Every morning, two-year-old students of the Blue Skies classroom excitedly walk to the playground for some outdoor play time. One day, Teacher Katy Radley noticed a new curiosity on their faces as they passed the neighboring assisted living center, Heritage House at the Market. The students waved at the seniors sitting by the window and asked all about the “grandmas and grandpas” by the playground; this sparked the idea for a new activity.
Katy called Suzette Eby, the Activities Director at Heritage House to set up what would be the beginning of an inter-generational learning program for the students and seniors. “We built this with an anti-bias goal to teach them that elders aren’t just grandparents – they’re playmates, dancers, artists and friends as well,” says Katy.
Now every other week, the kids visit Heritage House to meet the seniors and learn from their life experiences. Together they color, share story time, and even produce puppet shows. But what really solidified this melding of young and elder minds is a love of dancing! Now, a staple of their time together is an all-out dance party, where the students jump and shake around the enthused seniors.
Suzette smiles thinking of the time the seniors and students share, “We have seniors here who are not into our usual activities of art or bingo. But, when the kiddos come, they’re the first ones here!”
What’s most meaningful about this partnership is its equally positive influence on both groups; the seniors feel happier and more energetic after a morning with the class, and for the preschoolers, the activities mold their emerging minds. They no longer think of every elder as a grandparent, but rather as a friend in the community. For many students without grandparents, these are the first elders they’ve played with.
“I think they get along so well because they find joy about the same things at the same moment,” says Katy. “They’ll laugh and bond over funny words or silly dances.”
This impact couldn’t be more evident than the moment that student Elana told Katy, “They should come to our class next time for lunch!” And, just like that, a week later the seniors visited the classroom to eat lunch, share stories and play music together.
“It gives our students a greater sense of place,” says Katy. “The Market is more than just the classroom – it’s a place where neighbors and friends live in community together.”