A group of kindergarten students in Coffeyville, Kansas, definitely aren’t part of a typical class. Instead of learning in a school, the 21 students meet at Windsor Place nursing home.
“Having children in our facility is nothing new,” said Monte Coffman, executive director of Windsor Place. “We’ve had kids come here about once a week since the ’90s to visit with our residents. But this is different. These kids are here five days a week, from 7:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., throughout the school year.”
The Grace Living Centers nursing home in Jenks, Okla., pioneered the idea several years ago. Windsor Place offers the first such program in Kansas, having gotten its start after Coffman and his staff discussed the program with people from Jenks, and then with Robert Morton, a district superintendent in Kansas.
To make the children’s classroom, three resident rooms were combined. One area accommodates art projects, another includes a whiteboard for teaching, and in the third, children sit on the floor and play games on a rug. A playground with picnic tables provides additional space.
Windsor Place paid for all of the construction.
“The kids are really happy here,” Coffman said.
Parents of next year’s kindergartners are so eager to enroll their children, a drawing may have to be held to give everybody a chance, he said.
“The program has been a great success,” said Jacque Rooks, quality of life director at the facility. “The kids are learning in a classroom setting, but they also pick up a lot from their ‘grandmas’ and ‘grandpas’ here.”
Teacher Sherri Chittum instructs the young students, and residents also help with activities such as reading, writing and arithmetic – and even cooking and gardening.
Each morning, residents and students sing and dance as part of a daily exercise program. Then one of the students – a different one each day – gets to ring the bell beside the classroom door to announce that it’s time to return to class.
One part of the inner wall of the classroom is low enough, with glass at the top, to allow residents in wheelchairs to watch the children as they pursue their activities. They don’t have to sit outside looking in, though. They are welcome to enter and help with games or read to the students, or let the students read to them. They also help with art projects. This age-to-age interaction is what the program is all about.
“Residents will tell the children stories,” Rooks said, “and the kids will learn things from these stories they may never have learned in a regular school setting.”
The residents are learning, too.
“Some of them had sort of lost interest in living,” Rooks said. “They forgot how to do a lot of things, because everything is done for them here. But that changed when the kids came. Now, they have an interest in helping the students. Having the kids here is giving them a new lease on life.”
She said she would love for every nursing home to have a kindergarten classroom. “It’s been such a success, not only for the kids, but for the residents as well.”