When school children sat down, recently, to read to Chelsea Memory Care residents the effect was transformational. Residents who may have been harder to connect with found themselves cracking smiles as the children diligently sounded out words, occasionally stopping to exclaim over colorful pictures.
Chelsea Place Memory Care in Aurora, Colorado, is a big believer in the benefits of getting children together with residents. So much so, in fact, that they have created their own Grandfriend Project, bringing residents to local elementary schools to have them sit with children and listen to them read.
Chelsea Place was recently honored with the Community Commitment Award from the Pioneer Network for their innovative intergenerational reading program with first grade students from local Fox Hollow Elementary school.
The process is simple, but effective. There are three basic steps to Chelsea Place’s program as follows:
- Step 1: Education. School children first explore reading books about dementia that are geared towards their age level. This promotes a greater understanding of what a grandparent or other loved one with dementia is experiencing.
- Step 2: The residents are taken to a local elementary school, where first graders meet and read to their new “grand-friends”. Each first grader is paired with a resident. They sit in chairs in the school library and the children each select a book and read to the residents.
- Step 3: Both the school children and memory care residents are asked to share their thoughts about the Grandfriend Project experience. They speak about the value of having the school children read to them. As one resident said, “Personally, I would never pass up an opportunity like this.” Another resident remarked, “These first graders, first of all they read really well. But even if they didn’t it’s a wonderful thing to have them here. They have an audience. It gives them confidence to go on reading.”
It is always interesting to observe how the residents take on the role of mentors, encouraging the school children to read. It gives the residents an added sense of purpose to sit and listen to the young students and even guide them along occasionally.
The Grandfriend Project is clearly a win-win experience for residents and school children. It helps the children gain a greater understanding of the challenges of those who struggle with dementia. For residents it is a “breath of fresh air” to observe children at the beginning stages of their education, as they begin reading to them. The combined result is that everyone has a greater sense of connectedness to each other, with a renewed sense of belonging and purpose.
At Anthem Memory Care communities, we believe in the many benefits of inter-generational activities. We have seen, over and over again, the amazing therapeutic and emotional impact of children interacting with our residents. Seeing the faces of our residents light up and the smiles of the children are always well worth the effort!