class, which usually runs as an afternoon extra-help session.
“You can see the impact this program has had on their thinking, and their social development,” he said. “They have grown up.”
Craft is a great way to involve people of all ages, Darkhor said, noting how the shared learning helps to reduce the sense of distance that is often felt by people with 30 or 40 years between them.
Colour Crafters is also taking a shot at some long-standing gender barriers – Darkhor, senior Stanley Thomas and two brave Grade 8 boys all learned to knit scarves this spring.
As she and her granddaughter Nora handed out green shamrock cookies for St. Patrick’s Day, Terry Sheats – a.k.a. ‘Cookie Monster’ – said joining the Applegrove crafters started as a great way to meet fellow seniors after moving to the neighbourhood from Kingston. Now, the retired kindergarten teacher says it’s also a fun way to reconnect with kids.
“Just talking with them keeps us young, plus it encourages them” she said.
“They should encourage this at other schools, too.”
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