By Patricia Callender, Music Teacher
This year students in preschool and second grade have been traveling out into the Tallahassee community to engage in what music therapists call “intergenerational music.” These experiences are termed “intergenerational” because they involve more than the traditional “performance”- that is, singing songs- to an audience. Our students partner with a senior citizen and actively make music with their “music buddy.” Second grade has extended their tradition of Reading Buddies at Woodmont Assisted Living Community to include Music Buddies after reading. Our preschoolers, with all 4 team teachers and a very dedicated and helpful group of parents (it takes a lot to move our littlest ones off-campus!!) are pairing up with The Alzheimers Project once per month. We already know the myriad of benefits that music gives to children, but here are some ways in which Intergenerational Music benefits our students and the seniors in very unique ways.
For the seniors, this type of interaction decreases feelings of isolation through meaningful and enjoyable interactions. When I spoke with the director of the Alzheimers Project, he told me that the three things their clients responded to most positively were children, music, and animals. (Two out of three ain’t bad- it’s great!) Feelings of isolation in seniors can be very common, and also problematic for many reasons, since depression and sadness can make it more difficult to remain active and to heal when sick. Therapists refer to a lack of sufficient human contact as “skin hunger,” the remedy for which is “intentional touch.” When our children sing and clap hands, hold hands and sway, share an instrument, or even give a hug, we are alleviating some of that skin hunger in a very positive and social way through music-making. When we sing a familiar song, we are generating “memory care.” And when we move a scarf to music, or put simple seated movements with a song, our senior friends are “chair dancing.”
The benefits for the children are great as well. For many children, a new positive attitude towards seniors evolves. Reticent children become comfortable with people whom they may not have had much previous contact. The love and affection that the seniors bestow on our children is profuse and sincere; it boosts self confidence, confidence in social interactions, and an increased sense of community and connection to others. The benefits of musical activities in early childhood are still ever-present, just placed in a new context.
A few snapshots of what we have observed at both centers can illustrate. The gentleman who we were informed “never speaks to anyone and doesn’t respond or smile” became a different person when partnered with one of our vivacious preschoolers: smiling, singing, clapping and talking the whole time. The gentleman who remained with his head bowed and eyes closed was approached by a child and then began to interact and participate in each activity we presented. The two ladies who were walking only with assistance and/or in a wheel chair got up and started to dance with their second grade music buddies. The former teacher who beamed and proudly informed me that one of our preschoolers is “her angel.” And finally, the smiles and excitement one can hear upon our arrival: “The children are coming again today!!”
Photos by Aliki Moncrief