Connecting the Generations

Connecting the Generations post page

By Online Dementia JournalApril 14th, 2021

Connecting the Generations


by Mary Sue Wilkinson,

Founder of Singing Heart to Heart and Author of “Songs You Know by Heart: A Simple Guide for Using Music in Dementia Care”

Have you ever planned a family gathering, or perhaps an activity where you work, that involved people of all ages? It can be challenging right?

The little ones can’t read or sit still for very long, the eldest may (or may not) have some physical or cognitive limitations, the folks in the middle age group might have to be convinced to put away their cell phones, and almost everyone will have differing interests and musical preferences.

Well, I have an idea for you.

Let me explain it to you by describing the scene at my house. This scene took place a couple of years ago. Since then, we have added a new little one, born March 15th. Welcome to the world Arthur William Rose.

So, here’s the family group as it was 2 years ago. Leon is two, his mom and dad are 30, his grandma is 65 (that’s me), and great grandpa is 91.

Leon is perched on his little white chair, which he positions right next to the stereo speaker. He’s holding his guitar, which is actually an inexpensive ukulele I gave him. Gently swaying side to side, he sings along to the music on the CD player.  Sometimes he jumps up and dances and when he hears Old McDonald, he loves making the animal sounds.

Great grandpa Jack sits nearby; singing and clapping to the beat, encouraging Leon and joining in. He remembers these songs from his own childhood. Watching Leon makes him happy. Singing with Leon is even better.

Leon’s mom and dad sit on the couch holding hands and yes, they too are singing along. Their eyes shine with pride for their son and love for their grandpa.

And me? I’m sitting near Leon and of course I’m singing along. I scan the room, smiling. And here’s my observation.

Everyone is able to participate and no one is left out. 

So, what are we singing along with? 

Folk songs!

Perhaps you’re like me. I know a little bit about my family’s musical preferences. I could make a playlist that everyone would probably enjoy listening to and that would be OK.

What if you want everyone to participate? What if you have a mixed age group with a variety of musical tastes?

What if you’d like to have a simple, shared experience singing together?

That’s where folk songs come in; so simple and so deeply ingrained in our culture that everyone knows at least one or two of them. Joining in is almost automatic. I’ve seen it over and over, especially in my work with people living with dementia.

I’ve Been Working on the RailroadMy Bonnie Lies Over the OceanOld McDonald, She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain… These songs, and others, are what I call my ringers. They work every time.

Give folk songs a try, on your own or with my Sing Along with Mary Sue: Folk Song Favorites for Young and Old CD. It’s available here (along with my book and my other CD) in Teepa’s online store. The companion songbook is available here on my Singing Heart to Heart website. Enjoy!

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