Acorns & Oaks Christian Academy student with Perry Lutheran Homes King's Gardens Campus resident.
A Perry Lutheran Homes’ King’s Gardens Campus resident participates in intergenerational programming with an Acorns & Oaks Christian Academy preschool student. (Image courtesy of Perry Lutheran Homes)

After six successful years of running an intergenerational day care program within a senior living community, Perry Lutheran Homes, Perry, IA, launched a new preschool program to further integrate into the greater community and create awareness of the needs of older adults.

Acorns & Oaks Christian Academy is located within Perry’s King’s Gardens campus — the same location of its Acorns & Oaks Christian Daycare program, which launched in 2017 to provide day care services for children aged six weeks through five years. Perry Lutheran Homes saw the preschool as a continuing and expansion of that intergenerational model.

“With our strong desire for community integration, it is a way for us to serve more members of our community,” Mollie A. Clark, Perry Lutheran Homes marketing director, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “When they become part of this intergenerational program, it opens their eyes to the world of senior living and how they can be part of it through visiting residents, volunteering and more.”

Through the intergenerational program, she said, children learn to value older adults and become comfortable around assistive devices, such as wheelchairs and walkers. The King’s Gardens Campus offers memory care, skilled nursing, rehabilitative therapy, respite care and end-of-life care.

“It’s important for children to grow up around and become comfortable with older adults, assistive devices such as wheelchairs and walkers, and people of varying abilities,” Clark said. “They learn to see people and love them for who they are, not what they can or can’t do.”

The preschool space is designed around six classroom learning centers, offering hands-on, experiential learning and components of the Montessori Method and the Reggio Emilia Approach educational philosophies. Centers focus on nature, math and manipulatives, art and literacy, library, practice life skills, and Bible study.

With day care and preschool client families in the building daily, Clark said, families see the resident-child interactions and connections being made. Families also get to know and “adopt” residents.

“Being part of this intergenerational program opens their eyes to the world of senior living and how they can be part of it,” Clark said. “Additionally, when people in the community hear about the intergenerational model of living or see our photos of residents with children on social media, they have such strong and positive reactions that word spreads.

“People have chosen Perry Lutheran Homes for their loved ones because they know that their mom, who loves children, will enjoy life with little ones around on a regular basis.”

Along with providing exposure to the community, the intergenerational programs also are attracting and retaining staff members. The community offers a 50% day care discount to employees, and having their children on-site can be a comfort to workers.

“It offers peace of mind being able to drop in at any time, as well as great pride as their children grow up sharing their passion and love for older adults,” Clark said, adding that some staff members have children in the day care or preschool as well as grandparents living in Perry Lutheran Homes. “These staff know that through Acorns & Oaks Christian Academy, their grandparents will get to frequently see their grandchild[ren] and do fun things throughout the week.”

Lessons learned

For other providers considering an intergenerational preschool or day care, Perry Lutheran Homes recommended making sure the program is strategically interwoven in the daily fabric of the senior living community. When done strategically, such programs can provide benefits to residents, families, staff members and the greater community.

It starts, Clark said, with an intergenerational mindset.

“Throughout our lives, we live and regularly interact with those of different generations. The same should be true within our senior living communities,” she said. “The day care and preschool children can be integrated into daily exercise, meal times, activities, one-on-one engagement, in memory care neighborhoods and more.”

Be mindful of various state licenses, regulations, policies and procedures governing day cares and preschools, she recommended. Those parameters can dictate location, renovations or space requirements, staffing and new resident admissions.

“The space should be accessible for both children and residents, and new staff and residents may need to undergo additional criminal background and/or registry checks,” Clark said.