Kids reading to lonely older people over the phone boosts confidence and mental health

Social care is set to become an ever deepening problem. Lack of carers, funds and accommodation for older people will exacerbate loneliness, social isolation and mental issues.

It seems an unlikely solution but there’s a plan afoot for children from primary and secondary schools to read to older people over the phone each week, to help tackle both ­loneliness and mental health issues.

Simultaneously it would enable children to have a richer reading experience, harnessing the magical relationship between old and young generations.

The hope is that the programme will improve children’s reading and comprehension, and social wellbeing for both the readers and older listeners.

Working with Silver Stories – an inspirational charity that links children with the older generation – will bring joy and help improve the youngsters’ reading.

In the pilot study by University of Exeter researchers, children’s attitude to reading and enjoyment will be assessed. Teachers, older people and parents will be interviewed too.

Project leader Dr George Koutsouris said: “Coronavirus lockdowns led to increasing isolation among the older generation, while school closures and educational disruption sharpened existing educational inequalities, especially in literacy. This has had a negative impact on the wellbeing of both old and young.”

Silver Stories Research officer Tricia Nash said: “This pilot study is one of the most uplifting and positive research projects that I have been involved with in all my years as a researcher.

“I contacted several readers and their listeners about their experiences last term, either by phone or through online questionnaires. I also contacted the parents of the readers and the school staff who had supported the children during their reading calls.

“The unanimous feedback was how terrific the experiences had been. The readers talked about how nice it was to read to the listeners, although some were a bit nervous at first. In no time at all they really enjoyed the weekly call with their listener.

“The listeners really looked forward to their calls and missed them over the school holidays in May. Some even continued with their weekly sessions over the summer holidays.

“The parents reported their son or daughter had really liked reading to their silver listener and as a result their child’s reading had improved both in skill and confidence.

“Teachers confirmed parental opinion by reporting improved reading and increased confidence and enjoyment when reading to silver listeners.”

Since the Silver Stories study began, teachers have noticed better reading and social confidence in class, opening up opportunities for children to shine academically.