The Stories Pockets Tell...
An Intergenerational ‘Storytelling’ Project
‘Curse the Baggins! It’s gone! What has it got in its pocketses? We guess, oh we guess, my precious. He’s found it, yes, he must have!’
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkein
The history of a day, an hour or a lifetime exists in pockets or their equivalent (the lining of a garment, a handbag, a briefcase), and for us, the challenge is to capture it!
Between them, small significant and insignificant items tell the story of a lived moment and simplicity is the key to bringing this story to life – a collaborative project starting with adult to adult, child to adult and exploring the separate components.
Connections between the objects don’t need to be contrived, each may have its own significance and story.
Some will naturally lead to deeper conversations and fascinating stories. It is in the ‘Why did you choose (or save) this?’ questions that the deep conversation begins. Even if the memory no longer remains, real objects are certain to ‘nudge’ a conversation!
We envisage that the actual items stored away or selected (see ‘How?’ below) by children and older people will form the basis of a collection, however small, of a story to be told and objects to be arranged and photographed.
The adult or child’s ‘story’ (recorded using either audio or written word) and documented either by the owner themselves or another adult, is a way of preserving the voice, emotional response and authenticity of the story, even if it is only a few words or a comment about one or all of the objects and its significance to the owner.
Our intention is that the objects themselves provoke the conversations (the stories) shared between children and adults in intergenerational connection and collaboration and that sensitive interactions from those leading the activity support and encourage the responses.
The resulting collection will become a report of children’s and adults’ shared imagination, memories and an innovative record of lived moments, preserved for sharing, returning to … a joyful encapsulation of intergenerational learning. The ‘lining of their lives’ exposed, shared and celebrated in a galleried and ultimately published collection of ‘Stories Pockets Tell’.
(Credit and Provocation for ‘Stories Pockets Tell’: Melissa Kaseman)
Impact and Evidence
‘A simple object can hold so much weight in one’s mind.’
- The simple starting place (if the contents of a child’s pockets, book bag or other ‘collecting’ places, or the bottom of a handbag, an adult’s pockets or a tin is not readily available!) is a ‘sorting tray’ of small groups of familiar or unusual objects, connected or not that will be the basis of a conversation. A baking tin makes a perfect one!
- As each object (the final number is unimportant, maybe two or three are enough to spark a memory and a ‘story’) is chosen by the child or adult, a conversation is started that can be noted down in a few words by a supporting adult or carer
Every ‘pocket’ tells a story, even though some items find their way there inexplicably. It is the sensory, tangible, connected nature of what is within that provokes single or multiple memories. The real objects help us to create a cognitive response, the basis of a conversation, a purpose for the retrieval of information and a human connection to the objects.
This photograph of objects found inside a small toffee tin, brought recollections for Mary, 89, of the time that she had worn the dragonfly brooch on a smart dress for her great granddaughter’s Christening.
The pebble, although its origins and the words were less provocative, brought a joyful smile and the memory of the daisy chains created as a child.
Simply the smooth, cool surface of the quartz heart elicited a calming and sensory response. Unconnected to each other, Mary found a connection to each, threading the memories of her own story into them
‘Stories are our secret reservoir of values – change the stories individuals and nations live by and tell themselves and we change the individuals and the nations’
Almost everyone understands the word ‘pocket’, either in the traditional sense of the essential feature of an item of clothing, or in its deliberately functional purpose in other parts of life.
‘Pocket’ can also be a euphemism for the intentional or otherwise storage spaces in handbags, wallets, the lining of a coat, a useful tin or drawer. These are the places where relatively unconnected objects find themselves, memories gather, stories propagate and the pieces of our lives hang out together.
We know that all aspects of creativity, the arts particularly, are widely understood as a driver for social cohesion, and involvement in creative activity is linked with a multitude of outcomes associated with improved mental health and wellbeing at all ages:
- Increased confidence and self-esteem
- A sense of connection and belonging
- The maintenance of cognitive (and in some cases physical) functions for older people, particularly those coping with dementia and other conditions affecting cognitive function and general brain health
Ursula Le Guin noted that, in considering art, storytelling and the power of language to transform and redeem that:
“One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are… art is what makes us not only human but humane.”
Intergenerational cognitive activity and opportunities for meaningful immersive and focused conversations will have a significant impact on both older and younger people, particularly in terms of:
- Cognitive fitness – executive function, memory, attention, processing speed
- Creativity – expressing individuality
- Joy – feeling good in the here and now, having purpose
- Empathy – understanding the perspectives of others
When older people and the very young come together to share this real and purposeful activity, there is the added bonus of human social interactions and the cognitive benefits of recall, prompted by the multi-sensory approach of real objects as part of a discussion.
Pockets gather fragments of a moment, a day, a life. For children, these ‘treasures’ sometimes lose their initial attraction and are forgotten, others are stored away ‘for later’, discussed with friends or discovered by an adult retrieving them. For older people, such items as single or combined pieces rediscovered can become the road map of the stories of lives and experiences, provocateurs of the past and a legacy for the future. How wonderful to use them as the basis of a multi-sensory, memory jogging and storytelling activity!
This is a creative, sensory task that EVERYONE can do, using the power of everyday objects to share memories, tell stories and unlock new connections between the generations as part of the ‘Arts In Care Homes’ celebration and also the central component of the Ready Generations’ long-term, intergenerational storytelling project.