New intergenerational approach deepens connections through music
Some of the most impactful programs offered in many seniors living environments offer an intergenerational component – high school students volunteering their time to help long-term care residents discover technology, for example, or student musicians pairing with residents for a seasonal concert.
The Village of Sandalwood Park in Brampton has taken intergenerational programming to a new level of interaction, says recreation director Jennifer Gould, thanks in large part to a new partnership with Sarah Kilts of Maple Leaf Music Together.
The program invites about 10-12 children ages 5 and under along with their parents or grandparents into the Cumberland neighbourhood once a week for an interactive music session with as many as 25 residents, facilitated by Sarah. It’s not uncommon for young children to come into the village for visits, Jennifer says, but typically that happens for a one-off event and the children are often “performing” for a resident audience. Such visits are well worth the time and effort, but what sets the Music Together program apart is its entirely interactive philosophy.
“We’ve had intergenerational programs where children come in and the residents enjoy it,” Jennifer says, “but this is the next level.”
Sarah says relationships are central to the program’s success, and music is the connector that helps bring these relationships to life. “We don’t want it to be a fishbowl experience where the residents are just watching us. What we’re actively trying to do is make it so that . . . we engage them.”
From the minute the program begins and the children are paired off with the “grand-friends” for the hello song, there is instant interaction – they literally sing to each other while holding eye contact. Sarah has been connected to music all her life and has worked in this capacity for long enough to know when the participants are connecting, and the program allows for flexibility. If the children and residents are finding meaning in a particular section of the session, then Sarah will extend that section and build upon the opportunity to deepen the relationships that are forming.
Without question, the residents all look forward to their weekly time with the children, who are unknowingly laying the foundations of empathy and understanding in their formative years as they connect with residents who are living through various health challenges.
A recent moment stands out in Sarah’s mind when she considers the value of the program. One resident, who seems largely unresponsive most of the time and rarely speaks, noticed one of the young girls starting to dance in the space before her. They made quiet, shy eye contact throughout the song and as it finished, the resident looked to Sarah and spoke.
“She sees me and she loves me,” the resident told Sarah clearly through her Italian accent, “and she knows I love her too.”
Sarah nearly comes to tears again as she relates the story.
Each week, the relationships grow stronger and the interactions more meaningful. Music, after all, is the great connector and at Sandalwood Park, it’s connecting generations in new and exciting ways.