My sister Mary Jane and I both retired last year. With almost sixty years of teaching experience between us, we decided we couldn’t just sit home and be retired—we were simply not ready. We are idea people, always looking for an opportunity to create, and we have had many ideas for projects over the years. Throughout our years as teachers, we always loved the planning process and following those ideas through to completion with our students.
But our own projects always seemed to get put on the back burner as we raised our families and taught full time. Spare time was not something we were familiar with. Upon retirement we were suddenly given the gift of time and a renewed sense of energy. So, we did what we always do. We brainstormed for a new idea. Something we could really sink our teeth into. But what does a teacher do after retirement? What skills did we possess which might be useful outside the realm of education?
How It All Started
We found our idea right in our own family. Our aging mother had begun to experience short-term memory loss and was struggling with processing current information. How could we help her? We began to realize she managed better when we engaged her in discussion about her past. Old photographs, music, and specific prompts and questions seemed to help her access these memories, and while reminiscing, she seemed to transform into a happier and less anxious person. So, much like we would have approached creating a unit plan, we began the process of creating a tool to improve the quality of Mom’s life. The seed for our game was born!
Creating The Game
We set up a small office in the basement of my sister’s house. On what would have been our first day back to school, we got our chart paper, our hi-liters and markers and sticky notepads. Then we began brainstorming our ideas. Before we knew it, the walls of the basement were covered with colour-coded charts showing main ideas, subheadings, visual organizers and mission statements. As we worked, we kept reflecting on all of the directly transferable skills we used. Skills such as the ability to synthesize information and determine the core values of our project, our strong work ethic and our ability to work collaboratively. All teachers possess a huge wealth of skills and many of us don’t realize it until we tackle something new.
We worked all winter researching, writing and editing. We spent many winter afternoons in cafes across the greater Toronto area with our laptop and a cup of tea. We loved our new life. At this point we took on a third partner, our designer, who interpreted our concept brilliantly with his use of vintage photographs and sensitive colour palette.
One of our greatest challenges was finding a Canadian company to actually produce the game. Eventually, we were successful and our game is now being produced locally which we are very happy about. LifeTimes The Game of Reminiscence is a non-competitive conversation game designed to ignite personal memory and reminiscence through the use of heartwarming prompts and vintage photos. There are five categories, 125 cards and 500 prompts all inspired by day-to- day life in the 1950s. Our market is geared towards baby boomers, seniors and their families.
Because our game has valuable social impact, and because we are a start-up business, we were very fortunate to be invited to become clients of MaRS, Canada’s centre for innovation located in Toronto. Here we received invaluable advice and training in the world of business as we attended classes in marketing, sales, etc. After years as teachers, we were thrust into the role of students. We had to learn a whole new lingo. Instead of learning expectations and pathways to critical thinking, we were tossing around terms like “low hanging fruit,” “value propositions” and ”pitch decks”! Our classmates were decades younger than us—vibrant, enthusiastic and creative. We loved this part of our new venture. It gave us the opportunity to network, share ideas and be continually challenged. Plus they gave us homework!
Successes And Challenges
Each day is a new day for us as we launch our product. We were lucky enough to have The Toronto Star and CBC Radio do features on us. This media exposure created a lot of public interest and generated sales. We were stunned and moved by the number of emails we received from families sharing stories about dealing with an aging parent. We also heard from workers in the field of aging eager to buy the game. As teachers, we always believed in giving back to the community. Our project has never been about getting rich but more about making a valuable contribution and at the same time challenging ourselves and remaining engaged with community and families. Our teaching years focused on developing the minds of our young and now we focus on encouraging continued stimulation and connectedness in our seniors. In many ways, the message and lessons are very similar.
We do have days we feel we have taken on more than we can handle. Early morning meetings, press releases, sales projections, ongoing writing and grant applications to name a few. We are busier than we have ever been, and much like teaching, we take this work home with us. We eat, breathe, and live our project pretty much every single waking moment. We continue to remind ourselves that we can set our own pace and we are our own bosses which means we are allowed to take a day off once in a while. We are also wives and mothers and grandmothers and we want time to enjoy these roles too. Our children, all in their twenties, have been our greatest fans. They love the game and they are very proud of our dedication and accomplishments. If we are doing a public event, often they will show up to assist. Perhaps one day our company may even provide employment for some of them.
Where We Are Now
Our game is currently available at retail outlets across Ontario including independent bookstores in Stratford, Guelph and Toronto as well as through our website. We are exhibiting at conferences, The Zoomer Show and this fall attended Word On The Street. The game is being used across North America in a variety of settings for seniors including The Alzheimer’s Society, Chartwell Canada, V.O.N and Community Senior Day Care Centres. Many seniors’ homes have purchased the game as a foundation for a weekly or monthly reminiscence group with their residents. Every day presents new challenges for us, but, always the problem solvers, we love this. We can’t imagine our lives any other way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carol and Mary Jane McPhee are retired teachers happy to be using their teaching skills as social entrepreneurs. www.lifetimesthegame.com
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Mar/Apr 2012 issue.