Combating Negative Views of Aging – An Aging Education Curriculum

Face it.  Our society doesn’t really praise old age.  My grandma, who happens to be one of the most delightful old woman ever, even said it herself.  “No one pays attention to you when you’re old.”

My ear listens in closely when someone uses the word “old.”  And I’ve listened in to so so many conversations where I hear 50-year olds, 30 or even 25-year olds say “I’m getting old!” as if it’s a curse.

Aging is difficult, just like growing up and dating and school, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as we make it to be.  In my opinion, a good amount of this dread towards aging is created by society.  It’s in our heads!  And society, the media, and our own comments and perceptions feeds this perception.  Somehow society get us thinking that white hair is ugly and all old people end up living in nursing homes.  Now if we just stepped back and thought about it for a minute or so.

In my last semester of my Masters in Public Health program, I decided to do something to help combat the negativity pointed at the older generation.  So I developed a curriculum.  I could have created something for adults or high schoolers, but I decided to start young and developed a curriculum about aging for elementary school students.  To make it easier for you to understand, here are the FAQ’s (frequently asked questions).  And as I mentioned, I’ll be presenting a poster on this at the upcoming American Society of Aging (ASA) 2012 Aging in America Conference in March. (Yay!)

Here we go:

1.  What is this curriculum you developed?

It’s called What’s Good About Old and can be used as a whole or can be taken in parts. It can be used either in a school setting or really anywhere.

2. Isn’t there already other curricula out there about aging?

I’m a googler at heart but when I googled “aging education for children” or similar keywords, I realized how little our society focuses on the older generation.  My project didn’t stem just from the lack of info I found from google (although really, if you can’t find it in google, that’s pretty sad), but it also involved a thorough literature review (meaning I looked in journals) to try and discover what had been done in the past.  I managed to find some literature about aging curricula for elementary school students, but what I found was still very limited and outdated.  Finally, I conducted interviews with about five or six experienced aging professionals and of those I interviewed, no one was aware of any curricula developed for young people that had the purpose of promoting a positive views of aging.

What you may find when you’re looking for aging curricula for children is information about a plethora of intergenerational programs.  These programs are great initiatives but the lack of curricula about aging and older adults really is lacking considering you can find curricula out that about drugs, the environment, bullying, character, having manners, washing your hands, etc.  This all indicated a need for aging curricula that was practical and relevant for today’s educators.

3. Through What’s Good About Old, how do you plan to change perceptions that young people have about aging?

I read and researched and then interviewed teachers, administrators, and some professors who worked in education and decided that there were two approaches I needed to take to influence the way young people view the older generation.

#1 – Relationships

First of all, when we have relationships with nice and kind old people, our attitude towards older people generally will be more positive.  I talk about this more in my post, One Reason You May Not Be Fond of the Elderly.  So I incorporated activities into this curriculum where students interact with someone older.  Through interaction, younger people hopefully will gain a more accurate view of what an older person is like.  And then they’ll realize that not ALL old people are grumpy.  And not ALL old people are mean. And not ALL old people smell.

#2 – Media

Okay because I didn’t have the budget or time or ideas to create a multimillion dollar campaign of commercials and movies to change young children’s views of older people, I decided to stick with something else that kids love. Books!!  Teachers also love books too and are much more favorable towards a curriculum if it can be integrated into other subjects.  Children’s literature became a major theme in the lesson plans I created.  I read millions of children’s books and consulted the experts and found some great books that put the elderly in a positive light.

So that’s all I have time for today, but I hope this gives you a little insight into What’s Good About Old. In the future, maybe I’ll write a part II as there is a lot more I’d love to share.  In the meantime, send your questions to aboutbeingold@gmail.com. Would love to hear from you!