Open Letter to Children Artists on Elder Interaction

Dear Creative, Exuberant, Young Friends;

Thank you for sharing your singing, dancing, theatre and play with elders through Tidewater Arts Outreach.  You are giving back and serving others through this creative engagement event.  Here as some thoughts to help you get the most from the experience.

  • The people you see may not be able to sing or dance as you do.  It doesn’t mean they don’t want to.  Most likely, they did, once upon a time.  Their bodies just don’t work like yours do.  Remember the Velveteen Rabbit?  If you live long enough and love hard enough, you, too, will show signs of wear and tear.  It means you’ve been around a Long Time and you’ve worked hard for lots of years.  You’ll be ready for a slower pace.  You will want people to come visit you.
  • It is a little scary to meet someone who is so much older than you, especially if they have a hard time hearing, talking or getting around.  I’m here to tell you, they are coming to see you because they are happy you are coming to see them.  They could have stayed in their room; they did not.  So say ‘hi,’ and tell them you’re happy to see them today.  Look at them directly.  If you need to bend your knees to put your face at their level, do it.  Practice with each other first, so it feels comfortable.  Speak clearly and be brave.  Older kids, pair up with a younger child.  Make it a goal to talk with at least three people.
  • Some other conversation starters/other things to talk about:
    • “We enjoyed singing songs from (name of your program).”  We hope you enjoyed it!”
    • Glance to see if their name is on a nametag, wristband or wheelchair.  If it is, you can ask them if you can call them by their name.  Or you can simply say, “My name is _____________.”  What’s your name?”
    • Ask them if they have a favorite song (movie, TV show, book, poem, artist, place to visit in Hampton Roads, etc).  
      • “Do you have a favorite song?” 
      • That can lead to “Where did you first hear it?” “Who sang that song?”  “Why is it your favorite?”
    • Ask them if they like to sing.  They might say “My voice isn’t any good any more.”   Well, you can encourage them to keep singing, no matter what.  Look at our “Health Benefits of Singing,” below, and you will know why.
    • Ask them if they are from Hampton Roads.  Ask them what they liked to do when they were your age.
  • These are just suggestions to get the ball rolling.  At first it might feel awkward.  If your parent is around, get them to go with you; they will help you.
  • The elders you will meet do not have the opportunity to talk to children much.  Your smile and your brief, personal conversation might be the best smile they see and the happiest moments they spend all day, so please smile freely and don’t rush away.
  • If they reach out to touch your hand, or if you want to shake their hand in greeting, do so with gentleness.  No firm handshakes, please.  Old hands are very fragile.  Touch them like you would a rabbit’s ear.
  • Some elders you meet may only be able to speak slowly or haltingly.  Have patience.  If you don’t understand them, say “I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time understanding you.”  Give them the chance to repeat themselves.  If you can’t make sense of what they’re saying, it’s OK to say “I’m sorry, I can’t understand what you’re saying.  I wanted to come by and say hi and let you know how much our group enjoyed singing for you today.  I hope you have a lovely day.”
  • Some elders you meet may not be able to speak at all.  It’s OK in that case to say a few things about yourself (where you go to school, favorite hobby, favorite song, your age, where you live) – as long as they are interested in hearing about you.  Then smile, thank them again for coming to see you, and move on.

Be inspired!  You are doing wonderful, vital, important community services.  Your talents are gifts.  Thank you for sharing them with these very deserving people!  Write to MaryAnn@TidewaterArtsOutreach.org and share your experiences, take-aways and ‘aha!’ moments.

The Many Benefits of Singing:

  • Increased oxygen to the brain
  • Singing bypasses neurologic weaknesses (ie, speech) and taps strengths
  • Additional verbal and non-verbal avenues for communication
  • Vital lung capacity, vocal strength, core strength improvements
  • Brain stimulation that outpaces any other type of activity
  • Mood improvement, sense of individuality/purpose
  • Sense of empowerment/self-esteem