When it comes to teaching creative writing to elders, there are some common themes to consider regardless of whether you’re working with people in Assisted Living or Independent Living. See the section called Getting Started below.
After reading Getting Started, this curriculum is organized by the two distinct populations you’re likely to work with: Assisted Living and Independent Living.
Also, many of the exercises described below are derived from the book, I Never Told Anybody by Kenneth Koch. Each of the exercises contains all you will need along with some writings from elders living at the assisted living center, Regency Park located on the west side of Portland.
You first need to choose a center and a population you’d like to work with. All centers have some things in common. The person to contact is the Activities Director. If you can offer them writing classes on a volunteer basis, they will almost always love the idea. It is when you start asking for money that things get tricky. We have found it very possible to volunteer but then ask for reimbursement for supplies (which is a minimal amount).
Another person to start with is the Director of Marketing. They are the “face” of each facility and will know exactly who you should talk to.
You don’t have to really sell the idea too often. There is plenty of research out there showing how writing helps people exercise their memory. There will be different motives for residents to write depending on how mentally capable they are. What got us started is our own personal observations at Regency Park that the residents are not given many chances in their daily routine to do anything creative — analytical, yes, creative, no. Another observation is that the residents only have surface, acquaintance type relationships with each other. They don’t necessary know much about their neighbors down the hall other than the most basic facts like name and ‘he/she used to be a teacher.”
So, the classes are designed to do two things: foster creativity and foster relationship building through collaboration and listening to others.
The last thing you need to work out is how often you want to teach. We’d say the minimum commitment is once a month. Your contact at the facility may also have some wishes about how often they’d like to put you on the calendar. Our experience is twice a month is a good place to start. If you’re working in Independent living and have residents who are really fired up about writing, you can go weekly but you may find that some weeks only 1 or 2 folks can make it due to conflicts in their schedule — just because you’re in a retirement facility doesn’t mean you’re not busy.
Note: to facilitate ease of reading, all handouts included in the classes should be adjusted to at least 14 pt. font size.
Thank you for taking this on and providing a creative outlet to a highly underserved population.
Good luck and happy writing,
Steve and M