Telling at nursing homes can be a rewarding and
exciting experience. But, the residents have special needs and that carries
over into storytelling. This paper does not include seniors who are living
independently at senior homes or who attend senior citizens clubs. For the
most part, telling to the average senior is no different than telling to any
other adult. However, when a teller goes into a nursing home, it calls for a
little special care in story selection and performance. There is a fine line
most tellers who tell to seniors try not to cross and that is…not talking
down to residents of nursing homes by selecting stories that are meant for
young children. There are twp exceptions…if a multi-generational day is held
at a nursing home, stories for the youngsters is enjoyed by both the young
and the "young at heart." Also, a nursing home may ask for folktales from a
particular culture – Native American, African, etc. Then, whatever stories
you have in your repertoire, would be most appropriate.
Earmarks of a good story
Stories to tell
Tips for Telling
Bibliography and websites
Earmarks of a good story to tell to people living in
Keep the stories short (4-10 minutes)
Avoid complicated plot lines and too many characters
Avoid any story with violence. As people age, they become much more
Stories with the themes of love or that contain a
lesson/message element and/or contain humor.
Personal experience stories – especially those about your own grandparents
or of times past.
Biographies of exciting, inspiring people.
Relationship stories especially funny stories about older married couples.
Don’t avoid stories with death in them, but try not dwelling on that part
of the story. Again, seniors are very sensitive.
Tell stories where there is a senior character who is strong and still out
on the quest/ avoid stories that stereotype seniors as in "the mean (dirty),
old man, the silly, old woman, etc."
If at all possible, add some song to your story, so they can sing along.
Seniors love to sing!
Some tellers like to use a tell-and-draw story for small groups.
Some tellers like to tell ghost stories…but not gruesome ones.
Seniors for the most part, like a story that has some "spice" in it, but
do not care for vulgar or explicit sexual stories.
Again, for the most part, seniors do not like stories that put others down
or that relies on the contemporary humor. The greater majority will be out of
touch with what’s in the news and simply can’t relate to it.
Find stories written by other senior citizens. They will relate to these
II. Stories to Tell:
Any of the Nasreddin’s stories such as "Nazreddin's
Luck" and "Nazreddin Saves the Moon" can be found in a Google search such
My First Day at School; How I
Broke My Father's Legs; Learning to Swim; Choosing a Sister etc.
One of my favorite stories to tell to Nursing Homes is "Two Old Women Make
a Bet". I often pair it with the Cherokee story of the Origin of
I talk about the oldest war in the world: the
war between men and women. Since most nursing home residents are
elderly ladies, they seem to like the subject matter.
Muldoon in Love and most of Patrick McManus’s
Many of the short stories from Richard Kennedy
Once a Good Man (variants) Jane Yolen’s The
The Three Wishes (variants) Swedish folktale
by Jane Yolen
III. Tips for Telling:
Use a microphone. Even if you think you don’t need it, use it.
Get use to members of the audience going to sleep
Be ready for outbursts. Remember that not all nursing home residents are
seniors. Some are long-term care patients who are there for a variety of
Talk to the activity director ahead of time to make sure the room that you
are in is adequate. Make sure that the residents that they bring in to the
event, want to be there. Oftentimes, they will bring everyone in whether they
are capable of listening to a story or not. Some residents are too sick or too
depressed to get into a story. And, never, never schedule storytelling that
will delay or replace Bingo, Wheel of Fortune, or any of their beloved card
If at all possible play a musical instrument, sing folk songs, tell jokes
or riddles between the stories.
Try to illicit stories from them by asking…do you remember your first
doll? Your first bicycle. A favorite birthday, etc.
Have a little give-away – a bookmark, a bell, or a little trinket that
relates to one of the stories you told.
If the teller feels comfortable enough, after the telling is over, try to
go to each resident and take his/her hand. They love being touched. Tell them
how happy you are that they came to hear the stories.
One thing you don’t have to worry about when returning to the same
facility is repeating a story you told before. Most of the listeners won’t
remember what you told. So, if they enjoyed it before…rejoice in the
IV. Bibliography and Websites:
Mary Lu Bretsch, Mike
Anderson, Mabel Kaplan, Elizabeth Ellis