Beyond Birthdays, Bingo and Bible

New Innovative Activities for Seniors Being Pioneered in PA

activities for seniors
A senior community in Pennsylvania takes activities for residents to new heights. You might say the sky is the limit.

Lots of people talk about thinking outside the box and creating new activities beyond the three Bs – birthdays, bingo and bible, but Joe Monserrat, Director of Life Enrichment at Peter Becker Community in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, actually puts new ideas into events for his residents.He creates unique theme weeks such as planetariums and weather. His most recent was to re-create the world of dinosaurs in sight, sound and taste with his, “Walk with the Dinosaurs Exhibit” Let's look at his unique activities for seniors.

Monserrat, who has a BA in Liberal Arts and Sciences, AAS Degree in Human Services Gerontology, found his inspiration in his son Aidan.

“Each year, I come up with an “off the wall” idea to get our residents engaged,” he said. “My son who is five loves dinosaurs!  We took him to the Academy of Natural Sciences to see the dinosaur fossils in the summer and it brought back a lot of fun memories of when I was his age at the museum.  I thought to myself, how could I bring this experience to our residents who have mobility issues?  Why not make our own exhibit?”

How do you begin? Monserrat started by collecting toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls as well as some egg cartons. These were the foundations of six-foot long dinosaur skeletons.  Residents painted the cardboard rolls white and Monserrat assembled the paper version of dinosaur’s skeletons using hot glue, fishing line and lots of clear packing tape.

 

Using photos of dinosaur skeletons as a guide, he and the residents created a Plesiosaurus, T-Rex, and a Pterodactyl to suspend from the ceiling of the activity room where residents gather.

Next, although not historically accurate, for fun he had residents re-created cave drawings matching the red clay used by the first human found in caves in France and adding a new current residents’ handprints as their own legacy.

To continue the theme and engage residents in art, they made fossils, dinosaur bottles, dinosaur fossil cookies and a dinosaur fossil dig during the week of the exhibit.

“For the dinosaur crafts, my staff had the residents make their own dinosaur fossils by making the dough and having our residents form their own dinosaur bones with the dough. We then baked the dough to harden the created fossils. As an activity using these fossils, our residents had to find them in a pool of sand, which is another great sensory activity!” he said. “One of my assistants got an idea from Pinterest to make dinosaurs using wine bottles or sparkling cider bottles. We love to use recycled materials for projects because it keeps our activity costs down, expands our creativity, inspires others and brings the wow factor! That's what it is all about!

 “On our last day of the exhibit, Gloria came in to do a Science for Seniors presentation on dinosaurs.  All of our residents thoroughly enjoyed her program as well as our staff!” he said.

This program included a real dinosaur bone, real fossils and authentic replicas of a T-Rex tooth and Raptor claw.

Costs were minimum, he said, because of the use of recycled materials to make the dinosaur skeletons. 

“It took a month to complete everything. We had the residents paint the rolls a few times a week. As we got more in, they painted them.  We put an email out and an article in a newsletter to all staff and to residents to save their toilet and paper towel rolls and bring them in to us.  This also got everyone involved on our campus,” he said.

“This theme was geared towards our Health Care residents and Personal Care residents, but as we found out it became popular with our Independent residents too!”

To add to the fun, Monserrat dressed the community’s pet rabbit in a dinosaur costume and dressed as a walking T-Rex! The local newspaper printed an article with photos and video in the Sunday edition; a bonus that made the marketing department at Peter Becker smile like a 3,000 tooth prehistoric shark.

Earlier themes of planetarium and weather weeks were equally creative.

“For the Planetarium Exhibit, our Healthcare and PC residents made the planets out of paper Mache and painted them with glow in the dark paint and neon paint. I bought a star projector also used for sensory stimulation to add to the exhibit. I added some black lights to really have the planets glow with the lights off and used a laser pointer to talk about our planets and constellations,” Monserrat said. “Our residents really enjoyed the experience! I even did a show for our staff. “

Weather Week was held in April and began with residents making a huge cloud out of a Styrofoam sheet and pillow stuffing. They glued the stuffing onto the sheet. Monserrat and his staff spray painted the cloud gray and suspended it from the ceiling.

“I added some strobe lights hidden inside the cloud for lightning too. We played a rainstorm CD as background music and missed the residents with water using spray bottles during our simulated storm. Our chaplain made us a wind sound machine out of wood. The staff turned the wind machine’s crank to make the sound of wind,” Monserrat said. “A few of my staff brought in small fans to be placed around the activity room so that the residents could feel the wind around them. It was a really cool project and was a great team building exercise as well as a unique experience for our residents!”

 What’s next? Monserrat is planning to create the Oceans of the Deep!

“When I first came up with the idea and told my staff about it, I think some of them probably thought I was nuts! It took a lot of brainstorming as a team to put this together, but the end result was very rewarding,” Monserrat said.  “It is nice to create projects that involve everyone! Having everyone involved makes the event even more special and is a great team building exercise!

Monserrat can be reached at jmonserrat@peterbeckercommunity.com

Editor's Note: Activities for Seniors is one of our most searched for resources on Senior Care. We have collected several hundred articles that can help stimulate ideas and engage seniors.

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