Cute little kids wearing specs and shawls and shuffling along with canes and walkers. Adorable right? Sorry, but wrong.
This is the time of year that many teachers search out ideas for celebrating the 100th day of school.
Unfortunately, “Dress Like a 100 Year Old Day” is incredibly popular. And problematic.
Some even embrace the activity by taking it to the extreme—kids and teachers fake hearing loss and physical and cognitive impairments.
“These costumes and behaviors rely on simplistic and demeaning stereotypes that ignore the uniqueness of older people and the diversity of the aging process…”states a new guide for teachers from OldSchool.info.
“It’s ageist and also ableist: it contributes to stereotypes and stigma around physical and cognitive ability.”
I’d like to offer another idea for celebrating the 100th Day of School—using picture books of course.
Age Positive picture books can show kids the possibilities ahead when living a long life, perhaps even to age 100. Carefully curated picture books:
–show kids that having many birthdays is a positive thing
–expose kids to a diversity of older people (as no one ages in the same way)
“What if we allowed kids to imagine their lives as grandparents and 100-year-olds as freely as they view their current selves?”
Because truly, the possibilities for kids living their long lives as predicted are exciting. Even in later life. Not limitless, or boundless certainly, but exciting. However, stereotypes of older people do limit young people’s views of what’s possible.
Activity: Show children the possibilities ahead when living to 100 years old
Step one: Gather and stack a collection of 100 picture books*. (100! Imagine the kids’ excitement!)
Step two: Include numerous Age Positive picture books. Find Age Positive picture books here.
Illness and disability can certainly be present, at any age, but they do not define aging. Our Age Positive picture books lists include individuals with disabilities that are not depicted as pitiable, such as Henri’s Scissors at left. (Read more about ableism at bottom of page.)
Step three: Explain that each book is like one year in the life of someone 100 years old. And each page is one experience big or small.
No matter how old we are, our days are often filled with learning new skills and understanding new things. In a lifetime what we experience both in school, and other parts of our life will make us the person we become.
Step four: Perhaps build the book stack slowly and deliberately—with a pause at each decade to ponder what might have been experienced at that age. Maybe assign each child a number 1-100 and one book.
The books could showcase:
- The values of intergenerational friendships
- The knowledge, inner strength & creativity gained over a lifetime
- Skills and strengths gained with experience
Please note—many picture books appeal to older grade schoolers too. Particularly non-fiction & bios.
Contemporary picture book biographies mostly do an excellent job of portraying the life of a person of note by focusing on traits such as perseverance, or their interests or passions pursued since childhood. They highlight setbacks and challenges overcome, but remain accounts encouraging to all of us.
Age Positive grandparent books are useful too. And I believe that there’s huge value in showing children that unusual people “who didn’t fit into the world in a ‘regular’ way” still forged satisfying lives for themselves. (Read this post.)
Let’s all challenge ageism. Speak up—now is the time to talk to teachers about how their classroom will recognize the 100th day of school. Ageism hurts all ages.
Here are a few Age Positive picture books about centenarians worthy of special mention:
(Ages 4-8+) A first-ever children’s visual reference book on age…showcases the faces and life stories of 100 people from around the world, organised by age, from a one-year-old to a centenarian, giving children a visual and descriptive reference point for each age. Striking close-up black-and-white portraits are paired with read-aloud text that shares personal experiences, wishes, memories, and emotions, leaving readers with an appreciation and understanding of the ageing process. (Description Bookshop.org).
(Ages 6-9) Mr. Baker is 100 years old and learning to read. He and young neighbor friend Harry ride the bus together and all the kids clamor for Mr. Baker to sit with them. The long-standing love between Mr. Baker and his wife are a real rarity in kidlit. Mr. and Mrs. B. dance together on the front porch to the bemusement of young Harry.
(Ages 4-8+) When Marjory Stoneman Douglas returned to Florida from World War I, the home she knew was rapidly disappearing—the rare orchids, magnificent birds, and massive trees too. After age 40, Marjory became an advocate for the Everglades—“a slow-moving, life-giving river of grass,” convincing officials to establish a national park there, the first park not created for sightseeing, but for the benefit of animals and plants. She was almost 80 when a planned supersonic jetport required she amp up her activism. Her efforts continued until age 108.
(Ages 5-8). In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had a child. Mary Walker lived through twenty-six presidents and her precious Bible waited 101 years before she was able to read it. She finally learned to read at the age of 116.
* Activity inspired by idea #52 in 100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days by Bruce Goldstone. Henry Holt and Company; 2010.
**Note: “It doesn’t take much head-scratching to realize that much of our fear about aging is actually about how our minds and bodies might change as we move through life. That’s not ageism, its ableism. It’s not actually about age: plenty of youngers live with disability and plenty of olders do not.” Ashton Applewhite.
Learn more about the intersection of ageism and ableism at ThisChairRocks.com .