AARP has been after me for years, but the U.S. government has finally made it official. I’m a senior citizen, and I have a card to prove it. I’ve reached that stage in life that owes me some privileges. At last, I can tell everyone exactly what I want and why I want it. Museum docents and staff educators, listen up!
Now that I don’t have to stand in long registration lines, take tests, and buy expensive books that will be obsolete next semester, I’ve discovered that I really like to learn. I’d appreciate it if you would continue to provide tours, classes, and trips that help me expand my knowledge of fields I never had time to pursue when I was busy raising a family and earning a living.
I enjoy those seniors-only tours you offer from time to time. I appreciate that you schedule them for late afternoon. I like kids, in small doses, but, let’s face it, my hearing isn’t everything it used to be and the acoustics in your facility are less than perfect. When school groups, even well-behaved ones, are in the galleries, it is very hard for me to hear what you and other members of the tour group are saying. Besides, I sometimes take a short nap after lunch. Afternoon tours are just perfect. If I must come in the morning, I’m grateful for the carpeting you convinced the museum to put down on your beautiful marble floors to absorb some of the echoes.
Thank you, too, for providing a place for me to sit as we move from gallery to gallery. I walk two miles every day, but I have a little arthritis in one hip, and standing on those hard marble floors, even the ones that are carpeted, is very uncomfortable. I appreciate the sturdy folding stools you’ve purchased for adult tours. I know these tall wooden ones are more expensive, but I’m not so afraid of having one fold up with me on it. I like the sturdy sidepieces, too; it’s much easier to stand when I have something to push off from.
It’s nice, too, that you’ve made it easy for my older friends who are in wheelchairs to negotiate the in’s and out’s of your institution. You’ve done more than meet the letter of the law; your museum is “user friendly” and the wheelchair-bound don’t have to go to the back door or up some obscure back elevator to stay with the group.
I like the topics you’ve selected for your senior tours. Even though I’m a regular visitor to your museum, you find different ways to present your permanent collection as well as the new exhibits. I’ve seen some of your paintings so often they are like old friends; you constantly help me learn new things about them, just as I do with human friends. Sometimes you let me learn a new skill or uncover a talent I didn’t know I had, all within the context of your collection. And, occasionally, you ask me to share a skill or talent that has stood me in good stead for the last half century or so.
Now that driving long distances is a little problematic, I appreciate the day trips you organize for seniors every now and then. I can’t afford to go on all of them, but I do enjoy the ones I select. I like the fact that a docent from your museum, someone I already know, goes along on the bus to give me a little background before we get to the museum we’re visiting. She not only tells me something about the exhibit we’re about to see, but she tells me where the bathrooms are, when and where to eat lunch, and exactly what time I have to be back on the bus. When we get to the museum, she leaves me alone to discover the exhibit by myself, using the information she’s given me ahead of time. She’s always available to answer questions, but I can visit the exhibit on my own time, not hers. Not only that, but she makes the rounds of the museum about 15 minutes before we are to leave to “round us up.” Nice lady, that!
I’ve learned a lot from the classes you offer, too. It’s been fun to try my hand at everything from bookbinding to calligraphy to object analysis. Even though it’s great to meet and work with other students of all ages, I especially like the classes that are just for seniors. I was especially grateful that the geology field trip was for seniors only—I didn’t want to think I was holding someone back because I walk a little more slowly these days.
Thanks, too, for asking me to teach some classes for docents and others who take advantage of your museum’s outreach program. I enjoyed my years as a classroom teacher, but teaching in your institution is even better. There aren’t any papers to grade, parent conferences, or after-school meetings to attend. I think it’s very perceptive of you to realize that, even though I taught elementary classes, most of my teaching skills are useful in classes for all ages and all disciplines.
Teaming Up with Elderhostel and the Local University
I also think you are pretty smart to team with the local university, community college, and Elderhostel to present your collection as part of a class for a larger audience. Using your collection as a springboard in a creative writing class at the Junior College brought in a whole new generation of students, and it was enlightening to compare their interpretations of images and events with those of my generation. The Elderhostel class that explored your collection as an introduction to our community got a quick overview of the events, people, and values that make us what we are. And, it was great to be able to interact with other seniors from across the United States.
Your classes and trips are very important to me, but I’m also grateful that you’ve given me a chance to remain useful by providing volunteer opportunities for seniors in your institution. As is always true with teaching, developing my docent tours allowed me to learn much more than I ever taught. Interacting with visitors of all ages has helped me stay young in spirit if not in body. And, I know that when you and I decide that my effectiveness as a docent has begun to wane, you will find another way for me to continue in the museum family as long as I’m able.
For many years, my job and my family were the centers of my little universe. Now that the job is gone and most of my family are far away, I appreciate all the ways you’ve helped me create another little universe where I can continue to be a part of something important.
Jackie Littleton, Associate Editor
Littleton, Jackie. “Lifelong Learning,” The Docent Educator 12.3 (Spring 2003): 6-7.