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Intergenerational play group nurtures growth, brightens days

When most people hear the phrase “play group,” they don’t necessarily envision a group of participants ranging from newborns to senior citizens, but thanks to a grant from the Mental Health Foundation, that’s exactly what takes place every month in Wichita Presbyterian Manor’s memory care neighborhood.

Spearheaded by USD 259’s Parents As Teachers program, each meeting of the group includes an educational activity, an art project, a fine/gross motor skill activity, story time and a snack. And while education and skill development is at the core of the group’s mission, it’s also about making cross-generational connections.

“We wanted our kids to have experience with the older generation, and we want it to be educational and build relationships as well,” said Shannon Benoit, executive director of curriculum and instruction for USD 259.

Beyond the traditional learning opportunities provided by the group, Shannon believes it also helps provide the children with a new perspective on their world.

“I think participating in the group builds acceptance. It broadens the opportunity for experience with the students,” said Shannon.

But it’s not just the children who benefit from the group; positive effects have been noted in the residents who participate as well.

“The interaction with the little ones has a calming effect on some of the residents who are otherwise anxious or pacing,” said Amy Watson, life enrichment director at Wichita Presbyterian Manor. “They actually sit down and interact.”

And those effects don’t seem to dissipate at the end of the group’s time together.

“It really makes a difference in the remainder of the day for some of the residents,” said Amy. “There is a dramatic change in engagement levels, residents are smiling, singing and talking more. I think the program has improved their overall quality of life.”

Currently, the program is the only one of its kind in the city, but its success has its creators thinking bigger.

“It’s been such a great partnership I would love to expand it in other communities if we could get the funding,” said Shannon.

PHOTOS: Wichita Presbyterian Manor residents and children with USD 259's Parents as Teachers program enjoy monthly play groups that are focused on education and building relationships.

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