|DOWN MEMORY LANE
By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
Intriguing Ideas to Consider Incorporating
Well, activity professionals, we are half-way through 2009. That means, before the end
of the year, there are still half-a-dozen new calendars to be planned. That is no less
than 26 full weeks, or 182- and-half days of activities. And if you do only three activities a
day, that is 547 activity slots to fill. Ugh! Perhaps it seems you’ve tried everything. Still,
there is that creative part deep in your heart that longs for something more, something
new and different, for your residents. So where do you start?
Surprisingly, there is no shortage of activity ideas. As a long-time activity director,
myself, I have spent years collecting ideas from other activity directors. Yet, I am always
amazed when I present one particular 3-hour program at activity conferences called
Calendar Planning and Exciting Activity Ideas, with seemingly unlimited activity ideas,
that activity directors always come up afterwards and share many new activity ideas I
have never heard of before. And I love it! Then, besides all the new activities, we can
thank the Good Lord that there is an endless supply of “new twists” for those old tried-
and-true favorites. So with a great big thank you to all you A.D.s who have shared your
ideas with me, let me now give some of them back to you.
First, let’s look at some clever projects. When I spoke at a convention in British
Columbia, one year, I picked up this unique idea– to bring an automobile inside the
facility. The car was placed up on blocks, so it remained stationary, and the door locks
where removed. Residents, many lower-functioning, delighted in washing the car and
sweeping it out. They sat in it, shifted the gears, turned the radio knobs, and rolled up
the windows. They played with the windshield wipers and pulled up the aerial. They
spent much time discussing mechanical things and reminiscing about various
automobiles they had once owned. Someone there told about a low-functioning
resident who had not spoken a word for two years. He got inside the car, but he couldn’t
remember how to get out. In desperation, he opened his mouth and yelled, “Get me out
of this blankety-blank car!” The man continue to speak after that.
Another project I found interesting was making a facility yearbook. Just like a high
school yearbook, the A.D. and a small team of residents created their book by meeting
once a week. It contained lots of pictures: a photo of each resident and staff member
with his or her name beneath it, numerous snapshots of residents involved in activities,
old photographs from residents’ albums, and photos highlighting the past year’s
happenings. Profiles were written about each resident which told about their past and
present interests, their families, and their previous occupations. Advertising was sold to
suppliers and businesses to offset the cost of printing. The book, a real keepsake, was
sold to families, staff, and visitors for a small amount.
Some facilities are forgoing the monthly newsletter for a daily one. It sounds like a lot of
work, but it’s really not. You use a pre-printed 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper. This sheet
has several near blank blocks printed on it. The blocks contain several headings: I
Remember When; Happy Birthday; Quote of the Day; Just for Fun; What’s Happening;
Trivia Corner; Our Special People; and Note from the Administrator, or any other
headings you choose. You type your information in the blocks. Throughout the day, you
snatch a few free minutes here and there to fill out the next day’s newsletter. Keep a file
of trivia close by. Chase Annual Events is packed full of trivia for every day of the year, or
use my book Newsletters Simplified! which offers loads of interesting tidbits and trivia
you can use. Pass your daily newsletter out first thing every morning, and as residents
read it, you will have one activity completed before 9:00A.M. Or, using the same format,
make your newsletter a weekly instead of a daily.
We all have a need to give, and residents are no exception. One way residents can
meet that need is by making tray favors for Meals on Wheels. One facility told of making
soup in activities and donating it to the local soup kitchen. They also shared about their
“best chili” contest. Small groups of residents worked together with a helper, and each
made their “special” kind of chili. It was judged by the mayor and the administrator, and
then sold to the staff for ten cents a bowl.
Would you like an activity to keep alert residents busy, to serve your community, and to
bring notoriety to your facility? Become known as the facility who makes those cute little
rice bags for weddings. (Some churches prefer you fill them with birdseed rather than
rice because they don’t have to clean up the mess; the birds do it for them.) Church
bulletins are a great way to promote your service, or just let the news spread by word of
mouth. As you know, they are so easy to make. Just cut nylon netting into little squares,
drop in the rice or birdseed, and secure each one with a rubber band. Tie a pretty ribbon
into a bow to cover the rubber band.
How about a family or community bean dinner? In Southern Indiana, a community bean
dinner started following World War I, so the community could honor its veterans. Today,
some ninety years later, the bean dinner continues to be held each August. Eight huge
iron pots hung over open fires are tended by gentlemen who start as early as 6 a.m.
These pots hold enough beans to serve thousands of people who come. A military gun
salute begins the event. Folks come with their own family-size containers and receive,
free, all the beans with bacon they desire. After the meal, a carnival and just down-
home visiting is enjoyed by nearly the whole town. You might try a modified version of
this at your facility, perhaps on Memorial or Labor day.
It is fun spending your energy on big rewarding projects, you say, but how about some
good old everyday activities? You asked for it. Someone shared the idea of an egg relay
race using long-handled wooden spoons and wooden eggs. Make two teams of
residents, each with a spoon and an egg, and let them pass the egg on the spoon
down the line of residents to the last resident without dropping it.
You might try a fragrance party letting female residents smell, and if they desire, sample
different perfumes, colognes, and bath powders. To obtain the fragrances ask staff and
friends for their unwanted brands that clutter up their make-up drawers. Then visit
cosmetic counters and ask for samples and freebies. Also, seek for samples from
home sales cosmetic dealers. Considering it is for residents, you will probably come
away with more samples than you can use.
For your ladies, borrow or rent videos or CDs on creative ways to tie scarves, braid hair,
or apply make-up. Though these things may not be applicable to residents current
needs, they are still female. They will enjoy watching ways women make themselves
more attractive. I once invited a lady in with a program like the “Color Me Beautiful”
program, who draped the ladies in scarves and determined if they looked better in
Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter colors. They loved it. And I learned a lot too!
Do you sometimes have a no-show? Scrounge up those mounting donated magazines
and let residents tear out pictures that best describe themselves. Then have them each
paste their selection to a poster board. Display these and solicit staff and other
residents to guess who each one belongs to. You can learn much about your residents’
likes and dislikes in this way. Some bed patients can also do this one.
Hold an old-time radio hour. Locate an old floor model radio (or buy a replica of one)
and gather residents around it. Behind the radio, hide a tape recorder on which you play
old-time radio shows like Jack Benny or George and Gracie. As they listen, serve
popcorn, apples, or other snack foods.
In winter, residents and a nursery school class can have a snowball fight–only instead
of snow, use marshmallows, or wadded up tissue paper. When it’s to cold to have a
wiener roast, cook hotdogs on an electric table-top grill. Don’t forget the marshmallows
(obviously not the ones used for the snowball fight). The aroma permeates throughout
the facility, and residents have only to follow their noses to activities. In summer,
residents can plant a flower garden in a child’s plastic swimming pool. Just put
drainage in the bottom, then the soil, and then plant small flowers.
For crafts, let advanced Alzheimer’s or otherwise low-functioning residents paint with
mashed up berries, colored whipped cream, or coffee. Another spontaneous activity for
any resident level is shoe polishing. Just break out the polish, and allow residents to
work away as they socialize with one another.
Or start a progressive story. Give them the first line or two: ”I was so excited! It was my
first day of school. Then that mean boy....” or, “It was my wedding day. I had waited so
long for it, but now things were going downhill fast.” Each resident adds another line,
and the last person winds up the story.
You might also try a “celebrity chase.” Question residents about any famous people
they may have had contact with in their lifetime. For instance, one of my residents sat in
on one of Amelia Earhart’s lectures at Purdue University. Another told of boarding
horses for Johnny Cash’s family. Still another cut the ribbon at the opening of the
Panama Canal which I believe was in 1914. Her father was an engineer building it, and
she was a five-year-old child, sitting on the lap of the prime minister of Panama.
Have a weekly happy hour, and everyone who comes must wear a funny costume. The
costumes initiate conversation and allow residents an opportunity to laugh. You might
serve gingerale or non-alcoholic wine or beer, and crackers or pretzels. A good book to
keep on hand for emergencies is Verse by the Side of the Road which contains the
many Burma Shave slogans from days gone by. Residents love recalling these.
Feature an “old movies” week. Have your copy shop blow up non-copyrighted pictures
of the old-time stars to decorate your walls: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Frank
Sinatra, Cary Grant to name a few. Show movies like Ma and Pa Kettle, the Andy Hardy
series, or It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart or the old Sabrina with Humphrey
Bogart. The men may enjoy gangster movies with stars like James Cagney or
Humphrey Bogart. Between movies, play songs of the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
For outings, let residents select produce at the farmer’s market, or visit a blueberry or
strawberry farm. Tour a hospital or fitness center. In December, take them to a
Christmas tree farm.
Some have never been through a car wash and might enjoy it.
All levels of female residents can enjoy browsing through a box of buttons. Try to gather
some old-time or unusual ones. Share pretty doilies or silverware patterns. Pass out
paint charts and talk about the many colors. Ask what the various colors remind them
of: their first home, trees, the old barn, a purse they once owned.
Locate several clown face pictures showing various emotions (try coloring books).
Paste them on cardboard for stability, and attach a tongue depressor to the bottom of
each face for a handle. Use these to communicate with residents: Ask them, “Do you
feel happy today (hold up a happy face) or “Do you feel more like this (hold up a sad
face, or surprised, or thoughtful)?” Seek a response.
Try adapting the tried-and-true. For instance, instead of regular bingo, try “name” bingo.
Give alert residents blank cards, and tell them to go around the room and get 25
signatures, one to fill each blank square on the card. Adaption: You can write residents’
names in the squares before the game starts. When cards are filled, call names rather
than numbers. Each person whose name is called, stands up and introduces him- or
Or you could try regular bingo and award prizes in this manner. Get a large white
cardboard as a back drop, and across the top write Mystery Bingo Bucks. Take 20 plan
white envelopes and boldly number them from one to 20. Inside each, slip a small
paper with a specific money amount written on it: ten cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, or
$1.00–whatever your budget allows.
Tack these envelopes prominently to the cardboard. When a resident bingos, he or she
selects a number and wins the amount inside that envelope. The prize is read out loud.
So if you are feeling like you’ve tried everything, take heart. There’s an unlimited supply
of new, or new-twist activities out there, just waiting to be tried. Keep your eyes and ears
open and, no doubt, you’ll find yourself with an abundance of new activity ideas. But if
you want still more activities at your fingertips, you might check out my books, Activity
Planning at Your Fingertips that features 535 activities, and Activities Encyclopedia
which offers over 600 activities.*
So why not eagerly embrace the second half of this year, roll up your sleeves, and let
your creative juices run free. God bless you all. - Marge
*Books mentioned may be purchased directly from Valley Press, P.O. Box 14134,
Bradenton, Florida 34280, or from Nasco, S&S Worldwide, or other activity book