Saplings Early Learning Centre in Regina is part of the larger Eden Care Communities group which provides housing and healthcare to seniors, adults and children. Saplings has been involved in intergenerational activities with one of the affiliated centres, Regina Lutheran Home, for a little over a year. At least once a week, the staff and children of Saplings take the 10 minute walk together over to the Regina Lutheran Home to do activities with the elders including singing songs or doing arts and crafts. It wasn’t until the Saplings staff took Healthy Start training in November that they wondered if the intergenerational activities could be enhanced by having the elders and children be active together. After working closely with the Lutheran Home Recreation Therapist, they realized that both the elders and children do a lot of similar activities, especially active songs that help to stretch the fingers out and improve dexterity. The recreation team also used pool noodles as a way to increase the elders’ upper body mobility. “These were things that we were doing too, but we were never in communication before.” says Ashley Elgert, Director of Saplings Early Learning Centre.
The Saplings staff started to bring some of the Active Play Kit equipment they received from Healthy Start to the Regina Lutheran Home. “The parachute is a big hit with both the children and the elders.” says Elgert. “The Lutheran Home staff joke with us saying that they know when we’re here because they can hear us throughout the whole building!”
Being active together has been beneficial for both the children and elders in numerous ways. “The balloons were a great ice breaker,” recounts Ryan Bahan, Manager of Intergenerational Care at Eden Care Communities. “At first the children were very shy and at times scared of the wheelchairs. Once they began playing together they warmed right up.” Now, upon arriving at the home the children don’t hesitate saying ‘hi’ to the elders, giving them hugs and helping to hand out play equipment. They even sometimes cry when they have to leave the home. Visiting the Lutheran Home is now one of children’s favourite activities. “The kids always ask us when they will they get to see the grandmas and grandpas,” says Elgert. It also provides the children with a safe environment to showcase newly developed skills like skipping, galloping or even a funky dance move. There is no judgement there, just smiling faces and clapping hands. “The kids just love hamming it up to elders!” jokes Bahan.
The elders look forward to the children’s visit too. They would rather play with the children than participate in other activities at the home. “We ask them if they want to come and play with the kids and their face lights up,” says Dana Belay-Howie, Recreation Coordinator. “Playing with the children allows for spontaneity and variety in their day and it also gives them a chance to reminisce.” One elder named Mary said it best “The children are so young and full of life. Playing with them is so much fun and I look forward to it.”
Because of the success they have seen with this intergenerational programing, Elgert and Bahan look forward to expanding the activities in the future. There are long term plans to have both elders and children in one building where they can seamlessly play and eat together. In the meantime, Elgert is hoping to visit more often during the week and perhaps include afternoon and day-long trips with children who do not need to nap. “Both the elders and the children are doing exercise and it’s better to do it together!” says Bahan.