Songs & Smiles at Arlington Manor Care Home: a guide for parents and guardians

Songs & Smiles is a free music and social group for 0-4 year olds, their parents or guardians and care home residents. We sing, move, play, make friends and have lots of fun!

One of the many benefits of Songs & Smiles is that it opens up care homes to the community, allowing people who might not ordinarily come into contact to get to know each other. For some, visiting a care home can be quite an unfamiliar activity. You might feel a little unsure of what to expect or how best to interact with the people you’ll meet. We hope that this guide will help you to get the most out of your visit.

Songs & Smiles at Arlington Manor Care Home in Girton, Cambridge runs every Thursday 11am-12pm.

What are the benefits?

Songs & Smiles is designed to give joy to the residents, the young children and to their grown-ups.

  • It’s a wonderful way to give something back to your local community. By attending with your child, you’re helping to reduce loneliness and social isolation amongst older people – it’s a great feeling!

  • It gives your child the valuable opportunity to interact with different generations, helping to make the ageing process, dementia and disability a normal part of their lives. We want young children to see older people as playmates to share a song and a smile with.

  • It’s a fun, creative and free activity to enjoy with your little ones. Our sessions are aimed at 0-4 year olds, but older siblings are welcome during school holidays too. Music, playing instruments and singing are a fantastic way to develop your child’s language, social and fine motor skills.

  • Many mums and dads have told us of the positive impact the groups have on their own wellbeing. Parenthood can sometimes be a bit lonely, so meeting new people across different age groups and knowing that you’re contributing towards something valuable can be a real mood-booster.

What will we do?

When you arrive at Arlington Manor, you’ll receive a warm welcome and be shown through to the activity room. If you’ve brought a buggy there will be a safe place to leave it, as well as an area to change nappies if required.

The main activity will start at 11am, but it’s a good idea to arrive a few minutes early if you can to get settled (we’ll have instruments and toys for the children to play with while they wait).

Our sessions are structured around key themes of Speeds/Volume, Beats, Actions and Movement. Playing instruments, tapping out rhythms, popping bubbles, waving colourful scarves - there's lots to keep everyone entertained! The second part is a chance for everyone to chat over refreshments and make some new friends.

Songs & Smiles is very relaxed and informal. Some children stay seated and join in the songs, some like to stand up and dance, others just have a cuddle with their grown-up whilst enjoying the atmosphere. The residents tell us how much they enjoy seeing children of different ages: little babies provide the ‘ahhh’ factor, while the toddlers provide lots of entertainment!

Mum Sara and resident Joan find lots to smile about when playing with little Hector at Westgate House in Forest Gate

Mum Sara and resident Joan find lots to smile about when playing with little Hector at Westgate House in Forest Gate

Who will we meet?

The people living in the home are mostly older people, many of whom have reduced mobility and some of whom have disabilities. This can make it challenging for them to leave the home on a regular basis, so visitors can be a real highlight of their day.

Some of the residents have dementia. Dementia takes a variety of forms, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease. It can cause memory loss and difficulties with thinking and language. The oldest memories are generally the clearest, so at Songs & Smiles we sing songs that the residents remember from their own childhoods, like ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’.

You’ll find a range of different people to meet. You might share stories of the ups and downs of parenting with some who’ve ‘been there, done that’ – this can be great fun (and sometimes therapeutic!). Some of the residents will find conversations more challenging, but having a young child with you is a great icebreaker. Playing peekaboo, waving, shaking a tambourine together – these are some of the lovely ways that residents, children and their grown-ups can bond.

Songs & Smiles is a lovely, relaxed opportunity to get people of all ages together. The youngest ones love the music and all the attention and the oldest ones love the liveliness and companionship. You can always start a conversation with them by asking if they enjoyed the singing. Often just introducing the little ones to them is enough to brighten up their day and bring a smile to their faces. They love to hear about the progress your child is making, e.g. starting on solids, crawling or walking. It’s a lovely way to share happiness.
— Alison, Heath's grandma
Rebecca and Douglas have become firm friends with Sylvia at Bucklesham Grange in Ipswich

Rebecca and Douglas have become firm friends with Sylvia at Bucklesham Grange in Ipswich

Songs & Smiles came to us when I was feeling quite isolated. The atmosphere is so welcoming and warm and I know when we are there that it doesn’t matter what kind of day we are having because it instantly just turns a bad day into a good one.
— Rebecca, Douglas's mum

Making friends

Here are some tips that you might find useful.

  • A smile and a friendly ‘hello’ is sometimes all you need to brighten someone’s day.

  • Somebody living with dementia may take longer to process information, so you might not get a reply straight away. By being patient and giving them the space to respond, you’ll help everybody feel at ease.

  • Speak slowly, calmly and with a warm manner. Being at eye level is often better than standing over someone.

  • Children are a fantastic talking point. Many of the residents love hearing about what your little one has been getting up to and the new skills they’ve learned.

  • If your child is crawling or walking, feel free to let them explore the room and make new friends (but please stay close at hand to supervise). Watching interactions between your child and the new people they meet can be a lovely experience.

  • Some parents/guardians offer residents the chance to interact with their child by shaking hands, giving a 'high five' to a toddler, stroking a baby's head and so forth. However, there is absolutely no requirement to let anyone do so, and any interactions that do take place should be guided by your own and your child's comfort levels.

  • The more often people come to Songs & Smiles, the more rewarding they tend to find it. Friendships are built over the weeks and residents enjoy watching the children grow and develop.

  • It’s also a great place to meet other parents/guardians and have a chat over a drink and snacks.

  • Above all, come and have fun!

If you’d like to learn more about the best way to communicate with someone with dementia, The Alzheimer’s Society has a great guide.

Some things to note...

Please do not come to a session if you or your little one are unwell with a potentially contagious illness or infection or have experienced vomiting/diarrhoea within 48 hours. This is the same rule that most baby and toddler groups apply, but is especially important given that some of the residents attending may be particularly susceptible to illness.

Booking in to each individual session that you would like to attend is essential. We have a limited number of spaces available, so would really appreciate as much notice as possible if you’re no longer able to attend (although we totally understand that last-minute situations can crop up!).

You’re welcome to take photos of your own child at the session, but please don’t photograph any other children or the residents unless the relevant parent/guardian or a member of care home staff have said it’s ok to do so. We may from time to time have photographers/videographers at the sessions; we’ll always ensure we’ve obtained written consent from everybody we photograph/video (or a parent/guardian/carer) and if you’d prefer your little one not to feature, that’s absolutely fine.

Songs & Smiles is free to attend, but as a non-profit, we’re really grateful for donations if you’ve enjoyed the session. We have a donation pot at the sessions or you can donate online.

How to find Arlington Manor

The address is Wellbrook Way, Girton, Cambridge CB3 0FW (here's a map).

You are welcome to use the car park at Arlington Manor. If it’s full, there is free parking on the streets nearby.

Find out more about Songs & Smiles here. If you have any questions, drop us a line on Twitter or Facebook or email songs@thetogetherproject.co.uk.

Lee, JJ, Karis and baby Zoe getting to know Iris at Summerdale Court in Canning Town

Lee, JJ, Karis and baby Zoe getting to know Iris at Summerdale Court in Canning Town

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