Like so many of us in today’s fast-paced society, young children need time, including time to play and time with nurturing and supportive adults. Generation Two (G2) works within elementary schools to provide this much needed playtime and adult connection to children. “Many of our adult volunteers are retired, and developing friendships with these children brings a lot of joy into their lives,” said G2 Coordinator Jenny Giessler. G2 volunteers include college students, professionals, police officers, and many others. For the children, the benefits of the relationships created through play are often long-lasting.
The G2 Program started in Fairport in 2002. Once a week, Kindergarten children—and in some schools 1st and even 2nd grade children---have the undivided attention of an adult for 30 minutes. During this time, children are encouraged to do what they do best: play. “Children have been learning through play across cultures from the beginning of time,” said Giessler. “It’s their work. It is natural for them and how they learn best.” Giessler explains that there are no specific expectations placed on the children during this time. Rather, each child’s adult volunteer spends time engaged in one-on-one play with them. “We take a third of classroom aside for playtime at a time,” said Giessler. “Our group of children and volunteers is supervised at all times and redirected as needed.”
G2 coordinators bring in suitcases of items that support all different styles of play: social play, creative play, constructive play, providing kids with items they may not otherwise have access to. “Children are learning about counting and shapes and colors through toys and games,” explained Giessler. “Supporting their learning in ways that are natural for them. Although it is difficult to quantify a program like G2, a study was done 10 years ago by Richard Ryan, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of Rochester; Neta Weinstein, Ph.D., University of Rochester; Inger Williams, Ph.D., G2 Consultant. This study indicated that the children who participated in G2 liked themselves, school and their teachers more than children who did not have a supportive G2 friend. They also had fewer disciplinary referrals.
All children in a class participate in G2, and while there are no requirements placed on the children, this cannot be said for the volunteers. “Volunteers are interviewed and screened and, as a precaution, are never left alone with the children,” explained Giessler. “Full training and ongoing support are provided. There are 4 in-service education programs during the year that address various topics on education, child development, empathy and active listening. Many also attend the yearly G2 conference held each fall at Nazareth College. Volunteers commit to donating two hours a week to the G2 Program. Each volunteer meets with three students, each for a half an hour. Volunteers keep a journal of their time with each student. The final half an hour is a volunteer only period during which the program coordinator leads discussion time. These journals, discussion and reflection have proved invaluable.
“We are teaching our volunteers to be child advocates,” stated Giessler. “We cover small and large topics and concerns, including social and emotional play and teaching students how to treat others.” Giessler explains that students behave differently when they are playing than when they are in the classroom, and recognizing their various behaviors is important. “Our volunteers’ journals can become very valuable for helping these children and families, especially over time as a volunteer can continue to support a child through the G2 program in Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade,” added Giessler. Very often, she explained, the supportive relationships these children and their adult volunteer friends develop extend beyond the G2 program, as well.
“Our volunteers often also begin to attend school events such as plays, musicals, sports, field trips. Sometimes, they even help with tutoring,” said Giessler. “Kids in the higher grades still recognize them and come up and give them a hug.” Of course, kids aren’t the only ones benefiting. “Some volunteers say that this has made them better grandparents and retaught them how to play,” added Giessler. “Many of them are retired, and adding to the welfare of these kids provides them with a new sense of purpose. Some are also recently widowed and are lonely. G2 enables them to develop friendships with the other volunteers and these children. For some, G2 has also filled the void of absent or distant family.”
This year was G2’s pilot year with East Rochester Central Schools. They are working with Principal Marisa Philp and Teacher Mindy Caron in one Kindergarten class. G2 hopes this will lead to all Kindergarten classes and ultimately to grades K-2 in East Rochester. “Our goal is as we expand is to maintain a consistently high-quality program,” said Giessler. The G2 program is currently active in all kindergarten classes at Jefferson Avenue which is a Fairport School, Rochester City Schools #106 (Kindergarten), #45 (K & 1st), and #3 (K, 1st & 2nd). This year over 525 students and 160 volunteers are involved in G2. Giessler added, “We would like to expand within the schools in which we are already to include all classes K-2 as well as expand to additional schools and districts as funding and opportunities allow.”
For more information and to volunteer, please visit www.g2rochester.org.