The following post was written by Jessica Spurlock (preschool Lead Teacher) and Patty Callender (Music Teacher).
Service learning is an integral part of CLC’s philosophy, and it begins with our youngest students in preschool.
In 2010, CLC’s music teacher, Patty Callender, pioneered an intergenerational music therapy experience with our preschool students and the seniors at the Alzhiemer’s Project at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. This became the preschool’s service project and continues to be a vital part of our preschool program today. In preschool the senior citizens we visit every month are called our “Grandfriends.” Each month after preparation in music class and social and emotional preparation during regular class time, we load up in cars and head out. We meet Ms. Patty C., who leads us in singing, dancing, and instrument playing with our “Grandfriends.” Our students partner with a senior citizen and actively make music with them. Over the course of the year the 3, 4 and 5-year olds visit the center 7 times, building lasting relationships that positively benefit both students and adults.
When we first arrive at the center the children are nervous, shy and sometimes even scared to interact with the seniors. The Alzheimer patients sometimes appear sad, distant, or confused. But as we all begin singing and dancing together, the music works its magic, and a wave of release and awakening seems to penetrate the atmosphere. The children and their Grandfriends begin to really connect, hold hands, talk, giggle, and play!
As the year progresses, the children realize they can handle a new situation with increasing independence and make a difference in someone else’s life. Students learn that their natural love of music and movement can build connections between people and have a lasting value. For many children a positive attitude toward seniors evolves. Reticent children become comfortable with people whom they may not have had much previous contact.
The love and affection the seniors bestow on our children is profuse and sincere: it boosts self-confidence, provides positive and successful social interactions, and increases a sense of community and connection to others. For the seniors, this type of interaction decreases feelings of isolation. When our children sing and clap, hold hands and sway, share an instrument, or even give a hug, we are alleviating what therapists call “skin hunger” in a very positive and social way. When we sing a familiar song, we are generating memory care. When we move a scarf to music or put simple seated movements with a song our senior friends are getting exercise known as chair dancing.
Bill Wertman, The Alzheimer’s Project’s Executive Director, says “There is nothing that can compare to the interaction of children with our clients and the change that takes place during and post event.
In the truest sense of the word, it is a transformation. We have videotaped the segments (in 2010) and we have watched them time and time again. They never get old … it is clear that during the children’s interaction with our clients, the clients are actively engaged and all smiles.” The “Grandfriends” experience is truly a heart opening and transformative experience for all involved including the parents, teachers, and caregivers that are in attendance.