Monday, March 25, 2013

Building with Blocks - Activities for the Elderly



Every now and then you just have to grab a bucket of blocks and go with it. Last week I did just that. An art activity led by a member of the local Alzheimer's Association had just concluded. I observed most of the seniors were still sitting at the tables where the activity was held and chatting. I had a bean bag tossing game scheduled but on my way to get the bean bags, I passed a tub of blocks that were designed to build cathedrals. I had never used blocks with a group of seniors before, but for whatever reason I knew this was the moment to grab them and go; so I did.

I placed the bucket on the table and started putting handfuls of blocks in front of each of the sitting seniors. Two other seniors nearby saw what I was doing and came over to join in the fun. Soon everyone was making comments about how long it had been since they had used blocks. "I feel like a kid again," one senior commented. Another stated that she had used building blocks that had letters on them when she was a child in the 1920's and that was how she learned to spell words.


After a few minutes what had initially began as just happenstance fun turned into architectural and sculptural design. Elements of spatial and sequential placement was simultaneously in play. Play became an interesting word in regards to describing the movement of their hands as they reached for one block and then another. Soon I was visualizing chess moves.  It brought back memories of my art writing years and stories of Marcel Duchamp and his chess playing as an aesthetic action.




As the number of participants increased, the number of blocks available for each decreased. While another staff member worked with the seniors, I went and retrieved a set of colorful cubes that bore geometric patterns. As soon as I placed these on the table, one of the participating seniors pushed away her wooden blocks and began working with them.


She turned the cubes over and over until she found the side she wanted and was building with. This selective action / decision making added an additional cognitive skill to the block "playing."


After several minutes of concentrated work, she invited me to view what she had constructed. It was her design and it was art.


Another senior wanted to work with the cubes and so they were dismantled and passed on. Soon the senior who had been using the cubes was experimenting with random structures.


The cubes in use by the second senior were repositioned...


And soon a new pattern and construction emerged. She was so pleased by her assemblage.


One of the Tlingit seniors placed her two-three piece "sculptures" inches apart and the placement had such an interesting spatial quality about it that it made you think of sacred sites like Stonehenge in England.


Her pieces were also dialogues on balance and relationships. Minimalist in design while weighted in associative history.


And oh yes, castles where built with fortresses and motes filled with water created by torn blue construction paper.


Battles were imagined and spoken of. Conquest were celebrated as blocks were moved and rearrange.




A third senior asked for the cubes and he pieced together one last assemblage.




It was a great activity. Blocks will be used a little more often at the Bridge. Who knows what they might build next...

No comments: