Children from Kiddie Fit Preschool and adults in the Day Haven adult day care program enjoy a game of indoor balloon volleyball. Photo: April Pokorny

The former Riverhead Country Day School building adjacent to Stotzky Park has taken on a new life — yes, it’s still a day care center but the hallway that connects the rooms in the north end of the building to those in the south end now bridges a generational gap that spans decades. (See prior story here.)

The building currently houses two day care centers that interact in a unique way. Kiddie Fit Community Preschool occupies one half of the building and Day Haven — a 501c3 day care center for frail older adults and those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia — inhabits the other. Twice a week for about 30 minutes at a time, the preschoolers enrolled in Kiddie Fit walk down the hallway to visit the “grandmas and grandpas” who are spending the day at Day Haven.

Once there, the children and the seniors interact in an activity designed by Tara Daniels, Kiddie Fit’s owner and founder, and Lori Maldavir, Day Haven’s director, to improve skills that both the preschoolers and the older folks need to work on. Some activities like art projects help strengthen fine motor skills. Recently the Riverhead Foundation visited and brought some marine artifacts — sharks’ jaws and sea turtle shells, among others. Daniels and Maldavir explained that both groups learned from watching a video of a rehabilitated seal release as well as touching the sea shells and fish skeletons.

Last week, the youngsters and the elders played a spirited game of volleyball. The adults sat in chairs on either side of a small volleyball net set up in the activity room. The children were split into two groups, too. The “volleyball” was a balloon that was batted back and forth. The kids were instructed to pass the balloon to one of the grandmas or grandpas and let them try to hit it over the net. The little ones were allowed to help the balloon make it over and, of course, they scrambled madly after the balloon when it drifted out of bounds or fell to the floor. Every once in a while the balloon would break. The next one in the game was always a different color — and with some gentle prodding by one of the teaching assistants one of the adults or a child would name it. Everybody got a lot of exercise from the half hour of fun.

Some of the geriatric individuals have lost much of their speech ability. The activities help them interact with the children without having to speak. Others, due to impulsivity caused by dementia, may yell out something inappropriate. Maldavir uses that as an opportunity to teach manners by correcting without judgment so that the children get the message also.

Lori Maldavir, Day Haven director, left, and Tara Daniels, owner of Kiddie Fit Community Preschool work together to devise activities that will benefit both children and seniors. Photo: April Pokorny

“Two generations together is pure magic,” said Daniels.

Daniels is passionate about having the children learn about good nutrition and fitness. The children have planted a garden from which they will harvest fresh veggies for snacks and lunch. Much of the learning time is spent while moving: dancing, hopping or skipping, activities which help embed the lessons into long-term memory.

Both day care centers offer help to parents and caregivers, too. Kiddie Fit has a program called Parents Night Out. On the last Friday of the month from 5 to 9 p.m. the facility provides childcare so parents can have a “date night.” Day Haven has a free caregiver support service called the Memory Cafe once a month at the Hotel Indigo. Caregivers can meet with others in the same situation, make new friends, and share experiences.

Both Kiddie Fit and Day Haven have openings. The programs are having a joint open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p,m. on Aug. 7 at the facility located at 165 Columbus Ave. Riverhead. Call Kiddie Fit Community Preschool at 631-591-0400 or 631-591-3322 or Day Haven at 631-807-1720 or 631 585-2020 ext. 261 for more information.

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April Pokorny
April is a writer, reporter and copy editor for the LOCAL news websites. She is a retired educator and proud grandma. April lives in Calverton. Email April