A kindergarten everyone should attend

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Sometimes—if we're lucky—school teaches us more than the standard lesson plans. That's certainly the case at Windsor Place in Coffeyville, KS, which houses a kindergarten.

Every school day, 20 bright-eyed children walk into the nursing home, oversize backpacks jostling on their backs. Greeting them is a line of residents in wheelchairs. Immediately, as if it were a natural reaction, the children come up to the residents and hug them. After seeing more residents in the breakfast room, they head to their classroom, which has been built within the facility.

This kindergarten within a nursing home is unique in the nation. There is reportedly only one other, at Grace Living Centers nursing home, in Jenks, OK.

There should be more.

Only in its second year, the school has injected new energy into the building. There are several stories of residents who, because of the children, have found a new interest in life. Here's one: Marian Nelson, a resident, had two of her own children die, and was depressed. Since the school kids started arriving, however, her life is easier, she says. She reads to them, she interacts with them. And when she had a stroke last year, she pushed herself to get better because of them.

And another: Raymond Cranor, who would just sit in his wheelchair all day, one day perked up when he heard the children singing. When asked what song he'd like to sing, he responded, "You Are My Sunshine." He then proceeded to sing along with the children.

Does it get any better than that?

Then there is the staff, who take more pride in their appearance because of the kids, and the parents, who say they, too, have a better understanding and less fear of older people, according to Monte Coffman, executive director of Windsor Place.

The children and residents, who the youngsters call Grandma and Grandpa, do several activities together throughout the day, including arts and crafts and exercises (the residents reach their arms up higher and bend down farther because of the kids).

The facility has a DVD that shows the children and residents in action. I saw it today and was deeply touched.

Probably the most important intergenerational activity of the day is reading. During the first semester, the residents read to the children. During the second semester, the children, who, by then, have learned to read, read to the adults.

It may be the best reading class in the country. Why? Because the children not only are learning to read, they are learning it from people with lined faces, wizened hands, and stores of wisdom and experience. One resident, Diane Jones, shares her stories of growing up as a farm girl to an attentive audience. The children get to know the residents, not as "old people," but as adults who have lived through interesting times and have ideas and insights to offer.

These are the lessons the children are likely to remember.

Anyone wanting to learn more about the kindergarten should contact Executive Director Monte Coffman, at (620) 251-5190, ext. 126, or at m.coffman@windsorplace.net.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.