Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Creative Writing with the Elderly

It's been awhile since we had creative writing as an activity at the Bridge. We have been very busy with so many things and, well, simply having fun. Having fun is a big part of what happens at the Bridge everyday and it is a very important part. I had a new volunteer signed up to help me, and my amazing assistant, so today we went for it.

Placed on a far end table were several trays covered with cut out magazine pictures I had worked on at home the past few weekends. I had chosen this table as it is near where snack is served. Therefore, when the seniors were on the move towards their seats where the popcorn was waiting, I could interrupt each one of them briefly and ask that they pick out a picture that they were drawn to so as to write about later or to let it simply inspire them to write.

While they ate their snack and other staff was in attendance, I glued the chosen pictures onto large sheets of white paper. Too, I penciled the name of the senior at the bottom of the paper that held the image they had selected. I then arranged dozens of words and sentence fragments taken from Alaska Magazine and a variety of others onto pie trays and cookie sheets. The one senior that this use of those cooking trays would have upset had already left for the day.

When snack was cleared away, I handed each of the seniors their paper with its image glued on. Next, my assistant, our new volunteer, a caregiver that showed up unexpectedly and wanted to help and I walked around the table passing the various trays of words and such to one senior and then another. We collectively invited them to move the words around on the paper until they found the positioning that they liked best.

Soon glue sticks and pencils were being used; the pencils were used to write in words that could not be found on the trays. Too, poetry and prose was blossoming on the pages before me. My new volunteer fit in perfectly. He helped one and then another and then still another with the construction of their pieces.

About 30 minutes later, everyone was saying that their work was done. I gathered up all the supplies and removed them from the table. I asked that all the writing sheets be handed to me and told everyone I was now going to read the poems aloud. This is something that I always do after creative writing work as I truly feel that it is significant for each participant to hear their words read aloud and that it is important that each person's piece be heard by the collective group. Here are several of the pieces composed today:


Good morning.
We need you to have 
Ever after love
Peace and the power
To find what you seek.


The joy of life
Made of little things
You must remember this:


In the beginning 
Where the Wild
Dare to be A
Work of Art
Your Story
And Freedom


There are so
Many reasons to love
Compassion & 
A Tale of


My paradise
Wise Woman
Good Living


Somewhere, a place for us
Last words
Next stop
We love
Trying too hard
Why not dream...
Searching for paradise


Never underestimate the creative intelligence of an individual with dementia.

Montessori and the Elderly - Practical Life Activites

The list of practical life activities to be performed by the seniors at the Bridge, an adult day program for the elderly, is growing. Yesterday, I brought with me to work a rug sweeper I bought for a $1 at our local salvation army: called Sallies by locals. Before I made the purchase, I stood in the store and looked it up and down while I imagined the happy faces of those who would soon be using it. Too, I thought about a few of the seniors that wander and wondered if rug sweeping might provide them an opportunity to feel useful via a domestic work that they may be familiar with while providing them movement. I grabbed it, paid for it and brought it to work on Monday morning. My boss looked a me as I carried it in, smiled and said, "I got it. Great idea. They are going to love it." And yes they did. But before I post pictures of that work, I want to share with you two other practical life activities frequently done by the seniors at the Bridge.

Too, I ask that you allow me to edit another well known Maria Montessori quote which reads, “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed." My amended version reads, "Never help any individual with a task at which they feel they can succeed." As in the classroom, the greatest obstacle to the success of the seniors is the desire for the staff to "assist" them or to do the work themselves. Let them do it themselves, but yes, it's OK to stand near; how else would I have taken all my photographs. That becomes my activity and it gives my hands something to do instead of so call assisting; I take photographs.

Cloth folding is done every morning:

Salt shakers are filled as needed:

and the lids are polished:

Finally, rugs are cleaned:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Collage Art with the Elderly - "I live in all these clams."

Today the art project was designed to celebrate Earth Day which was Monday. Magazines were handed out to the seniors along with a single piece of white, art paper by our local Alzheimer's educator. She invited the seniors to cut out images that celebrated something about life on earth. Everyone's came out great. Here are two of them below:

I noticed the work of one of the seniors who I have posted about before. She is from an island here in S.E. Alaska. She lived with her large extended family in a smoke house near the water. Her collage was composed of images of clams and of clamming.

What really caught my eye was what she wrote on the bottom of her paper,

"I live in all these clams."

After I read her words out loud, she looked up at me and said,

"Yes, I live in all these clams; my memories do. 
I really miss living that way. I want to go back home."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chapbook of Poetry and Art by the Elderly at the Bridge

I am so excited! The first chapbook of poetry and art created at the Bridge has been printed! The seniors at the Bridge were surprised to see their names under their pieces, but their response was simply, "Can my family have copies?" "Yes," was the response from all the staff here. Not every senior that attends the Bridge has entries in the chapbook simply because some had no interest in participating in the those activities. In a person centered care facility, the senior elects what activities they chose to participate in.

The chapbook is such an amazing collection. I will share more this weekend, but today I simply want to celebrate its printing.  Yahoo!

Oh and yes, the cover art was done by one of the seniors...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Montessori pioneer Mother Francine Cardew dies

Franciscan Mother Francine Cardew, a pioneer in Portland Montessori schools, died this week. Mother Francine helped establish Southeast Portland’s Franciscan Montessori Earth School in 1977. The school’s basic philosophies melded the experiential learning ideas of Maria Montessori with the earthy and peace-focused spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. Mother Francine stepped down from her post as leader at the school in 2008, but continued to serve by building the school’s endowment. She lived with the Franciscan sisters in Bridal Veil and was a member of St. Henry Church in Gresham. Mother Francine did post-graduate work at Georgetown University and held a master’s degree in education from the University of Portland. The Oregon Montessori Association named her principal of the year for 2003. In 1993, Associated Oregon Industries Foundation selected her as principal of the year for all of Oregon. She served on Portland’s Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and held posts in national Montessori associations. In the mid-1970s, she served as associate superintendent of elementary education for the Archdiocese of Portland. She held a similar post in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, B.C., where she was also a member of the Royal Commission on Education and a lecturer on Canada’s Catholic education system.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Practical Life with the Elderly - Nutmeg Grating (My 300th Post)

Today this senior simply walked in, hung up her coat, turned to me and said, "What do you have for me to do today?" We were walking arm and arm moments later to the back table. I got out the nutmeg grating materials and she got busy.

I really have no more words to describe her work because this short video captures it all. Enjoy.

 "I don't mess around..."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Over The Rainbow - Art with the Elderly

A rainbow or snowbow, as someone recently called one when it was...well, yes, snowing out, is such a favorite image to paint by artist of all ages. That was the project led by the art instructor from our local Alzheimer's Association this past week. I even painted one. What was truly wonderful was just how different each of them came out. Some chose the traditional, pastel colors associated with the rainbow and others adjusted that palette by electing to add the colors that appealed to them that moment. One participant added words to hers and it reminded me of an art book I had seen years ago at Whitney Art Gallery in NYC.

Before the instructor started the activity, she played a CD of Judy Garland singing her classic version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." So participants could sing along, she passed out copies of the lyrics to each of them. This was a wonderful way to get everyone in a rainbow painting mood.

Here are a few of the paintings done by the seniors. I added my box kite version of a rainbow held by a seafaring me on the small sailboat I hope to own one day. No pot of gold for me. I want a boat to catch the wind in and to sail across Alaska's bountiful bodies of water.

Paintings done by the seniors:



 My box kite rainbow:

Two more paintings done by two different seniors:


Leaf Washing 2 - Botany for the Elderly

This woman's love for this work is palpable. I can feel her joy when I stand near her as she cares for the plants. I invite you to view these photos, watch this short video and to feel that joy also. Yet, too, she has a deeply felt connection to the plants and feels that they are God's creations.  She feels, and you can see it in the expressions on her face and in her posture, she is in service to the plants, to their care and well being. She apologized to one of the plants when she accidentally tore one of its leaves and had to remove it. She said she was sorry that she caused it harm. Her conduct recalls Christina Rossetti's famous poem:

Hurt No Living Thing

Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

While she was digging into the center of the plant to ensure that she had gotten every leaf, she came across a lovely surprise:

After a moment or two, she continued with her work. We have decided to clean and paint the bird next week. She will then return it to the plant and pot.

She raised up two leaves and said to me, "See the difference. They love it. Look how beautiful they are. Emerald green is the color I see when I see them like this; like beautiful jewels."

She stretched out the length of the plant and washed each leaf as if she was washing the small palms of infants' hands. 

The Montessori methodology is for individuals of all ages.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Mystery Bag - Objects / Sensorial Activities for the Elderly

A few posts ago I wrote that I was about to go on a hunt for a beautiful bag to use as a second mystery bag; this time for objects. I was also going to go on a hunt for the first set of objects to go in the bag. Always rotate or exchange objects in mystery bags and in various other work such as magnetic/non-magnetic. I just put several different magnets on the tray last week and took away a few. This keeps the materials interesting and draws their attention.

My treasure hunt began at the local Salvation Army. I found the bag and the basket there. The objects were found at the thrift, mostly in my home and at work. I put the tray together or basket and added it to the shelves. When the work did come off the shelf, it did so with the coin mystery bag. Seeing that they were similar reassured the senior that he would enjoy this work and that he was capable of doing this work.

I also re-demonstrated how to place a tissue onto the blindfold before putting it on so as to reduce the spread of eye infections.

He pulled one object from the bag, felt it with both hands and then named it.

He named them all correctly but one; the shell.

In the bag there is: a cotton ball, an eraser, a child sized silver fork and spoon, a child sized pair of scissors, a shell, a silver bracelet and ring and a length of ribbon.

Here is the link to the lesson outline for the mystery bag. Just adjust the age to all ages : )
Montessori Primary Guide - Mystery Bag Lesson.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"I heard the laughter. I saw the dancing." - Working with the Elderly

There are days that I wish I could hold out a butterfly net and catch within it the words of wisdom and insight spoken all around me at the Bridge. Instead, I scribble their words on post-it notes and stick them in my pockets until I return to my home in the evening where I unfold them and write what I have heard here.

Today I sat with a woman who will celebrate her hundredth birthday in less than five years. She leaned towards me and said the following:

"I thought I was having problems with my hearing and that I could not hear what was being said all around me. But I could hear all the words of the songs being sung today. You see it wasn't a physical thing. I just had to work on being a better listener. When I am helpful; being a better listener, I help myself. But we don't need to punish ourselves or blame ourselves for doing the wrong thing. We are not better than others, yet we still need not judge ourselves. I am always told I talk to much and I do. So I need to help others by not talking so much and that is helpful to me. 

Being a better listener, I discovered I have not lost my music. You see its a generational thing. My music is for dancing not singing. I dance in my mind and yes, I have been dancing. I heard the laughter. I saw the dancing."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Brings Back All My Memories" - Music As Medicine

I came across such a beautiful scene at the Bridge today that I carry it with me still as I sit here alone, hours later, at my kitchen table in this city called Juneau. Sitting, as usual, in silence as this day draws to an end, I recall a woman's fingers moving rhythmically as she listened on headphones to the sound of herself playing an organ almost forty years earlier.

She was still for a moment and then her hand rose and moved gracefully through the air.

Here is a short video of the hand movements that she made in response to the music she was listening to. (If you lower the volume on your computer and listen to it without the background noise of another staff leading a group activity, you may appreciate it even more.)

I spoke with this 9O plus year old senior a few minutes after I taped the above. She said to me, "I use to play the organ in Sun City, West Arizona at the theater while people arrived and took their seats just before the movie started. You see, sitting here listening to myself play the organ on these tapes that I kept all these years while watching the scenery out that window brings back all my memories."

To read an interesting article on music and the elderly go here.