It’s a Friday morning at Columbia Garden Village and the sound of little feet and voices are filling the hallways.
One of Eileen Madson Primary School’s kindergarten classes has filed into the retirement home for their weekly class. Today they’re learning about the letter O and o-o-opposites: hot and cold, wet and dry, young and old.
“This little piggy is on the teeter-totter,” said Barb Carriere, their teacher. “Is he up or down?”
“Uuuuuuuuuuup!” shout 14 five- and six-year-old voices.
This intergenerational project started in December, after Ms. Carriere read a book that detailed a joint project where 60 kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students attended school at the Grace Living Centre, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a nursing home.
That program benefited both students and residents: the kindergarteners excelled in school, especially reading, and the seniors needed less medication.
Ms. Carriere thought this idea could work in Invermere and got in touch with Interior Health, Columbia Garden Village and the school district. Now every Friday morning the kindergarten students have their regular class with the residents of the retirement home acting as mentors for reading, helping them do their crafts and telling stories.
“I think there is a mystical connection between children and seniors,” Ms. Carriere said. “But there’s no opportunity for them to meet because they’re kept in separate places; seniors in homes and children in school.”
With the kindergarten class now in place, Columbia Garden Village resident and retired primary teacher Fran Kimpton comes down every Friday morning to help.
“I think it’s great, but I wish more seniors would come down,” Fran said. “The little guys could talk more with older people and there would be some good interaction.”
The interaction gives the children lessons on the cycle of life, respect, politeness, and how to speak to people with hearing disabilities. The seniors also learn patience and keep their motor skills by doing crafts with the children.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” said Adrienne Turner, community manager of Columbia Garden Village. “It’s good to have the children interacting with the elderly. It’s a new way of communicating for both of them.”
Eventually Ms. Carriere would like to complete a book full of stories that her students have learned from the “grandmas and grandpas” who visit their class. For now she’ll focus on reading and getting the students to respect the elders who visit.
“They still call them old people,” Ms. Carriere laughed. “That’s how they see them. I would like them to call them seniors or residents, but it’s only been two months. The language will come.”