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Music brings together children and seniors

In this class, residents of a retirement center are invited to play and sing along with children from newborn to age 7.

Published May 30, 2005

PALM HARBOR - Age doesn't matter when you're having fun.

On Thursday, 18-month-old Shane Gibson and 96-year-old Fran Mortimer enjoyed music and played a game of peekaboo together.

Shane is the son of Dee Dee Gibson, a licensed Kindermusik instructor. Mortimer is a resident at the ManorCare Health Services, a 180-bed nursing center on Tampa Road in Palm Harbor.

Gibson brings Shane to her Kindermusik classes, where babies and their caregivers participate in an educational program that emphasizes music. The Kindermusik Village With Seniors classes are held at a retirement community where residents are invited to participate.

Headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., Kindermusik International sponsors a progressive series of classes for children from newborn to age 7, involving creative movement, vocal play and instrument exploration. It has been operating for 25 years in more than 35 countries, but including seniors in the program is relatively new.

"There are benefits for everyone involved," said Gibson, who began teaching Kindermusik in 1995. "We're laying the foundation for musical development in the children and interacting with older people in the community."

Residents love it, said ManorCare activity director Angie DeMattie.

"They are always asking me, "Is today baby day?"' she said.

Agnes Veleta, 93, has no grandchildren. She said she loves children. Every week she looks forward to Village with Seniors, where she claps and sings along with the toddlers and their parents.

"Aren't they adorable?" she asked. "They're all beautiful."

Sue Mendenhall of Dunedin has been bringing her 16-month-old twins, Ricky and Mackenzie, to Village with Seniors since February and plans to continue with the next class.

She said there are benefits on many levels. Her children socialize with playmates and the older folks. Ricky has responded to music since he was born and loves to dance, she said.

Mendenhall's mother, who lives out of town, is disabled.

"She's in a wheelchair, so it helps them become comfortable around a wheelchair being here regularly," she said.

The seniors are called "grand friends" and appear to get as much out of the class as the children.

Rose DeMarco, 91, said they have other activities at ManorCare, but she particularly enjoys coming to see the young ones.

She points out that Shane has inherited his mother's dark, curly hair. She laughs when he pulls a sheer scarf off her head during peekaboo.

Gibson recalls music being a big part of her life from an early age.

"My mother sang to me all the time, all kinds of music," she said.

When she was 12, she got a piano and lessons for Christmas.

"It was the best present they ever gave me," she said.

Gibson taught piano for eight years after high school. A 1990 graduate of East Lake High School, she got her degree in elementary education at the University of South Florida. She is married to Ken Gibson, 33, director of affiliates for Christian Network Inc. in Clearwater, where the Gibsons live. She taught for six years at Sexton and Blanton elementary schools in St. Petersburg, then took time off for the birth of her son.

In August, when Shane was 8 months old, she returned to teaching Kindermusik three times a week. Two classes involve seniors, at ManorCare and Freedom Square Retirement Community in Seminole. She also teaches one class a week for children 18 months to 3 years old at the Music Gallery in Clearwater.

Classes are 45 minutes once a week and a semester is 15 or 16 weeks long. Class size is limited to 12 children.

The cost is $240 for one semester, which includes materials. There is no charge to the retirement communities where classes are held.

"I have the best feeling after each of these classes," Gibson said. "I know I've done something good. You can see it in their eyes."

[Last modified May 30, 2005, 01:38:11]

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