Oaks and Acorns

Older man talking with young girl

“How can we know how to live if we don’t speak with someone who has lived?” asks Kati Fernandez Lambert, a local Madison artist. “In the times we live in, our elders are often overlooked. They have so much wisdom and life lived that deserves to be respected and revered. Our children need to learn how to honor our elders.”

Kati’s reverence for elders led to the new Oaks and Acorns program on the University Woods campus. Oaks and Acorns is an intergenerational art-making program that brings in children from the surrounding area to collaborate and create with residents at Oakwood. Kati describes the goal of the program as “to celebrate the wisdom, energy, and creativity of elders while building relationships between generations through nature-based art and creativity.”

Kati worked with Oakwood Art Therapist Jennifer Bethel to get Oaks and Acorns started.

“We dreamed of this program and other ideas; it’s been a really beautiful process,” shares Jennifer. The group met weekly for eight weeks over the winter and generally consisted of between 10-15 children and around five elders.

Each session starts with the children and some parents going out to play in the Nature Preserve with Kati. After using a lot of energy outdoors, they go inside to meet with Oakwood residents, and have an opening circle where they sing a welcome song and play a game.

Following this introduction, the children, with residents by their side, start focused working time on their “project of the week,” and Kati reads a question for everyone to reflect on and share their answers.

“I liked the energy that the youngsters brought to the group. They were able to play outside in the Nature Preserve and when they came in, they’d be so excited to talk about what they saw and what they did,” shares resident Donna Bredlow.

All of the projects the group made were nature-based, and Kati tried to incorporate objects that were found outdoors into the work that they did. The first week, they created a nature mandala with items that they found in the preserve to represent what they were doing together. Other projects included a ‘draw as I draw’ collaborative drawing that had residents drawing, children recreating what residents drew, then adding to it and having the elders follow their lead. To celebrate the solstice, they made bird feeders from oranges and birdseed that were hung in the Nature Preserve.

woman helping child

“My passion of bringing people together around nature is able to happen here through Oaks and Acorns,” she says. The final project the group did was to make a small dish in the form of the artist’s hand, then decorate it. This was Donna’s favorite project, “We didn’t take our own, we took one that someone else made. It was a meaningful way to say goodbye to the kids for a little while.”

If you're paying attention, you see someone's eyes light up.

The connection between residents and children is easy to see, and the reception from both groups has been very positive. When talking about recruiting other residents to join the group, one resident shared with Jennifer, “Why would someone not want to be here? This is so precious.”

Kati has seen the impact of the group firsthand, as her own children attended Oaks and Acorns. One resident, who asked to be called “The Amazing Ed” by the group, performed a magic trick every week for the kids. After the program started, Kati’s son wanted to work on his own magic tricks to perform for the group and The Amazing Ed.

“There’s really amazing and magical things happening, and the art is just a part of that. There are these little tiny moments that, if you’re paying attention, you see someone’s eyes light up,” Kati says.

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