Kim Branson recently left me a Comment with the following request for advice:
...I was wondering if you have any tips or input on getting the elderly to talk about their pasts?
I have been given the opportunity to lead a crafting class twice a month at our local Senior Center. One of the projects I would love to work with them on is a mini-legacy album. My own Dad (who is almost 72) will often share some fascinating tidbits from his childhood or the early years of his marriage to my Mom, brought about by seeing an old photo or hearing a phrase from long ago.
It's easy to get my own father to open up, but I am wondering how to do this with strangers? I realize that many of your journaling prompts from the Book of Me and the Book of Us would be useful, but was also hoping you might have some other tips for me?
Good question, Kim! If I were in the same situation, I would probably pick a theme for each class, like Childhood, Young Adult Years, Jobs, Friends, or Travels. I would open the session by discussing the theme, and try to encourage some discussion to get the "memory juices" flowing. Ask leading questions -- start with, "Does anyone have any stories to share about a trip you took? What was your favorite vacation? Where is the most exotic place you've visited?"
You might notice these "leading questions" are basically journaling prompts. Look through The Book of Me or The Book of Us for appropriate prompts before each session, so you'll have some idea where to lead the discussion. You can also just brainstorm your own conversation-starters, just by focusing on the theme, and seeing what questions pop up in your mind.
Often when people start sharing stories and memories, other people in the class will get a vicarious jumpstart to their own memories. So, if no one feels like sharing right away, you should consider having a few of your own stories to share to get things started.
After you've discussed the theme of the session, describe various craft applications (layouts, framed art, altered memory boxes, etc), and show some examples. Then set them loose.
As they work on their projects, walk among them. If someone seems to be struggling to tell a story, sit with them for a few minutes. Ask them to show you their photos. Ask questions to lead them through telling you the story.
- Who are these people?
- Why are they all here?
- What happened after that?
- What was it like when it happened?
- What did you think about that?
You might also try playing some Oldies music before the class starts. Ask what scents, sights, sounds, and textures come to mind when the students think of that day's themes. Sensory descriptions are very effective for bringing scrapbook journaling to life.
I hope these thoughts and tips have helped a bit, Kim. If not, just comment here, and we'll try to get you the resources you need! Anyone else have any suggestions for teaching Senior Center scrapbooking/journaling classes?