A Day on the Wind Seeker book

Collaboration Through Montessori

Jennifer Brush | 10 January 2018

Collaboration Through Montessori

What do you get when a Montessori teacher, an illustrator and a dementia expert create together? A book designed especially for elders with dementia. 

I like to use as many Montessori materials from the classroom as possible when I spend time with elders.  They are drawn to their beauty and interested in their content.  However, some of the materials are too small for older adult hands, especially those with arthritis.  I often have to make my own, or find something similar that is larger.  While I was looking for large three-part cards and other materials to use with elders, I came across the work of Rita and Ronn Akins.  I loved their wooden trays and large, brightly colored cards.  Both were easy to carry and manipulate.  I began using them with elders with dementia with great success.  Very excited, I wrote to Rita to tell her about my work with elders and we set up a phone call to talk.  Our first conversation was exhilarating! I was in search of more Montessori materials that would work in memory care settings, and Ronn's beautiful illustrations really caught my eye.  Rita was intrigued. Her focus had always been on Montessori and children, and she knew little about Montessori for aging and dementia. We discussed reading groups for people with dementia; how many individuals enjoy reading aloud to others; and how illustrated reading materials could be designed to facilitate engagement and participation. The conversation left the two of us bursting with excitement over the possibilities for illustrative stories in dementia care.

Rita Akins was a "student" of reading aloud for 22 years. In her Montessori classroom, unhurried read alouds were frequent and conversation around story was always encouraged. She observed the value of dialogue around story, not only for learning, but for building relationships and making connections. Rita wanted to build upon that dialogue for her students, so she started a company, Montessori Images.  

Rita's husband, Ronn, a very talented artist, has partnered with her to create beautifully illustrated learning activities that work with children's books to extend the read-aloud experience and keep the conversation going. 

With my guidance, Ronn and Rita set to work on a plan for a short story utilising large-print text and high-contrast, full-page illustrations. A question at the bottom of each page of text was be added to prompt discussion and reminiscing. Rita wanted the story to also have an intergenerational theme. She was excited over the possibility of older adults with dementia and children (bookend generations) connecting over a story they could read to each other. A list of possible topics ran through her mind, but she kept coming back to one - sailing.

The Chesapeake Bay is home for Rita and Ronn, and a very inspirational setting for a sailing story. Understanding reading and dementia was, however, the challenge. So Rita wrote with a friend in mind who was living with dementia, and who had enjoyed boating the waters of the Chesapeake in his younger years. 

I have found that people living with dementia are able to and enjoy reading a loud, but many of the books available in large print with high contrast graphics are childish and not designed for adults.  We hope that readers of A Day on the Wind Seeker enjoy feelings of adventure, and make many joyful connections. We look forward to writing and illustrating more Stories for Older Adults.

Photo title and credit: Illustrator, Ronn Akins, at work on a page from the "Wind Seeker."

Photo courtesy of Montessori Images.

A Day on the Wind Seeker book