Halifax-area nursing home hosts weekly playdates with children

The Kids ‘N Elders program has been running on and off for 15 years in Musquodoboit Harbour

Every week, three-year-old Paige would check to see what bracelets her friend was wearing. Some days, her friend would be wearing up to 10 different bracelets. The bond became strong — despite their age difference — and they looked forward to seeing each other at their weekly playdates.

The last time she saw her, Paige decided to bring her friend a sea glass bracelet. When she went to drop it off, her friend gave her two bracelets she made especially for her. They both began to cry.

“We had no idea she was going to do that. It was just so beautiful,” said Kayla Josey, Paige’s mother.

Relationships and experiences like these inspire Josey to continue bringing children to the Kids ‘N Elders program in Musquodoboit Harbour.

The Birches Nursing Home in Musquodoboit Harbour has been hosting the program for the last 15 years.

A senior and young boy say goodbye.   Lesli Tathum

On Monday, there was a happy balance of energized children and quiet seniors filling the room. Toys covered the floor, puzzle pieces and Kool-Aid-flavoured playdough rested on the tables, and laughter echoed through the hallways of the nursing home.

There were about a dozen seniors present, and some proudly discussed how many children and grandchildren they have while their young visitors played in front of them.

“I think I have 40 grandchildren or something like that. I have visitors all the time,” one bragged.

A maximum of 10 daycare children attend every Monday, and the program follows the school year schedule.

The 90-minute session consists of 30 minutes of free play, snack time, and crafting to help develop and maintain motor skills. After that, everyone gets into a circle for story time and singing.

A young boy approached a senior with a baby doll and handed it to her. She embraced it with tears in her eyes.

Benefits

Jocelyn Barbier, the therapeutic recreation programmer at The Birches, helps organize Kids ‘N Elders. She said the activities offer benefits and prove to be meaningful for all those involved.

According to a 2019 study in the European Journal of Ageing, “intergenerational programs improve attitudes, behaviours, and quality of life of children and older adults.”

The study also suggests these programs have positive effects on seniors because they create a greater sense of meaningfulness, manageability and empowerment.

Barbier said some residents have no family or have no one who comes to visit them, and this program brings them joy.

“For some people, this is a social thing, but for others, it can be very emotional,” she said.

A senior gets emotional at the sight of the children.   Lesli Tathum

“You’ll see the elders teaching the kids and sharing their skills,” said Barbier. “It’s not just about the heartwarming stuff. It’s about them working together. The elders and children share values, knowledge and skills.”

Barbier said many residents have dementia and don’t remember a lot of things, but when the children come, something just “clicks” and they can talk.

She told the story of a resident who struggles to communicate clearly. But when the kids arrive, the words start to flow.

“‘Oh, the babies are here,’ she would say,” said Barbier.

Barbier said the impact of these relationships on the seniors was clear. She said there was one woman who would ask every day “when the kids were coming.”

“She never knew what day it was, but she remembered what was important to her that the kids were coming,” she said.

Toward the end of the session, all the seniors sang You Are My Sunshine along with some children, while others just watched. Before leaving, every child hugged and kissed the seniors.

The program isn’t always about smiles and laughter. In November, Paige found out her friend — the one with the bracelets — had passed away.

“It broke our hearts,” said Kayla.

But the Joseys have found joy in reminiscing about the woman and the friendship she shared with Paige.

The program is somewhat of a family affair. Shelley Josey, Kayla’s mother, works for the Eastern Shore Family Resource Association (ESFRA). Although the Kids ’N Elders program is hosted at the Birches facility, the ESFRA runs the program and covers all associated costs with the funding from the Department of Community Services.

Shelley helps facilitate the program at The Birches, and said it’s the only one of its kind on the Eastern Shore. She has been facilitating the program since it began; she refers to it as her “baby.”

“The smiles on their faces says it all to me. I just love it, and it makes my heart smile. It’s a wonderful program,” she said.

“I hope to be doing it until I retire, and then I will volunteer here.”

Lesli Tathum

Lesli Tathum

Lesli is from the Cayman Islands. She is in her fourth year of journalism at the University of King's College and is a member of the King's Women's Varsity Soccer team.

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