Intergenerational Literacy Program

Intergenerational Music

Recently, I finished up another 7-week session of “Literacy & Learning through Music,” an intergenerational literacy program at the Omro Area Community Center in Wisconsin. Thanks to an anonymous donor, this was the first time we were able to bring the kids and grandfriends together two times in one school year. Connections were strengthened and musical magic happened!


A Little History

“Literacy & Learning through Music” started as a 5-week pilot program in January 2016. The entire experience was a result of checking with the Omro Area Community Center to see if I could use space there to see a couple of music therapy clients. The director at the time, Sherry Salfai, connected me with Erin Calvin, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the School District of Omro.

After having spent 10 years researching the impact of music on improving literacy, my ideas for how to target these skills in an intergenerational setting were born out of this connection with the school district and seemed like a logical next step. I consulted with JoAnn Jordan, well known in the music therapy world for her work in intergenerational settings, and she suggested the name “grandfriends” for our adult volunteers and community members.

A 5-week pilot program was provided free of charge so that people of all ages could see the value in action. Erin and I were then able to obtain a “Value to the Cause” grant through the school district in order to fund an 8-week program in the fall of 2016 and a 7-week program in the fall of 2017. As part of this grant, I was also able to work with the 4K students in their classrooms.

Meanwhile, the program was replicated at Gabriel’s Villa in Oshkosh, at Maplecrest Manor in Ripon, and at the Berlin Senior Center. In Omro, kindergarten and first grade students from HB Patch Elementary are within walking distance. In other settings, we have found creative ways to fund transportation for the kids.

intergenerational literacy program

Community Collaboration

In the spring of 2018, an anonymous donor stepped forward and offered to fund a program at the Omro Area Community Center. Based on the center’s mission of providing intergenerational opportunities, the new director was quick to recommend the “Literacy & Learning through Music” program.

​”The Center was built on the philosophy that people of all ages can learn and grow with each other while gaining an appreciation for the gifts that each age group brings to our community. Older adults provide our youth with a sense of history, a good role model, good work ethic, and a strong set of values.  Youth provide our older adults with a renewed sense of energy, a positive role, a sense of purpose, and the opportunity to impact the future.”    ~ Omro Area Community Center website

Without a doubt, advancing a child’s success with and enthusiasm for literacy is an effective way to impact the future.

A Brief Overview

Our sessions together always start with a greeting song, opportunities for tapping a steady beat, and establishing the ability to participate in call and response using a variety of vocal inflections.

For about 25 minutes, I work with the kids, targeting specific literacy concepts that have been identified by the teacher as a main priority at that point in the school year.

The primary job of the grandfriends during this stage is to be entertained by the antics of the children. I facilitate interaction as much as possible and try to incorporate the grandfriends into the lessons. While working on skills requiring working memory and sound manipulation, grandfriends find that they also give their brains a workout!

Skills we focused on in this session include:

  • Blending compound words – including silly words like “armsauce”
  • Vocabulary
  • Sequencing
  • Wh Questions
  • Rhyme Completion
  • Rhyme Production
  • Long Vowel Sounds with “Magic E”
  • Specific phonograms: ow, ar, or, er/ir/ur, sh, ch, th, ing
  • Phoneme Segmentation & Blending
  • Audiation
  • Blending Onset-Rime
  • Phoneme Substitution

blending phonemes

Following the warmups and music-based instruction, students and grandfriends read with each other for 10-15 minutes. With this being the second time the children were able to attend in the same school year, it was a joy to watch them jump into laps—sometimes even forgetting to grab a book first! Some students clearly remembered the grandfriend they read with on their first visit and were eager to find him or her!

Many students chose to sit on laps as we all closed with a book that I read and/or sang. We close our session with a goodbye song that incorporates sign language. Sign language is often incorporated throughout the sessions, and our grandfriends are becoming quite skilled with their sign language vocabulary!

sign language literacy

A Few Quotes from Teachers and Grandfriends


“We know that students learn and retain so much through the use of music. The connection that they make with the grand friends is an undeniable treasure for them. There are some students who don’t have a lot of positive interactions with adults other than at school. To be able to provide that for them is fantastic. Upon our arrival back to school today one particular student said, ‘I hope I get to see Tom again.’ Just from that short time he made a connection with his grandfriend and I know it made an impact on him.” 

~Lisa Walsh, HB Patch kindergarten teacher

“We love this program! The enthusiasm of the children is readily transmitted to the adults making it exciting and fun for all. The exercises are creative and engaging. Also, the exercises are as beneficial to the aging brains of the “grandfriends” as to the children.”

~Sue Curran & Bill Schuhart, volunteers

“The response from the children attending these sessions makes this such an enjoyable experience for me as a grandfriend. I not only thoroughly enjoy seeing and hearing the lessons being taught, I love the time that I get to read with 1, 2 or 3 of these kids.  What a special event in the lives of the kids and mine too!”

~Cheryl Buchanan, volunteer

“I love that Literacy and Learning through music collaborates with myself, as a teacher, to see what my students are working on in the classroom.  It is a great way to reiterate our skills in a different, engaging way.  Kathy is great with the kids and keeps them moving and interested the entire time.”

~Kelsey Bahr, HB Patch first grade teacher

“Miss Kathy has a wonderful rapport with the students and teaches literacy in a fun way using music. The students (and adults) are very engaged.  She gears her lesson to be pertinent to the children’s stage in school.  The interaction between the children and ‘grandfriends’ is priceless. We are grateful we have had this opportunity for our students.”

~Julie Berger, HB Patch aide


More Grandfriends Needed!

Literacy & Learning through Music had approximately 15 volunteers in each session, which was a great turnout! Ideally, we’d like to have at least one grandfriend for each child, so there is always room for more! Please email me directly if you’d like to be added to the list to be notified of our next session of “Literacy & Learning through Music.” 

reading with grandfriends



intergenerational literacy

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