Using Pocket Ideas to support inter-generational learning at Kilwinning Academy

by Andrea Boyd (@AndreaBoydAHPMH)

Occupational Therapist, NHS Ayrshire and Arran

Headteacher Tim Swain with pupils from Kilwinning Academy holding Pocket Ideas

It’s really exciting how new opportunities develop and a new journey begins. During my project role with Pocket Ideas I arranged to meet with Tim Swan (Head Teacher, Kilwinning Academy), having briefly spoken with him at the end of a parent council meeting one evening. Before we met, Tim had had the opportunity to look at the Pocket Ideas booklet, and think about how this resource could be used in the academy. When we eventually met for a chat, not only did Tim think that Pocket Ideas was a great idea, but it gave him some ideas to develop their own pocket tools for subjects in school e.g. pocket maths. I hope that still happens, as that’s also another fabulous idea!

In the time that I have known Tim, I have come to realise that he is innovative and proactive, and he embraced Pocket Ideas with enthusiasm. It was suggested that Pocket Ideas could be incorporated into the training and development for S5 and S6 students working towards their Saltire award. This is an award gained from being a volunteer, and experience that supports further education and applications for employment. Often student volunteers are given the opportunity to visit care homes and sheltered housing complexes to meet older people and be in a befriending type role. We both agreed that Pocket Ideas could help to build therapeutic relationships, and help bridge the gap between a younger and older population. For me this really reinforced the importance of inter-generational learning; when a younger generation can learn from a much older population, and vice versa.

Having shared the Pocket Ideas journey with Tim, the meeting ended with 2 questions for me; can we get more of the books? and can you provide training? Of course I said yes to both, but at that point, I had no idea what my training would look like, especially as I’ve spent most of my career working with an older population, so a whole new learning curve for me. From that moment I drafted a training plan, agreed this with Tim, and then I was introduced to one of his colleagues, Aileen Forsyth (Support teacher). Together we reviewed the training plan and discussed ideas to recruit students. The first session took place at the academy on 28/10/16. I was extremely nervous that day as I wanted to make a good impression. I also wanted the students to like Pocket Ideas and to see themselves using the resource as volunteers. The challenge had been set and as always I took the swan approach, (no pun intended Tim), mainly to appear calm and confident on the surface, but flapping underneath. A deep breath and off I went!

IMG_20170727_150053The first training session was attended by 12 students in S6 who quietly observed while I organised the flip chart and arranged information with the support of my third year student Occupational Therapist (Nicole Tulloch). Whenever I plan training sessions I like to encourage interactive discussions, and although I expected this might be difficult to achieve with a group of teenagers, they did not disappoint me and they leapt to the challenge and shared their thoughts and feelings (Thank you to all who attended and who were kind to me at my first session).

The session was initiated by asking all the students; what is the first thing you do when you meet your friends on the way to or at school? No trick questions, I just wanted the students to think about the meaningful connections they take for granted everyday; a smile, a hug and knowing that someone will ask how you are. I then asked students to think of 5 different ways they communicated every day, and examples included; facebook, twitter, e-mail, texting and face to face contact. Everyone agreed that there is so many ways to communicate with each other with the many Apps and multiple technologies at our finger tips. With this in mind, I then gave the students the following statement; the power had been given to me to take away all forms of communication for a moment, and all students asked how that would feel? A short silence followed and then a range of powerful emotions filled the room to include; feeling isolated, lonely, worried, helpless, lost, frightened, anxious, and bored. Prior to the training I had practiced this exercise on myself, and I honestly felt terrified that I had no way of contacting anyone, and how alone that made me feel. After sharing these feelings I gave the virtual communication back, but used those feelings to highlight that for some of our older population, this could relate to how life feels every day, and the impact this can have on quality of life due to social isolation.

IMG_20170727_150030I then invited students to think about what we could do as a younger population to make more positive connections with our growing older population, which reinforced the benefits of inter-generational learning. This was an apt moment to introduce Pocket Ideas and give the students an opportunity to try out the project in their groups or in pairs. Thumbs up were given all round amongst a few giggles, and the feedback highlighted that they had particularly enjoyed the games, Scottish words and quizzes. As part of the training I decided to give the students 5 minutes to use the project each, to illustrate that 5 minutes can have a huge impact when talking with an older person. However, the feedback highlighted that more time to use the project would have been helpful, and so this was incorporated into the next training session, so that honest feedback does make a difference.

In terms of living well in later years, I did remind all students that many older people enjoyed a good quality of life, and continued to engage in many of the activities they had enjoyed in their youth. With a view to considering health and well-being, I reinforced the responsibility we all have to look after our health, so that we can continue to enjoy a good quality of life, taking a preventative approach to illnesses and to make positive lifestyle choices.

The session was completed with a short film, showing a model of care in America where a care home and children’s nursery work together every day. The film clip can be found at

The film illustrates how the young children accept the older people as being part of their every day routine, and the older people take part in the learning and daily activities with the children. There is real compassion shown between both generations making meaningful connections and having positive moments in time. The feeling in the room highlighted to me that these simple connections really make a difference.

To evaluate the session 3 questions were asked;

  • What have you learned from attending the training today?
  • Would you consider becoming a Champion for Pocket Ideas?
  • Will you help with feedback and share how you have used Pocket Ideas?

The students gave an overwhelming ‘yes’ to the last 2 questions, but it was the first question which revealed a very positive response to the training, and some examples of the feedback included;

“I have learned today that talking to people of an older or younger age of myself is not so difficult, and that there are many ways to start a conversation”

“I have learned that older people may feel isolated without other people taking notice”

“I have learned the importance of communication between older and younger generations, and also how to communicate better and start conversations”and

“The power of communication and what it means for an older person who can’t do it as easily as us”

“I have learned the importance of communicating with an older generation and the benefits of talking to new people”.

IMG_20170727_150106Finally I asked the students to write down one word to sum up the training and responses included; inspiring, great, helpful, enlightening, interesting, fun, beneficial and reassuring. Another session was completed on 3/2/17 with S5 and S6 students, and the feedback remained positive and with enthusiasm to continue further training.

We’re now at the stage of planning and organising an event, so that students can have those real time conversations using Pocket Ideas with an older population. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate inter-generational learning and focus on bridging the gap between younger and older generations. So I think a high tea maybe on the agenda, which sounds absolutely fabulous!

Hopefully this is just the start of many conversations, sharing stories and experiences, and learning from each other. Also lets remember the importance of reducing social isolation, improving quality of life and supporting person-centred care for our growing older population.

IMG_20170727_150045I must say a very big thank you to Tim Swan, Aileen Forsyth and to all the staff who have supported an idea, and to all the students who participated in the training and helped the use of Pocket Ideas to become a reality at Kilwinning Academy. Aileen is due to retire this summer, and so Annette McBreen (Support teacher) will be continuing in her place. Wishing you a very happy retirement Aileen!

I would like to give a final thought using an inspirational quote, which really sums up this exciting journey for me, and that is;

“So often you find that the students you’re trying to inspire are the ones that end up inspiring you”. (Sean Junkins)

If you want to read more about Pocket Ideas take a look at other blogs from Andrea:



  1. Well done Andrea- sounds an amazing development. Delighted to hear of new roads in towards intergenerational understanding

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