By Ryan Keller, Executive Director of The Preserve
There’s nothing that warms your heart like the smile of a child and the sound of their pure laughter. Not only do children touch the hearts of parents and grandparents, but they also spread joy to adults they may not even know.
Studies have shown that socializing with young children can benefit seniors in several ways, like providing life satisfaction. When discussing senior living communities, children are rarely considered as part of the experience. Senior living communities are usually seen as places where seniors spend time with other seniors, and not necessarily a place where children spend time with older adults.
However, it’s more important than you may think for children and seniors to socialize, which is something that I feel passionate about. The Preserve, a senior living community in Fort Myers, organizes an intergenerational play group once a month for these very reasons:
Once a month, a local neighborhood play group of about 10 children and their parents visit The Preserve residents to encourage socialization between children and older adults. Organized by my wife, Katie Keller, the participating parents wanted to bring their kids into a unique environment to play, rather than just playing with each other, and they wanted to share the joy of childhood with the community.
Since the program’s inception in early 2023, the visiting children have started to call the residents their grandparents. Our residents can be seen having long conversations with the children with a smile on their face, and they look forward to the days when the children come to visit.
Decreased loneliness, increased happiness
For seniors, feeling lonely is sometimes inevitable. Mental Health America reports that depression affects about 5% of Americans aged 65 and above. While that may seem like a small number, that percentage accounts for over 2 million seniors. Small things such as spending time with children, who can light up a room, or participating in a fun activity can improve their levels of loneliness. Being surrounded by positivity provides mental health benefits and can even spark optimism. That’s why The Preserve encourages daily socialization through events and activities, including the monthly children’s group. Residents consider the children’s attendance to be the highlight of their day and an absolute treat.
Spending time with people of another generation can also benefit children and assist them with developing social skills. At The Preserve, the children can interact with three generations—fellow toddlers, parents and seniors—which all have their own level of knowledge and way of communicating.
A learning opportunity
While learning never ends, the art of knowledge is particularly special to children. Their minds are constantly expanding with curiosity – who better to answer their questions than seniors who have decades of wisdom under their belt? Children are also knowledgeable and can show seniors how to play new games and encourage playfulness, creativity and patience. Institute for Family Studies reported that children who engage in intergenerational programming have more advanced motor and cognitive skills and better regulated emotions than children who do not.
The Preserve understands the importance of seniors feeling young again. In December, residents and children, including my daughter, were visited by a therapy pony, Misty. The Preserve’s life enrichment team led the children and seniors through a craft as they watched a movie and played with Misty, which enhanced their fine motor skills and sparked creativity for all participants.
We’re all young at heart, and our seniors are no exception. By integrating our newest generation with our oldest, we can establish long-lasting and uniquely memorable relationships for not only our children, but for our seniors, too.
About the Author
Ryan Keller is the Executive Director at The Preserve, a Volunteers of America National Services senior care community in Fort Myers, Florida, that offers private skilled nursing suites, boutique assisted living apartments and memory support suites.