Friendships Form Across the Generations

Friendships Form Across the Generations
Once a month, 3- and 4-year-olds from University Liggett School (MI) visit a nearby retirement community to spend time with the residents. Thanks to the school’s Grandpals program, the pre-kindergarten students and seniors engage in a variety of activities, from playing with musical instruments and decorating cookies to having a holiday craft exchange and planting a garden. Liggett pre-K teachers Melody McCambridge and Carla Whitton created the program with a Liggett Venture Grant that focuses on faculty professional development.

The project leverages Liggett’s Reggio Emilia-inspired program, which emphasizes and strengthens community connections. “The children and the seniors are forming relationships, and through those relationships, they are learning what people of all ages have to offer each other,” Whitton says.

The activities also help the children and seniors improve their fine motor and gross motor skills. Last September, when the students and seniors met for the first time, they cut fruit and made kabobs, played with building blocks, and drew pictures. In October, they made jack-o’-lanterns with Play-Doh, created a banana ghost snack, and sang Halloween songs.

The teachers posted a timeline outside the classroom to document the time the preschoolers have spent with their grandpals. Documentation is one of the three phases of project work at Liggett, and it helps the young students understand the concept of time. After just a few visits, the youngsters and the senior citizens have already formed strong bonds.

“It has been really inspiring,” McCambridge says. “The unconditional acceptance between all parties makes sharing a learning experience enjoyable for everyone. Friendships are declared through actions, not words. Our grandpals honor the pace of childhood, and remind us that at the heart of humanity lies empathy."