Digital Literacy
Jul 9, 2024

Irene learned technology to connect with preschool students

Irene learned technology to connect with preschool students
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Irene signed up for the Foster Grandparent program about three years ago. She started volunteering with a local Head Start program in Greenville, Michigan. For the first three years, she worked three days a week with about 16 students aged four to five in the classroom. There she helped with arts and crafts, stories, and other classroom projects.

"My father had his Cub Scout troop ever since I was 12. It came naturally to me to work with kids."

Then in year three, the pandemic struck. Irene never imagined that she would need to upskill her computer knowledge for this role. Thankfully the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offered all its older adults free classes on GetSetUp.

Irene was able to take several classes, including Zoom that allowed her to volunteer with the children virtually.

Challenges during the pandemic

"It was a very interesting challenge to deal with. The teachers and I put our heads together and we came up with some programs for the students."

To stay connected with the children, Irene started a pen pal program with the students. She would write them each a letter and deliver it every Friday to the school. In turn, she would pick up the pictures the students had made for her during the week.

"It was hard for the students to put a face to their letter. I had to get creative. I wanted to make each child's letter just for them. I didn't have a lot of money to spend, so the dollar store was essential as was making something out of what I had at home."

In addition to the letters, she met with the students via Zoom each Tuesday. Together she and the children would vote on what color Play-doh she would make and drop off with her following letters.

Pomeranian therapy via Zoom

Irene wasn't the only volunteer in her house during the pandemic. Her pomeranian, Patch, also volunteered.

Patch started his volunteer work before the pandemic as a therapy dog at a local nursing home. He was a huge success there. So during the pandemic, Patch seemed a natural fit for pomeranian therapy via Zoom.

"I put my dog to work. On Tuesdays when I met via Zoom with the children, if one had a bad day I would show him or her Patch. They would ask about the dog and talk about the dog's behavior. It seemed just having something furry and soft often helped them feel a bit better."

One of Irene's most significant difficulties has been having patience with the children when they are being naughty.

"In-person, some had a tendency to strike you and use some very different language than I'm used to. I learned through GetSetUp classes on communication and conflict resolution how to put that on the side. It wasn't an insult to me since they often didn't understand what they were saying. Before those classes, it was harder to do that."

Now that Irene is fully vaccinated, she's heading back to the classroom armed with technology skills and mindfulness classes. Because she is retired and her children and grandchildren are grown, it's nice for her to be around young kids. So she's very excited to get back to doing things in person.

Moreover, she's glad to know that there's a place like GetSetUp for her to go when she needs to upskill as life circumstances change. Classes like those she took on GetSetUp allow her to keep doing what she loves.

"I keep picking different classes. I love the different times they are available. It is so convenient. It's so nice to have something that seniors can understand and have at a slower pace for us."

She's passed on GetSetUp to her sister and friends and looks forward to taking more classes.

Follow your passions like Irene and join in a class that interests you!