Thanks to a local piano teacher, residents at Westlock’s Smithfield and Pembina lodges have been experimenting with music and movement-centred recreation alongside some new, young friends, putting the benefits of positive sound and social interaction front and centre.
There are two distinct intergenerational music programs which Sarah Greenfield runs: one at Pembina Lodge with seniors and daycare children, and a second at Smithfield Lodge that includes parents as well.
The program is called the Learning Groove and was created by two American musicians and adapted by Greenfield for her participants.
“I have family members and friends that live in the lodges. I very much enjoy my preschool students and their parents, I have wonderful families,” said Greenfield. “I really enjoy the residents at the lodges, so a couple of years ago I approached the program coordinators. I began at Smithfield and we did a little bit of a pilot … and it was met with such enjoyment and enthusiasm from everyone, myself included.
“I love this class. It is just an absolute joy to teach and share the music with everybody.”
At Pembina Lodge, she collaborated with the Westlock Community Daycare Society and Tracy Angell to provide transportation for the kids to the lodge.
“We attempted this in the summer, but because there were so many inclement weather days we had to cancel because there was no means for them to get to Pembina Lodge. Their only means of transportation was for them to walk,” said Greenfield about minimizing barriers and creating a framework for the program to run smoothly.
At Smithfield Lodge, the program is open to the public, so a parent, guardian, grandparent, or other family member can bring their kids and participate in the music with lodge residents.
Greenfield did some research on music programs and ended up discovering the Learning Groove. It comes with prepared music which she liked.
“There’s wiggles, and rhyming, and stomping, and creativity, and learning of life lessons … One of the things we really noticed was the development of confidence in the children as they interacted with the seniors at the lodges,” she said.
Noreen Harder is one of the participants in the program at Smithfield.
She began going in 2018, at the start of the class, with two of her grandchildren, who are now three and four-years-old. It was an opportunity for them to visit with her mother and mother-in-law, who are both residents at the lodge.
“It has really brought the little girl out of her shell a little bit. She’s quite shy and it’s really helped her deal with some of that. She’s participating really well now,” said Harder.
Greenfield too noticed that after a few sessions, the kids naturally gravitate to the same spots, next to the same lodge residents they’ve interacted with, building a kind of unspoken, but sung, relationship over time.
For the seniors as well, the therapeutic benefits are evident. Some might not receive visits from family very often, and Greenfield calls it a chance for them to be reminded of family. Beyond the emotional, this form of recreation inspires their week with movement and music coupled together.
“It’s such a great mix for the seniors and the little ones. (The seniors) participate as much as they can and Sarah really mixes it up. There’s movement and rhythm, singing … so it’s a good little workout for them. They seem to love it, they love watching the little ones,” added Harder.
“Not everybody is interested in piano lessons, nor are they necessarily interested in a specific instrument, but they might very much enjoy music. Or perhaps they haven’t even had an exposure, parent or child, and they’re looking for an activity that they can share together. Over the period of time that I’ve been teaching, this is something that came to light,” said Greenfield.
“I love music and want to share the joy of music with others, especially knowing the benefits that music can provide socially, mentally, physically.”
Although the Pembina Lodge program is reserved for the daycare kids only, there is still space for interested families at the weekly Smithfield iteration. Only eight of the 15 available spots are currently filled, and a spot accounts for up to four family members.