11 Tips for New Activity Directors

11 Tips for New Activity Directors

User Profile By Haley Burress   United States

Found In: Activities Articles

When I started my first Activity Director job, I was only a few years out of college. While I had worked with seniors in a skilled nursing community before, nothing quite prepared me for taking on an Activity Director role.
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When I started my first Activity Director job, I was only a few years out of college. While I had worked with seniors in a skilled nursing community before, nothing quite prepared me for taking on an Activity Director role.

Here are a few things I wish someone had told me in those first few weeks, months, and years.

1. Your Activity Director Course Won’t Teach You Everything.
The introductory Activity Director course taught by a local consulting company met state and federal regulations, but it wasn’t comprehensive. You learn more from day-to-day experience than you ever do in a 3-day introductory course.

2. Organization Is the Key to Success.
Too much clutter in the storage closet or activity office makes for a cluttered brain. It’s worth the time during your first few months at a community to get in the closet, organize it, and toss things out. You’ll have a better understanding of what has been done in the past and you’ll start out in a clean slate.

3. Find a Mentor.

My favorite mentors in my first job weren’t Activity Directors at all. They were leaders in the community with decades of experience that made them calm, confident, and funny. Find the experienced and talented professionals and listen to them. Watch them work and handle conflict. You’ll learn so much.

4. You’re Going to Have Favorite Residents.

I know I thought I was going to like all residents equally, but that first job taught me that there are favorite residents you will remember forever. For me, Frank, Cliff, and Lorraine taught me more about slowing down and enjoying life than I could have learned from a book. I still think of them often.

5. Structure Your Day.
No one ever told me that I should schedule time in my day to catch up with charting and assessments, so I spent a lot of my time after leading activities visiting with residents. While it was great to spend so much time with my residents, I fell behind on my charting very quickly and realized that it is quite hard to catch back up. Thirty minutes for charting at the start and end of each day ensured I was keeping up with my Medicare charting.

6. Hire for Your Weaknesses.
I initially tried to build my Activities team based on people who were just like me, but that didn’t work for a variety of reasons. I wish someone would have told me that the smart thing to do is to hire people who are really good at things you aren’t. One of my best hires was an Assistant who was great at charting and keeping up with assessments, perhaps my biggest weakness.

7. Try Something New Weekly.
Senior living communities have a reputation for being stale and stagnant, only ever doing the same activities because the residents like them. I wish someone gave me the confidence when I was new to tell me to incorporate at least one new activity weekly to shake things up. Residents aren’t afraid to try new things, and those new things may end up being community favorites.

8. Ditch the Stereotypes.
I was lucky enough to come into senior living without a lot of stereotypes about it. My grandparents were my aging role models and were quite healthy well into their 90s. However, I think it is important for all new Activity professionals to walk into their job without giving any credibility to aging stereotypes. Residents will surprise you daily.

9. You Are a Professional. Act Like It.
While the role of an Activity Professional is certainly a fun one, I found myself playing the role of “fun gal” too much. I wish I would have been empowered as an important part of the interdisciplinary team with a professional point of view from the moment I walked in the door.

10. Confrontation Is Hard, But Necessary.
As a young professional, I found myself worried about what family members and residents would think of me. This made me resist confronting family members or residents when I really needed to. I felt that confrontation was always bad, and it isn’t. Being a mature part of a conversation is an important part of being an effective Activity Director.

11. You’ll Love Your Job More Than You Could Ever Expect To.
I love seniors and recreation. I love the thrill of planning a crazy idea and watching it go off without a hitch. I love dressing up and decorating and making someone’s day. No one could have told me how much I would carry my residents and staff with me from community to community, job to job.

What do you wish someone would have told you as you started your Activity career? Let’s share with one another in the comments.

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Haley Burress

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Comments   Post a Comment

Susan 17th Aug 2022 Activity Director
Hi Latisia
What kind of facility do you work in??
A nursing home the MDS nurse tells you which residents you need to do assessments for
Usually you do and assessment or notes every three months and once a year you doing another repeat assessment or if somebody has changed
Latisa Mcgett 15th Aug 2022
I've been a activity director for 3 weeks what are the things that I supposed to be doing within a month as far as my assessment in my course what else do I have to do and what kind of assessment do I have to do
Stephanie 2nd Mar 2022 Life Enrichment Director
I agree with all of these, and also about making time for research! I have worked in Recreation now close to 10 years and it really makes a difference to be approachable and fun, but also professional. You set yourself up for success by engaging but also learning way to stary relevant, have appropriate boundaries and focusing on an uplifting and encouraging, safe environment for all!
Susan 2nd Mar 2022 Activity Director
Hi Stephanie
Thank you for your suggestion
Leisel 23rd Feb 2022 Leisure And Lifestyle
Loved these tips. I have only been in the role as an assistant for 6 months and just about to start Cert IV Leisure and Lifestyle. Our activities cupboard definitely needs a clean up and I appreciate the reassurance to be a little bold to shake things up a bit and keep the vibe stimulated and fresh.

"Men can have 1000 reasons why something cant be done, when all they need is one reason for why they can"
Martha Graham
Talita 27th Feb 2022
Thanks so much for your feedback Leisel!
Zorinah 21st Feb 2022 Diversional Therapist
I loved all of the above tips, I have one to add that may be helpful. I schedule an hour each week to learn something new; and this is where this site comes in REALLY HANDY. Just one hour researching how other facilities do things and making notes on how I can improve with the activities we are already conducting- this has turned into one of my favourite parts of the week. I make myself a cup of tea, get comfortable and research. I find that this keeps my thinking fresh and encourages me. I have a note book to jot down any relevant info, I try to implement positive changes over the following month and record the results.
Susan 21st Feb 2022 Activity Director
Hi Zorinah
Thank you for your suggestions
Lorraine 15th Feb 2022 Recreational Director
thank-you so much. As an Activity director for 12 years I look back and realize that I have learned so much along the way. I totally agree with your comments. my most important realization has been to hire for my weaknesses. I always use the word team when describing my department because it emphasizes how we support one another with our strengths. Peace!
Talita 21st Feb 2022
Wonderful tips to add to this list Lorraine, thank you so much.
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