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Heritage Circles

This activity matches older adults, who are knowledgeable about the distinctive history of an area, with young people who would like to learn more about that history. Before the event, the older adults prepare brief presentations on select aspects of the area’s historical and cultural heritage; at the event, they are paired with children/youth on a rotating basis.

Participant Requirements:

  • A group of older adults who have specialized knowledge of an area’s distinctive history and cultural heritage.
  • An equal number of young people (6 years of age and older). (This activity can also be done with a larger number of young people, up to 30, if there are other activities taking place simultaneously.)

Activity Objectives:

  • To engender a sense of awareness and appreciation of local heritage on the part of the young residents of a community.
  • To establish a venue for recognizing older adults in a community who are knowledgeable about local history and culture and willing to share that knowledge with others.
  • To break down stereotypes and increase understanding about people of different cultures and age groups.

Materials/Resources:

  • Photos, artifacts, and other objects that can be used to convey information about local history.
  • Enough chairs for all participants.

Steps:

  1. Recruit a group of senior adults who are recognized by others as being knowledgeable about an area’s history and cultural heritage.  Such individuals are often referred to as “local treasures.”
  2. Conduct several planning meetings with this group of senior adults to do the following:
    1. Develop a list of community history and heritage “highlights” for which residents feel the most pride.
    2. Determine where relevant information and resource materials can be obtained and assign people to gather this information and materials.
    3. Assign specific history/cultural heritage topics for which individual senior adults will be responsible for developing mini-presentations.  Try to match seniors with topics in which they have interest and expertise.
  3. Work with the senior adults to develop mini-presentations on their local history topics.  This will involve providing instruction in how to present educational material.  One format would involve having seniors develop 3-5 minute segments on their topics, with each segment consisting of some facts, a personal story, and several questions designed to “hook” the young person into the topic and to engage them in conversation.  The following passage is an example of such a mini-presentation format:

    “In 1905, the first man-made pond was created in our community.  This was a significant thing for our community because before then, people would have to travel far distances to go swimming.  My grandfather used to tell me stories about how he and his friends tied a rope to the giant oak tree above the dam and took turns swinging off the big rock into the dam.  I sometimes try to imagine what it must have been like for him and his friends.  It must have been exciting and scary at the same time.  Have you ever been the first to try anything new?  Would you like to be the first to try something new?  What kind of legacy would you like to leave future generations?”
  4. Session with seniors and students:
    1. Have the seniors sit or stand in a circle, facing the outside of the circle.  With an equal number of children and/or youth, each lined up in front of a senior, have the seniors conduct their 3-5 minute presentations.  After each presentation and a minute or two of follow-up discussion, rotate the young participants and begin again with the next round of presentations and discussions.  If there are more children and youth than seniors, such as in a community fair type event, the seniors and their young partners can be laid out along a straight line, with extra children joining the line after those who have heard all of the mini-presentations rotate off the line.
  5. Evaluation:
    1. If volunteers are available (college students are ideal) have them conduct brief (3-5 minute) informal interviews/discussions with each participant.
    2. For the young participants, the focus should be on what they learned, including newly gained insights about local heritage, history and quality of life.  Questions might also be included to stimulate reflection about how the area has changed/is changing over time and how the young participants would like to see the area change in the future.  Here are some examples of questions:
      1. What was the coolest thing you learned about where you live from speaking to the older adults?  Did you know this before?
      2. Would you like to have been a child when they were children?  Why or why not?
      3. Did talking to these people make you think differently (better or worse) about your community?
      4. In what ways do older adults and young people have similar feelings and views about the community?
      5. In what ways do they have different feelings and views about the community?
      6. What do you think needs to happen to make the community a more desirable place to live?
    3. For the older adults, the focus could be on what seemed to interest the youth the most and the least.  Other examples of questions are as follows:
      1. What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned from talking with the young people?
      2. In what ways are today’s children similar to children from your generation?
      3. In what ways are they different?
      4. How do you envision your community in the future when these children are your age?
      5. What do you think needs to happen to make the community a more desirable place to live?

Developed by:

Matt Kaplan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Intergenerational Programs & Aging, Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, Penn State University

Lucinda Robbins, Community Development Educator, Penn State Cooperative Extension, Fayette County

Contact information:

Matt Kaplan
Penn State University
814-863-7871
msk15@psu.edu