By Marcy Salzberg
On Friday, March 16, 2018, I was invited to attend Career Day for the third graders at my son Max’s school. My goal for the day was to send the message that elders who live in our communities should be valued and seen for their abilities as opposed to their disabilities.
In order to get my point across effectively I knew that I had to get creative. The perfect exercise for me to bring to the class was an icebreaker game called The Power of Labels, which comes from Parker’s branding training.
When the day arrived I spread out cards with negative words (“sad”, “crabby”, “wrinkly”, “old” and “sick” to name a few) written on each one, and placed them on a table. I asked the children to choose a word that describes what elders (grandmas, grandpas, great-grandmas, great-grandpas, etc.) might be like and explain their choices.
The group quickly realized that these were negative words. I then asked the children how they think the elders would feel if we used these words to describe them. The students amazed me by some of their responses. One of the children stated “The grandmas and grandpas would feel like they are nothing.” The children learned that “words make worlds” and when we use negative words to describe someone we are more likely to treat them and view them in a negative way.
Next, we watched a video clip of Robert Marchand, the 105 year old man who completed a cycling marathon. The children could not believe that Mr. Marchand was 105 years old!
Finally, I asked the students to come up with some positive words that describe elders in our community. Words like “gentle”, “friendly”, “kind”, “great”, “joyful”, “hard-working”, “amazing”, “cool”, “happy”, “optimistic”, “wise”, “persistent”, and (my personal favorite) “tremendous” were just some of the fabulous words written by these third graders to describe elders.
I was overjoyed to see that the lesson was successful and believed I accomplished my mission. It was so exciting to know that I had changed the perception of aging in sixty elementary school students. This is surely a lesson that will benefit not only them, but also their communities for many years to come. People of all ages can learn to be #WithIt.