Activities to stimulate child development and elders in your care
The number of adults that are taking care of their elderly parents (or relatives) while raising their own children is increasing by the day.
Using your everyday activities, and intergenerational learning activities that involve the person you are taking care of, can be a great learning opportunity for both the elderly person and the child you are caring for.
I know many of my friends are now involved in intergenerational care and while it is very gratifying to be able to do so, it can become stressful and guilt-inducing. Finding a work life balance can be difficult.
As caregivers, they want to do their best for both their parents and their children, they have all the best intentions, but they also need to attend to many other priorities at the same time, making them feel like they’re being pulled in many different directions. See our article on Caregiver Burnout.
Many friends constantly ask me what they can do to continue to stimulate their children’s development when there is just not enough time.
Probably you have already read many articles and posts on how to reduce your stress and cope with the daily caregiving challenges. I will focus on specific activities that you can do with your children and your elderly family member, but before I do, I want to reinforce two of the recommendations that most expert sites suggest:
- Share what is happening with your children - First, it is very important to share with your kids about the changes that are happening within the family and your aging relative. Keep this sharing age appropriate. When children know what is happening, it will decrease their anxiety and even their “acting out” behaviours to try to get your attention.
- Involve your children with caregiving - Second, involve the children in the new family dynamics. You don’t have to do it all. No matter how old your children are, or their abilities or maturity, all children can help their parents care for their elderly relatives. Intergenerational caregiving can be as simple as toddlers helping to fetch the slippers for grandma, or a 6 year old bringing some juice for grandpa, or a teenager visiting with grandpa and going for a short walk around the block.
As a Speech-Language Pathologist for 23 years, I’ve seen a lot of parents and caregivers in this same situation. Here are some caregiver tips for learning activities I provide very often, as they are easy to implement:
- Always model correct pronunciation and correct sentence structure. This recommendation is important not only for your child, but also for your elderly relative if they are experiencing hearing loss, cognitive deterioration or language difficulties. Always speak slowly, in a clear tone, and face your child (or elderly relative) when speaking. Teach your child to also face the other person when they are speaking. If your child incorrectly pronounces a word or say a sentence incorrectly, resist the temptation to simply correct them or get them to say it over again. Instead, you repeat the correc word or sentence back to them to show that you do understand what they are trying to say. Your repetition back to the child ensures that they always hear the correct version.
- Schedule time to sit and spend quiet time with your child – and if your elderly relative is able to do so, ask them to help you with this. This is a great way to get your child to ignore other distractions. Together you both can read a book and disucss the story or photos. You can do this activity with your child and then ask him to “read” the book to their grandparents.
- Observe, wait, and listen – When coaching parents on how to improve their child’s communication skills, the first behavior we address is the tendency parents have to talk all the time, and solve all the challenges that children face. For example, while spending time with your child there’s no need to always fill the silence. It’s okay to step aside once in a while and simply comment on what your child is doing so they grasp the vocabulary and learn. If your child is facing a challenge – for example, the ball he was playing with rolled under the chair – just wait, and first observe his attempts to retrieve the ball. If he fails, let your child ask for help before you run to fetch the ball back for him. Also, let him ask for help from other members of the family.
- Singing activities - Songs and nursery rhymes are wonderful intergenerational learning activities that offer a great opportunity to include your elderly relatives. The rhythm and repetition of songs and rhymes are essential skills to language and literacy development. Ask the person you are taking care of to teach your child some of their childhood nursery rhymes; these, and the time spent together, are memories your child will cherish all his life. If the person you are taking care of is not able to teach new songs, ask your child to sing for them. This will help your child practice speech sounds, rhymes, memory, and new vocabulary, and the songs will have also a pleasant, relaxing effect on your elderly relative.
- Incorporate language-learning activities at every opportunity – You can make every activity a language-learning opportunity whether you’re taking a trip to the drug store, the doctor’s office, or the shops, or even during bath time. Ask questions or play name games by pointing at things, naming them, or incorporationg them into a nursery rhyme. There’s no need to schedule a set time of day to learn language; every daily activity provides an opportunity to develop it into a language-learning event.
Using everyday activities can be a great way to practice and develop speech, language and literacy skills. These activities can also change a mundane event into a pleasurable one. For example:
- At bath time – This is a very rich environment to develop vocabulary because you can associate it to sensory activities. You can teach adjectives that are hard to show in other environments, like wet, dry, soft, and raspy. Other words related to bath time are verbs like wash, scrub, rinse, clean, brush, and splash, and nouns such as soap, water, towel, shampoo, sink, and individual body parts.
- At clean-up time - You can play “I-spy,” to practice observation skills and also new vocabulary like colours, shapes, and initial sounds. This is a great intergenerational game to play with your child and elderly parent or relative because it stimulates cognitive skills and promotes intergenerational bonding.
- During errands - If you go for a walk or are driving to do your errands, talk about what the people on the street are doing (e.g. walking, working, riding etc.), or name as many different occupations that you can see (driver, policeman, road-worker, shopkeeper, etc.).
Remember, you don’t have to feel bad if you can’t set aside specific time to work on your children’s speech and language development. Using your everyday activities, and intergenerational learning activities that involve the person you are taking care of, can be a great learning opportunity for both the elderly person and the child you are caring for.