Mentoring Madness

We want to let you know about a new group we organize in Atlanta called the Laboratory for Intergenerational Learning.  These are questions members wish to ask of one another:

  1. What style of learning would be most effective for your child, student, resident, patient or loved one?
  2. What physical, visual, motor or cognitive impairments are important to manage?
  3. Would a therapeutic recreational activity enhance your care setting or lifestyle in some way?
  4. What kinds of specialized training in cognition or memory care might interest you?
  5. Are you curious about intergenerational learning opportunities?

These are the top categories we are targeting for membership:

Alzheimer’s Disease · Parenting & Family · Mental Health Counselors · Social Gaming · Early Diagnosis Dementia · Caregivers to Seniors · Family Outdoor Recreation · Sandwich Generation · Adults Taking Care of Aging Parents · Young Onset Alzheimer’s Disease · Occupational Therapy · Holistic Health · Cognitive Behavior Therapy – CBT · Improving Memory · Autism and Asperger’s

As a sidenote, our Facebook community group, Intergenerational Learning, is worldwide, so we welcome you, your staff and volunteers to share ideas with us about social mentoring and group learning. We sincerely hope to continue building relationships together outside our region and look forward to future conversations.

The organizers are very new to the aging services community, but truly feel the wonderful game of chess can and will benefit families and groups.  The game of chess is being unearthed in a new and balanced way to improve social interactions. Chess is being adapted to exploit metacognition (learning to learn) and situational analysis.  As a result, family relationships may be strengthened and channels to personal growth developed. “Chess Therapy” as its been called builds on strong breakthrough energies as the power of the game becomes a gateway to understanding the natural world.

If you have a taste for intrigue, or learning about chess for the very first time (we hope you are), we encourage you to explore the game of chess through a Canadian television series released in 2011 called Endgame. Shown in the series as a set of “life lessons”, we hope you enjoy Endgame as much as we have.  The game’s enduring principles have been handed down through tireless generations in search for what lies beneath the surface in so many aspects of our lives.  This is a social mentoring program for creating intergenerational bonds that we feel are so important with an increasingly aging society that will soon be lost.

Through life’s journey we may reflect on and refine our decisions.  Life is a game, but not one of chance.  It is a struggle for balance, simplicity, interdependence and goodwill. The process of learning the game of chess even still is experimental and is really a laboratory for learning the game of life.  The endgame has no end in sight.  Chess offers a lifetime of opportunity to learn, enjoy and teach this truly remarkable game.

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The game of chess is being unearthed in a new and balanced way to improve social interactions.
Chess painting by Elke Rehder

A laboratory for learning awaits us here.

New Frontiers

I’ve been offered a lot of encouragement from the staff at a nursing center and family members to continue to grow our community outreach.  The center offers physical therapy and cares for patients who require a brief stay to recover from surgery.  The center also offers long-term care for those experiencing memory, mobility or other physical challenges.  Dedication and patience has been a key ingredient in working with these folks.  We’ve taken a step back since publishing New Tricks in Their Final Stages last year discussing hospice care and have set some time aside to talk about some of the latest happenings with Chess Made Fun.

Family involvement is the cornerstone of what we bring to our community.  Working with residents’ families has been an inspiration without the need for setting mental goals and instead letting the process of learning chess unfold on its own.  Participation has increased during the last several weeks and is more consistent that ever.  Although we are “ginnie pigging” our experimentation with aging communities the time has been well spent and feel we are breaking some new ground here.  Our activity director at the center has even gone so far as to say that she would like to see “bingo night” slowly phased out and replaced with games like chess that are more mentally stimulating than games of chance.  She is discussing this idea with members of the National Council of Certified Activity Professionals (NCCAP) during their annual convention held in Virginia Beach, VA this year.

Although games like bingo are games of chance, Chess Made Fun stands by its purpose in making any activity fun and familiar and makes prizes or even tournament play an important aspect to keep interest in the games as high as we can.  Mini-games like the Pawns Game allow everyone to win almost everyday!  Inter-generational play is also made possible through the involvement of local chess clubs throughout Georgia.  It so happens that one of our residents is a computer specialist and tutors special needs kids.  One of his students is an aspiring chess player and wants to join in the fun working with the elderly at the nursing center.

We will continue to track participation and progress with our chess program and may even publish some relevant metrics should we decide to pursue further research in the area of recreation therapy.

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Chores Open Doors

Getting even one chance this year to visit my family in Texas has been tough.  Missing some important events earlier this year like my aunt’s funeral and my cousin’s wedding upset me quite a bit.  Something wonderful happened in June however.  My wife got a call from her Dad to let us know his frequent flyer miles were about to expire.  It so happened that he had enough credit to purchase each of us an airline ticket to travel to our respective family’s homes in Georgia and Texas.  Living in New Jersey since last fall has opened our eyes to many new things, but being away from my family since my wedding in 2010 has not been easy.

My grandmother in San Antonio was at the top of my list.  I knew her health had been failing a bit at a mere 91 years of age.  Little did I know after talking with her for a few days that she had had a mild stroke the year before.  My aunt had sent me a photograph of her in a temporary nursing home, but I had very little knowledge of why she was there.  Her ability to walk had been impaired.  She was taking medication and improving every week.  Her speech on the phone for several months had been noticeably less expressive and slower.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear her speak again like the grandmother I’ve known for a very long time after spending this time with her a few weeks ago.

An independent woman like my grandmother continues to manage most affairs of running a household.  Of course, my aunt is only a phone call away and for many years has lived no more than 80 feet away from her back door. Learning the news of  my grandmother’s recovery gave me more encouragement to re-introduce to her the game of chess.  She knew of the game through her father who was an avid player, but in that time chess was almost exclusively played by men of stature and perceived intellect.  I explained to her that chess does offer an intellectual challenge, but can be taught to anyone and practiced.

She thought this would be okay, but in exchange for her concentration to learn something new I first had to – you guessed it – a few chores around her house.

Learning the news of my grandmother’s recovery gave me more encouragement to re-introduce to her the game of chess. Playing chess can be enjoyed by anyone at any level of experience.

New Tricks In Their Final Stages

pexels-photo-1152664-12010 was filled with emotion coming to grips with family members in risky health situations and even survival. My wife’s mother was recovering from major back surgery, and her grandfather was holding on after being diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer that year. Unfortunately, within a few months, Leonard passed away during the Christmas holidays, so this was a trying time for her family.

The following summer, after she had some time to grieve, we decided to take what we had learned coaching chess in after-school programs and bring it into the healthcare community on a volunteer basis. Compassionate Care Hospice had recently expanded its service offering in locations around the US to include many events and activities centered around individual patient interests. Lin Tatum, our volunteer coordinator in Atlanta, thought chess would be an excellent and fun way to engage her patients. Our first new friend who will go unnamed was 91 and quite with it!  She played bingo and spoke a little.  The hospice chaplain thought she would enjoy chess. The other reason is that the facility was GREAT and welcomed regular appointments with their patients. Another man we met was not be capable of playing chess on his own, however his wife really enjoyed playing and has been looking after her hubby for a long time. He had been diagnosed as a Cardiac patient. She told us, “you never know, you might get him on a good day and he could play!!!!

Another woman we met was AWESOME…She was 89 (you would never know) and resided at Freedom Point of Roswell, another great facility. Proper dress attire was required (a polo shirt and khakis). They were all about us looking NEAT. This was another good facility for us to get our foot in the door. We spoke with the Activity director about setting up a time for any of the residents to play… Finally, another woman, 84, was TERRIFIC…She loved to play Wii bowling and loves puzzles, so we knew she would be up for CHESS. She resided at Atria of Johnson Ferry which was again a great place for us to get into for other residents.  Her daughter came around as she does sometimes.

Volunteering our time with Compassionate Care Hospice was a wonderful experience. We encourage you to try something new if you have already thought about doing something like this and have even included a volunteer application for their office in Atlanta, GA.

Depending upon each patient’s individual needs and condition, holistic therapy can be quite beneficial. It can meet a wide range of patient needs, including emotional, spiritual, cognitive, social and physical. Holistic therapies can be just as, if not more, effective in relieving various forms of pain and discomfort than traditional methods.

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What’s Out There?

In a first of it’s kind research project called the Nun Study, a convent of nuns donated their brains to science to further the study of Alzheimer’s disease. Mentally active until death these women showed no visible signs of dementia despite brain scans with advanced chemical changes that cause Alzheimer’s.

My wife and I are very interested in becoming active participants in the fight against cognitive dysfunction and memory loss in senior communities with particular attention to stronger and lasting family bonds.

Without any formal clinical training, we decided to begin a chess initiative with young children in Atlanta in 2010 working with an International Chess Master in after-school programs.  Although we have found numerous accounts of research conducted with kids to strengthen cognitive function, we are curious to learn what independent research exists in the senior community in a chess learning environment.

The Nun Study from the National Institute on Aging is what we have to date, so we would like to propose an idea.  First, has your research center collected any relevant data in a clinical setting that supports the need to institute a chess learning program in the senior community?  If not, would your center have a desire to do so?  If so, how would the center garner willing participants to conduct a study like this?

If you see some potential here, or at least have some interest in a study on the topic of chess learning as a form of holistic therapy, feel free to contact me to discuss some possibilities.  We would like to become members of the Georgia Area Therapeutic Recreation Association as a valued source for information sharing among professionals working in Georgia.

The Nun Study of Aging and Alzheimer's Disease is a continuing longitudinal study, begun in 1986, to examine the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. David Snowdon, the founding Nun Study investigator, originally began his research at the University of Minnesota, but moved it to the University of Kentucky in 1986. In 2008, with Dr. Snowdon's retirement from the University of Kentucky the study returned to the University of Minnesota. Similar environmental influences and general lifestyles make the nuns an ideal population to study, and although it is ongoing it has yielded several findings.
The Nun Study of Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease is a continuing longitudinal study, begun in 1986, to examine the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. David Snowdon, the founding Nun Study investigator, originally began his research at the University of Minnesota, but moved it to the University of Kentucky in 1986. In 2008, with Dr. Snowdon’s retirement from the University of Kentucky the study returned to the University of Minnesota. Similar environmental influences and general lifestyles make the nuns an ideal population to study, and although it is ongoing it has yielded several findings.

The Fun Never Stops

Well, it’s been just over a year since our last blog post.  With the best of intentions the beat moves on.  Everyday life is a thing of the past as I share new experiences with my wife in the Garden State.  We moved from Atlanta, GA last fall to Southern New Jersey.  To those of you here, Chess Made Fun is bringing chess to some of the newly explored locations along the Jersey Shore and wonderous outdoor parks!

Of course, what we’re really about is making new friends along the way.  We thought we would share with you some of the places we’ve visited this year.

We’ve put some time aside to practice play and to network through Facebook with a few volunteer groups since our move.  We’re getting back into full swing albeit a late start with summer activities already underway.  Compared with the Southern US, outdoor activities seem to be more common with kids than adults.  Community events  however are very organized and we’re enjoying the ‘old world’ culture and feel of farmers markets and large volunteer drives without the need for corporate sponsorship and promotion found in larger cities.   Southern New Jersey seems like a great place to have landed to spread the word about what we’re doing to help local communities.

Throughout the forest are rivers and streams for canoeing, hiking trails (including a major section of the Batona Trail), miles of unpaved roads for mountain biking, horseback riding plus numerous lakes, ponds and fields ideal for wildlife observation. Tent camping in family, primative and wilderneness.
Throughout the forest are rivers and streams for canoeing, hiking trails (including a major section of the Batona Trail), miles of unpaved roads for mountain biking, horseback riding plus numerous lakes, ponds and fields ideal for wildlife observation. Tent camping in family, primative and wilderneness.

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What An Experience

Last weekend was something new for my wife and me.  Yvonne’s aunt invited us several weeks ago to go horseback riding – we finally did.  She also introduced us to Sandra Floyd.  Sandra began a wonderful program in recent years that provides fun and excitement for kids who are physically handicapped. Sandra is amazing in more ways than one.  She also teaches disadvantaged kids positive “life lessons” that many would never receive.  With a huge bag of chess sets in tow Yvonne & I set off to find out more…

We met Sandra in the Talladega National Forest near the Alabama-Georgia border.  Over the next couple of days she introduced us to many of her newly adopted kids ranging in age from 5 years all the way up to teenagers.  Many of you know the record-setting tornadoes that pillaged this region only last week, but horseback riding had everyone’s attention.  Fallen trees became an obstacle for us as we navigated through the winding and hilly trails.  Mealtimes around the campfire allowed for storytelling and what else…chess!

We met Greg who was one of the older and wiser young men.  He told us about his grandmother.  It turns out that Greg’s grandmother was on top of the chess world and was a ranking worldchess competitor!  It was no surprise to see Greg give Yvonne and me tough games.

Learn more about this wonderful program by contacting Rachel’s Wish Foundation headquartered in Tallapoosa, GA, or by contacting the  Tanner Behavior Health Equine Therapeutic Program at (770)-832-8247.  Sandra Floyd may be reached directly by phone at the Possum Snout Arena at (770) 574-8104.

The kids let us know they had never played chess along side an early firelight on a Spring afternoon. What a tranquil place…

 

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Easter Twist

Where do I start?  Yvonne’s parents were in a car accident on their way to West Georgia which is about a 45 minute accident-free drive. Thankfully we were sitting down to Easter lunch only two hours later – all passengers accounted for along with a car load of delicious food.  Everyone meets at Yvonne’s grandparent’s house for most holidays. Arriving late is one of the family traditions began by none other than Yvonne’s family. Yvonne and I have taken the #1 spot on the “will arrive late” list, so we normally arrive late in the 3rd quarter.

I’ll manage to weave a chess story in here.  The excitement is just beginning…

I’m new around here – to the area and to the family. I think I’m doing OK. My new aunt does not think of me as a “nephew in-law”, nor does an estranged brother I’ve been lucky to see a couple of times. I told him last week he did a fantastic job power washing his grandparents deck. I thought it had been rebuilt from scratch.

I’m doing great as a matter of fact! Yvonne and I opened our swimming pool on Saturday to kick off the season. I’m turning 40 next month, so we invited everyone we saw on Easter – which was “everyone” to stop by. I didn’t mention the lack of patio furniture, but news travels fast 😉

My new aunt invited Yvonne and me to go camping this weekend with a large group of teenagers. I haven’t done this since I was one myself. These kids are supposed to fend for themselves. They’re not allowed to ask us for any camping supplies over the weekend. We’ll also be riding horses in the Talladega National Forest. I never really learned to ride horses well and have always been a little scared of horses from a young age. My first experience was at age 7 in the mountains at Circle K Ranch outside Durango, Colorado. I did go back the following year – for the trout fishing and tug-of-war on the river that ran through our campground.

Safe & sound at our grandparent’s house in West Georgia.

Back to Easter weekend.  We eventually made our way to my wife’s parents house to enjoy the rest of time we had.  Her family lives near us throughout Atlanta and beyond. Traditions have been set down especially around the holidays.  Traditions include a “friendly” game of family poker around a large table.  If you consider a single lottery ticket I bought for my sister in 1992 when the lottery came to Texas, I could say that I’ve been lucky with games of chance – which chess is not.

Chess for the first time has given me the confidence to participate in the family fun.  Aside from a “meeting of the minds” about everyday life, the game has also offered me one-on-one interaction with my father in-law – not an easy task with so much going on.

I wish I could say I let him triumph during our game.  Anyone who knows me knows better…

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Riding the Wave

Birds-view21-300x199Does chess have a stadium scoreboard?  Who’s leading?  Who’s catching up?  Yvonne let us know last week about her first experience participating in an actual chess tournament.  This got me thinking about her opponents who stood with her toe to toe.  Shoe sizes will grow of course and egos will shrink as young players gain experience.

Technology has a bigger and bigger role in tournament play with the advent of computerized chess boards.  Whether playing speed chess or positional chess, these computers track each players move in real-time.  I’ve connected with folks on Twitter who are pushing for more meaningful technology in schools.  This raises another thought – can opponents “breathe the same air” during a tournament as a computer decides who walks away champion?  I’ll do some research.

In the meantime here’s what I’m talking about.  Have you seen those chess magicians who play 20 games at once?  Why not in a tournament setting?  While tracking moves the computer knows the best move to make.  The computer also knows the worst move to make – somewhere in the middle is the player’s next move.  The player whose total score is highest wins!  Better make a lot of good moves…

Keep the competitive spirit alive!

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A Mixed Bag

My wife’s a chess coach.  I told her the other day that I have some free time to help her out.  We ended up in a huge game of team chess at one of her schools.  This was my first interaction with more experienced kids in her after school programs.  This was also the first time I’ve played chess outside on a large patio chess board.  It was a lot of fun.

One of the coolest things about the experience was that the squares on the board were not notated.  Every time the black team or white tea

m had to make a move they had to call each move out in correct notation.  The time it took for twenty excited kids to shout  “King captures E4” actually had a calming effect on them.  This process made the game one of great precision and quality because it gave them time to think about their next move.

Communication skills developed from playing team chess outdoors are unmatched. The solace of a video game said one of our kids is a great escape however as the pressure builds.  Even with wonderful weather it’s great to rotate the kids indoors when the game “gets interesting” to keep the competitive spirit intact.  Team leaders always make themselves known.  It’s good to assign someone else to call the next move.  This has been my experience so far.

I’ve helped Yvonne on Friday afternoons with some of the younger kids in her developmental classes.  I have a little more experience than Yvonne playing kids in tournaments though.  This doesn’t mean I’ve had better results beating them.  She played in her first tournament last Friday.  I told her I would support her from the sidelines this time.  A pitcher of margaritas before a tournament is not the kind of fun I need.  It’s not what this blog is about.

Back to the other kids at school.  School is out for two weeks.  I wrote down all twenty-eight moves have been played so far.  We’ll finish the game on a demonstration board when the kids return from their break.  We can figure out what the losing team can do to have the advantage in the next outdoor game.

I’ll also follow-up with the results here in my next blog entry.

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Chillin… on a Saturday afternoon! Warren and Yvonne in Marietta, GA grabbin’ some grub!