Wow! And now they taste good, even with O trans fat!

Wow! And the new ones still taste good, even with O trans fat!

Write the words, THEN eat.

Spell the words, THEN eat.

Macaroni isn’t just for eating; it’s also for learning.  In college, I was a tutor for a third-grade boy who had trouble with spelling. When traditional flash cards didn’t help, I bought a bag of alphabet macaroni and spread them out on the table. I’d say the word, and he’d spell it by putting together the letters of macaroni. It took longer than spelling them out loud or writing them on paper, but there was something about the tactile approach, the “feel” of the letters that helped him learn and remember.

Several years ago, when my mother’s dementia was in the middle stage and she still responded to sensory stimuli, I  tried alphabet cookies. I’d spread them out on the table, and together we’d try to create cookie words and sentences with the letters.  She would participate for more than an hour at a time, probably because she also ate the letters she thought she didn’t need.  It was a fun activity to share, and she was notably more alert and happy afterwards.

September is WORLD ALZHEIMER’S MONTH. Every day there seems to be new studies, new results, new trial drugs, etc., about the best way to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia.  My dad died of Alzheimer’s and my mom has very advanced dementia, so I try to stay current, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.  One of the goals of my blog is to share the things that have helped one or both of my parents, at least temporarily. The overall most successful lesson I’ve learned is this: Make the most of sensory details.

Here are a few suggestions:  play CDs of music and songs they might remember; gently rub vanilla-scented lotion on their hands as you share a memory of a holiday or something you used to do together; bake cookies (frozen dough is great when sprinkled with cinnamon before baking); share popcorn as you watch a familiar TV program, or assemble a child-sized puzzle together.  If you have other suggestions, please share them with us.

World Alzheimer’s Month is not a tribute to the disease, but a reminder that it’s a very real international threat. It’s also a reminder to do what we can to help those who suffer with the disease, and a nudge to do the best we can to help ourselves remain alert.   So it’s okay to play with your food this month, especially if it’s alphabet food that will keep you thinking…and laughing!

Fragrant flowers cheer the spirits and trigger memories.

Fragrant flowers cheer the spirits and trigger memories.

What's your cookie word IQ? The bottom two are dictionary words; the top one will be in the new dictionary.

What’s your cookie word IQ? The bottom two are dictionary words; the top one will be in the new dictionary.



Filed under autumn lessons, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, memories for great-grandchildren

49 responses to “PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD

  1. Ginormous Hugs Marylin. xxxx

  2. If you spelled “ginormous” with alphabet cookies, David, you’d have quite a snack afterwards! Hugs right back at-cha! 🙂

  3. It’s so much fun spelling with alphabet cookies. Have a nice weekend.

  4. I also use tactile wooden letters for alphabet work with my needy students. We begin with an ‘alphabet rainbow’ then move on to finding the vowels, later the consonant blends. I think eating them would add a third dimension – I’m going to try it Marylin!
    Thanks as always for an insightful post xx

    • You’re very welcome, Jenny. I love your wooden letters and the alphabet rainbow for your students. One year, I had five students in one learning center sophomore English class who mild dyslexia. Nothing seemed to help, until one weekend I saw five high-edged cooking baking sheets for sale. I bought them, plus a bag of sand. With the cookie sheets filled with sand, those five students could write words, sentences, even write answers to test questions. There was something about the fingers “feeling” the words that helped the students sort everything out. Instead of making them feel self-conscious, they were pleased when the other students in the class wanted try writing in sand, too.

      • That is genius! I really believe that allowing students (however old) to experiment with different ways to aid their learning is the right way to go. I had one boy whose writing was so bad no one could understand it so he eventually had a scribe for his exams….he was also ADHD so the best way for him to think was to walk around the room, dictating as he went. He eventually achieved good grades using this method and went on to University. If we’d never given him the chance to move about perhaps his potential would never have been realised. I often think of him and wonder what he’s doing now!

      • Amazing, Jenny. So as long as he could walk, move around, and dictate his answers, he could do the work. That really is a different response to ADHD, isn’t it? Do you know what happened to him when he went to the university? Did they do the same thing, or did he do something else, like using a tape recorder for his thoughts and answers? I had only a few true ADHA students during my teaching career, and all were on meds that seemed to help. But I don’t what their answers and abilities would have shown if your technique had been used.

  5. Hangry is such a great word. I wish it had been around in my childhood days. I would have made good use of it. Hangry is less of a mouthful than “I am starving and feeling really cranky.” My children used to have fun with Alpha Bits cereal. Magnetic letters are fun too. I must see if I can find some for my mother.

    • Your example for hangry is terrific, Gallivanta. It’s much better than the definition the committee gave when adding it to the list for the next dictionary. And Alpha Bits cereal! I’d forgotten how much fun that way, but I also remember the mess it made to spoon out the letters that had been in milk and line them up on the table!
      There are many fun “letters” foods to choose from; I hope you find the best one for your mother.

  6. Marylin, I am going to share this post with my friend Cathy. I’m sure she would love to see it as her mom has Alzheimer’s.
    I love the alphabet cookie game! Such a wonderful idea and I’m sure I’d be eating the cookies in between games too. Blessings to your mother.
    xo Joanne

    • Thank you, Joanne, and also for sharing this with your friend. I hope her mother enjoys it as much as my mom did before the dementia had advanced too far. And just between us, I ate as many of the cookies as she did, unfortunately. 😉

  7. Don

    I remember my Mom making soup and putting macaroni alphabet pieces in to it. As kids we called it talking soup. Thank you for the reminder Marylin, and for those suggestions you give.

  8. You teach with heart and soul just like your mother. Oh, and creativity too.

    This post brought back memories of our kids’ trying to learn their multiplication tables. It seemed like a lost cause until we found a record with songs and dance routines. My Master’s thesis was on literature curriculum for students with varied learning styles, so I’ve long been a believer in catching them every way you can: visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic.

    Though Aunt Ruthie has severe memory loss, she can still do pages in her Word Finds books. We are thankful for that.

    I had to look up quillet and xyster. Hangry I guessed from the comment. Rock on, Marylin!

    • Thank you, Marian, for the sweet compliments and also the details you shared about the songs and dance routines for learning multiplication tables.
      I think you and Gallivanta are the only ones so far to check the meanings of the cookie-written words.
      Word Find books are excellent brain games. One of the ladies in my mom’s facility is in her early 90s, only about five years younger than Mom, and she does one word search page every morning before she goes down to the dining room for lunch. Oh, how I wish my mother could still do that.

  9. Jim

    Fun post. Good ideas for interaction. Okay, you got me! You are right. “Hangry” is not in any dictionary that I have access to. Is it one of those combo words that gets used so often that it finally gets in the dictionary? Hungry + angry = hangry = feeling temperamental/testy when one’s blood sugar is low. 🙂

    • Hangry is on the newest list of words that will be in the next edition of the dictionary, honey. That’s why you couldn’t find it in a dictionary now. But your definition is really good! Next time either of us is Hangry, the other will know to get some food pronto! 😉

  10. Excellent post Marylin. So many good ideas. Sadly my cookie IQ is awful. I don’t think any of them is a moth 😟.

  11. This was a beautiful post, Marylin. You give so many great ideas for children and the elderly, including minds fading with age. I especially appreciate your stories about your mother. Hoping Alzheimer’s Disease research solves the complicated puzzle of how to slow progression and someday eradicate this. My oldest daughter and I watched movie, “Still Alice”, about early onset Alzheimer’s. Thanks for your focus on this important topic!

    • Thank you so much, Robin.
      The book STILL ALICE was almost too painful for me to stay with, but the movie was excellent and all the actors did such a good job.

      • I am so glad you said this about the book, Marylin. I will be content with the way they made this fine movie. It did not seem to dwell on too much pain or sorrow but the realities of her trying to remember 3 things on a chalk board and accidentally wetting herself while trying to remember the direction to the bathroom. I agree, Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin did well. Kristen Stewart also played a typical mixed reaction but ultimately “rising to the occasion” and she really was the one I cried during her interactions with her mother. Cheers to you, M. 🙂

      • With the movie, Robin, it helped to have Julianne Moore’s superb acting abilities convey the book’s truth. When I tried to read the book, I pictured my mom–and not an actress–struggling, and it was just too hard. So STILL ALICE as a movie was much easier for me.

  12. Claudia

    I can’t remember seeing the alphabet cookies, but I loved the letter macaroni mother put in vegetable beef soup!!!

    • They’re really a lot of fun, Claudia, especially with grandchildren. I bought an extra box to serve with coffee and tea at my next writing group. You know, to encourage “using your words” at the table. 🙂

  13. I agree, Marylin, it’s overwhelming, to stay current on all the information concerning Alzheimer’s and dementia. Can you imagine how overwhelming it is for the caregiver…it’s very sad.
    Beautiful post. xo

    • Thank you, Jill.
      Mom’s dementia is so advanced now that I just keep looking for food, music, flowers, and little activities to do with her. It’s the best I can do. For those just beginning Alzheimer’s and dementia, though, it’s an ongoing effort for their families and caregivers to keep up with the medical progress.

  14. It comes through loud and clear that you are doing more than performing an exercise, you are sharing love with those you are serving in these ways. I can almost feel it. Mmmmm, love! Wonderful post!

  15. You definitely had my mind going to solve the scrambles! This is such a great exercise. It’s funny how life comes full circle. This is a “game” I played with my children when they were just beginning to read. So much love involved at either end to encourage, teach, and stimulate. Many hugs to you!

    • You’re so right, Robyn. And the game is just as important to do with children as it is with the elderly or those fighting dementia. And it’s a good connection, doing these things together. Hugs to you, too! 🙂

  16. Marylin, I love that always write from your heart. I can picture you, patiently, playing words games with your student and your mom. I’d be like her…popping the alphabet cookies in my mouth as quickly as they were put down. My uncle died from Alhezheimer’s and my aunt now has early dementia. So very sad and such a horrible disease! 😦

    • Your uncle and aunt are in my parents’ situation, Tracy. My dad died of Alzheimer’s, and now my mom has dementia, but it’s very advanced. It is definitely a horrible disease and very sad.
      I have to admit, though, that when Mom and I played the alphabet game, I ate as many of the cookies as she did! 😉

  17. When I was a teen, my Dad had two huge dictionaries A-L and M-z. I loved looking up words. You’ve just added two new words to my vocabulary: quillet and xyster. That’ll come in handy if ever I play Scrabble. I did know what ‘hangry’ meant. 😉

    Thank you for sharing the edible tips that can be used to keep the mind active and growing. I do hope that they find a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia soon.

    • Look up the list at both Gallivanta’s and Jim’s comments with their definitions for Hangry (kind of a cross between angry and hungry, but their definitions are much better). It will be added to the next dictionary.
      I love the words quillet and xyster, Judy, and can’t wait to use them in Scrabble!

  18. I do remember the alphabet noodles and it was a good way for mothers to get their children to eat their food. I love the way you bring these everyday events into thought-provoking posts, and your suggestions for Alzheimer’s.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I remember babysitting a family with 5 young sons, and one day I served alphabet soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for their lunch. It wasn’t quite as much fun when I realized they were spooning out the letters from their soup and making words to stick on the table. 😉

  19. Molly

    Mom, you can tell you were a teacher. Once a teacher, always a teacher!

    This was a great activity to do with Grandma then, and a fun activity for me to duplicate with my students now!

    My students also love to write/draw in shaving cream that has been spread out on the table. I wonder if grandma would enjoy that?

    Love you….

  20. Grandma would have loved the shaving cream on the table, and I’m sure she would have sat down with your students and joined right in to write with them. She would be so proud of what you’re doing with your students, Molly.
    I got several boxes of the alphabet cookies for your students. We’ll hope they use them to write a few words before they gobble them down!
    Love you, too, Mookie!

  21. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Great reminders, Marylin. In my assisted living Bible study, the residents always seem to “come to life” when I have something tactile to pass around. Maybe it’s a branch of fall leaves as we talk about life’s changes, or a small stone as we talk about spiritual milestones. Your words encourage me to look for more tactile experiences to introduce. Thanks.

    • It really is amazing what something tactile will add to the learning curve, Nancy. With my mom, sometimes it’s the sense of smell (if I bring fresh lilies in a vase) or sound (once I found a channel on TV that featured two children’s choirs singing “Jesus Loves Me” and other favorites) and for a wonderful moment my mom was alert and participating.
      If you ever need a treat for your assisted living Bible study, I do recommend these Alphabet Cookies to spell with and munch on with their tea at the end of the lesson.

  22. Your years of experience paying deep attention to the sensory reactions of your parents is very moving to me. I enjoyed making words with my children out of Campbell soup letters and Alphabet cheerios. My mother is losing her hearing. I hope we children can be as creative as you are at finding ways to break through the sensory barriers to communication.

    • I have to admit, Shirley, that many times my great ideas leave my mother napping in her recliner and me holding a tray with alphabet cookies to eat or play dough to play, etc. We just do the best we can, right? 😉
      Thank you for your sweet compliments.

  23. Shirley, I wanted to congratulate the great success of BLUSH and wish you the best with this new distribution. But when I go to your site there are little squares with question marks and no place to leave a message.

  24. Thanks for this feedback, Marylin. I have been experiencing numerous glitches with my new site. Do you have a problem using this link?

    Was the problem you had above based on using my Gravatar?

  25. Thanks for helping, Shirley. I don’t know what the glitch was, but on the third try I got through. And I also now have my own copy of BLUSH on my Kindle!!! I’m going to write emails to my friends and fellow writers and tell them to get their own copies!

  26. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks!

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