Creative Engagement for Elders

29 Engaging Ideas for September 29th

As promised to the constituents who attended my closing keynote at the KHCA/KCAL Convention, here are 29 creatively engaging ideas that coincide with notable events and birthdays on September 29th!

 By Kareen King

(Events and Births adapted from Wikipedia)

1.      1328 – Joan of Kent, known in history as “The Fair Maid of Kent” and who was called by French chronicler Jean Froissart “the most beautiful woman in all the realm of England, and the most loving”, was born (d. 1385).

a.       Using Froissart’s words as a template, make unique declarations about your residents. For example, “Arlene – the cleverest woman of Brookside,” or “Jim – the most patriotic man of Brookside.”

b.      Have improv volunteers act out their own version of “Snow White,” capitalizing on the magic mirror (“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”). For further ideas, look up Magic Mirror Snow White at

2.      1511 Michael Servetus, Spanish theologian, physician, and cartographer was born (d. 1553).

a.      Servetus was a polymath in that he was good at multiple things: mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geography, anatomy, medicine, pharmacology, jurisprudence (the theory or philosophy of law), translation, poetry, and biblical studies. Ask who’s multi-talented.

b.      Hold a boasting contest with some improv volunteers by determining who has the most talents or areas of expertise. Encourage outlandishness, aka one-upmanship improv.

3.      1518 - Jacopo Comin (“Tintoretto”), an Italian painter, was born (d. 1594).

a.      For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso. His work is characterized by its muscular figures and dramatic gestures.

b.      Furioso!!!! Dramatic Artist Demonstration: Have an improv volunteer stand behind a large easel or dry erase board and pantomime sweeping artistic movements, flailing dry erase markers, etc. When, finished, have him turn the board or easel around to show his masterpiece.

4.      1571 - Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio, or simply   “Caravaggio”, an Italian painter was born (d. 1610).

a.      Caravaggio vividly expressed crucial moments and scenes, often featuring violent struggles, torture and death. He worked rapidly, with live models, preferring to forego drawings and work directly onto the canvas. His work featured Tenebrism, ("dark, gloomy, and mysterious") where there are violent contrasts of light and dark.

b.      Build upon the “furioso” painting demonstration by adding speed, dark music, and flickering lights.

5.      1640 - Antoine Coysevox, a French sculptor who at the age of seventeen produced a sculpture of considerable merit of the Madonna was born (d. 1720).

a.      Invite improv volunteers to create several human sculptures either as a group or individually to the tune of Lady Madonna by Lennon-McCartney.

6.     1798 - The United States Department of War first established a regular army with the strength of several hundred men.

a.       March while seated to the Official Song of the United States Army, The Army Goes Rolling Along (YouTube:

7.      1789 – The first United States Coungress adjourned. “Congress is the ‘heart and soul’ of our democracy.” – Lee H. Hamilton

a.       Sing, sway, and/or dance to Heart and Soul by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser.

b.       Invite a pianist to play the famous song and/or play the accompaniment and invite “players” to take turns improvising on the right hand. (YouTube:

8.      1810 - Elizabeth Gaskell, English author of Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, Wives and Daughters, and also a writer of ghost stories was born (d. 1865).

a.      Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of Victorian society, including the very poor. Do a “Status Walks” Improv:

i.      Have improv volunteers walk across the space with various parts of their body leading (i.e. lead with the nose, the chin, the stomach, etc.). Have audience observe how these postures might affect their “status”.

ii.      Tell ghost stories! (Note: Several of Gaskell’s ghost stories are public domain and can be located at

9.      1864 - Alexandra “Xie” Kitchen, English model and favorite photographic subject of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) was born (d. 1925).

a.      The photographic works made by Kitchin and Carroll were often in tableau (a posed picturesque grouping of objects or people) form.

b.      Improv Exercise – Tableaus

i.      Have improv volunteers do quick “scenes,” then freeze. Take photos of each tableau.

10.  1864 – Miguel de Unamuno, Spanish philosopher and author of The Tragic Sense of Life and Abel Sanchez: the History of a Passion, a modern exploration of the Cain and Abel was born (d. 1936).

a.      Creative Quote: “A man does not die of love or his liver or even of old age; a man dies of ______________ (being a man).”

11.  1879 - Marius Jacob, a clever French burglar with a sharp sense of humor who was capable of great generosity toward his victims, was born (d. 1954).

a.      Ask for a show of hands who has stolen at least once. Discuss why people steal. Then share the logic of Marius Jacob: “A liquor seller and the boss of a brothel enrich themselves, while a man of genius dies of poverty in a hospital bed. The baker who bakes bread doesn’t get any; the shoemaker who makes thousands of shoes shows his toes; the weaver who makes stocks of clothing doesn’t have any to cover himself with; the bricklayer who builds castles and palaces wants for air in a filthy hovel. Those who produce everything have nothing, and those who produce nothing have everything.” – Marius Jacob, from Why I Was a Burglar

12.  1881 - Ludwig von Mises, Austrian-American economist, sociologist and philosopher and author of his magnum opus, Human Action, was born (d. 1973).

a.      Creative Quote: “The root of evil is not the construction of new, more dreaded weapons. It is _________________ (the spirit of conquest).” – Ludwig von Mises

b.      A magnum opus is a large and important work of art, music, or literature, especially one regarded as the most important work of an artist or writer. Ask the residents to tell of one accomplishment of which they are most proud.

13.  1895 - Clarence Ashley, an American banjo player and singer was born (d. 1967).

a.      When Clarence was very young, he was nicknamed "Tommy Tiddy Waddy" (after a nursery rhyme) by his grandfather Enoch, and thus became known to friends and acquaintances as 'Tom'. As he was raised by the parents of his mother, the name "McCurry" was dropped in favor of "Ashley".

b.      Recite well known nursery rhymes as a group (Jack Sprat, Jack and Jill, Little Jack Horner, Old King Cole, Little Miss Muffet, Sing a Song of Sixpence, Little Boy Blue, etc.)

c.       Nickname Partner Conversation

14.  1895 Joseph Banks Rhine, an American botanist and parapsychologist known as J. B. Rhine, who founded parapsychology as a branch of psychology, was born (d. 1980).

a.      Improv Exercise: “Dr. ESP” (Played like the improv game Dr. Know-it-All) Three players (this number can be varied), sit or stand beside each other. They are only allowed to speak one word at a time. Absurd questions, which can be asked by any of the participants or from a designated interviewer, may be asked since the multiple-headed doctor knows everything. The doctor should rephrase each question and should answer beginning with the same player and in the same order of players each time.

15.  1895 – Roscoe Turner, a record-breaking American aviator who was a three-time winner of the Thompson Trophy air race, and widely recognized by his flamboyant style and his pet lion named Gilmore, was born (d. 1970).

a.      Creative Quote: “There is no excuse for an airplane unless it will ________________ (fly fast).” – Roscoe Turner (for fun, say it flamboyantly, and end with a “roar”)

16.  1897 Herbert Agar, an American journalist and historian and winner of the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for his 1933 book The People's Choice, a critical look at the American presidency, was born (d. 1980).

a.      Creative Quote: "The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which ___________ (men prefer not to hear)." – Herbert Agar

b.      Discuss how you feel about the current President. Just kidding. J

17.  1899- László Bíró, a Hungarian inventor who invented the ballpoint pen, was born (d. 1985).

a.      Creative Quote: “I always_______ (write) the same way. I always write with a yellow pad and a ballpoint pen in my hand.” – Woody Allen

b.      Ask, “What’s the last thing you wrote with a ballpoint pen?” Or share writing experiences.

18.  1899 – Billy Butlin, the South African-English businessman who founded Butlins, a chain of large affordable holiday camps designed for ordinary British families in the United Kingdom, was born (d. 1980).

a.      Billy Butlin's inspiration for his holiday camp empire came from an unhappy holiday on Barry Island in his youth, when he had been locked out of his bed and breakfast accommodation all day by his landlady which was normal practice at the time. Sing or watch YouTube performance of Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp), a novelty song by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch.

b.      Reminiscence: Share camping stories.

19.  1901 –Enrico Fermi, an Italian-American physicist and the creator of the world's first nuclear reactor, the Chicago Pile-1and who was dubbed "architect of the nuclear age” and the "architect of the atomic bomb", was born (d. 1954).

a.      Creative Quote: “When asked what characteristics Nobel prize winning physicists had in common, Fermi said, “I cannot think of a single one, not even _____________(intelligence).”

b.      Nobel Prize Quiz: Q: What are the five Nobel prizes? A: Chemistry, Physics, Physiology (Medicine), Literature, and Peace.

20.  1904 Greer Carson, winner of the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actress in Mrs. Miniver and credited by the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest Oscar acceptance speech at five minutes and 30 seconds, prompting the Academy Awards acceptance speech time limit, was born  (d. 1996).

a.      Sing This is the Song that Never Ends and substitute the word “speech” for “song”.

21.  1907 - Gene Autry, an American “singing cowboy” and actor, and the only person to be awarded stars in all five categories on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for film, television, music, radio, and live performance, was born (d. 1998).

a.      Sing Back in the Saddle Again – his signature song.

b.      Have a Christmas sing-along with his memorable Christmas holiday songs, the first of which he wrote: Here Comes Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

22.  1908 Eddie Tolan, the first non-Euro-American to receive the title of the "world's fastest human" after winning gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters events at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, was born (d. 1967).

a.       Tell and/or act out the Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.

23.  1910 Bill Boyd, an American singer and guitarist who recorded Wa Hoo and performed it with Bill Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers, was born (d. 1977).

“Oh, gimme a horse, a great big horse, And gimme a buckaroo,

And let me Wah Hoo! Wah Hoo! Wah Hoo!”

a.    Improv Game: Invite “popcorn-style” expressions that start with “Gimme a ___________!” Then, the audience responds, “Wa Hoo!”

24.  1935 -  Jerry Lee Lewis, American singer-songwriter and pianist was born.

a.      V Dance to Jerry Lee Lewis’ Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Fire

b.      Maracas to Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On (Or just shake your body and “play guitar”)

25.  1939 - Tommy Boyce, co-writer of (Theme From) the Monkees, was born (d.1994).

a.      Diamond Dance to (Theme From) the Monkees

b.      In the spirit of “Monkey See-Monkey Do” or “Simon Says,” either do Mirror Partners or make sounds and movements which should be mimicked by your audience.

26.  1936 – Hal Trosky, Jr., an American baseball player for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox who batted left-handed and threw right-handed, was born (d. 2012).

a.      Sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame and insert your favorite team.

27.  1948 - Mark Farner, American singer-songwriter and guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad and Terry Knight and the Pack,  was born.

a.      Do a dance “train” to We’re an American Band.

28.  1948 – Bryant Gumbel, an American journalist was born.

a.      Improv: Gibberish Journalism

Have an improv volunteer act as a journalist from a foreign country (have audience make up the name of the country). He is to provide late-breaking news, which you translate for the audience.

29.  1966 – The Chevrolet Camaro, originally named Panther, was introduced.

a.      The Camaro is classified as a “pony car” and a “muscle car”. If possible, watch Dina Shore’s performance of See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet.

b.      Creative Quote: Ask the participants to fill in the blank, “I’d like to see _________(name a favorite destination or person) in a Chevrolet Camaro.”

Photo below by Kareen King:

"Furioso!" played by Travis Beaty, a Registered Nurse who blesses the residents and staff at Wellsville Retirement Community with his playful spirit and improvisational talent, showcases his masterpiece. :)

Furioso! - Travis Beatty, a playful nurse who blessed the residents at Wellsville Retirement Community, plays "Furioso" and showcases his masterpiece. :)

The Falling Man Experience

 The following creative engagement experience proved to be beautiful and enriching for the many older adult gatherings I facilitated. If interested in 28 similarly formatted creative engagement programs, you may purchase a copy of the book by clicking: Engage! 28 Creative Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults

The Falling Man Experience

By Kareen King

When to Use: April, May, August, and September


Photocopies of The Falling Man (available from the Internet).

Option: Enlist someone savvy with Photoshop to create an original version of The Falling Man photo. Otherwise, produce a good stick-figure depiction of a man in an upside-down position in the air.


Invite everyone to blow kisses to one another.


Conversation Starter: Where were you and/or what were you doing when you heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?

Background Information:

The World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, New York City was attacked on September 11, 2001 when Al-Qaeda-affiliated hijackers flew two Boeing 767 jets into the complex, beginning with the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., followed by the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. 2,507 civilians, 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters, and 55 military personnel were killed. The Falling Man is an iconic photograph of a 9/11 unidentified “jumper” who is captured upside down, perfectly vertical. The photograph was one of a 12-frame sequence of a free fall taken by photojournalist, Richard Drew, while on an unrelated assignment with the Associated Press. “The Falling Man” was one of hundreds of other “jumpers” who were forced out of the upper floors of the Twin Towers due to lack of any escape by stairs or roof. “The Falling Man’s” descent lasted about ten seconds, but his image endures forever, very much like the image of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Notable dates:

-          The groundbreaking of the original World Trade Center took place on August 25, 1966.

-          The landmark twin towers of the World Trade Center opened on April 4, 1973.

-          The twin towers, along with the 7 World Trade Center, were destroyed on September 11, 2001.

-          The Falling Man photo appeared on page one of the New York Times Book Review on May 27, 2007.

Activity: Collective Poem

Pass out a photocopy of the famous Falling Man photo to each participant. Ask the participants to share words or phrases that come to mind as they view the picture. Acknowledge each response verbally and on a dry erase board for visual learners.

The following poem came from a number of Experiences:

The Falling Man

Man upside down




I really don’t know what to think


A very bumpy ride

Fell outside

Total frustration

How did I get here?

A falling man


Makes me cry



Does he know what’s happening in the world?

Is he on his way to heaven without knowing it?

Is he conscious?

Did anyone really believe what they were seeing?

A falling man

A great disaster



No escape

Thinking of his family

He knows he’s gonna die

He prays he gets to heaven

So many people died that day

“God help me!”

It’s days like this we remember to say those words, “I love you.”

Activity: Something from Every Decade

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a 2011 film about a nine-year-old boy named Oskar who is convinced that his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. After finding a mysterious key in his father’s closet, he begins a search through New York City for the lock for which it fits. The movie, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, contains images of “The Falling Man” as possibly being Oskar’s father. Eventually, Oskar imagines finding pictures of the falling body, ripping the pictures out of a book, then reversing the order of the fall, so that the last picture is first and the first is last. In the film, Oskar and his father played a game which was a reconnaissance expedition with instructions to search for something from every decade in the 20th century. Invite the participants to imagine holding a key which unlocks a safe which contains items from every decade in the 20th century. One by one, each participant describes the items they found and from which decade(s).

Option: If memory is an issue, facilitate a reminiscence discussion based on inventions from any of the following decades:

-          1900-1910

o   Teabag

o   Teddy Bear

o   Vacuum cleaner

o   Cornflakes

o   Instant coffee

-          1910-1920

o   Lifesavers candy

o   Crossword puzzle

o   Zipper

o   Bra

o   Pop-up toaster

-          1920-1930

o   Kool-Aid

o   Notebooks with spiral bindings

o   Frozen food

o   Bubble gum

o   Self-winding watch

-          1930-1940

o   Nylon-bristle tooth brushes

o   Brillo pads

o   Nancy Drew mysteries

o   Marbles

o   Yo-yo’s

-          1940-1950

o   7-inch screen television

o   Silly Putty

o   Duct tape

o   Scrabble

o   The Slinky

-          1950-1960

o   Mr. Potato Head

o   Hula Hoop

o   Car Seatbelts

o   The Barbie doll

o   Teflon coated pans

-          1960-1970

o   Audio cassette

o   Fiber-tipped pen

o   Non-dairy creamer

o   Permanent-press fabric

o   Hand-held calculator

-          1970-1980

o   Word processor

o   Post-it notes

o   Push-through tab on a drink can

o   Food processor

o   Platform shoes

-          1980-1990

o   Cabbage Patch kids

o   Apple Macintosh

o   Disposable camera

o   Prozac

o   High-definition television

-          1990-2000

o   Digital Answering Machine

o   The Smart Pill (any pill that can deliver or control its delivery of medicine without the patient having to take action beyond the initial swallow.

o   Viagra

o   The DVD

o   Web TV

Activity: 9-11 by Numbers – A Readers Theatre

Readers Theatre is a style of theatre in which the actors don’t need to memorize their lines. Actors use only vocal and facial expression rather than design elements to convey the story to the audience. Actors are seated in a row of chairs in front of the audience, with scripts held in similar fashion as choir music. Readers keep heads in bowed position when not reading. When it is their turn to read, they look up from the script, say the line, and then look back at the script. Invite four readers to perform the following piece, assigning a number to each performer:

9/11 - Count the Numbers

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 8:46 a.m. The moment Twin Tower One was struck.

TWO: 9:02 a.m. The moment Twin Tower Two was struck.

THREE: 56 – the number of minutes Twin Tower One stood after impact.

FOUR: 102 – the number of minutes Twin Tower Two stood after impact.

ONE: 2,606 – the number of people who died in the World Trade Center

TWO: 246 – the number of people who died in the airlines.

THREE: 125 – the number of people who died in the Pentagon Building.

FOUR: 19 – the number of highjackers who died

ONE: 12 – the number of seconds it took for the towers to fall.

TWO: 343 – the number of firefighters who died.

THREE: 23 – the number of New York Police Department officers who died.

FOUR: One – the firefighter killed by a man who jumped off the top floors.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 37 – the number of Port Authority police officers who died.

TWO: 60 – the number of World Trade Center companies that lost people.

THREE: 1,402 – the number of employees who died in Tower One.

FOUR: 614 - the number of employees who died in Tower Two.

ONE: 658 – the number of employees lost at Cantor Fitzgerald.

TWO: 22 – the number of U.S. troops killed in Operation Enduring Freedom.

THREE: 115 – the number of nations whose citizens were killed in the attacks.

FOUR: 3 to 1 – the ratio of men to women who died.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 35 to 39 – the ages of the greatest number who died.

TWO: 289 – the number of bodies found intact.

THREE: 19,858 – the number of body parts found.

FOUR: 1,717 – the number of families who got no remains.

ONE: 36,000 – the number of estimated units of blood donated to the New York Blood Center.

TWO: 258 –the number of total units of donated blood actually used.

THREE: 1,609 – the number of people who lost a spouse or partner in the attacks.

FOUR: 3,051 – the estimated number of children who lost a parent.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 20 – the percentage of Americans who knew someone hurt or killed in the attacks.

TWO: 274 – the number of New York City Fire Department retirements from January to July, 2001.

THREE: 661 - the number of New York City Fire Department retirements from January to July, 2002.

FOUR: 300 – the number of firefighters on leave for respiratory problems by January, 2002.

ONE: 200 – the number of funerals attended by Rudy Giuliani in 2001.

TWO: 98 – the number of New York City Fire Department vehicles destroyed.

THREE: 1,506,124 – the tons of debris removed from the site.

FOUR: 99 – the number of days fires continued to burn after the attack.

           ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

           ONE: 146,100 – the number of jobs lost in New York owing to the attacks.

TWO: 6 – the number of days the New York Stock Exchange was closed.

THREE: 684.81 – the point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average when the New York Stock Exchange reopened.

FOUR: 26 – the number of days after 9/11 that the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan.

ONE: 105 billion dollars – the economic loss to New York in the month following the attacks.

TWO: 600 million dollars – the estimated cost of cleanup.

THREE: 970 million dollars – the total FEMA money spent on the emergency.

FOUR: 1.4 billion dollars – the estimated amount donated to 9/11 charities.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 40.5 billion dollars – the estimated amount of insurance paid worldwide related to 9/11.

TWO: 7.5 billion dollars – the estimated amount of money needed to overhaul lower-Manhattan subways.

THREE: 4.55 billion dollars – the amount of money granted by the U.S. government to overhaul lower-Manhattan subways.

FOUR: 500 million dollars – the estimated amount of money raised for funds dedicated to the New York Police Department and the New York Fire Department..

ONE: 25 – the percentage of total charity money raised going to New York Fire Department and New York Police Department families.

TWO: One million dollars – the average benefit received by each New York Fire Department and New York Police Department widow.

THREE: 17.9 – the percent increase in law-school applications from 2001 to 2002.

FOUR: 40 – the percentage increase in Peace Corps applications from 2001 to 2002.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 50 – the percentage increase in CIA applications from 2001-2002.

TWO: 150 – the number of songs Clear Channel Radio considered “inappropriate” to play after 9/11.

THREE: 26 – the number of mentions of 9/11 at the Oscars.

FOUR: 30,000 – the number of apartments in lower Manhattan eligible for asbestos cleanup.

ONE: 1.4 million – the number of Americans who changed their 2001 holiday-travel plans from plane to train or car.

TWO: 422,000 – the estimated number of New Yorkers suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder as a result of 9/11.

           THREE: 1,300 – the number of orphans created by the 9/11 attacks.

FOUR: 17 – the number of babies born to women whose husbands were lost on September 11.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 2,996 – the total number of people who died in the attacks of 9/11.

           TWO: Zero – the number of survivors rescued from Ground Zero.

THREE: 2014 – the year the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was opened to the public

FOUR: Three – the number of the most important words exchanged between loved ones who received phone calls prior to the collapse of the Twin Towers.

ALL: And those three words were, “I love you.” Say it with us, “I love you.” Say it again, “I love you.” Nine eleven. Count the numbers.


After the Experience, ask the participants to identify memorable moments from the session.


The saying “yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery” has been cited in print since at least 1967. Bill Keane, author of the newspaper comic strip The Family Circus, however, brought the phrase to further prominence by adding an additional nugget of wisdom: “But today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Invite the participants to form a circle. Repeat the phrase in its entirety: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Instruct everyone to extend their arms forward, with hands in an upward cupped position as if offering a gift. Encourage each to look at the person across or adjacent and say collectively, “I offer you the gift of the present.”  A 96-year-old participant named John added, “There are three ways to show someone you love them: 1) Say ‘I love you,’ 2) Human touch, and 3) Give the gift of a present.”


The following songs, which can be viewed on YouTube, are related to the theme of The Falling Man Experience:

-          Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

-          At Last by Marck Gordon and Harry Warren

-          Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo by Helen Deutsch and Bronislau Kaper

-          Softly as I Leave You by Hal Shaper and A. De Vita

-          Today by Randy Sparks

The Paper Clip Experience

I just returned from presenting three sessions for the LEADER Summit in Marksville, LA. One of the presentations was entitled "Let's Get Unreal! How to Plan and Facilitate a Creatively Engaging Group Experience for Older Adults."

I promised the constituents I would provide the lesson plan for "The Paper Clip Experience" which we experienced together at the Summit, and which I field-tested with two groups of older adults last week. The following lesson plan is an example of the type of "Experiences" I've included in my book, "Engage! 28 Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults" (ArtAge Pub.). To purchase a copy, click here.

The Paper Clip Experience

By Kareen King

When to Use: March, April, September, October and November


-          A box or container filled with a variety of paper clips


As a prop, bring a box or container filled with a variety of paper clips and hold it in front of the participants. Ask them to guess what’s inside. Shake it. Then ask them to fill in the blank in the following quote by U.S. Baseball Executive Bill Veek: “Baseball is the only thing beside the ______________ (paper clip) that hasn’t changed.”

Background information:

A paper clip is a device made of bent wire or plastic used to hold several sheets of paper together by means of pressure. Paper clips, which are called “binders” in Norway, were worn on the lapels of Norwegians as a symbol of resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II. Notable dates:

-          National Paperclip Day, according to internet algorithms,  is observed on May 29.

-          The first patent for a bent wire clip was awarded in the United States to Samuel B. Fay on April 23, 1867.

-          The “Gem” (Swedish for “paper clip”) which is the most common type of wire paper clip, was introduced to the United States on March 1, 1892.

-          The modern paper clip was patented to William D. Middlebrook of Waterbury Connecticut on November 9, 1899.

-          The machine for making wire paper clips was patented on November 27, 1899 (Source:

-          Johan Vaaler, the Norwegian inventor who was erroneously credited with the invention of the common “gem” paper clip, was born on March 15, 1866 (died on March 14, 1910).

-          Joe Fab, the award-winning and Emmy-nominated producer, writer and director who produced, wrote, and co-directed the feature documentary Paper Clips, was born on October 4, 1951.

-          Paper Clips, the documentary film about the Paper Clips Project, was released on September 8, 2004.

Activity: Human Paper Clip Sculptures Improv

Invite a group of volunteer performers to act as human paper clips. Instruct them to move among one another improvisationally until they link their bodies together in a creative prose.  Yell “Freeze!” Have them repeat this activity several times, each time with a new way of linking, then posing. At the conclusion, ask the participants to describe what they saw. Acknowledge answers verbally and on a dry erase board for visual learners. Then ask what each pose had in common, the answer of course being they were linked or bound together. Then have them rove about the participants to make brief connections via linking arms, fingers, ankles, etc. as they move from person to person until everyone has experienced a connection.

Activity: Paper Clip Sculptures

Distribute one paper clip to each person. Instruct them to fiddle with the clips during the Experience. Later, check to see how the paper clips have been reconfigured. Some research suggests that how you reshape your paper clip reveals something about your psychological profile or personality traits.

Activity: Paper Clips Project

The Paper Clips Project was an endeavor to answer a middle school student’s question regarding the Holocaust, “What does six million look like?” This led to a commitment to honor every person exterminated by the Nazis. The end result was a memorial railcar filled with not just six million, but eleven million paper clips which represented the six million Jews and five million gypsies, homosexuals, and other victims of the Holocaust. The railcar was placed in the Tennessee schoolyard as a reminder of the difference that can be made by educators and their students. For more information, visit Ask the participants to think of other individuals or creatures that might be honored by collecting paper clips. Consider starting a “project” of your own to honor the humanity of those otherwise overlooked.

Activity: The Paper Clips Link Game

The Norwegian Resistance Movement which began as a means to resist Nazi Germany’s occupation of Norway included an outbreak of civil disobedience in 1940, when students of Oslo University wore paper clips on their lapels as a symbol of solidarity and unity. At the time, the wearing of paper clips as a symbol of being bound together was illegal and could lead to arrest and punishment. Most recently, Americans have attached safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to show their support to those including minorities, immigrants, women, and members of the L.G.B.T. community who are vulnerable to emotional abuse. Ask the participants what they think the word “solidarity” means. Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” Polarity is defined as diametrical opposition. Ask what would happen if we aimed to find what we have in common with one another rather than focus on what keeps us apart? Then lead the group in a game of The Paper Clips Link.  Instructions are as follows: With your container of paperclips in hand, make statements of unity or agreement of feeling or action that may spark a common interest or mutual support within the group. For example, “The paper clips link for everyone who has eaten breakfast today.” Ask for a show of hands for those in agreement. If even one person raises his hand, link two paperclips together. Continue until you have a long chain of paper clips. Say that the chain represents what we have in common, or what binds us together. The following is a list of possible topics: Favorite foods, favorite colors, loneliness, happiness, fear, excitement, disappointment, beauty, friendship, hunger, love, loss, family, justice, heroes, patriotism, work, youth, age, etc.

Activity: Aesop’s Fable: The Father and His Sons

With the help of some playful volunteers, act out the following story.

·         Once there was a father whose sons were always fighting with one other. (Players improv quarreling)

·         With each fight, the father commanded them to stop, but they ignored him. (Players demonstrate various ways in which the father fails to break up the sons’ fights)

·         Grieved, he decided to teach them a lesson about the power of unity. So, one day, he ordered they gather a pile of sticks, each stick about the thickness of a pencil. (Players pantomime gathering sticks)

·         When they returned with their sticks, the father then asked them to each choose one stick from the pile. (Players pantomime gathering one stick each)

·         One by one, he asked each son to break his single stick. (Each player takes a turn easily breaking his “stick”)

·         Finally, one of the sons laughed and said, “Father, this is ridiculous! Why are you making us do this? Obviously we have the strength to break these puny sticks!”
The father smiled and replied, "Just you wait and see."
He then ordered the first son to take the remaining sticks and tie them into a bundle. (Players demonstrate)

·         “Now try to break the sticks," the father commanded. (Players pantomime repeated efforts to break the bundle of sticks, yet without success)
At last the father explained his reasoning saying, "You boys are like these sticks. If you cooperate and stand united, no one will be able to break you. If, on the other hand, you fight and argue with one another and act on your own, it will be easy for your enemies to break you. Please take this lesson to heart and stick together."

·         The moral of the story: Strength comes from unity.

Activity: Paper Clip Haiku

Create a haiku about the paper clip. A haiku consists of three lines, the first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. For example:

Paper Clip

By Kareen King

One lone paper clip

Resistance and connection

Symbolizes much

Activity: Red Rover Wishes

Ask for a show of hands for those who remember playing Red Rover as children. It is game played between two lines of at least five players each who are positioned approximately thirty feet apart. The first team calls a player out by saying or singing, “Red rover, red rover, send ________ right over.” The person called then runs to the other line and tries to break the first team’s chain which is formed by the linking of hands. If the player fails to break the chain, he must join that team. If he breaks through the chain, however, he may select either of the two broken “links” and take one of them to join his team. This continues until only one player is left on a team. He must also try and break through a link in the opposing team. If he doesn’t succeed, the opposing team wins. Otherwise, he is able to get a player back for his team.

As a variation to this game, say that we’re going to make this a well-wishing game. For example, say that you’re going to wish something good upon a participant by saying something like, “Red rover, red rover, send candy right over.” They in turn make a wish for another participant such as, “Red rover, red rover, send giggles right over.” Do this until everyone has received a wish.

Activity: Song Fest

-          I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing by Billy Davis

-          Put Your Hand in the Hand by Gene MacLellan

-          We Shall Overcome originally by Charles Albert Tindley

-          Bind Us Together by Bob Gilman

-          Love Will Keep Us Together by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

Closer: Link Arms

To link arms is to put the bend of your arm into the bend of another person’s arm. The linking of arms was demonstrated by the Seahawks during the National Anthem at a game in September, 2016. It was their way to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s controversial preseason protest against racial injustices in the U.S. “We are a team comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, and as a team we have decided to stand and interlock arms in unity.” -  Doug Baldwin, Seattle Wide Receiver

Invite the participants to close by linking arms. Then have them repeat after you, “We are like paper clips – bendable and linkable. Let’s link together!”

Note: For those who lead devotionals for older adults, the following scriptures relate to the "binding" theme of paper clips:

Paper Clips Devotional

Colossians 3:12-17: “ 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Ephesians 4:1-2 “2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



The Power of Improvisational Play as Positive Shift

I recently engaged in conversation with a leader who makes every effort to incorporate storytelling in his communications with his “tribe.” This led to a discussion on what makes a story. It’s about the shift. Any time a shift, otherwise known as an inciting incident, occurs in someone’s “normal,” it changes everything from that point on. Or, at least it has the potential to.

 And then I started thinking about when shifts occur and what comprises all things “shift.” First of all, a shift is a change of direction or attitude. In the context of story, this might be a bit of bad or good news, or a catastrophic event. At that point, everything changes, for good or for bad. New decisions must be made, new actions must be taken. And eventually those decisions and actions lead to a new “normal.”

 So, how does this apply in the world of elder care and creative engagement? I’ve discovered an incremental shift of attitude over the past few months as a result of a curriculum I’ve been developing in a class implemented by my boss. The class is designed to free up staff by means of improvisational exercises and assignments over a 12-week period. The ultimate goal is that staff will creatively engage with residents more often, more intentionally, and more meaningfully – both spontaneously and during planned activities. The shift that has occurred is an improvement in camaraderie among both staff and residents as well as an overall improvement in positive energy and purpose.

Let me explain. Each week I facilitate a large group creative engagement experience based around a specific topic under the guise of “Kareen’s Kettle.” Instead of me being the sole facilitator of the experience, I now recruit staff to lend themselves for about ten minutes during the hour to do the unexpected. Usually two or three of them will collaborate as to the arrival time that best suits their schedule. If I have time, I’ll give them a few instructions ahead of time. Otherwise, they know that they are to follow the rules of improv which include accepting and assuming the imaginary role I toss at them, taking risks and not censoring themselves, and not blocking. The key words are, “Yes and!” Then, when I begin the “Kettle,” I give the residents a little teaser saying something like, “At some point during our hour, the “Who Knows Who’s” will show up to do “Who Knows What?” The residents know this means that two or three staff will show up to do improvisational dancing, singing, or role-playing. And they smile, because they know it’ll be fun. And my coworkers have fun. And we all talk about it later, so the residual effects endure long after the Kettle is over.

These ten-minute “adventures” serve as shifts. Though the residents may already be engaged with what I’m facilitating, these spontaneous and improvisational exercises redirect their attention and often produce laughter and smiles and a heightened overall experience. In essence, the shift that improvisational play creates is positive redirection, endorphin release, momentary pain reduction, camaraderie, and a sense of love and belonging to replace loneliness or the blues.

So, here’s a little example for you to try when you’re all by yourself driving. Smile for no reason, and keep smiling for about one minute. Then see for yourself if you experienced a slight shift in your attitude.

If interested in a plethora of field-tested improvisational play ideas for elders, click: Engage! 28 Creative Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults (ArtAge Pub.).

How Bette Midler Helped Elders Launch Their Imagination

There is nothing more elating than facilitating the unleashing of imagination in the world of elders. As a play on Bette Midler's first name, I challenged a large group of elders to turn on their imaginations and complete the following sentence, "I bet you can . . ." Not everyone found this an easy task. Some of the participants, because of cognitive challenges or simply having lost the art of imagination, needed a little help. In those instances, when they said, "I don't know," I replied something like, "That's right. So-and-So is far too humble to admit it to the rest of us. So, why don't you (said coworker) tell the rest of us exactly what you know this person is capable of!" And, voila! The beauty of improv ushers forth a spirit of play. The result? Lots of laughter and camaraderie.

I "Bette" You Can - Photo by Kareen King

I "Bette" You Can - Photo by Kareen King