One thing often missing in kids’ social education is interaction with the elderly. It makes sense, really. Children are young. Teachers aren’t retired.
But a preschool in Livonia is changing this. Every Tuesday, the 4- and 5-year-olds at St. Mary Child Care Center visit residents at nearby Marywood Nursing Care Center. For four hours, kids listen to the same lessons they would in class, play games, sing and make crafts – alongside their older pals ages 83-99.
“It’s been so beneficial both ways,” says Maria Mueller, president of the child care center, which is a Felician-sponsored ministry. “There’s back-and-forth learning between the elderly and the young. There’s such a joy and purpose.”
While there’s some adjusting at first, says marketing manager Gail Jones, “Within a week, it’s their new normal.” In the process, kids learn “empathy, patience, acceptance, self-awareness and confidence,” Mueller adds.
“It’s a great opportunity to see that if someone is different, it doesn’t mean they have to be scary,” Jones says.
The program, which Mueller notes is unique in the region, has grown in its two years, with hopes of building a path between the centers. An intergenerational playground is another goal, as many seniors are in wheelchairs or use walkers. Learn more at stmarychildcarecenter.org.
Bridging the gen gap
Here are a few perks of preschooler and senior citizen interaction.
- Kids, who often have limited exposure to older people, interact and build friendships with grandparent-age people.
- Seniors, who don’t get a lot of visitors, share their memories with younger people. Gail Jones recalls when a teacher had a lesson about May Day. “One of the seniors talked about how she celebrated May Day as a child.”
- Kids get used to seeing wheelchairs, walkers and canes – since many of the older adults use them. It helps normalize these natural changes of aging.