The ACTIVITY DIRECTOR'S OFFICE
The Activity Director's Office
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|From the pages of
ELDERCARE ACTIVITIES GUIDE
Kate Lynch, Editor
|ElderCare Activities Guide
(formerly Activity Director's Guide)
is a bi-monthly magazine that
provides useful activities,
calendars, therapeutic activities
and programs, feature stories,
specialized activities for
Alzheimer's patients and other
disease conditions, professional
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The Art of Cyclical Programming
Will Promote a Healthy Activity Program
(Reprinted from the February 2004 issue of ElderCare Activities Guide)
By Becky Flanagan, ADC
All activities programming takes place in a cycle. Your planning should evolve in much the same way each month. It takes
a process, or cycle, to ensure that all bases are covered when planning an activity program.
Ask yourself the following questions. (1) Is there a system of checks and balances in our programming? (2) Do I find
myself scrambling to pull everything together when it comes to planning activities and producing a calendar? (3) Do I
continually forget to complete certain tasks when planning the monthly calendar? (4) Do I understand all that must be done
to ensure a successful monthly program and calendar?
If you answered “no” to any of the questions, you may need to consider cyclical programming. This is an approach to
monthly activities planning and calendar production that teaches you to remember every single task that must be completed
in order to ensure you have thought it all through. After a couple of months, it will be easier for you to remember, but for
now, use this reference to joggle your memory.
The first step is to create your skeleton calendar. This initial draft of your monthly activity calendar lists only the activities and
events that occur on a monthly basis.
These may include Sunday school, morning exercise, and the like. Please note that if your skeleton calendar is very full,
you may need to re-think some of your planning. It could be that your efforts to maintain consistency have stifled
possibilities for enough creative planning.
Step two is to develop a theme for the month. This means that you will create a central theme for the activity calendar this
You can develop a theme that will be obvious to your residents, such as “Nautical Month,” with which most of your activities
will be planned, and a very evident emphasis on the theme will be carried out.
You may choose to develop a theme that is only for the purpose of helping your staff to plan, i.e., “outdoor therapy,” which
will help your staff to plan activities that meet the need for therapy, but in an outdoor setting.
The third step is to plan the special events for the month. These activities are your big-scale activities that are either
campus- or unit-wide and reach many levels of residents. An example is a captain’s party aboard a mock cruise. Or you
may choose to plan a summer celebration during the month of July. Be sure to keep your theme in mind when planning
Step four is to plan your creative activities. Keep the monthly theme in mind as you plan these activities, which will be the
largest part of your calendar. These are the daily activities that are separate from the activities you listed on the skeleton
The creative activities will encompass those events that you plan this month for this theme that you may or may not plan
next month. For example, a December creative activity would be “Creative Crafts: Christmas Wreaths.”
The fifth step is to type your calendar. Using Calendar Creator, Illustrator or Microsoft Publisher, begin to fill in each date,
day by day, until you are finished with what you have listed in steps one, three and four. On the same day that you type your
calendar, call the scheduled entertainers to confirm that they are coming.
Never assume that even a “regular” will remember your schedule. Do not put the entertainer’s name on your calendar until
you call to confirm. If you get in the habit of doing this, you will always be assured that you confirmed the listed entertainer,
and if he or she does not show, it will never be because of your irresponsibility. You never want surprises in this area of
Next is step six, which is to fill in the gaps, check needs, and make changes. You will print out a copy of your calendar, and
check to see if there are spaces that need to be filled.
Have you planned activities for every day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday? Are there morning and afternoon
activities? Are there gaps between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., for example? Further, are all of the five needs covered? Do
you have an equal amount of activities designed to meet a spiritual, cognitive, social, emotional, and physical need?
Remember that some activities meet more than one need, but do not stretch it too far; bingo does not meet a spiritual need
just because your residents pray that they will win before they come.
Based on your additions to the calendar, as well as the assessment you have completed in order to decide if all five needs
have been covered in your planning, proceed to make changes if necessary.
This includes adding more activities where there are still gaps. Also, check to see if your calendar has too many activities
that meet only one or two needs. If this is the case, replace some of those activities with others that meet different needs.
You must completely assess your calendar so that all of the activities listed are ones that you and your staff plan to carry out
in the upcoming month. A printed calendar is only as good as the activities on it that are actually carried out.
The seventh step is to proofread and edit the calendar. You must now proofread your calendar for any misspellings,
unintentional changes in font, wrong times, lack of times posted, and any omissions.
Then, edit the calendar so that you have a finished product that is ready to “go to the printer.” Remember that your calendar
is the showpiece for your department, and that as unfair as it may seem, you are judged on the accuracy and grammatical
correctness of your calendar.
Next, as step eight, you will make a list of supplies and props needed for the upcoming month’s events. Print out one copy
of your finalized calendar and begin with the first day of the month. Make a list, by date, of every supply or prop you will need
to carry out each activity. Even if you can go downstairs to the supply closet and get the item, you should still be sure to put it
on your list. If an item is not currently in your office, you need to have it on the list to remind you to make a trip down to the
supply closet or the store. After you have completed your list for the entire month, schedule a day to gather and/or purchase
supplies before the first of the upcoming month.
Step nine involves printing and distributing your finished calendar. When you distribute the calendar before the first day of
the month, you are showing your fellow employees, your residents, family members, and your administrator that you are on
top of things.
Be sure to make enough copies to hand one to each resident (or post it in his room). If there are two residents in one
room, make sure there are two calendars for that room.
Also, print enough calendars to hand to each department manager in your facility (don’t forget the dietary manager), the
weekday and weekend receptionists, the admissions department, your administrator, and the D.O.N.
Make sure there are enough calendars to post on each bulletin board, at each nursing station and in your office. Then have
a stack of calendars in your office to hand to family members that may ask for one.
The tenth step is to decorate the bulletin boards. If you have chosen a theme for the month, make sure that your bulletin
boards declare that theme, and use that theme on all of your bulletin boards throughout the facility. Use colorful motifs that
your residents and family members will find attractive.
Post a calendar and daily flyers that alert residents to upcoming activities. Keep in mind when creating bulletin boards and
posting information on them that you are marketing your facility’s activity program to current residents, their families, staff
members, and prospective clients. Make sure to quickly remove any outdated information and replace it with current
information. Then, follow calendar times closely. This is step 11. If you post on your calendar the time an activity will begin
(and you should), you should closely adhere to that time.
Consider your calendar your alarm clock. However, remember that preparation is necessary before the scheduled activity.
If you have an event that is supposed to begin at 2:30 p.m., you should be ready at 2:00 p.m. because you must gather
residents to come to the event, and that may take you 20 to 30 minutes.
You may also need to set up for the activity. In short, do not show up for a 2:30 p.m. activity at 2:30 p.m. Make sure that
activities begin on time, unless there is an emergency. This shows your residents that you respect their time and you
appreciate their coming to the event. Lateness tarnishes your professionalism, and conducting activities on time is the
difference between an activity program and just “activities.”
It is also important to conduct the activity that is scheduled to take place. If a resident looks on his calendar and sees that
bingo is scheduled and then he comes to the place where bingo is to be played, you and your staff should respect the
resident’s time and make sure that he is offered the activity for which he came.
There are exceptions, however, when an activity must be changed. For example, when an entertainer does not show up for
a scheduled performance, you must create a new activity (and fast!) so that your residents do not go home empty-handed.
For the most part, though, you should conduct the activity that is planned on the calendar. If you “bait and switch” your
residents routinely, your program will not have any luster for your residents, and your planning and preparation are for
Step 12 is to remember to conduct the activity with exuberance and excitement. Put yourself into everything that you do
when it comes to an activity. If you do, then even when unforeseen “catastrophes” occur, you will still have had a successful
Be sure to interact with every resident who attends. Make him or her feel welcome, and let him or her know that it matters to
you that he or she attended. Conduct the activity so that everyone feels comfortable and accepted. Develop relationships
with your residents as you lead the activity. Choose something you know about the resident as a conversation starter.
If you have a resident who demonstrates a desire to assist you, welcome the help. Clear your mind. No matter what activity
you are conducting, you should demonstrate to your residents that you love what you are doing, and that the only thing on
your mind at the time is being in the activity with them. Create an atmosphere of excitement and fun. You are very important
in setting the mood of the activity.
The last step is to evaluate the activity. Look back over the activity and ask yourself:
• How many residents attended?
• What was the best thing about the activity?
• Will I conduct this activity again?
• Was a need met?
• Do I need more staff members to help next time?
• What needs improvement?
• What will I do differently next time?
• Did I have all of the necessary supplies and props?
Continually re-evaluate your program, and make necessary changes. These steps will become second nature to you, and
your program will be better because of it.
Becky Flanagan is an Activity Director Certified through NCCAP. She began working in the activities department at
Presbyterian Village North Retirement community in Dallas, Texas, in 1998, and has served on the board of the Activity
Professionals Association of Greater Dallas. She is now Director of Residential Events and Activities at Grace Presbyterian
Village in Dallas.