Building Sensitivity and Awareness

3, 4, 5

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the Living History Project The sensitivity training will raise their understanding of the 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.

Lesson Rating 
PrintThree Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learners will:

  • review the meaning of the word philanthropy (giving or sharing of time, talent or treasure for the common good).
  • develop skills to use with his/her “senior friend.”
  • read and discuss literature which enhances sensitivity to and respect for seniors.
  • experience hands-on training to increase awareness and sensitivity for the residents of the retirement home.
  • respond in journals to the literature and the training experience.
  • determine which of the Core Democratic Values he/she is using (the Pursuit of Happiness and the Common Good).

(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 project. (See Lesson One: Building Sensitivity and Awareness, Attachment Two: Living History Project - Parent Letter.) Send home the photo permission form for an appropriate adult to sign. (See Lesson One: Building Sensitivity and Awareness, Attachment Three: Photo Permission Form)


Clifford, Eth. The Remembering Box. New York: Beech Tree Books, 1985. ISBN 0-688-11777-5

Fox, Mem. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. New York: Kane/Miller Book Pub., 1985. ISBN 0-916291-04-9

Additional Books:

Cooney, Barbara. Miss Rumphius. Scott Foresman, 1985. ISBN: 0140505393

DePaola, Tomie. Now One Foot, Now the Other. Putname Pub. Group, 1991. ISBN: 0399224009

Johnson, Angela. When I Am Old with You. Orchard Books, 1993. ISBN: 0531070352

MacLachlan, Patricia. Through Grandpa’s Eyes. Harper Trophy, 1983. ISBN: 0064430413

Munsch, Robert. Love You Forever. Firefly Books, 1988. ISBN: 0920668372

"Old Man in Nursing Home Reacts to Music from His Era." YouTube  


  1. Anticipatory Set: Ask the students if they have ever visited a senior center or retirement home before. Tell them that they will be visiting one soon. Read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge aloud to the students and discuss how the residents responded to their young visitor. How did they benefit? How did Wilfrid benefit from the relationships? (There are additional books listed in the biographical section of this lesson.)

  2. Ask the students to share their stories of grandparents, older relatives or friends.

  3. Tell the students that they are going to be paired up with a senior from a local retirement home. The purpose is to establish a relationship and complete a project with a “senior friend.” (Read the parent letter for details. See Lesson One: Building Sensitivity and Awareness, Attachment Two: Living History Project - Parent Letter.)

  4. The seniors may not get a lot of young visitors. They may feel a little lonely. The purposeful visits from students may truly brighten their days. Impress upon the students that their visits will be appreciated. Talk about how this project fits the definition of philanthropy. (Review the definition as the giving or sharing of time, talent or treasure for the common good.) Ask the students to explain why their project is good for the community. Community members have a responsibility for the common good.

  5. 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? What opportunity costs will there be?

  6. Show the following YouTube video in class or assign it as homework. Have the students think about how bringing music tosomeone could bean act of philanthropy. After viewing this video about a man responding to music, students may be inspired to load up an MP3 player or burn a CD with the seniors' favorite music from the 30s, 40s or 50s.

    Day Two:

  7. Introduce the presenter from the center or retirement home or teach the sensitivity training yourself. Discuss what different situations bring an elderly person to a center or retirement home. Talk about what they might have experienced in life. Describe different aspects of aging that they may witness. Emphasize that these are natural effects of aging that they may experience themselves some day.

  8. 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/barrier of aging.

    • 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).
  9. 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.

  10. 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 limitations.
    • Move slowly—a lively student may be a little frightening.
  11. Pass out copies of the poem, “A Crabbit Old Woman Wrote This” (Attachment One). Read the poem and discuss the main idea.

    Day Three:

  12. Read The Remembering Box aloud. Discuss Grandma Goldina’s limitations. Ask the students to describe her relationship with Joshua. What did it mean to both of them?

  13. Have students review the Core Democratic Values and determine which of the Core Democratic Values are represented in this project (the Pursuit of Happiness and the Common Good).

  14. Tell students to write 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.

Philanthropy Framework

  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.