Earlychildhoodcenteral.org had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Shirley Sherman, Director of Child Care, and Erika Babiec, Assistant Activities Director, about their intergenerational program at University Commons. University Commons Child Care Center is a unique center caring for toddlers and preschool children that is located within University Commons Nursing Care Center, Worcester, MA.
Program started in Fall of 1993, who started the program?
When the facility was in the planning/design stages, it was always in the original plan to have a senior center and child care center together in the same building. The 2 main premises for this are:
- For recruitment and retention of high quality staff at University Commons. Staff can bring their children to work and have them right there in the same building as them while they work.
- Studies have shown that programs where seniors and children can socialize and make a connection with one another has positive effects on each age group.
How often do children and seniors meet?
The preschool aged children and seniors meet one time per month, sometimes twice per month. Also, once per month, the toddlers and preschool aged children meet with the seniors for a sing-a-long.
How many children and seniors participate?
When the preschool children and seniors meet, they meet in small groups of five so that there are five children per every five seniors. This allows each child to be paired up one on one with a senior. Both age groups are screened for activity ability prior to meeting to ensure a good match. Some seniors that aren't paired up with a child go just to see the children and enjoy the activities.
What activities do the seniors and preschool children engage in?
We base a lot of the activities on the month we are in. For instance, for Valentine's Day, the children and the seniors did an art project and made valentines. For the month of March, each child brought up a picture book and a senior read it to them. For April and May, the children are helping the seniors get their garden ready. They are planting seeds in cups that will be eventually transplanted into the garden. In past summers, they have tied dyed shirts together.
What are the benefits for each age group?
Shirley Sherman, Director of the Child Care Center, said this is hard to put onto words. You can see it in the photos that she has hanging on her door. In the faces of both age groups, there is a look of pure enjoyment. The seniors feel like they are doing something really productive. There is a sense of pride in the children's faces as well. When both age groups are together, they are working on a similar task, like fine motor skills, tracking, and memory. All these skills help to keep the seniors sharp and help the children to improve their skills as well.
Any funny stories you can share about while the seniors and children were together?
Shirley and Erika shared this story with us:
There is one senior who visits the preschool classrooms. One day, a little girl walked up to her and asked, "How old are you?" To which the senior replied, "Nineteen." Then the little girl turned to her teacher and said, "Wow, she is really young, isn't she!?"
Any other information you may feel is important that you would like added?
The intergenerational program is dually important to the seniors, staff and children. Having the kids on site is a real enjoyment for the seniors. Seniors can see children playing in the playground and walking through the halls to other classrooms, which makes a lot of the interaction unplanned. University Commons Childcare Center is viewed as an international center. They provide child care to many families from other countries who go to UMass Memorial Medical School and the Biotech Connection. Many of these families leave their loved ones behind when they come here to the United States, and they enjoy having their children interacting with the seniors.
If you would like more information about this intergenerational program and University Commons Child Care, please contact the Admissions Department at University Commons Nursing Care Center at 508-755-7300.