How a seniors care centre and a child care centre are combating loneliness and building community in Toronto
Reprinted from the Loneliness and Social Connection issue of Visions Journal, 2019, 14 (3), pp. 37-38
In June 2014, the City of Toronto and two partner organizations launched an intergenerational program designed to foster and support interactions among seniors, children and families. Through an intensive redevelopment initiative, the Kipling Early Learning & Child Care Centre, and Kipling Acres, a long-term care home, established a combined physical space and a collaborative programming environment, bringing together younger children and older adults of Toronto’s diverse Kipling community.
In the newly designed space, families access the child care centre by entering through the long-term care home. The unique physical layout encourages casual interactions among seniors, children and families.
For many in long-term care, depression and loneliness is an everyday reality. Simply because older residents live together in a long-term care facility does not mean they have the opportunity or the inclination to establish meaningful relationships with other residents, and continuing loneliness can have negative impacts on an individual's physical and emotional health and well-being.1
The importance of intergenerational programming
The presence of a strong intergenerational program at Kipling supports a wider, more diverse range of social interactions. The program brings together senior residents and toddlers (aged 18 to 30 months) in various activities designed to foster and nurture mutually beneficial relationships, setting a positive tone for each day. Senior residents engage socially and emotionally with the young children, who in turn develop important social, emotional, language, cognitive and physical skills.
As they participate in the program, senior residents and other clients establish connections with the community's children and young families, which helps to decrease their loneliness and sense of isolation. This result is easily observed by programming staff, family members and clients alike: residents who may have been agitated become calm and smiles light up their faces as they reminisce about happy moments spent interacting with the toddlers and families who participate in the intergenerational program.
The programming teams from the early learning centre and the long-term care home work together to plan and implement a diverse program of weekly creative and interactive learning and social experiences that meet the needs and interests of both children and seniors. For example, our Move and Groove dance sessions encourage children and seniors to connect through music and movement, offering programs in dancing and singing.
In our weekly Mail Delivery program, children dress up in mail carrier uniforms and, with the support of educators, help deliver mail received at the front desk to participating seniors. This experience helps the children develop their language and literacy skills and fosters their social and emotional development. The children take their responsibility seriously; their confidence and self-esteem soar as they embrace their postal-delivery duties. The seniors are reminded of the days when the mail carriers delivered mail to their front door. It is easy to see that both children and seniors enjoy their connection with each other.
Over the year, children and seniors participate together in a wide variety of seasonal social events and experiences, including holiday celebrations, arts and crafts classes, bingo games, cooking and gardening lessons, and yoga and drumming sessions. Throughout, personal, impromptu interactions are encouraged and welcomed.
For example, there are frequent social interactions between seniors and families when children are dropped off or picked up. One resident likes to play the piano on the second-floor mezzanine, and when the children go by, they stop and listen and sing along. During inclement weather, the children are taken for walks on the units and are able to greet the residents. And it is always heartwarming to see a senior showing a three-year-old their date of birth on their veteran’s service card.
Intergenerational interaction means a healthier community
Heathy social relationships between young children and older adults benefit the well-being of both the child and the older adult in the short and long term. These connections don't replace or serve as a substitute for the valuable relationships that children have with their grandparents and other family members. Rather, the interactions help to foster a sense of community well-being, so that children, families and seniors can experience living in an environment that supports and embraces all generations and all phases of life.
For the children, one of the most positive aspects of the program is the opportunity to develop empathy and an understanding of the needs of others, and the chance to learn about the different strengths and challenges that others may have. Many of our young families have chosen Kipling Early Learning & Child Care Centre specifically because of the intergenerational program. The program's success is also one of the reasons that our senior residents have chosen Kipling Acres as their long-term care home and our other clients choose to participate in our adult day program.
Other child care centres, long-term care homes and adult day program providers should consider the success of Kipling's intergenerational initiatives when they look at ways to support healthy aging and improve the quality of life for children, seniors, families and their communities. Kipling is certainly not the only success story. The City of Toronto now operates two other long-term care homes with on-site child care centres, Seven Oaks and Lakeshore Lodge. The popularity of the intergenerational programs at these two locations is further proof of the value of such inclusive programming for the well-being of all our communities.
About the author
Robert (Bob) is Home Administrator for Kipling Acres, Toronto Long-Term Care Homes & Services. A Certified Professional Accountant, Bob has worked in health care since 1989 and as a long-term care administrator since 1992. He is a proponent of community partnerships to help enhance the life of long-term care residents
Rafelina (Lina) is the Centre Supervisor for Kipling Early Learning & Child Care Centre, Toronto Children’s Services. A registered childhood educator for 32 years, Lina's focus is on supporting the growth and development of young children in diverse communities throughout the Toronto area
Duncan, C. (2007). Loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. iAdvance Senior Care (September 1). www.iadvanceseniorcare.com/article/loneliness-helplessness-and-boredom.
Recently, other initiatives in the Toronto area consider the benefits of mixed-age housing more generally. See, for example, the information sheet for the Toronto HomeShare Pilot Project, at www.nicenet.ca/files/HomeShare_Information_Sheet_2018.pdf.