Late Bloomers Make Good Students

By Sarai Garcia

As the oldest center in the city, the Las Palmas Community Center in McAllen, Texas, has long been a recreation destination for local and visiting elderly persons. With such a rich history in senior programming, the center serves as a model for developing activities that are beneficial to a specific demographic.


When designing arts and crafts activities, a leader should ask the following:

  • Is the program adaptable?
  • Is it cognitively beneficial?
  • Is there a social benefit to the structure of the activity?

Older adults and seniors have a range of physical abilities. Some may have a slower range of motion, while others may find certain activities painful.

Cognitively, this age group may become bored when transitioning into retirement, or even be preoccupied with health concerns. Arts and crafts activities, for example, can be a creative outlet to lessen stress.

The Tissue-Paper Project
For a Mother’s Day project in May 2014, the participants in the morning program were ushered into the dining hall where they found colorful sheets of tissue paper, multi-colored pipe cleaners, and a school box full of scissors. Seventeen ladies were there to use their creativity to make paper flowers.

There was a range of ages, hearing abilities, and languages, including English, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese. I knew my directions needed to be simple and exact. I spoke in English and in Spanish.

“Ladies, take two sheets of tissue paper in any two colors you want. Hold them up so I can see.  Okay, ladies, now let’s fold the tissue papers in half, up and down, newspaper style. Check with your neighbor to make sure they are following along. Now show me your folded tissue paper. “

 The women talked among themselves and helped their neighbor if needed. “Now take your scissors and cut along the fold of the tissue paper. You should end up with four tissue papers of the same size. When you have accomplished that, lift your papers again so I can see.”

Slowly the women cut, some in a jagged line, some straight. They giggled if the cuts weren’t straight. At one table a retired 2nd-grade teacher helped her neighbor, striking up a conversation about how long it had been since she had made paper flowers as a school teacher. Hands went up as everyone was ready for the next direction.


“Let's fold the paper one more time, newspaper style, and cut along the fold. We should now have a total of eight sheets. If you want to mix and match sheets with your neighbor, and she agrees, go ahead. Does everyone have their eight sheets? The next step will require some space on the table. We are going to fold our papers 1 inch at a time, accordion style, until the entire length is folded.”

As I walked around, I noticed some participants folding the paper in on itself, like a letter, while others had made large 2-inch folds. Some redirection was needed.

“I will try my best in the air, but you can use the table. The first fold is up towards you, and it should be about a finger wide. Now fold the paper backwards, in the opposite direction, so it looks like a paper fan, or an accordion. If you have questions, let me know.”

The women proceeded, and many who were anxious and wanted to know what happened next, came to me and asked, “When will I get my pipe cleaner?” I reminded them I would give everyone directions at the same time and that we would move on shortly. After walking up and down the aisle, I gauged that the participants were ready.

“Next, we take the folded tissue paper and fold it in half. Show me the folded tissue paper.”

Fanned, multi-colored tissue papers rose in the air.

“Now take your pipe cleaner and fold it in half. The midpoint of the paper and the midpoint of the pipe cleaner should touch. Now twist the pipe cleaner, not too tightly that the paper rips, but enough to hold the middle of the tissue together. The last step is to carefully pull the right-side sheet by sheet up towards you. You will notice that the paper sticks and is wrinkled, and that is okay. Do not pull too hard. Move your fingers slowly to pull each sheet towards you. When done with the right side, do the same with the left side.”

The ladies slowly pulled on the tissue paper, and while some sheets were torn and sometimes two sheets were pulled, the women laughed, talked, smiled, and told stories about making tissue flowers as school girls. Their aged hands made beautiful flowers.

Positive Results
Remember to make the activity adaptable. Some participants may have arthritis that makes it difficult to hold and use scissors, but they can fold paper. Have them help others who need guidance in folding. Pay attention to the participants’ cognitive abilities. Give directions that are easy to follow. Repeat if you notice confusion. Demonstrate, but still use words that challenge their listening skills, such as “right side,” “clock wise,” and “diagonal.” Give participants a chance to choose their colors and supplies so they are still in control of decisions that affirm their independence. And lastly foster an inviting social environment. Activities of nostalgia, like the paper flowers, brought many smiles to their faces, and their ability to choose their flower colors gave them something to talk about with their peers.

Sarai Garcia, M.A., CPRP, is the Manager of the Las Palmas Community Center for the city of McAllen Parks and Recreation Department.  She may be reached at


  • Two sheets of tissue paper 20 inches by 30 inches of any color
  • One pipe cleaner of any color
  • Scissors


1.       Take two sheets of tissue paper and fold in half widthwise (15 x 20); cut along the folded edge to make four sheets.

2.       Fold the four sheets in half again widthwise (10 x 15); cut along the folded edge to make a total of eight sheets.

3.       Begin to fold the sheets accordion style, or like a paper fan, back and forth about 1 inch (finger-width) the entire length of the paper.

4.       Fold the accordion paper in half to make the mid-mark.

5.       Take a pipe cleaner and fold it in half. Cross the pipe cleaner with the accordion paper at the mid-points.

6.       Twist the pipe cleaner to hold the accordion paper in place, but not too tightly that the tissue paper tears.

7.       Fan out the right side of the accordion tissue paper, and gently begin to pull each sheet on the right side towards you. When you are done with the right side of the paper, repeat the process on the left side.

8.       The finished product will be a beautiful paper flower.