Over the last 8 years of working with seniors, there are 3 things that can make even the most withdrawn senior become engaged: Music, animals and children. It doesn’t matter if you are in the middle of a really great activity – if an animal or child comes into the room, most of the residents gravitate to them.
I work for Kirkwood Corners, a Blue Harbor Community in Lee, NH and over the last several years have implanted many activities that include children of all ages. We have a seniors and science group that we do weekly with a family that home schools. We also have one of my favorite programs called Grand buddy visits! Our largest group is a class from a local childcare center called Live and Learn, with about 20 kindergarten kids that come once a month for about an hour. We also have several other grand-buddies that come throughout the month and are always looking for more kids to add to the program.
Grand Buddy Program
Grand buddy visits are a favorite of many residents, and they often ask when the kids are coming. Several residents help set up the various stations. Since the group is so large, we often have 4 or 5 stations with 2-4 residents running. The residents pick where they want to go before the kids arrive, and then the kids break into small groups and move around the dinning rooms to visit each station.
Some favorite activities of both our residents and the children are baby dolls, crafts, Mr. Potato head, Lincoln Logs and pattern blocks. The residents and kids work together at each station using fine and gross motor skills, color matching and sorting, language skills, and problem solving. Some residents take a more active roll to engage with the children, asking them questions and showing them how to do various tasks.
We have several sizes of pattern blocks, and the kids and residents love to make pictures with them, sort them, and create patterns and shapes with them. Working with the large foam pattern blocks makes it easier for some residents and smaller children. The smaller pattern blocks can be hard to grab with arthritic fingers, so the large foam blocks are easier for some to handle.
Many residents remember Lincoln Logs from when they were kids, or when their kids were growing up. It’s great for reminiscing about when they were the age of the grand-buddies that are visiting on that day. It is also great for problem solving and working together as a group. Usually by the end, the whole table is covered with little log structures and everyone is laughing having a wonderful time together.
Mr. Potato Head
The table that has the tote of Mr. Potato Heads is one of my favorites. I love watching the residents acting silly and making the kids laugh by wearing the accessories. Usually anyone walking by can’t help but smile when our grand-buddies visit, people usually can hear the laughter around the building when our larger group is over.
Arts & Crafts
The crafts we do are usually based on the theme of the month, or if it’s a “special day” like National Bird Day or Scarecrow Day. Last November our theme was Cabin Fever, so we focused on teddy bears. One craft was headbands with bear ears, made from construction paper that the kids and residents colored in and then assembled. Everyone looked wonderful with their different color ears. We also did an activity called “What Would You Bring on a Teddy Bear Picnic” and they had to cut food out of magazines, and glue it onto their paper plate. The residents helped the kids find different photos of food, and it was great when they would find a picture of something they both enjoyed eating – usually chocolate! Sometimes our crafts are as simple as coloring sheets, which the kids sometimes share with the residents to be hung up in their rooms.
These printable Daily Holidays & Observances Calendars are super helpful for planning special themes each month.
These plastic animals are great for dramatic and imaginative play. Both seniors and kids love playing with these animals! Have them tell a story and create different scenes. These can even be used for a short educational lesson. Here are some great options you can choose from.
- Jungle animals (or try the Jumbo set)
- Forest animals (or try the Jumbo set)
- Farm animals
- Arctic animals
We also sometime add an sensory component to dramatic play. We did a unit on dinosaurs when the kids first started coming, and they used the plastic animals to make fossils in the “fossil-dough”.
- 1 cup of flour
- 1/2 cup of salt
- 1 cup of used coffee grounds
- 1/2 to 1 cup of cold coffee
Mix everything together, except the coffee. Slowly add coffee until the mixture comes together. Knead the dough on a countertop. Store in an airtight container. Note: This recipe does not air dry well.
Building with LEGO
The kids and residents love working together to build towers as tall as they can! When people pass by they love to show off what the kids have made and how talented they are. We use the LEGO Duplo blocks since they are easy for both the kids and residents to manipulate, and they are bold colors. They also like to make trains with the train cars and tunnels to drive under. This is usually a task that gets the whole table working together.
About the Author – Jayme Thibeault
I have been working with people of all ages my whole life. I was a part of the big brother big sister program in my high school, I would volunteer in my aunts kindergarten class during the school year and her special ed class during the summer, I worked at an equine vet and boarding stable taking care of horses and worried owners, a day care, and finally Assisted Living and Hospice.
Bringing joy to the residents is one of the best parts of my job and love watching them interact with the kids. I have worked at Kirkwood Corners for 8 years, and a hospice company for a year and half, and I am very passionate about senior care and end of life care. None of us know how long we have so we must make each day the very best day possible. My favorite activity programs that we have are our grand-buddies, Seniors and Science group, and Horse Therapy, at the Carriage Barn. I am lucky to have a husband, Dan, that supports me in everything I do, and occasionally volunteers to help with trips and activities. When I am not at work, I enjoy spending time with my husband and family, taking our dog, Cody, out on adventures and horseback riding.