Songs & Smiles: a guide for parents and guardians

Songs & Smiles is a singing and social group for babies and toddlers, their parents or guardians and care home residents. Held in the residents’ lounge, we sing songs, play instruments, make friends and have 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.

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 and disability a normal part of their lives.
  • It’s a fun, creative and affordable activity to enjoy with your little ones. Our sessions are aimed at 0-4 year olds, but older siblings are welcome too. Music, playing instruments and singing are a fantastic way to develop your child’s language and fine motor skills.

What will we do?

Our sessions are structured around key themes of Speeds, 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 the children to play with toys and to all chat over refreshments.

Songs & Smiles is very relaxed and informal. Some children stay seated and join in the songs, some like to explore the room, 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!

 Louise and her son Heath

Who will we meet?

The people living in the care homes 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
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Songs and Smiles is a wonderful opportunity for the babies and residents of the care home to come together and enjoy singing and play. Intergenerational relationships provide such positive connections for all and to see the vibrant young babies interact with the residents is very touching. I think it’s a most brilliant idea and I enjoy bringing Auri to meet everyone. The music is fun and lively and the atmosphere one of uplifting merriment!
— Sarah, Auri'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 (as long as you’re close at hand). Watching interactions between your child and the new people they meet can be a lovely experience.
  • 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 a biscuit.
  • 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.

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

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