Monday, October 29, 2012

Magnetic Fish - Science with Seniors 5

I truly make an effort to create activities that resonate the social/cultural history of Alaska. Fishing is a big part of that history. An earlier science activity I called "Ice Fishing." The name alone drew smiles as memories surfaced in the minds of the seniors participating.

Last week, I made fishing the core theme of our Science for Seniors Activity. Most of the seniors at The Bridge have done some magnet work with me during one activity or another. Too, they may have taken the magnet tray from the shelf and used it independently, themselves. So I wanted to play off that possible, prior experience.

As I have stated before, most of the seniors at The Bridge have dementia, but they are at varying stages. Most do not remember previous activities. Some, however, do. As these individuals are already seeped in a culture of memory loss, I try, in subtle ways, to recognize and support their memories. I do so in ways, too, that do not highlight the memory loss of others. It is a fine balance, that, I confess, is still challenging to me.

Back to magnets. I also wanted to create an activity that celebrated what most Alaskans have at one time or another enjoyed. Here I am referring to fishing. Many of our non-Alaskan seniors have also enjoyed fishing in various other locations across the globe. Fishing and magnets...o.k. I knew what I had to do.

I made a fishing pole from materials we had on hand. A the end of the fishing rope-line, I pinned a small, cloth pouch that had within it a magnet. It was a simple enough construction. Then I cut "fish" out of paper, lunch bags and illustrated them. I also drew a number value on each of the fish. At the tip of the fish's head, I slid a single, paper clip. Yes, this would be drawn to the magnet pinned to the fishing pole.

Lastly, I cut a "pond" from a piece of recycled, blue fabric. I then went fishing, myself, to see if all worked well and it did!

The seniors were sitting in the chairs used during exercises and games. I told them that I had a science activity that I thought they would all enjoy. Before I revealed the homemade fishing pole, I displayed the magnet tray and spoke briefly about how magnets work. I then made the grand announcement, "Today, we are going to go fishing!" Laughter and cheers broke out amongst the seniors.

The first person who got up to go fishing was encouraged by another senior to pull in a "King Salmon!"  Instead, in her first try she "hooked" not one fish, but two. She had a smile like an upside down rainbow.

She threw out her "line" two more times and pulled in two more fish. I added together her score and wrote it on the board. I then invited the next senior and then the next.

Everyone expressed enthusiasm for the magnetic fishing activity. We encourage all of the seniors at The Bridge to participate in exercises and activities. You can see from the picture below, that includes individuals using walkers. This senior pulled in three fish totaling 130 points. It was one of the highest scores!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Optical Illusions - Science and Art with Seniors

Optical illusions was the theme of last week's science for seniors + art activity. It was a hoot! The participating seniors were calling out across the tables to each other comments about what they first saw and then saw later. It was the noisiest activity I have yet conducted. Oh my, everyone, including the staff assistants, had fun!

Before the seniors sat down, I placed a photocopy of an optical illusion on each of the red, paper place mats that are now recognized by most as designating a non-eating activity. 

Above - One of the staff assistants shares with one of the seniors a few of the optical illusion images. At first the senior didn't see the "hidden" image. When she did, she screeched out that there was a man in the trees. "Wow, can you see that? Oh my! It's amazing!" she asked and declared.

Below - When everyone had viewed the various handouts, I removed them from the table. Next, I handed out a sheet of paper that had two circles on it. In one of the circles was a picture of a bird. In the other was a picture of a birdcage. I asked the participants to use colored pencils to illustrate the image. I also handed out two pieces of same-length yarn to each of the seniors.

Next, I invited those who had illustrated the images to cut them out.

I then handed out glue sticks and instructed that the two circles be glued together, back to back.

My assistant and I punched a hole on each side of the now double-sided circles. We did invite the seniors to do this themselves. One of them was successful, but the others weren't. This was the same for threading the yarn through the holes and tying them. Here though, everyone needed staff assistance.

Soon, all of the participants were swinging their shapes and then pulling them to reveal the optical illusion in action - the bird appears to be inside the birdcage.

This is a very short video taken of one of the participants using her optical illusion spinner -

The final activity used a similar hand out and a wooden clothespin likes those used to make dolls. First, each of the participants illustrated both the handout and the clothespins. We used washable markers for the clothespins.

As with the first activity, participants were instructed to cut out the two illustrated circles and glue them back to back.

On one side was a picture of a bird. On the other was a picture of a branch. 

The assistants and I taped the double sided circles into the clothespins.

When all was done, the spinner was ready to go. Holding the clothespin between their palms, participants moved it back and forth as fast as they could. It wasn't long before they were shouting out, "The bird is sitting on the branch!" "It's amazing!"

It was a hoot! Oh...I think I said that already! The best part of the activity was the wonderment expressed by the seniors. They were amazed at what they saw. The joy in the room was palpable. When they discovered in the first images the hidden illusions, it was as if they had unveiled mysteries. This sense of discovery delighted them. Albert Einstein said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." My memory of the experience was of witnessing a collective, mental alertness that made time fly. Yes, that was another illusion...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Creative Writing with Seniors 4 - Long Term Memory vs Short Term

Individuals living with dementia and Alzheimer's have much better recall of their long term memory than their short term. They repeat stories from decades earlier over and over again. A senior recalling her first date with the man she was then married to for 38 years may not recognize him when he visits her later that afternoon.

And of course, not all memories are pleasant memories. Counseling engaged in decades earlier and the positive aftermath of those therapeutic sessions may all be erased from the memory of a senior with dementia or Alzheimer's. What may still be recalled are the emotions and the trauma of the original events or acts.

I recently attended a class on dementia care. One of the other attendees, who works at a home for the elderly, spoke about a senior who was frightened by "someone" outside looking in her window. That "someone" was her own reflection in the glass. As much as the staff tried to reassure her that there was no one there, the senior would not return to her room until memory of the incident faded (about 2 hours). Her personal history included being the victim of domestic violence by a male partner prior to her decades long marriage. Before she began living with dementia, she may have felt that she had "come to terms" with the violence she experienced in this relationship. Post-dementia, the past is the present.

During the last creative writing workshop I led, one of the seniors, who has participated in all of the writing workshops, immediately picked an image from those offered. She held the picture in her hand and declared, "That was like me when I was a child working in the fields. It was so hot out there picking vegetables. Our shoulders burned under the sun. Once they forgot to bring us water, all day! Yeah, that was me. It is illegal now, you know Susan. It's illegal to have children work out in the fields and not go to school." The picture was of a blonde haired child holding tomatoes in her hands:

My assistant sat down next to her and started to suggest some positive and uplifting words from the cutting piles for her to use in her writing. She pushed them all away. "Look at that picture. That was me. That wasn't good or happy or beautiful. I hated my childhood. I did. I hated it."

I came over to where she was sitting and started placing near her the words that I thought might articulate the emotions of her now present memory of that time in her childhood. "See, Susan knows me. These are the words I want to use. I want to say what I feel and to tell the truth about it. It was horrible. I didn't have any dolls or toys. I never had any friends. I started working in the fields when I was 8 years old."

I handed her a glue stick and invited her to construct a prose piece that spoke of her history and in words that did not beautify or sentimentalize the experience. She completed her piece with an expression of satisfaction on her face. "It's done. I wrote it. I wrote what I think and that's that!"

Growing season
The season for memories
Here's the sweet truth
I have a story to tell
Strong and crazy
No child's play
Goodbye to all that, again
I hated my childhood
Thank God 
It's over with 

While it was great that she expressed these memories openly, her story did cause a few of the other seniors to become a little restless. They finished their pieces quickly and moved over to the sitting chairs with their coffee cups in hand. I have been thinking of working with the above senior on her creative writing in a one-on-one setting next time. However, I hesitate isolating her from her peers when she wants to talk about her life history.

A friend of mine recommended a phone App that I did download. It is called "Dragon Dictation" and it instantly translates the spoken word into the written word. This could allow me to have her tell her story via this dictation tool and I could record it, again, in a one-on-one setting. The App can save the dictation in a word doc or email it.  I remain undecided.

As a writer, I embrace every individuals right to express themselves. As an individual working in a community setting, I hesitate promoting the expression of one individual if it causes disruption or disengagement by the larger population. Yet, what remains significant is that the writing is being done. While the seniors may not remember writing prose, the pieces, themselves, preserve their history.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Garden Scavenger Hunt / Botany with Seniors (4)

We are very fortunate to have a garden at The Bridge. There are a handful of seniors that regularly venture outside to  enjoy the natural beauty it offers. Occasionally, the staff invites a senior to join them on a walk around it if they note that they appear restless or have started to wander. One day last week, one of the seniors didn't want to do exercises and she did not want to sit and read or knit. She wanted "to do something different."

A few weeks earlier, I had printed out two sheets of cards for a botanical scavenger hunt. These, I thought, would be perfect for this senior. I knew her well enough to know that she would not just want to go on a quick walk,  but would want to achieve a task while out in the garden. She enjoys organizing and sorting. Too, she likes order, so having to look and acquire specific items would be engaging for her.

I quickly cut the cards and placed them into envelopes. I thought envelopes could carry the paper cards and keep them in an organized fashion that would make them easy to retrieve and return. Having been in the Montessori classroom for so long, I must confess I wished that they had been laminated, but there is no laminator at The Bridge. We work with what we have and what we have is used in the moment.

I also grabbed a small, handled basket to use for the collected items. In a matter of minutes I was ready to invite the senior to join me on a scavenger hunt in the garden. She asked, "What kind of scavenger hunt?" I told her I needed some items for an art project later and that I needed someone to assist me in finding them. I then asked her if she could please help me in my task. "Ok, if you really need help I can do that." We were out the door and in the garden moments later. She carried the basket in one of her hands and I carried the envelopes with the paper cards.

Our first find was a leaf larger than our hand -

I pulled several of the paper cards from one of the envelopes and placed them on a nearby stone wall.

My companion picked them up and began identifying one item after another.

 Soon, she had found several of the items.

Things that we couldn't put into the basket or remove from the garden, I photographed. Below are photos of two of those items -

A mushroom growing on a tree or close to the ground:

A round stone:

A half hour later, we had collected or photographed most of the items noted on the cards. It was then that she looked into the basket, handed it to me and said, "OK, I helped you. Let's go back inside." It was a great activity. I confess, I really enjoyed the scavenger hunt and the time spent with the senior who "helped me."

The link for the cards is below:

The Alaska Bird Observatory has several other printables that are also excellent:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Songs are Thoughts...


Songs are Thoughts: Poems of the Inuit edited by Neil Philip and illustrated by Maryclare Foa (Orchard Books, New York, 1995). (*)
Songs are thoughts, sung out with the breath when people are moved by great forces and ordinary speech no longer suffices. Man is moved just like the ice floe sailing here and there out in the current. His thoughts are driven by a flowing force when he feels joy, when he feels fear, when he feels sorrow. Thoughts can wash over him like a flood, making his breath come in gasps and his heart throb. Something like an abatement in the weather will keep him thawed up. And then it will happen that we, who think we are small, will feel still smaller. And we will fear to use words. When the words we want to use shoot up of themselves - we get a new song.
— Orpingalik, Inuit poet and shaman

I have a new song and I am learning to sing it. Sing the song given to you. 

(thanks to Parabola Newsletter for the above image and quote)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Special Education Course

Yes, one of the summer courses has passed, but I had no idea that there was this training till this morning. The link below includes access to articles, training courses and other information.

Association Montessori Internationale
Inclusive Education Course
Eight-Weeks over Two Summers
August of 2012 and August of 2013 at the Montessori Institute of San Diego

The eight-week, two-summer course would offer practical information and strategies to help teachers apply Montessori principals - specifically for children with special needs.

Follow this link for the information.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Introduction of Montessori Language Materials into an Adult Day Program

As I have noted before, not all of the individuals that attend The Bridge have dementia. Nor are all of them seniors. One attendee, who does not have dementia and is only in his early fifties, has schizophrenia. I often think about how to best serve his needs. Maintaining cognitive thinking is paramount. I started to think about the Montessori materials that I have at my home and whether these might help support this goal. The idea of presenting language materials kept coming back to me.

I knew that he enjoyed seeing the pictures of newborn babies in the local, daily newspaper. I also knew that there were two, small, rubber babies in my singular / plural language box tucked away in my back closet. I went and got that out yesterday morning.

But before I brought it from my home to The Bridge, I picked it up and put it down over and over again. I kept asking myself if the material was appropriate to offer to an adult. I finally shoved it into the bottom of my purse and told myself, "Susan, just believe in the method. Believe in it."

When this specific person arrived today, I invited him to join me in a one-on-one activity at a table in the dining area. He accepted. We sat down side by side. I placed the Montessori language box on the table between us ( I had it in my sweater pocket). I lifted it up to my face and peeked inside it in a sort of mysterious way. I told him there were some lovely things inside of it. I asked him if he wanted to look inside, too. He said he did.

I slid it across the table to him. He held it in his hands and then carefully lifted the lid and looked inside.  He told me that there were babies in it and that they were real small. They were. I then placed two words on the table (These were also in my sweater. I know. I know. This is a highly, modified version of the Montessori method.). The words were singular and plural. I asked him to define each word for me. He did so easily. 

I then removed all of the labels from the box and placed them in vertical rows. One row had the singular terms. The other had the plural ones.

Again I closed the lid on the box and passed it over to him. Again I asked him to peek inside. I asked him what he saw. He answered "Frogs." I invited him to take one of the frogs out of the box and as he was only taking one, to place it under the word "singular." He did this. The small size of the items captured his attention. This was a point of interest.

After taking out  the first frog, I asked him to take out the second one. I then stated and asked, "Now there are two frogs. Should you put it under the word "singular" or the word "plural" ?"

 He instantly answered, "plural." He then placed it there. We continued in this manner with all of the remaining objects and labels.

When he had completed the activity/work, I asked him if he would like to do it again. He said yes. I think you could hear my heart beating in my chest when he did, as I was so pleased that he enjoyed engaging this Montessori language material. His observed response to the material informed me that it was appropriate for him.

After he repeated the activity/work, I invited him to put the objects and their labels back into the box. I then showed him that it was kept on the shelf in the backroom. After it was put away, I told him that it was now available for him to use whenever he wanted. I also assured him that he did not have to ask a staff person to assist him in taking it. He could do so independently.

Botany with Seniors (3)

Botany and art have become a favorite couple at The Bridge. Much activity is being done with leaves, stems and such. I will have to find some flower buds to add to the mix. Oh that's right. I remember now. Every few weeks a local florist donates his slightly fading, slightly aging flowers. Well, I know what I will be thinking about today. How to use those bundles of roses and such - wait...rose petal mosaics just popped in my mind. Well, that will be for later. Now, I want to write about a second botanical/art activity done last week. 

Inviting an individual senior or a small group of seniors to assist in preparing materials has served two very important needs. First, I am getting all of my material making done within a smaller time frame. Secondly, and this is much more important, the seniors are engaged in the preparations and this, itself, is an activity for them.  Yes, there are times I just want to do it all myself and sometimes I do. However, more and more I am bringing my prep work to a table occupied by one or more of the seniors and asking for their assistance. I always receive it. They also throw in advice on and ideas for the projects, which is an added bonus.

Last week, a senior, who was just a little bit restless, agreed to assist me. She can be very invested in order and precision. So when I asked her to tape (a piece rolled and put on the back) a few leaves onto a piece of paper, she spent much time deciding where each piece should go. After making several, though, she relaxed and just taped them here and there. I sat across from her and completed a few myself. It was wonderful to work together in such a way. We smiled a lot and told each other stories while we worked.

After we had prepared enough leaf covered sheets of paper for every anticipated participant, I demonstrated to my "assistant" what my intended activity was. I took a wet paintbrush, collected some watercolor paint on its tip and then washed it across the taped leaves. I described the brush stroke act as being like white washing a picket fence or like hanging wallpaper. "More water than paint" was my other description. After I had "washed" over two of the leaves, I removed them so that the white, leaf-shaped, space beneath was visible. Next, I used a pencil to draw outlines of the leaf shapes and to add veins, as well as other details.

My "assistant" took over from there. She made a model/example for me to use later when I had planned to present the activity to the group.

As I prepared the table for this activity, I remembered that I wanted to use some type of prop or change the tablecloths to visually signify to the senior participants that we were not going to sit down to a meal, but instead to an activity. I remembered that I had used red, paper place mats for all of the science activities and so I retrieved more of these and placed one on the table for each participant.

I also remembered how "A" from the Alzheimer's association had placed two paintbrushes in each water jar/cup. This was so that there was always one paintbrush in the jar - denoting it as a non-drinking cup/container. I did this and, too, I placed a leaf covered sheet at each setting. Colored pencils were also made available for detail/illustration work.

After a brief introduction to the activity, including referencing the example, the seniors started working on their individual pieces immediately.

I noted from the start that I should have used watercolor paper instead of copy paper. The paint-water caused some rippling in the paper and other variations. The seniors, however, were not deterred from their creative work. 

After "washing" her leaves with watercolor paint, this senior removed her leaves and then sketched an interior skeleton within each revealed leaf shape.

Another participant used more paint and less water. Also, she did not wash paint over her leaves. Instead, she simply painted around the outer edge of each leaf.

When she pulled her leaves off her paper, the created outlines reminded me of work done with photographic paper as the images created were so detailed

The first participant I noted, who drew the interior skeletons of each of her leaf shapes, decided to make a second work. She was very focused and, as the pictures below reveal, quite serious about her art.

When she did her second piece, she decided not to use paints. Instead, she used colored pencils to first draw the outlines of her leaves.

After she drew their outlines, she carefully used a pencil to peel back the leaves so as to remove the tape beneath them without causing tears in the paper. Removing the tape was challenging to many of the participants and required staff assistance. 

She put a lot of effort into her sketches. They were quite amazing.

Another participant washed red paint over all of the leaves.

When she had completed that act, she removed each leaf and filled in the the white, leaf shaped spaces with colored pencils.

She worked for over thirty minutes on her piece and expressed great satisfaction with it when she was finished.