Building Sensitivity and Awareness
  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
      3. Benchmark E.4 Define and give examples of selfishness and selflessness.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.5 Recognize that volunteering requires freedom of choice.
      2. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
      3. Benchmark E.7 Describe the concept of competing self-interest.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.2 Discuss the importance of respect for others.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Demonstrate listening skills.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark E.6 Identify and describe fundamental democratic principles.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Give examples of actions students can take to improve the common good and list or describe responsibilities that go with those actions.
      3. Benchmark E.6 Make a connection between fundamental democratic principles and philanthropy.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Describe the task and the student role.
      3. Benchmark E.5 Articulate and demonstrate the safety procedures that are part of the volunteer experience.
      4. Benchmark E.6 Describe the procedures and the importance of sensitivity to the people with whom students are working.

This lesson introduces the Living History Project. We begin with sensitivity training, as a pre-service reflection and to help volunteers understand possible needs, disabilities, and attitudes of people with whom they will be working. The training should lead students to understand the importance of showing respect for their senior friend. Through this friendship, the lives of both the student and the senior friend will be enriched. The unit provides guidance for the students to write a book about the senior's life. 

PrintTwo Thirty-Minute Class Periods

The learners will:

  • define the word philanthropy (giving or sharing of time, talent or treasure for the common good).
  • exhibit sensitivity to and respect for seniors.
  • empathize with the limitations that come with age through hands-on training.
  • reflect in writing.

Note: If you have a presenter from the retirement facility, he or she may bring some of these supplies.

  • Inexpensive sunglasses (children’s size)
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Cotton balls
  • Raw peas or beans
  • Rubber gloves with cotton in the tips
  • Wheelchair and walker
Home Connection: 

Before this lesson, send home the letter telling families about the intergenerational relationship and book-writing project and the permission form. See handouts below.

  • Clifford, Eth. The Remembering Box. [out of print]
  • Fox, Mem. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. YouTube:
  • Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius
  • DePaola, Tomie. Now One Foot, Now the Other
  • Johnson, Angela. When I Am Old with You
  • MacLachlan, Patricia. Through Grandpa’s Eyes
  1. Anticipatory Set: Ask the students if they have ever visited a senior center or retirement home before. Allow time for a few stories. Tell them that they will be visiting one soon in order to build friendships and to interview them and write "Living History" books about the residents.

    Read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge aloud to the students and discuss how the residents and their young visitor feel about one another. Talk about the details that describe the seniors and show the good relationships. 

  2. Tell the students what you know about the place you will be visiting and what you have learned they like about meeting young people. Define philanthropy as "giving time and talent for the common good" and discuss what activities could help both the seniors and students feel they are giving to the other -- for the good of both groups. The purposeful visits from students may give them joy and help them feel they have talent and interesting stories and lessons to share with us. Talk about how this project fits the definition of philanthropy

  3. Define selfish and selfless. In what way is this volunteer project a selfless act? What benefit do the students think there will be for them? For the residents? What opportunity cost will there be (what are they giving up)?

  4. Session Two

    Introduce the presenter from the center or retirement home or teach the sensitivity training yourself. Tell about the range of different situations that bring an elderly person to a center or retirement home. Some residents are very active and sharp but prefer community living, and others need nursing care. Talk about what they might have experienced in their long lives, and their many gifts and talents. Describe different aspects of aging that they may witness. Emphasize that these are natural effects of aging that they may experience themselves some day. 

  5. Set up six stations for students to visit. Ideally, you should have an adult at each station to discuss their reactions as they experience each simulation.

    • Walk with beans in shoes (to simulate the discomfort of walking).
    • Put petroleum jelly on sunglasses and try to read (to simulate failing vision).
    • Put cotton balls in ears (to simulate deafness).
    • Walk with a walker while blindfolded (to experience the difficulty).
    • Push someone in a wheelchair (to experience the barriers).
    • Try to open a box of gelatin or a bottle of medication while wearing rubber gloves with cotton in the fingertips (to simulate the clumsiness of arthritis).
  6. Gather the students together and discuss their reactions to the “challenges” that may complicate the lives of elderly people. Discuss how they should react when they observe someone having difficulty.

  7. Raise awareness of some behaviors that will improve the experience of meeting with their “senior partners.”

    • Speak in a clear voice (not shouting).
    • Be respectful of their lives and limitations.
    • Move slowly—a lively student may be a little frightening.
  8. Tell the students that when they meet their senior friend, they will ask about their life, their family, and their former work and volunteerism. This should help get a meaningful conversation started. The students will take notes in order to retell the stories. 

  9. Tell students to write a pre-reflection in their journals about the living history project. Ask them to write what they understand they will be doing, how they should act, what they should expect from their senior friend, and who they think will benefit from the experience (the senior or themselves). Their writing should reflect their level of understanding and compassion.


Assess students by observing their participation and reaction during the training. Assess their written responses in their journal: look for details of the project and for words of respect and compassion in their writing.