Are we ever too old to play?

Children have a full-time occupation. It’s called PLAY! Let them be occupied by it from their early years and into their twilight years.”  Vince Gowmon

It is widely accepted that Life Enrichment activities bring vigor and life to senior living, but, nonetheless, you may be surprised to learn what has been the most popular and well-received activity I have led over the years.

As Life Enrichment Directors we are taught that activities should be “age appropriate,” but exactly what does that mean?

Throughout my forty-four-year career in senior care, I have witnessed older people transformed through laughter and play. Of course, individual cognition must be considered, but overall most residents, regardless of cognitive abilities, respond in a positive manner to childhood games.  

Games, songs, and rhymes from our youth generally hold a special place in our memories.

Many of us can easily recall the words to a nursery rhyme but forget what we had for dinner the day before. I have found that most adults find comfort and pleasure when reminiscing about their childhood and the games they played.

I believe we all have an inner child that requires nurturing from time to time, and we must let that child play without judgment. The game doesn’t matter if it brings engagement, laughter, camaraderie and happy thoughts. I experience all these things myself right alongside residents as we play the most popular game.

I was hesitant to introduce this active game for fear of it being considered too childish for independent living residents. I purchased one large beach ball and decided to give it a try after we completed our balance class. Little did I know that it would grow into a twice-weekly occurrence and that I would need to purchase an additional ball to add to the excitement.

So, what is this most popular of games? Kickball!

Yes, kickball, the timeless playground favorite.

In our version, we deploy two large balls into a circle of residents who then hit, kick, punch, and bounce them back and forth. I play along and am able to see the years wash away revealing a room full of happy, laughing inner children. People are moving and stretching and having such a good time that the game’s energy carries on long after we finish. Players often recount their kickball exploits in the dining room and share another laugh with each other.

Since beginning this activity, our group has grown, and we now welcome between twelve and sixteen people each session. Residents have embraced kickball and I am so glad I decided to give it a try and let them judge its age appropriateness.

How about you?  Laugh.  Play. Embrace your inner child.

Leo Buscaglia figured it out when he said, “I am often accused of being childish. I prefer to interpret that as child-like. I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things. I tend to exaggerate and fantasize and embellish. I still listen to instinctual urges. I play with the leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind. I never water my garden without soaking myself. It has been after such times of joy that I have achieved my greatest creativity and produced my best work.” 

Vanessa Uhrig, Life Enrichment Director

About the Author: Vanessa is a “farm girl”,  who was born and raised in Canby, Oregon, and now working at Shorewood Senior Living in Florence, Oregon.  She had a strong bond with her grandparents who taught strong work ethics, morals and the value of honesty. They provided her with love and respect for her elders from an early age. Her grandmother encouraged her artistic and creative side resulting in a passion for cooking, painting, quilt making, crocheting, drawing, crafts of all kinds and a closet full of “bits and bobs” that will be used someday. Prior to coming to Shorewood, Vanessa was a cook at an assisted living community. Vanessa lives in Florence Oregon and is enjoying everything it has to offer. 

Vanessa loves nature and all animals. She currently has two dogs and four cats, all rescued from the humane society. Vanessa is the proud mom of one daughter, Emily, who is, not only her best friend but also a scientist with a Ph.D. in Zoology. When she isn’t at work, Vanessa can be found busy outside in the flower beds or making something crafty. She is happy to be at Shorewood to share laughter, build friendships, and make a difference in the lives of the residents.

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