Volunteering as an Art Educator

102 year old woman painting!

This is my new friend, Bess.… a 102 year old woman in my art class for seniors… art is for everyone!

Oppor­tu­ni­ties abound for vol­un­teer­ing as an Art Edu­ca­tor! If you’ve got a lit­tle extra free time this sum­mer, why not take advan­tage of this chance to share your exper­tise with oth­ers in your community?

This sum­mer, I’m teach­ing Art classes for the elderly res­i­dents at a local retire­ment home.… a com­pletely new expe­ri­ence for me! With new expe­ri­ences come new chal­lenges, and the chance to stretch, learn, and grow as an art educator!

When my friends and fam­ily heard I’d be teach­ing this art class for senior cit­i­zens, they all assumed it would be just like teach­ing kids, but they couldn’t have been more wrong!! It’s actu­ally noth­ing like teach­ing kids! This got me think­ing about how each vol­un­teer expe­ri­ence brings it’s own unique set of chal­lenges. As with any teach­ing sit­u­a­tion, being pre­pared is half the bat­tle. Try to antic­i­pate what your spe­cific chal­lenges might be and con­sider how you’ll solve them before you begin. Here are some of the chal­lenges you might encounter in a vol­un­teer opportunity…

Phys­i­cal Space Chal­lenges (You may not be in a typ­i­cal class­room!):

  • Are there enough chairs and tables? Do they need to be pro­tected? (I use thin plas­tic table­cloths to cover tables.… they’re cheap and you can fold them up when you’re done and re-use them next time!)
  • If you’ll be work­ing with wet media, is there water and a sink in the room or close by? (I bor­row a cart from Main­te­nance to bring my water to the room in plas­tic con­tain­ers. I have baby wipes avail­able for clean­ing hands and small messes after painting.)
  • Where will you demon­strate and/or place exam­ples so that every­one can see them? (I use blue painter’s tape to hang my exam­ples on the wall in the front of the room. This tape is very low-tack and removes eas­ily with­out dam­ag­ing surfaces.)

 Sup­ply Challenges:

  • Will sup­plies be avail­able for you on site or will you be reim­bursed for what you need to pur­chase? Is there a bud­get to han­dle these expenses? Make sure you talk about this ahead of time! (I’ve been able to use some sup­plies they had left from pre­vi­ous teach­ers along with some of my own per­sonal sup­plies that I have extra of, so we’ve only had to pur­chase min­i­mal sup­plies so far.)
  • Can some sup­plies be shared? Will the seat­ing arrange­ment allow for easy shar­ing of mate­ri­als? (Lucky for me, this age group doesn’t mind sharing!)

Stu­dent Chal­lenges (This was the “big­gie” for me!!):

  • Will your stu­dents be of a sim­i­lar age? (Mine range from 85 to 102!)
  • What chal­lenges might be unique to this age group? You’ll need to con­sider this when choos­ing projects. (My stu­dents all have hand tremors and vision prob­lems, so any­thing detailed is out of the question!)
  • What level of art expe­ri­ence will your stu­dents have? Are they at a sim­i­lar level or do they range in abil­ity? (My stu­dents range in abil­ity from com­plete novice to for­mer pro­fes­sional artists!)
  • What styles, sub­jects, and media might appeal to your stu­dents? (My group prefers real­ism to abstrac­tion. Flow­ers, fish, leaves, and boats have been pop­u­lar so far.)
  • What other unique chal­lenges can you antic­i­pate and how will you address them? (My biggest chal­lenge is that my stu­dents are so crit­i­cal of them­selves because they can’t do the things they used to be able to do. Also, they can’t build on the skills I teach them, since they don’t remem­ber from one time to the next!)

Vol­un­teer­ing in your area of gift­ed­ness is fun, reward­ing, and a chance to grow.… plus, it can be more of a bless­ing to oth­ers than you even real­ize. Who can you share your love of art with this sum­mer? Give it a try!

Are you vol­un­teer­ing any­where this summer?

What unique chal­lenges have you faced in your vol­un­teer experiences?

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5 Responses to Volunteering as an Art Educator

  1. Rina July 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi Cheryl
    How fab­u­lous for your new senior art stu­dents and for you. You are a true inspiration!

  2. Aparna July 20, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Hi Cheryl,
    Very nice thing you are doing this sum­mer. You are an inspi­ra­tion. And if pos­si­ble could you post more pic­tures of your new stu­dents artwork.

  3. Annette May 1, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Thanks for all the won­der­ful ideas. Which art project would you specif­i­cally rec­om­mend for doing with the elderly.

    • Cheryl Trowbridge May 1, 2015 at 10:15 pm #

      There are so many chal­lenges with the elderly, and they vary by per­son, so you really need to con­sider your stu­dents. Vision and hear­ing impair­ment, hand tremors, and mus­cle weak­ness are all com­mon. I’ve found that most aren’t that inter­ested in learn­ing art his­tory, and demen­tia pre­vents many from gain­ing new skills and then build­ing on them. They mostly just want to be cre­ative with the mate­ri­als and walk away with some­thing they feel good about. There is no shame in doing projects that seem more like crafts, too. A pop­u­lar one is apply­ing fab­ric to the bot­tom of glass plates with Mod Podge, which they can also give as gifts. Using water­col­ors over sten­cils can be a lot of fun and yield good results, too. Most will need help at var­i­ous points so keep an eye out for that, too! Have fun talk­ing and learn­ing from them… they are a blessing!!

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