By Geraldine Jozefiak
Before I get onto dodgy ground I'm not going to specify an age for the older learner. Some time ago in the UK I was involved in a project which funded teaching volunteers how to share crafts with the older learner that they classified as 'over 50'.
So here I mean old in attitude or ability rather than in chronological age.
There will be a number of general issues that you will come up against. Let's go through them.
1. Physical issues
Your learners may have difficulty walking and moving their limbs. Their movements may be slow and handgrips may make craft work difficult for them. Any problems with their hands may make them shy away from participating. Do all you can to minimise problems.
2. Emotional resistances
Over a period of time we all build up resistances to certain activities. Depending on their previous experience they may sincerely believe that they are 'useless' at the activity you are proposing. Be as encouraging as you can, and empathetic but not sympathetic. Appreciate the problem whilst finding a solution.
3. Social needs
Their main concern may be to sit in a group of other friendly souls. Crafting, or making something may be considered an extra bonus or icing on the cake. If they show resistance to making, just be welcoming and allow them to sit around the table without 'doing'. As they become part of the visual and aural process they may choose to join in later. Cajoling may have the opposite effect from that you're looking for.
4. Sensory impairments
Be mindful of any hearing or speaking impairments . Find out individual problems and see what you can do to help. If hearing is an issue, then write things down. If it's eyesight, make projects larger, more colourful. Even I find some print hard to see, and I too prefer to use brighter colours.
5. Mental ability
As we get older our mental ability can sometimes diminish. That doesn't mean that we can't do something, just that it takes longer. That's because the memory routes that connect what you're saying to what they may remember take longer to happen. Often these connections may go awry, not work or frankly prompt inappropriate thinking. Make it as easy as possible for everyone to join in with masses of encouragement.
The project should always go at the speed of the learner, not the timing of the session. Adjust things as you go to accommodate everyone's needs.
Many's the time I've had people 'sitting out' the project. When they're been shown what a friend has achieved, and having witnessed the fun, they feel cross that they didn't join in. It's always better that people join in at their level when they are ready, rather than when you are.
Remember that teaching craft is a people activity. The better your people skills the more success you will have at encouraging others that they can too.