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Children's Stories for Senior Readers

2012-11-20

Elderly people are often confronted with mental health issues and isolation. Staff of an Australian archive for children’s literature came up with the idea to tackle these issues.

The Australian Lu Rees Archives is a collection of books and other resources about authors, illustrators, publishers and their creative works. The publicly available collection currently includes 20,000 books, more than 390 research files as well as collections of authors’, illustrators’ and publishers’ papers, manuscripts and artwork, all with the aim to promote Australia’s children’s literature.

While looking for new audiences, the Archives’ staff started with an idea that evolved into a new project in cooperation with seniors at the Kangara Waters and Cavalry Retirement Communities in Canberra in 2011. The project title also conveys the aims of this Australian first-time initiative: Story: Mental stimulation, self-reflection and reminiscence, social interaction and personal wellbeing for seniors through Australian children’s literature.

Over the period of a year, presenters enthusiastic about children’s stories met with independent living residents as well as low and high care residents in 18 sessions. The sessions had different purposes. For example, one session called “Reading and reminiscing: Favourite story books“ aimed to trigger memories using memorabilia associated with childhood such as Enid Blyton stories or Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Another session employed the story Storm Boy from Australian children’s book author Colin Thiele in order to stimulate reflection about where one came from and to share any experiences as a child of camping in the bush with family and friends.

It turned out, that participants particularly enjoyed tactile objects for sharing, big books for easy engagement, movie clips for group engagement, and reading aloud with visual prompts. The composition of the group changed significantly from session to session, making it difficult to determine and cater for specific interests. Sessions were announced by flyers in the residents’ homes.

The report Experiencing Life Through Children's Stories – A Project for Seniors (PDF) describes the project’s outcomes as successful with respect to participants’ social connection and engagement. Typical comments were ’stimulated some residents who were struggling and some who were isolated’, ’opened up nice memories’, and ’lots of joy and lots of learning’.

By now, the Lu Rees Archives have designed a resource kit with a pro forma for scheduling presentations, publicity material, suggestions for engaging participants, presenter’s material, bibliography of useful resources, and a copy of the project report. Other organisations are currently adapting the project.

 
 

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