It is unlikely that 89-year-old Lois Parkman ever imagined herself reading children’s books during this season of life, but sometimes life has pleasant surprises.
Grace Skilled Nursing and Therapy of Norman launched the metro’s first intergenerational program in August of 2019. Two Norman Public Schools pre-kindergarten classrooms are on site at Grace, and this provides an opportunity for a beautiful partnership between residents and the children attending school. The children refer to the residents as “Grands,” and smiles are abundant during any time in which they are able to interact with one another.
Make no mistake; these Grands and students are busy and productive. Lori Branson, liaison for the program, collaborates with NPS pre-kindergarten teachers to plan activities such as bingo, arts and crafts, puzzles, ice cream socials, cookie decorating, and much more. The arrangement is mutually beneficial for both residents and students.
“Our intergenerational program benefits all generations," explains Ann Rosales, early childhood education coordinator for Norman Public Schools. "It provides our students with relationships that foster empathy and positive social skills. The Grands provide positive, encouraging relationships, as well as social history lessons. As they work together during “Connections,” the staff is intentional to provide activities that focus on skills both parties need, such as fine motor and speech.”
Parents agree. Karla Rios, parent of student Wesley Rios, says the benefits “were incredible,” adding, “Wesley learned so much, and his speech got better.”
The benefits go beyond strengthening academic skills. “When they are interacting in person or virtually, the warmth and joy is evident,” Ann says. “It is the laughter and acceptance that create the most impact. Grands eagerly await our students and find joy in every interaction with our students. Residents have shared that their pre-K friends give them purpose and something to look forward to, a bright spot in their day.”
In the era of COVID-19 challenges, they have gotten creative with window activities and technology. “We are all looking forward to the day we can be face to face again, but are grateful for the technology that still connects us during this challenging time,” Ann says.
Resident Lois Parkman has found immense joy in this program. She admits that the restrictions of a nursing facility can sometimes make a person emotional. However, this program has brought new life into the facility.
“It’s like fresh air when they [students] come in,” Lois says, adding she found a newfound purpose when the children’s classrooms became a part of the facility.
“One particular [activity] made me feel proud and important,” Lois noted. “We have to find something to do. I’m a knitter, so if I can create something for someone else, it makes me feel important. One year I made Christmas hats for all 40 of them. It was wonderful. I looked around at the parents, and I saw a couple of them who had tears in their eyes.”
She explains, “There are still some of us who want to be involved. The things they do we benefit from… It’s just unbelievable.”
Resident Judye Jackson echoes those sentiments.
“It opens up a whole new light everyday,” she says. Judye’s favorite activity is reading because “…it’s the look on their faces when you animate it and make it fun, and I enjoy it!”
The program has proven to be a success. “Connections” are something to look forward to!
Photos were taken prior to the pandemic.