Jo Lynn Laney
T. Joy Wimsatt
Patricia A. MoseleyT he United States is currently undergoing significant demographic changes as older adults constitute an ever increasing share of the population. Today, more than one-quarter of all Americans are age fifty or older. By 2020, it is projected that one in three Americans will belong to the fifty-plus age group.1 Social studies educators now face the challenge of preparing today's youth for the political, social, and economic effects of these demographic shifts. Providing education about aging-related topics can help.
A second reason for teaching and learning about aging is to promote healthy lifestyle decisions. The choices young people make affect the length and quality of their lives, and a life span approach to health promotion can encourage the development and maintenance of lifelong, healthy habits.
Education on aging also helps prepare young people for the changing workplace and marketplace. As the median age of people in this country climbs, new occupations, new goods and services, and a greater number of older people in the workplace are likely consequences. An understanding of aging-related topics can guide young people toward wise career choices, successful business leadership, and positive social interactions in the workplace.
Finally, with four- and five-generation families becoming commonplace today, aging education can prepare young people to deal with aging issues within their own families.
An Interdisciplinary Curriculum on Aging
Primary grade students in the Denton Independent School District in Denton, Texas, are currently benefiting from instruction on aging. An interdisciplinary resource unit on aging for the primary grades-developed by a team of university and public school social studies educators in cooperation with gerontologists-has been piloted in selected classrooms over the past two years. This unit, titled "Youngster, Oldster," is centered around three broad goals:
(1)to promote positive attitudes about aging,
(2)to enhance understanding of the aging process, and
(3)to develop familiarity and skills in dealing with issues of an aging society.
The curriculum includes content in language arts, reading, mathematics, science/health/physical education, social studies, and fine arts. Activity ideas can be drawn from the unit to form a two- to six-week long instructional unit, or activities can be used at different points throughout the school year.
Designers of the "Youngster, Oldster" curriculum followed a four-step process, in accordance with suggestions for interdisciplinary curriculum development outlined by Fogarty5 and Jacobs.6 In the first step, the concept of "aging" and the theme "aging is an opportunity for continuous growth and development" were chosen as the organizing centers for the resource unit. In step two, questions, subtopics, people, ideas, and materials relating to the organizing centers were brainstormed and placed on a six-spoked wheel: one wheel for each of six subject areas.
In the third step, guiding questions were established to serve as a scope and sequence for the unit. These questions included the following:
Table 1 constitutes a partial content-process matrix from the unit. It shows how teaching-learning activities across all subjects were used to promote aging education goals.
In generating teaching-learning activities for the unit, the curriculum designers attempted to build in opportunities for cross-generational interactions between primary grade students and older adults. These interactions were both short- and long-term, and involved older adults who were both familiar and unfamiliar to the primary grade students. Inquiry-oriented research, narrative history, and a field trip were techniques used to establish the desired intergenerational connections.
Primary grade students engaged in inquiry-oriented research by collecting various kinds of data from adult family members and older adult friends. For example, using information from oral interviews and written surveys, the children were able to construct simple pictorial timelines of developmental milestones or major life events in their own lives, and in the lives of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and familiar older adults. These milestones or events included such "firsts" as cutting a tooth, crawling, standing, walking, talking, bike riding, and various home responsibilities. Once the timelines were made, students were able to compare and contrast the results from various generational groups.
In a similar fashion, the children collected and analyzed data regarding:
The children also gathered information from unfamiliar older adults. Some older adults who were highly involved in functions at the local community senior center agreed to become part of the project. These active older adults completed a questionnaire which asked them to list their favorite indoor work and play activities, their favorite outdoor work and play activities, and their favorite activity to do with a school-age child (see Figure 1). In turn, the children responded to a similar questionnaire written in the form of a fill-in-the-blank letter, and sent their responses to the older adults (see Figure 2).
The children categorized and tallied responses from the completed questionnaires, noting similarities and differences between their answers and the answers given by the older adults. As one might expect, the children discovered many common interests, including recreational reading and playing in the park.
Narrative history, or the "image of greatness" approach,8 was a second means of promoting cross-generational interactions between primary grade students and older adults. Using this technique, prominent citizens from our recent or distant past are studied in depth in order to provide children with inspiring role models. In this case, the children interviewed older adults who were currently active and making significant contributions to the local community. Whenever possible, they invited these older adults to school as guest speakers. These in-class interviews and other research efforts were followed by making pictorial timelines (in the form of large hallway displays) of the older adults' accomplishments.
This study of narrative history went beyond the local setting and the present day as students read children's books based on the real-life stories of active older adults from other times and places. These books included Ackerman's Song and Dance Man, Cooney's Miss Rumphius, Houston's My Great-Aunt Arizona, Kesselman's Emma, Mitchell's Uncle Jed's Barbershop, and Schwartz's Supergrandpa. After reading these books, the children created charts that compared and contrasted them in terms of the main characters' ages, activities, and societal contributions.
A Field Trip
As a final means of bringing generations together, a field trip to the local community senior center was organized (see Figure 3). On this carefully planned excursion, the primary grade students had the opportunity to meet the same older adults with whom they had earlier exchanged questionnaire information. Having established an initial rapport, both adults and children were immediately at ease with each other. The older adults guided students through their facilities at the senior center, sharing their interests in hobbies such as piano playing, wood working, and crafts.
After the tour, the children joined the older adults in a low-impact aerobics class. In preparation for this part of the field trip, the primary grade students had learned some "age-smart" daily stretching exercises for life-long use. These exercises were shared with the older adults as the children demonstrated and led the routines. The older adults, in turn, guided the children through their usual musically accompanied aerobic workout.
Over a picnic lunch, conversation between the generations was stimulated by "memory collages" that the children had created. Looking at the cut-out magazine pictures in the collages, the young artists and older adults told each other what the pictures reminded them of from their own lives. The children's success in verbalizing ideas and stories based on the pictures was ensured by having them practice this activity with teachers and peers prior to the field trip.
The outing ended with adults and children reading to each other from the children's books that had been used throughout the unit and brought from school to the senior center for just this purpose. The intergenerational connections made as a result of this field trip are likely to continue into the future. Plans are now underway for an ongoing, long-term association between the senior center and local elementary schools, with older adults serving as "pen pals," "reading buddies," and "guest experts" on various topics.
Impact of an Aging Curriculum
The "Youngster, Oldster" interdisciplinary unit has proved a sound model for social studies educators interested in developing and/or implementing a curriculum on aging. Teachers participating in the pilot project reacted very positively, praising the unit for its range of subject matter content, use of children's literature as part of a balanced reading program, and attention to state-mandated essential knowledge and skills.
Based on pre- and post-tests of their knowledge of aging concepts and attitudes toward aging, the primary grade students benefited greatly from their participation in the unit's activities. By the end of the unit, the children tended to:
(1)have more accurate conceptions of the aging process and life expectancy,
(2)perceive aging as a process of continuous growth and development that varies from one individual to another based on many factors,
(3)view older adults as happy, active, contributing members of society, and
(4)have a positive outlook on their own future as older adults.
This unit provided students with the opportunity to learn to deal with aging-related topics and issues in a realistic and interdisciplinary way-one that does not divide, but rather relates, fields of knowledge. By providing for intergenerational involvement in the curriculum, followed by teacher-led discussions focusing attention on pertinent concepts, this real-world connection was made salient to young learners. Children learned more about aging and altered some former ageist attitudes as they interacted with older adults, both familiar and unfamiliar, in a variety of activities encompassed by the curriculum.
1. American Association of Retired Persons, Mature America in the 1990s: A Special Report from Modern Maturity Magazine and the Roper Organization (Washington, D.C.: Author, 1995).
2. National Academy for Teaching and Learning About Aging and National Retired Teachers Association, Teaching about Aging: Enriching Lives across the Life Span (Denton, TX: Authors, in press).
3. D. P. Couper, L. Donorfio, and A. Goyer, Images of Aging: Children's Attitudes, Final Report to the Programs Division of the American Association of Retired Persons (Washington, D.C.: AARP, 1995).
4. D. Anspaugh, H. Walker, and G. Ezell, "Presenting the Positive View of Aging to the Elementary Student," Health Education 17, 1 (1986): 51-52; C. Fecht, "Primary Children's Attitudes Toward the Aged," Master's Thesis, School of Education, Saint Xavier College, Chicago (1990); C. L. Kamenir, "A Classroom Experience to Improve Young Children's Views of the Elderly," Gerontology and Geriatrics Education 4, 1 (1984): 97-110; S. L. McGuire, "Promoting Positive Attitudes through Aging Education," Gerontology and Geriatrics Education 13, 4 (1993): 3-12; C. Seefeldt, R. K. Jantz, A. Galper, and K. Serock, "Healthy, Happy and Old: Children Learn about the Elderly," Educational Gerontology 7, 1 (1981): 79-87.
5. R. Fogarty, The Mindful School: How to Integrate the Curriculum (Palatine, IL: IRA/Skylight Publishing, 1991).
6. H. H. Jacobs, "The Interdisciplinary Concept Model: A Step-by-Step Approach for Developing Integrated Units of Study," Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation, edited by H. H. Jacobs (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1989), 53-65.
7. B. S. Bloom, ed., Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, Handbook 1, Cognitive Domain (New York: David MacKay, 1956).
8. D. A. Welton and J. T. Mallan, Children and Their World: Strategies for Teaching Social Studies (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996).
Additional information on aging education can be obtained by contacting the National Academy for Teaching and Learning About Aging, University of North Texas, P.O. Box 13438, Denton, Texas 76203-6438.
Questionnaire For Active Older Adults
Directions: Write your name at the top of the page. Answer each question with a word, phrase or sentence. Please print.
1. What is your favorite indoor "play" activity?
2. What is your favorite outdoor "play" activity?
3. What is your favorite indoor "work" activity?
4. What is your favorite outdoor "work" activity?
5. What is your favorite activity to do with a school-age child?
Questionnaire For Primary Grade Students
Directions: Fill in each blank with one or more words
Dear older adults,
I am a primary grade student. My name is
I am years old.
I like to play. My favorite indoor "play" activity is My favorite outdoor "play" activity is .I like to work. My favorite indoor "work" activity is My favorite outdoor "work" activity is
I like older adults. My favorite activity to do with an older adult is
Field Trip Letter Form
Dear older adults,
We are studying about "aging" in our primary grade classroom. We are learning that aging involves change and that individuals age or change in different ways. We are learning to live long, happy, healthy lives by exercising and eating right. We are learning that many older adults remain active and make important contributions to our city, state, nation, and world.
We would like to visit with you at the local community senior center. You can show us some "age-smart" daily exercises, and we can show you some exercises we have learned. We can exercise together.
We would like to eat lunch with you and show you the "memory collages" we have made. We will tell you what the pictures make us think of. Then you can tell us what the pictures remind you of from your own life. We will have fun sharing and talking during lunch.
After lunch, we plan to read some books about active older adults. We will read to you, and you can read to us.
Attached to this letter is a questionnaire. Would you mind filling it out? Your answers will help us learn more about active older adults. If you want, you can write us a note on the back of the questionnaire. It would be fun to hear from you. We could be pen pals!
Your primary grade friends
Annotated Bibliography of Selected Children's Books
Ackerman, K. Song and Dance Man. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1988. (Caldecott Medal book about three children who learn to appreciate the past, and their grandfather, by seeing things through their grandfather's eyes.)
Cooney, B. Miss Rumphius. New York: Puffin Books, 1985. (Great-aunt Alice Rumphius was once a little girl who loved the sea, longed to visit far away places, and wished to do something to make the world more beautiful.)
Houston, G. My Great-aunt Arizona. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992. (An Appalachian girl, Arizona Houston Hughes, grows up to become a teacher who influences generations of schoolchildren.)
Kesselman, W. Emma. New York: Harper Trophy Book, Harper & Row, 1980. (An older adult takes up painting and becomes a well-known artist.)
Mitchell, M.K. Uncle Jed's Barbershop. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. (Despite serious obstacles and setbacks, Sarah Jane's Uncle Jed, the only African American barber in the county, pursues his dream of saving enough money to open his own barbershop.)
Schwartz, D.M. Supergrandpa. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1991 (A 66-year-old grandfather, barred from entering the 1,000-mile Tour of Sweden because of his age, unofficially joins the bicycle race and, to the delight of his countrymen, emerges victorious.)
About the Authors
James D. Laney is an associate professor, T. Joy Wimsatt is an adjunct instructor, and Patricia A. Moseley is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Administration, College of Education, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas. Jo Lynn Laney is a first grade teacher in the Denton Independent School District. Since January 1996, they have been working closely with the National Academy for Teaching and Learning About Aging to develop interdisciplinary curriculum materials for the primary grades.