It’s not rocket science. When you put seniors in the company of kids there is an instant connection … joy abounds.
“I can’t describe it,” says 87-year-old Louise at Calgary’s Kirby Centre program that invites seniors and kids to do art together. “Just being around these little people lifts my spirits.”
This vital connection is the subject of many news stories from coast to coast and is the basis of a nation-wide government initiative pronouncing June 1 as Intergenerational Day Canada.
As noted on the BC government website: “Research shows that intergenerational programs increase self-esteem and feelings of well-being for older and younger participants. Friendships between older and younger people help make communities stronger.”
At AgeCare Walden Heights in Calgary, the concept of uniting kids and seniors is highly prized.
“In our view, our multi-generational programs are incredibly beneficial to both the children and our seniors,” said Kerri Firmaniuk, Recreation Manager. “I’ve observed many beautiful moments between the children and our seniors … I cannot imagine not bringing the two generations together to play and learn.”
At this particular AgeCare community, a daycare Centre is attached to one of the buildings. At least twice a week, children (accompanied by their daycare workers) are invited to participate in seniors’ activities. Programs selected for this union include light exercise, simple crafts, sing-alongs, and other kinds of music. The children are also invited to large social gatherings, including themed parties (Easter, Stampede, Halloween, etc.), ice cream socials, walks in the community, and special events such as the annual Remembrance Day ceremony.
When the kids arrive on the scene, they are introduced to the ‘Grandmas and Grandpas’ by name and encouraged to engage with residents during activities.
“Our seniors are visibly excited and enthusiastic about engaging in the activities with the kids,” said Kerri. “I believe these are meaningful experiences for our seniors as they have the chance to behave like kids again or to utilize their parenting and grandparenting skills, and to just have fun. There are many seniors here who truly enjoy the company of the children and look forward to seeing them again.”
Other recreational employees agree, noting that the seniors enjoy listening to familiar nursery rhymes and singing familiar old songs with the kids. They relish the attention they get from the kids and are quite happy both giving and receiving assistance from the kids.
“Having kids around makes the programs livelier, as kids being kids, have their sweet and playful gestures,” said Elizabeth, Recreation Therapy Aide. “Our residents seem to be more enthusiastic in participating in the program, knowing that kids will be around. They are patient with the kids and often initiate conversations with them.”
On the flip side, parents of young children say they intentionally seek out daycare settings that offer shared activities with seniors.
“My four-year-old son comes home from daycare with all kinds of interesting stories about what Grandma Lila said today, or how Grandpa George showed him a new knot to tie with his shoelaces,” said Shannon Miller. “It’s delightful, really heartwarming! It has made my little guy very compassionate and much more comfortable around older people – he even finds them in grocery stores and strikes up conversations!”