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Ages & Stages (cont.)

...even within the same person's different organ systems. Genetics as well as lifestyle choices affect the quality and length of our lives.

We tend to believe that as we age, people become more similar. Recent research shows that, in fact, people become even more different. The older population is more diverse than any other part of the population. As we get older, we actually become "more of ourselves." Older people are more diverse because of different backgrounds, abilities, interests, and experiences.

So, the bottom line is that people are different and aging is individual. You have to look at the person, not at how old they are. Sometimes we can have more in common with someone older than we are than someone the same age or younger than we are. It all depends.

During a Grandparents Day event, have each person -- young and old -- write out the following on a piece of paper: their birth date, favorite color, favorite food, favorite sport, and favorite animal.

Everyone can then wander through the room to find people who are similar. First, can you find anyone who is exactly the same as you (i.e. a match on all five items)? Probably not, because everyone is an individual.

Next, can you find someone with a birth date close to yours? How many of the other items do they have in common with you? Is everyone the same age the same? Just because two people are similar in their age, doesn't automatically mean they have other things in common.

Finally, try to find the person with the most items in common with yours -- four out of five, three out of five, two out of five. Are they close to your age or not? Does someone have to be your age to enjoy some of the same things that you do?


Faded Memories

Suggested Activity Timing: Any time.

Curriculum Connections: Health; Science; Language Arts.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

One of the biggest myths about aging is that you automatically and severely lose your memory. Everyone, no matter what age, forgets things. If young people didn't forget things, then they'd always get 100% on tests. But they forget things they learn in school, things their parents tell them, things they see on the television or hear on the radio. Sometimes we forget things because we weren't paying enough attention or weren't interested in the first place. Other times we're tired, hurried, overloaded with information or worries, or even depressed. Medication can also make you forget things.

Significant memory loss is not a normal part of aging. You may have occasional trouble remembering something specific, but usually it doesn't have a major impact on the quality of your life.

It's important to understand the difference between normal forgetfulness and "dementia" -- serious memory loss, confusion, disorientation, and personality change. The difference lies in not just forgetting where your car keys are, but forgetting what they are for. The term "dementia" is used to describe a group of symptoms usually caused by changes in the normal activity of very sensitive brain cells. Dementia seriously interferes with a person's ability to carry out their daily activities. It may be caused by more than 70 diseases. The lifetime risk of developing dementia is 14-16%. The incidence of dementia increases with age. About 5% of adults over age 65 and 30% over 85 have some form of dementia. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's Disease. Alzheimer's Disease is a degenerative, incurable disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking, and behavior. Although it can occur in people in their 40s and 50s, it is more commonly diagnosed in people in their 80s. An estimated 4 million Americans have Alzheimer's Disease.

When many children read Something to Remember Me By (see the Something to Remember Me By: Start With Story section in this kit), they often ask why the grandmother doesn't seem to remember her granddaughter toward the end of the story. This can open a discussion about dementia, memory loss, and aging. Children may have had direct experience with dementia in their family. Note that Something to Remember Me By was inspired by my own grandmother. She didn't have any problems with dementia until she was over 95 years of age. Until that time, her memory was often better than mine!

Other storybooks you can use to explore serious memory loss: The Memory Box by Mary Bahr; Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox; A Window of Time by Audrey O. Leighton; Always Gramma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

Here are some general insights for helping a child who, for example, might have a grandparent with Alzheimer's Disease or another form of dementia:

  • Explain that the grandparent's brain is sick. Sometimes the sickness doesn't let the grandparent have "good" or "happy" feelings. When the grandparent says something mean or rude, they can't help it. Assure a child that the grandparent still loves them, even if they can't show it all the time.

  • Explain that it's not something you can "catch," like a cold.

  • Encourage a child to talk about their feelings and to ask you questions. If you don't know the answer to a question, you and the child can find the answer together.

  • Explain that there will be times when the grandparent seems okay. Enjoy these moments. Even if later the grandparent doesn't remember a particular activity, they're still able to enjoy the activity while they're doing it.

  • Many people with forms of dementia will talk about things that happened long ago. A child can help a grandparent by being a willing listener. Going through photo albums together is a good activity. This can also be an opportunity to preserve important family memories before they're lost forever.

  • A child can help keep a grandparent mentally agile by reading to them (simple stories with repetition work well), singing favorite songs, playing simple games, or coloring simple pictures. This can make the child feel involved and helpful. But, don't force a child if they're feeling uncomfortable.

  • As the illness progresses, it's important to let a child know that the grandparent needs their help, and extra love and care.

  • Prepare a child to expect that the grandparent may do or say things that don't make sense (e.g. "Do you like the hat I'm wearing?" when they aren't wearing a hat). Tell a child not to be frightened or worry about correcting the grandparent. The child can respond by smiling and talking about something else.

  • If a grandparent has trouble understanding a child, explain to the child that they must make eye contact and speak slowly, simply, and clearly. They can repeat messages for emphasis. Make communication a game, even using gestures, touch, pantomime, and drawings.

  • Physical contact -- a hug, a kiss, holding a grandparent's hand -- is extremely important. The grandparent will get depressed and frustrated. A hug from a grandchild can be a great comfort.

  • Separate the illness from the person and help preserve positive memories. Look at old photos or videos, and tell stories about what the grandparent used to be like.


The Cycle of Life

Suggested Activity Timing: Any time.

Curriculum Connections: Language Arts; Health; Science; Social Studies.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

Children today have more indirect contact with death through television and movies, but less direct, real contact. The media rarely depicts the prolonged pain, tears, and grief that accompany the loss of someone we care about. And although we are a society that doesn't seem to mind watching someone die in the movies or on television, we have a strong aversion to discussing death in real life. So how can children learn to deal with this life reality?

Death and disability can occur at any age. Talking with children -- not in a morbid way, but in a matter-of-fact way -- to explore the idea of death is important to helping them understand and cope when it does touch their life. The grandparent/grandchild bond is second in emotional importance only to the parent/child bond. At the same time, the death of a grandparent is often a child's first experience with death. Because of gains in longevity, many grandchildren will be exposed to both grandparents' and great-grandparents' frailty and eventual deaths. Most children aged 5 and older need to say good-bye to someone they love if they are ill or dying, and they need help dealing with their feelings when they lose that person.

Children must first understand that there is a cycle to life, that everything is born, lives, and dies. Two excellent books for exploring the cycle of life are The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia and Beginnings and Endings with Lifetimes in Between by Bryan Mellonie.

Other storybooks that can be used to explore the illness and death of a grandparent: The Two of Them by Aliki; The Magpie Song by Laurence Anholt; Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola; Annie and the Old One by Miska Miles; Gus and Grandpa at the Hospital by Claudia Mills; Grandpa Abe by Marisabina Russo; Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley; The Language of Doves by Rosemary Wells; Old Pig by Margaret Wild; Dance on a Sealskin by Barbara Winslow; Grandad Bill's Song by Jane Yolen.

Two nonfiction books that can help a child deal with the loss of someone they love are What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? by Trevor Romain and Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine: Your Activity Book to Help When Someone Has Died by Winston's Wish.

Living With the End in Mind by Erin Tierney Kramp and Douglas H. Kramp and How Do We Tell the Children? by Dan Schaefer and Christine Lyons are two good books for adults who want to help a child prepare for and/or deal with a loss.

If you're willing to talk about the hard stuff, children are too. If you're grieving the loss of a friend or relative, it's okay to let children see some of your pain. Sharing your feelings builds closeness. Some other tips for helping a child when someone, like a grandparent, dies:

  • Children can talk about life realities -- like death and illness -- as long as adults approach them calmly and don't overload them with information or opinions. Tell a child simply and directly that a grandparent has died. For example: "A very, very sad thing has happened. Grandma was very, very old, her body was very sick, and it stopped working and won't work anymore."

  • Use examples from the child's experience, like the death of a pet.

  • Many children don't fully understand the concept of death until about age 8 or 9. Before that, they think of death as a kind of going away. Even if a child doesn't completely understand, they still feel the loss of not seeing the person they love.

  • Reassure a child that the grandparent is in no pain; that death is not a punishment but a natural thing that happens to everyone; that they had nothing to do with the death; that death is not contagious; and that they are loved.

  • Family members should talk openly about their feelings, and let a child know their feelings are okay (e.g. crying is okay for everyone -- boys too). Don't force discussion, but encourage it. Let a child know that they can ask questions about the things they don't understand. They may ask the same question over and over; answer it again and again.

  • A child may be afraid that a parent will die, or that they will die if they catch a cold. Explain the difference between old (parent's age) and very, very old (grandparent's age), and sick (which can be cured) and very sick (which can't).

  • Children may respond by crying, being anxious or withdrawn, or having headaches, stomachaches, or nightmares. They may find comfort in carrying around a photograph, or taking a piece of clothing to bed. At the same time, children will be children. They will play and laugh. They aren't being disrespectful; they're just being children.

  • A child needs a way to say good-bye. Parents may want to give the child the choice of attending a funeral or other service. They should know what to expect at the service. If a child doesn't attend a formal service, you might want to encourage them to plan their own service, in which the family can participate.

  • Help a child work through their feelings by writing a letter to the grandparent, picking flowers, putting together a photo album, or making a special "remembering box" of mementos. They can also use play to work through feelings. For example, they may have a stuffed animal or doll that "dies," which they then bury.

  • The entire family should share memories about the person you loved. Remember the good times. Look at old photos or videos, and tell stories about the grandparent. Celebrate the person's life and the legacy they've left.


The Power of a Name

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, and then during and after.

Curriculum Connections: Language Arts; Social Studies.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

Before a Grandparents Day event, have a discussion about what we should call older people.

The words we choose convey and influence our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. There's a lot of research that shows that the terms and concepts people use both reflect AND affect attitudes. If you call someone senile, it affects both their perception of themselves and the way others perceive them.

Time and events, as well as context, change the connotations of words and the acceptability of certain terms. For example, increased sensitivity has changed the words we feel are acceptable or appropriate for referring to women and various racial groups.

The words "old", "aged", and "aging" can have positive connotations when we use them to refer to wine, cheese, fruit, and furniture. But they have negative connotations when we apply them to people. Many people spend a lot of time and money not to look "old" or reveal their age. The denial of old age is caused in part by the negative connotations of the word "old," such as worn out, useless, obsolete, ugly, and senile. "Young" has positive connotations such as vigorous, beautiful, fresh, and capable.

If many people in society decide to try, we can change how we feel about the word "old." We can make it positive rather than negative. We can change what any word connotes or means. Meanings aren't in words themselves, they are in people (as discussed in the Communication & Storytelling section in this kit). The word "cat" has no actual connection to a real cat. We all know what we mean when we say "cat" because everyone has agreed that those three letters put together refer to a specific furry, four-legged animal many people have as a pet. But we could just as easily change our mind and decide to change the name "cat" to something else. In the same way, we can decide that the word "old" means something very positive.

Many of the words we use to describe older people are biased, inaccurate, and stereotypical. Ageism is reflected in such colloquialisms for older adults as coot, crone, geezer, hag, old buzzard, old crock, old duffer, old fogey, old goat, old maid, old-fangled, old-fashioned, out to pasture, over the hill, and washed up.

So what do we call older people? There's a lot of debate about that. No term is without its history and connotations.

The words "elderly" and "aged" are often associated with social service and health programs, hospitals, and nursing homes. They're sometimes used to evoke feelings of sympathy and compassion, and other times used almost synonymously with the word "sickly."

In contrast to the word "elderly," the word "elder" suggests respect and wisdom. However, some argue that it is gender-biased, referring more to men than to women. It may have religious connotations because it can refer to a church position. Also, the term may evoke images of certain cultures, such as Native Americans. When you use a word, you never know exactly what it will bring to mind for someone.

"Senior citizen" is a word that comes up when you think of product and service discounts for people over 50 or 55 years of age. Some people don't mind the term, but others object to it strongly. Some don't mind the simpler term "senior" though because it implies more experience (think of a "senior" in high school).

"Golden ager" usually gets a mixed response. For some, the term connotes an idyllic image of the carefree retiree. Others feel it glosses over the difficulties that can arise in later life. The term also tends to make people take older people less seriously and marginalize them.

"Older adult" and "older people" tend to be more neutral terms. "Older" is a relative word, since everyone is older than someone else. However, this implies that a person should be defined in relation to younger individuals in society, which some argue adds to the marginalization that's part of ageism. But the word "adult" does connote respect, independence, and responsibility. Younger people want to be treated as adults; so do older people.

What do you think older adults should be called? Why?

Extension: During a Grandparents Day event, students can take a survey of older adults in attendance and ask which term they prefer: elderly, elder, senior citizen, senior, golden ager, older adult, or another term they suggest. Keep track of how many people choose which term. After the event, add up all the "votes" for each term. Which term do most older people prefer?



Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, or any time.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies; Language Arts.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

As a society, we're aware of and trying to address sexism and racism. Now it's time for ageism. Since the 1960s, there's been an effort to eliminate the negative stereotypes of and prejudice toward older people. The way we view older people is affected by history and culture. What served us centuries ago no longer serves us. We've changed and the world has changed. We're living longer and the old ways of looking at the old are no longer helpful or appropriate.

The term "ageism" was coined in 1968 by psychiatrist Robert Butler. Ageism has been called the ultimate prejudice, the last discrimination, and the cruelest rejection. All societies use age and gender to classify their members, and they have different expectations for each category. But North Americans have developed a set of prejudices and discriminations against older adults that may be unequalled by any other society. Ageism also affects the young. Children should be particularly sensitive to ageism since being told "you're too young" is just as bad as being told "you're too old."

How ageist are you? Close your eyes and think of a college student. Draw a mental picture of what he or she would look like. Now imagine a recent retiree, a grandmother, and a first-time father. Compare your mental images to the following facts:

  • Each year, half a million people over 60 years of age are studying on college campuses.

  • Retirees from the military are typically in their 40s or 50s.

  • In some inner-city neighborhoods, it's not unusual to meet a 35-year-old grandmother whose teenage daughter or son has a baby.

  • It's no longer surprising for men in second marriages to become a father for the first time over age 40 or 50.

Most of us are more ageist than we are aware. Even a seemingly harmless comment like "You don't look that old" (which is intended as a compliment) carries the message that "Most people that old don't look so great."

Ageism can be positive as well as negative. It is just as ageist to say that older people "should" be healthy, engaged, productive, and self-reliant than to say they aren't. Much less attention has been paid to positive ageism than to negative ageism because positive ageism is less common and it's not perceived to be as harmful. There are at least eight positive stereotypes that many people associate with older people: kindness, wisdom, dependability, affluence, political power, freedom, eternal youth, and happiness. None of these are any more true than the negative stereotypes. For example, people who were unhappy when they were young tend to still be unhappy when they are older. And, although calling someone a "sweet little old lady" isn't negative, it does marginalize them.

A "generalization" is a valid understanding based on research. For example, it is a generalization to say that most older men have at least some balding. This is an accurate statement based on scientific knowledge. On the other hand, a "stereotype" is an untruth or oversimplification about traits and behaviors. It's applied to a whole group of people without taking into account individual traits. A generalization is helpful, a stereotype is not. Stereotypes are the basis for prejudice and discrimination. They don't allow us to see people for who they really are. We tend to make a snap judgment, put someone in a box and keep them trapped in that box.

Explore ageist stereotypes. How do young and old both face stereotypes and prejudices? Discuss each of the statements below. Does a statement apply to a teenager, an older adult, or any age? Why? Can you see an older person making the statement about a younger person? What about vice versa?

"They're so forgetful."
"They're rude."
"They're lazy."
"You can't depend on them."
"They just don't learn well."
"They think they know it all."
"They're never satisfied; they're always complaining."
"They have too much time on their hands."
"They spend all their time in the park or at the shopping mall."
"They're dangerous drivers."
"They're too careful."
"They're sloppy."
"They're too energetic."
"They're so slow."
"They're too trusting."
"They're so busy."
"They're always sick."
"They stick together and won't talk to anyone who's not their age."
"They're all pretty much the same."
"Why don't they act their age?"

What can and should be done about age-based prejudice and discrimination? Is there anything old and young can do together?

Read and discuss these storybooks that challenge some of the stereotypes we have of grandparents and older people: Gifts by Jo Ellen Bogart; Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney; Good As New by Barbara Douglass; Grandma Gets Grumpy by Anna Grossnickle Hines: Emma by Wendy Kesselman; Grandpa's Town by Takaaki Nomura; My Grandma's The Mayor by Marjorie White Pellegrino; Sally Arnold by Cheryl Ryan; Supergrandpa by David M. Schwartz; Grandmother's Alphabet by Eve Shaw; It's Not My Turn To Look for Grandma! by April Halprin Wayland; Our Granny by Margaret Wild.


The Ageless Self

Suggested Activity Timing: Any time.

Curriculum Connections: Language Arts; Social Studies.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

Older people know they are old. But the older you get, the more surprised you are when you catch a glimpse of yourself as you pass by a mirror. You're constantly amazed at the "old" person you see reflected back. The simple fact of aging always seems to surprise us -- because inside we don't feel any monumental changes.

Age is more than chronological. Age has social and personal meaning. Among people of the same chronological age, there's likely to be great variety in the age category in which they place themselves. In one study, a substantial portion of people in their 40s -- just over 40% -- described themselves as "young." 40% of people in their 70s described themselves as "old," but surprisingly 6% said they were "young." A majority of people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s consider themselves middle-aged, with the peak of 75-80% in the 50-59 age group. In their 70s, more than 40% of people still use the middle-aged category. The transition to seeing oneself as old does not occur for the majority of people until age 80, surprisingly late in life. It is usually related to poor health and loss of a spouse.

So why is it that people we see as "old" don't see themselves as "old"? A large majority of older people experience aging as a gentle slope and as a positive experience -- despite the modestly negative effects of aging on physical and mental functioning, and despite the widespread myths and stereotypes we hold about aging. Older people think of and describe themselves in terms of the themes and meaning of their life, rather than in terms of age. They express a sense of self that is ageless -- an identity that maintains continuity despite the physical and social changes that come with old age. Contrary to popular conceptions of old age, which tend to define it as a distinct period in life, older people themselves emphasize continuity of the ageless self amid other changes across the life course. Even in the face of significant changes in health, functioning, and social circumstances, a large proportion of older adults show considerable consistency over time in their patterns of thinking, activity profiles, living arrangements, and social relationships. They are themselves.

When you look at an "old" face, what do you see? Consider the following adapted from a poem by Phyllis McCormack:

What do you see, child, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise.
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.
Who often has trouble with questions and replies.
Is that what you're thinking, is that what you see?...
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells.
So open your eyes, child, open and see.
Not a crabby old woman. Look closer -- see me!

When you look at an old face, try to imagine all the life experiences that led up to where the person is today. Get past what the person looks like and find out who they are.

I like to use My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss and Steve Johnson to talk about how everyone, young and old, healthy and sick, experiences the same kinds of emotions and time doesn't change that. This helps establish a common base of humanity. I read the story and ask children to pretend a child is saying the words. Then I read it again and ask them to imagine an older person saying the words. Sometimes, I even get a young person to read it, and then an older person.

Then, children can do a survey of their grandparents (they can talk to grandparents who live nearby, or write or e-mail long-distance grandparents) and other older adults they know (e.g. neighbors, people in their school, family friends). Ask each person about the three things the person feels haven't changed about themselves since the time they were young to the present. Maybe someone's favorite color has always been and still is blue. Maybe someone has always loved hot fudge sundaes. Maybe someone has a saying they've always used to guide them through life. Find out what makes people themselves.

Collect and make a list of all the ways people feel they stay the same even though they are getting older.


Poster Power

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, or any time.

Curriculum Connections: Art; Social Studies.

What You Need: Large, poster-sized sheets of paper; markers, crayons, and pencil crayons.

Doing It:

Creating posters with a positive view of aging results in great decorations for a Grandparents Day event. This activity can also be done at any time to encourage children to see aging in a broader way.

In recent decades, we've seen a gradual but striking redefinition of both ends of the life cycle. Psychologists who once viewed infants as passive and unresponsive now see them as active and competent. Older adults, once assumed to be useless, are now considered to be full of "reserve" potential. For the first time in history, older people are exploring the outer boundaries of life.

Today's 80-year-olds are comparable in well-being and vigor to 60-year-olds in the last generation; 60-year-olds are like 40-year-olds, and so on. We are aged largely by our culture, and encouraged to dislike and limit ourselves. "The human mind," said Gertrude Stein in 1936 at age 62, "has nothing to do with age. As I say so, tears come into my eyes."

There are actually many advantages to being old that most people don't think about. Advantages can be grouped into two general categories: those that benefit the older person and those that benefit society. For individuals, advantages include: contrary to popular belief, people older than 65 have substantially lower victimization rates in nearly all categories of crime; older people have fewer accidents (car, work, home) than any other age group; they receive Social Security and other pensions; they receive tax benefits, discounts from retailers, and free or a reduced rate on many programs and services; most older people no longer have child-rearing responsibilities and they don't have to worry about unwanted pregnancies; older people are often retired and can choose what work they wish to engage in; older people have lower rates of mental illness and fewer suffer from addictions; older people have more social freedom to "be the way they are" without censure. Older people also offer advantages to society: they tend to be more law-abiding; they tend to be more involved, informed citizens and vote more frequently; they serve society by volunteering; they tend to perform as well or better than younger workers on most measures; if you assume wisdom can come from years of experience and maturity, older people have more wisdom to offer.

Older people can have a tremendous impact on society. Said Sadie Delany, at age 103, about herself and her 101-year-old sister, "We have a lot to do. . . . People don't understand this. They think we're sitting around in rocking chairs, which isn't at all true. Why, we don't even own a rocking chair."

Some say that Jimmy Carter, having left the White House at age 56, made more of an impact on society after than during his presidency. Said Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, "Carter is the only man who used the office of President of the United States to achieve a better position." In the twenty years since leaving office, Carter has become a bestselling author, human rights advocate, and an international peacemaker. He and his wife Rosalyn have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, established the Carter Center, helped bring rich and poor together through the Atlanta Project, taught Sunday School, climbed mountains and learned to ski.

It's easy to see an older person in the role of a wise sage. But to see the old as adventurous or as heroes? French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau explored and worked under water until he died at age 87. In a now famous statement after his second trip into space in 1998 (when he was in his late 70s, 36 years after his first trip), John Glenn proclaimed: "Just because you're up in years some doesn't mean you don't have hopes and dreams and aspirations just as much as younger people do."

How can we get a more positive message out about getting old? Companies spend millions and millions of dollars each year on advertising. The purpose of advertising isn't just to sell you a product. It's to convince you that you have a problem that the product can solve -- bad breath, bad hair, bad skin, too fat, too old. Advertising shapes our view of the world and what's "okay" and what's "not." If ads told us being old was wonderful, do you think it might help us see old age in another way?

Look at some advertisements in newspapers and magazines. What makes a product more suitable for younger people? Older people? How do advertisers make their products appeal to people of different ages? How do they try to convince you that you need the product? Can ads misrepresent the truth? How do older people often appear in ads?

Pretend you're a big, expensive ad agency and you've been hired to convince everyone that being old is a positive, good thing. Create a bright, eye-catching poster with a positive slogan. Some examples to get you going:

Age is a Case of Mind Over Matter -- If You Don't Mind, It Doesn't Matter
Age is Just a Number
Aging is Living
Fifty is Nifty
I'm Not Over the Hill -- I'm On a Roll
It's Not How Old You Are, but How You Are Old
Older is Bolder
Youth is a Gift of Nature; Age is a Work of Art
The Best is Yet to Be


Age Wave

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Physical Education; Health.

What You Need: Chairs in a circle.

Doing It:

This simple, physical activity encourages young and old to move together. It helps create a comfortable, cohesive environment that's conducive to building a connection between young and old. This activity is especially important during a Grandparents Day event if you have a group of children and older adults who don't know each other (e.g. if you've invited in older adults from a local seniors group).

Everyone sits in a circle. Ask who knows how to do the "wave," the arm movement that people do at football or baseball games? Have everyone relax with their arms hanging at their sides. Then start with one person in the circle and have people raise their arms one after another and reach for the sky (i.e. as one person begins, the person at their right raises their arms, and so on around the circle).

Some other things to try:

  • Waves with arms fully extended, and waves with arms partially extended.

  • Waves with other body parts, like lifting one or both legs off the ground (depends on the abilities of the older adults involved).

  • Go around the circle and have everyone stand and then sit down one after another.

  • Go around the circle three times -- the first time with everyone clapping once, then clapping twice, then clapping three times.

  • And just for fun -- go around the circle as each person sticks out their tongue!


We Need Each Other

Suggested Activity Timing: During a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Health; Social Studies; Science.

What You Need: Blindfolds; several sets of matched pairs of small objects (e.g. chalk, dull pencils, crayons, erasers, fresh leaves, coins, paper clips, pieces of cloth, rocks, paper, aluminum foil); boxes.

Doing It:

We have different needs at different times of our life. For example, today's parents "child proof" their homes to make them safe for children -- they cover the electrical outlets, put gates in front of stairways, put locks on lower cupboards which may contain toxic cleaning products, etc. At the other end of the spectrum, more homes are being designed so that people can live in them throughout their entire lives -- it's called "aging in place" -- with design considerations like options for grab bars, shallower stairs or no stairs (since stairs can be a problem for older people), easy-to-turn faucet handles (for people with arthritis), etc.

It's important to be sensitive to the needs of older people. Young people have to be willing to give help when it's needed. At the same time, older people have to be willing to accept help. Some older people, because of pride or fear or embarrassment, find it difficult to admit that they need a little help once in a while.

This activity sensitizes children to the potential challenges older people might face, and helps older people understand that it's okay to both give and receive help.

Blindfold children and have their grandparents lead them around. Walk around a room and perhaps down a corridor. The grandparent is to watch where the child is walking, move carefully, and be aware of obstacles. How do the children feel? How do the grandparents feel helping out?

Grandparent/grandchild pairs can then play a matching game. Gather matched pairs of a variety of small objects. Put one of each of the objects into a small box and put the other in a pile outside the box. One person is blindfolded. The sighted person chooses an object and hands it to the blindfolded person. The blindfolded person feels the object and then tries to find the identical object by feeling through the objects in the box. The sighted person can provide some feedback as the blindfolded person is trying to match objects. Switch roles. Can you find matching objects? How many can you correctly match? Which objects are hardest to tell apart? Why? How is sight related to touch?

Talk about what it feels like not to have your eyes available to guide you. How can you compensate with your sense of touch? How did you feel offering help? How did you feel accepting it?


Give and Take

Suggested Activity Timing: Before a Grandparents Day event, or any time.

Curriculum Connections: Social Studies; Health.

What You Need: No materials.

Doing It:

Explore the similarities and differences between young and old, as well as the things they can give each other.

It's important to look not only at what older adults need, but also what they can give. Young and old can give to each other; it's a two-way relationship. If we look only at what older adults need, it perpetuates stereotypes and ageism. One study looked at the daily contributions of individuals 85 years and older to family, friends, and neighbors. More than 90% of the respondents assisted others with at least one contributory act -- performing household tasks like laundry or cleaning, providing companionship, giving gifts, listening, offering advice on medical or financial matters, and planning or organizing social gatherings.

Start a discussion by listing what children do and eat every day. Then list what older people do and eat every day (watch out for stereotypes!). How are the things different? The same?

List examples of things some older people may have trouble doing (i.e. physical, social, and emotional). What can you do to help an older person (e.g. read small print on a product label if they can't see it; visit them if they aren't well)?

Now list things that children have trouble doing (e.g. because children are shorter, they may not be able to reach high places)? What can an older person do to help you?

What activities can older and younger people enjoy doing together? Activities might include cooking, playing games, doing errands, even watching TV. What do you think older and younger people can gain or learn from each other?

Finally, what things do you think both young and old need? For example, no matter how old we are, we need to feel secure, to be valued and accepted, and to have a clean, safe place to live. Make a list of the things people need at any age.

Write It

Suggested Activity Timing: After a Grandparents Day event.

Curriculum Connections: Language Arts; Social Studies.

What You Need: Paper; pen/pencil.

Doing It:

After doing activities in this kit and participating in a Grandparents Day event, it's important to give young people an opportunity to explore and express their new perceptions and understandings.

They can write an essay on any of the following topics:

  • When I see an older person, I feel...

  • I think being old is...

  • The older person I most admire is... (can be someone child knows or a person in the news; explain why)

  • I had a conversation with my grandma (or grandpa or grandfriend) about... (explain the topic and why it came up)

  • My grandma (or grandpa or grandfriend) and I were stranded on a desert island and...

  • 10 things older people can do

  • The advantages and disadvantages of being older

  • How I'm the same as and how I'm different than an older person

  • 5 things I would change in the world to make it better for older people

  • When I'm 70 years old, I will...

  • A letter to my grandchildren...


Happy Birthday to You!

Suggested Activity Timing: Any time.

Curriculum Connections: Art; Social Studies; Language Arts.

What You Need: Selection of birthday cards for children and older adults; paper; markers and/or pencil crayons.

Doing It:

Go into any card shop or pharmacy and you get a graphic understanding of society's view of aging. The overwhelming majority of cards for middle-aged and older people perpetuate the stereotypes with a variety of ageist jokes about falling apart, senility, memory loss, and lying about age -- whether you're "over the hill" or "thirty-nine and holding" or even "young at heart." Are these cards funny? The problem is that these messages subtly become part of our beliefs. And even if people receiving the cards laugh, they also know that they're at an age when people make fun of their age. They are indeed getting older and society will not value them much longer. That message is hard to brush off with a laugh.

What do you think of the following commentary from comedian Larry Miller:

The only time in our lives we like to get old is when we're kids. If you're less than 10 years old you're so excited about aging you think in fractions: "How old are you?" "Six and a half!" You're never 36 and a half. The greatest day of your life: you become 21. But you turn 30. It makes you sound like bad milk. Then you're pushing 40. It's all slipping away. Then you reach 50. "My dreams are gone!" You become 21, you turn 30, you're pushing 40, you reach 50, and you make it to 60. By then you've built up so much speed you HIT 70. After that? It's day by day. You hit Wednesday. In your 80s you hit lunch. My grandmother won't even buy green bananas. It doesn't end there. In the 90s you start going backward. "I was just 92." Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over a 100 you become a kid again: "I'm 104. And a half."

Compare children's birthday cards to adult birthday cards. Why is it great to turn 10, but not so great to turn 50? What about 70 years? What do cards for 100-year-olds look like and say? What do you think of the cards? What views of aging do they perpetuate?

A birthday is a time to celebrate the fact that you have been born and that you are still living. You're never too old to have a great birthday. There was a 69-year-old woman named Edith Gowan. She wanted to drive an 18-wheeler truck on her birthday. So a company provided her with a truck, birthday cake, and instructor. After her drive, when she climbed out of the truck, she exclaimed, "I can honestly say that my 69th birthday was the best ever!" Why do you think she said that? What difference does it make if you're 10 years old or 70 years old? Does your age really have anything to do with a birthday and the wishes you might have?

Make your own birthday card to give to yourself when you reach the amazing, wonderful age of 50. What kind of card would you like to receive? What kind of picture does it have? What does it say?

Happy birthday!

From Grandparents Day Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2001 www.somethingtoremembermeby.org

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