The following post is my own Epistola de magnet. You see the third science activity was one that is very familiar to Montessorians. Magnetic / Non-Magnetic is one of the initial science presentations given in the Primary classroom. My use of this material/lesson was in no way to treat the seniors at The Bridge as children. Instead, their use was simply an acknowledgement that science is ageless. It appeals to all age groups.
And yes, I prepared a tray. Actually, this was the first tray that I have put together for the seniors to use since I joined The Bridge in June, so I was pretty excited. This tray will be returned to a shelf for use after the activity is completed.
In the Montessori world the phrase used for an individual deciding on what work or activity they want to do is - the freedom to chose one's own work. Another freedom is the freedom to repeat work. At a progressive senior center or program, these "freedoms" are identified within the term "person-centered care." Person-centered care is based on the acknowledgement of every senior as an individual with a unique history and who is themselves unique.
It utilizes programs designed for large groups, small groups and individuals. Not all of the seniors that attend The Bridge have dementia. The program is also attended by seniors who have depression, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and more (Yet individuals with dementia may also have depression, Parkinson's or schizophrenia).
A senior with dementia will not remember doing an activity with magnets once it is over and therefore they would not be drawn to take the tray from the shelf and repeat the activity. However, a senior with depression may. The challenge is to create and present activities that appeal to the majority of the seniors and that the appeal results in engagement. Too, that activities are offered that provide opportunities for those that can re-engage them independently after the initial, staff led presentation/activity to do so.
On the science tray I placed the following - (a) several red, paper place mats to be used by the seniors to define their individual work space, (b) a small basket holding a variety of magnets, (c) a large tin housing several items that would be drawn to a magnet, (d) a small tin housing several items that would not be drawn to a magnet, (e) two index cards with "magnetic" written on one and "non-magnetic" written on the other. Besides this tray, I also brought to the table paperclips, thick thread, tape and a pair of scissors.
After lunch and a brief "walk-about," I invited all of the seniors to join me at the larger tables for science. After all were seated, I walked around the table and positioned the red, paper place mats in front of each person. I then came to the front of the table and placed the prepared tray before me. I gave a brief overview of magnets, followed by a visual demonstration. There were several gasps made by seniors watching.
Next, I walked around the table again. This time I placed magnets on top of the red place mats. Then I placed objects from both tins also on the place mats. I invited all to use the magnets to see what they might be able to pick up. I also invited them just to have fun. They did!
One of the seniors that was actively engaging the materials rarely joins group activities. After lunch, he generally heads to the back room with the day's newspaper and then settles into one of the Easy Boys. Not today. He looked at me and smiled while holding his magnet up for me to see. He had picked up several items simultaneously and he seemed quite pleased by his accomplishment.
I was making a conscious effort to observe the muscular movements required by the seniors to do the activity. I noticed outstretch arms moving upward and then down. I witnessed fingers pulled together to grasp the magnets. Many of the movements were identical to those done during our daily exercises. I also noted that the activity required that they move carefully and purposefully, that they use good eye/hand coordination and that they be attentive and concentrate. Maria Montessori stated the following in regards to the coupling of mental activity and movement:
After all of the seniors used the magnets that I gave them for about 15 minutes, I walked back to the head of the table and asked them to look my way as I had something pretty amazing to show them, something like magic. I measured a piece of thread the length from my wrist to my elbow and then cut it. I taped one end of the thread to the table directly in front of me and I tied the other end of it to the paper clip. Next, I took the magnet and raised it up above the clip drawing the clip upward towards it. The clip stuck to the magnet as I pulled it till the thread went taut. Then I asked everyone to be very quiet. I told them this was the moment that the magnetic "magic" was going to happen. I then carefully pulled the magnet a little higher than the thread could reach, but the clip remained upward, drawn to it. Yet, the magnet and the clip were no longer touching. The space between them was visible to all. Gasps were heard and several said, "Oh my."
I walked around the table again. This time I taped thread that had a paper clip attached to the opposite end in front of each of the seniors and invited them to perform magnetic "magic." Some were able to duplicate what I had done exactly, while others tried a few times and then returned to working with the materials I had given them initially.
One was so engrossed in his efforts to make the paper clip pull upwards towards the unreachable magnet that he tried over and over again. Then, after several minutes, he did it. His face was filled with a sense of accomplishment and, too, joy.
Another senior, took the two labels, positioned them side by side on her red, paper place mat and began determining which items belonged under which card. She was completely captivated by her "work."
While a third senior was using the magnets, her sixty-something daughter/caregiver arrived. Instead of interrupting her mother, she sat down and watched her from the other side of the room. She smiled as she watched her mother laugh enthusiastically while she picked up objects with her magnet. She was so engaged and so active. The daughter asked me before she left where I had purchased all of my materials explaining that she wanted to buy them herself. It is my hope that science does follow the seniors home. If not, though, I am just so happy that they are doing science here at The Bridge and that I get to be a part of their scientific adventures.