Generations Together, Rural-Influence, Characterize Early Childhood Education

In some cases, participants are more than 75 years apart in age. Yet there is more similarity than difference in the pursuits SUNY Cobleskill’s Early Childhood Program is leading. The “Generations Together” program, developed by Dr. Gail Wentworth, as a senior fellow of the Institute for Rural Vitality, and the “Growing Up WILD” environmental education program, which Assistant Professor and Interim Chair of the Early Childhood and Psychology Department Elise Weiss helped bring to SUNY Cobleskill, are projects addressing some of our region’s most relevant topics.

“Generations Together” has grown rapidly since its inception, says Dr. Wentworth, of the program that brings older adults – including those living with Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia and their caregivers – to campus for activities with preschoolers, undergraduates, community volunteers, and faculty members. Initially the idea was to coordinate a campus program bringing young children and older adults together. Quickly, Dr. Wentworth identified a need: to provide support for aging members of the local community, in order to allow individuals to continue living in their homes. It aligns with a national trend.

“The aging population is growing exponentially,” says Dr. Wentworth, “and we did not have a caregiver respite program for older adults in Schoharie County. We [especially] did not have an intergenerational social program to help provide care for adults living with Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia and their caregivers.”

As “Generations Together” grows, undergraduate student research, as well as the concept of aging in place, have emerged as key focus areas. Last year, students Rachel Blough and Emily Potter worked on every facet of the project in collaboration with Dr. Wentworth. The duo presented their research findings at the College’s 2019 Student Research Showcase with a prize-winning poster.

What began as an intergenerational idea continues to transition into something that had been nonexistent in Schoharie County: a true rural caregiver respite program for the community. With help from students, truly of all ages, the program capitalizes on SUNY Cobleskill’s resources and applies them for the benefit of Schoharie County residents.

“GROWING Up WILD” in Schoharie County

Rural life is a theme throughout many SUNY Cobleskill programs. As it relates to Early Childhood, children attending preschool and daycare programs on campus are typically local; their home environments classify as rural.

“Optimal learning is educating children in their natural environments,” explains Weiss. “We give our students experience with the importance of an outdoor education. ‘Growing Up WILD’ is about children in a natural environment… It is more than knowing children like to go outside to play – that they learn by sensory experiences.”

An adaptation of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) “Project WILD,” Growing Up WILD uses hands-on activities ranging from those involving crafts to conservation games to build children’s sense of wonder about nature, and invites them to explore wildlife and the world around them. SUNY Cobleskill undergraduates earned certificates to teach Growing Up WILD last year.

Students enrolled in majors outside Early Childhood often take EC courses. It is something Weiss says can be an eye-opener.

“The mix of majors enhances our experiences. Students outside of the EC major are always intrigued when we ‘study’ the preschool children. A student once said, ‘it is interesting to watch children in their natural habitat.’”

Growing Up WILD is one example of rural, hands-on influence. As part of their education, Early Childhood students train and volunteer at the College’s Equine Center, with Therapeutic Horsemanship students. The applied learning opportunity gives EC students the chance to work with children as a form of therapy. It is part of an interdisciplinary crossover: Therapeutic Horsemanship students take EC courses to gain foundational knowledge of disabilities, and EC students gain experience working with children and families at the Equine Center.

Early Childhood students reap the benefits of some of SUNY Cobleskill’s most recent academic additions. Growing Up WILD debuted at the College less than one year ago, while the Therapeutic Horsemanship Program is entering its fourth year as a Bachelor of Technology offering in the fall of 2019.

Feature photo: President Marion A. Terenzio (left) was among those who joined Generations Together participants at the Cobleskill Campus Childcare Center for a session last semester.

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