Senior Focus

By Silvana Clark

As park and recreation professionals, we know it’s easy to plan programs for children and families--just organize some wild games, teach a new class, or lead an activity involving fun and food. However, planning for seniors takes more thought and effort.

While many seniors today are no longer content to sit in rocking chairs knitting stockings, some seniors do need a “scaled down” version of activities from their younger years. So, take some of these programming ideas from the following experts I met while presenting several workshops at the New Mexico Health Care Conference:

Mom and Baby Group
Invite a group of young mothers to bring their babies and/or young children to interact with seniors. Set up small wading pools and water slides. Seniors love holding the babies.
--Judy Allen, Good Samaritan Center, Alamogordo, NM

Seniors Get Their Own Prom
We held a prom for senior citizens. Community members donated suits and dresses, and we brought in a Mary Kay representative to help with makeup and hair. Staff made a balloon arch over the entrance door. We also brought in a photographer for photos. Staff and seniors ate a candlelight dinner before crowning a king and queen and dancing the night away.
--Sharon Rojeski, Cedar Ridge Inn, Farmington, NM

Reminiscing Hour
We asked seniors and their family members to provide pictures of themselves throughout their lives. The pictures were displayed, and people shared stories of each photograph. The activity director played songs such as “Memories” or “Reminiscing” to add to the atmosphere.
--Christine Hernandez, Landsun Homes, Carlsbad, NM

Hit The Jackpot!
Call local casinos, and have shuttle busses pick up the seniors. Ask for discounts on buffets or restaurants. Then invite family members to come along for a great night at a real casino!
--Thomas Hutzler, Bee Hive Homes, Albuquerque, NM

Blue-Ribbon Prizes
Our state fair, Expo New Mexico, is held each year near our facility. Seniors submit projects such as paintings, photographs, crafts, etc. to be judged. We have yet to win a blue ribbon, but seniors are excited to enter projects and receive participation ribbons.
--Andrea Sarda, Princeton Place, Albuquerque, NM

Whose Face Is This?
Our seniors love playing a game in which pictures of famous people are shown. (We cut pictures out of the newspaper or even People magazine.) Then they tell as much as they know about the individual celebrities.
--Sylvia Tinajero, Las Cruez, NM

Nature Decorations
Take seniors on a nature walk to collect leaves, berries, twigs, seeds, etc. Then cut paper to look like a scroll with a string at the top for hanging. Seniors glue the nature items on their scroll that can then be displayed in a hallway in the recreation center.
--Lena Mangano, La Vida Llena, Albuquerque, NM

Make a putting green, and challenge other retirement communities to a competition.
--Garry Fingar, La Vida Llena, Albuquerque, NM

Helping Others
Seniors like to feel useful, so we put together small care bags for the homeless with shampoo, toothpaste, etc.
--Karrie Waid, Manzano del Sol, Albuquerque, NM

A Few More Ideas
• How about having seniors work with Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts on projects such as building bird houses? One group of seniors helped a Boy Scout troop build wooden bat houses from kits. Fun for all!

• A local bank contracted with a group of seniors to be in charge of the bank’s front-entrance area. Seniors received a budget to buy flowers or seasonal decorations, like pumpkins and cornstalks. The bank had the best-looking entrance in town!

• Many seniors enjoy friendly competition … especially if the winner receives homemade pies or a special dessert. Divide seniors into groups of four or five. Provide each group with a roll of duct tape and a stack of newspapers. The goal is to create a “bridge” that has an arch tall enough for a water bottle to go underneath. The bridge also has to be strong enough to support a filled water bottle. It’s amazing how different each bridge is constructed.

• Consider having a year-round holiday tree at your facility. Put up an artificial Christmas tree and encourage seniors to decorate it on a year-round basis. In February, conduct a red-heart ornament class where people can make Valentine’s Day decorations. Look for green items to hang on the tree for St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe you can interest some men in decorating the tree for the World Series or Super Bowl.

• Check to see whether the community has a speed-stacking club at one of the schools. Seniors (as well as any age adult) are fascinated by the way students stack plastic cups. Yes, I know it sounds boring, but these groups compete to see how fast they can stack cups, and then return them to their original starting position. Even 8-year-olds move these cups so fast their hands are a blur. Then of course, the seniors try their hand at cup stacking with funny (and slow) results. Check out for more details.

• With a larger group of seniors, divide them into groups of four or five people. Give each group the same list of five to seven unrelated words, such as “peacock,” “banana,” “slipper,” “Starbucks,” “Hawaii,” etc. The seniors are to come up with an advertising jingle using at least four of the words and sing it before the rest of the group. Each group will have a totally different jingle, providing plenty of laughs.

• Have you ever wanted to write the great American novel? How about writing a memoir in six words? There are now all types of groups writing about an experience in six words. Give seniors a general topic and have them describe the situation in six words. Here’s one that summed up a man’s life, bringing me to tears: For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. On a lighter note, ask seniors to describe their most memorable meal in six words. Here’s my favorite: India trip. Bad chicken. No restroom. That says it all!

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at