Thursday, September 26, 2002

At Wai Kahala Preschool, above, students benefit from interacting with seniors like Sue Miyahira. Below, grandparents get their day Sunday at the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center.

Ain't it grand
Discovery Center activities

By Nancy Arcayna

Today's age-segregated communities make it difficult for children and seniors to interact with each other. Knowing this, some organizations are starting programs that allow seniors into the classroom to share their knowledge with the next generation.

On Oahu, the Hawaii Intergenerational Network teamed with Rainbow Preschool, Kamaaina Kids, KCAA, Seagull Schools, Waikiki Community Center and Helping Hands Hawaii to develop the Senior Kapuna in the Preschool Program. Volunteers are given the opportunity to hold hands, wipe tears, share smiles, hugs, wisdom and more.

Ron Okumoto helps teachers at Wai Kahala Preschool by offering additional support in the classroom. The students win by getting a big buddy and -- for Kelly Fu, foreground, and Shyla Nishkawa -- a helping hand with an art project.

"We were very concerned that our children are not benefiting from the transmission of values, history, stories and the legacy of our elders," said Mae Mendelson, executive director of the Hawaii Intergenerational Network. "They were not experiencing the cycle of life -- of what it means to age.

Senior volunteer Sue Miyahara walks toward classroom with one of her young charges, Matthew Tamaki, at her side.

"Seniors often have the value of time to give and can give love unconditionally as they don't often have an ego investment in a child's development," she said.

Ron Okumoto, one of SKIPP's volunteers, is assigned to a classroom with 20 3- and 4-year-olds at Wai Kahala Preschool.

Many times, Okumoto acts as a referee when the children bicker. While many would find this type of work tiring, he finds it energizing. "There is a lot of satisfaction working with the kids. Hopefully, I'm making a difference in their lives," he said. "Our job is to play, mentor, and read to them. We try to be there when the children need comforting."

"On the playground, there are as many as 80 children running around and interacting with us," said Sue Miyahara, another SKIPP volunteer, who decided to volunteer after reading an article on the benefits of seniors working with young children. "It takes a load off the teachers and the staff is very appreciative," she said.

Miyahara believes it's important for seniors to keep busy, so she fits her work with children into her week's schedule, which includes tap dancing, flower arranging and tai chi.

Mendelson agreed that the relationship between kids and elders benefits both groups, pointing out that seniors who stay active and engaged in society can avoid suffering from loneliness, boredom or depression.

Teachers had other concerns about the program, at first.

"We were worried about having strangers in our classroom, that they may be a burden," said Dodie Iwamoto, a teacher at Wai Kahala. She quickly learned that the seniors' presence in the classroom had the opposite effect. Both the kids and the seniors looked forward to being together. They formed loving bonds while participating in activities that promoted language and social skills, said Iwamoto.

"Now, we don't know what we would do without them. And, the children are like cheerleaders when Auntie Sue and Uncle Ron pull up in their cars," she said. "They would have made great teachers."

Apparently, the children are pretty fond of their senior role models, following them around the classroom. Miyahara danced and sang along with the keiki during circle time and Okumoto helped in the next classroom with art activities. The volunteers also help with cooking activities, nap time and other classroom duties.

Miyahara even converses with one youngster, Matthew Tamaki, in Japanese. Okumoto is also known to huddle with the kids as they conspire to give the teacher a group hug. "They are attentive because we are plotting something," he said, with a wisdom that comes with age and experience. "It's one way to control them. They're always all over the place."

Call Jeff Wagner at 247-7962 if you are interested in becoming a SKIPP volunteer. Volunteers must commit to at least two hours a week.

At Wai Kahala Preschool, Sue Miyahara converses with student Matthew Tamaki in Japanese. Through the SKIPP program, seniors are able to assist in educating the next generation.

Mix n' match generations

Hawaii Intergenerational Network:

What: Symposium on intergenerational programs and issues
Where: Hale Koa Hotel
When: 8 a.m. to noon on Oct. 3
Cost: $35, includes breakfast
Call: Helen at 220-8686 to register

Donald Anderson joins his grandkids under the sea.

Generational adoration

The Children's Center
honors relationships

The Hawaii Children's Discovery Center will turn its attention Sunday to another generation in a celebration to honor grandparents and the special relationship between the "young and young at heart."

"We are focused on providing experiences that will strengthen families, one that will encourage them to learn through play," said Loretta Yajima, president and chief executive officer at the center.

On Grandparents Day, families will be able to explore hands-on activities in the center's four main galleries. Activities include memory book-making and bubble and goop stations. Participants can also visit the Brain Gym, offering a set of physical activities that enhance learning ability, from 1 to 1:30 p.m. and 2 to 2:30 p.m.

Popcorn, bananas and fresh pineapple juice will also be provided.

The "Legacy of Love" intergenerational photo exhibit is also on display along the museum walls. The photos on exhibit include notes of love and expression of what makes the kids love and adore their grandparents so much.

There is much for families to experience at other times as well. With activities both fun and educational, "we keep coming back," said Clarrie Selbe, who makes weekly visits to the museum with her kids and her father, Donald Anderson.

"We go everywhere with Grandpa," said Selbe. "When I was a teenager, my parents were my best friends. The close relationship was established long before I was married. Now, my dad is the same with my kids -- he is so loving," she said.

Ella Tomita also regularly brings her grandsons Jarrett and Justin to the center. The boys, who are 6 and 7, recently made a donation of $17 to the museum after selling their toys at a garage sale.

Marian McQuade, a Fayette County, W.Va., housewife, founded National Grandparents Day to raise awareness of lonely seniors in nursing homes. She also hoped grandchildren would utilize the wisdom and heritage of their grandparents, a dream that has been realized.

Grand celebration

Grandparents Day:

Where: Hawaii Children's Discovery Center, 111 Ohe St. (in Kakaako Waterfront Park)
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $8 general; $6.75 for ages 2 to 17; grandparents pay $3 with child's admission. One grandparent over 55 gets in free with an HMSA card and a paid child's admission. Reservations recommended.
Call: 524-5437 or 948-6398

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