The lazy, hazy days of summer are here. If you ask your group members to name favorite summer activities as a child, many would mention going to the county or state fair with their family. Fairgoers of all ages flock to this annual event to enjoy blue ribbon cakes, carnival rides, elephant ears, prized tomatoes, livestock competitions, and country and western music concerts. August is a good time to remember the fair with your group. Ask: What do you remember about attending the county/state fair as a child? What was your favorite attraction at the fair? What foods did you enjoy? Did you or a member of your family ever exhibit a project at the local fair, perhaps with 4-H or a Home Demonstration Club? Encourage participants to share recollections of fair events, exhibits and displays, competitions and contests, and music.

Here are some suggestions for remembering fair time.

  • Get participants in the mood by watching the nostalgic musical film State Fair. Choose from one of three movie versions – 1933, 1945, or 1962. Enjoy the adventures of the Frake family as members take their annual trip to the state fair.
  • Display vintage fair memorabilia and souvenirs, e.g., state fair billboard posters, fair ribbons, tickets, banners, fair programs, miniature farm collectibles, souvenir cups and mugs, 4-H signs, cowboy hats, badges, and more.
  • Learn about the history of agricultural fairs in America, beginning in the 1800s. For example, did you know that the first state fair was held in New York?
  • Survey your group for favorite fair foods, including corn dogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy, country ham, and more. Ask if anyone belonged to a group that rented a tent at the fair to sell food.
  • Ask participants to list varieties of food-on-a-stick featured at state fairs, e.g., corn dogs, deep fried Twinkies, caramel apples, and chocolate-covered bananas on a stick.
  • Show photographs of solid cow butter sculptures, a favorite fair tradition.
  • Invite a local leader of a 4-H club or county extension agent to talk about youth projects at the fair. Ask participants if they ever belonged to an FFA club that exhibited livestock at the fair.
  • Simulate an auction with your group. Gather simple items such as books, CDs, photos, and artwork to use as auction items. Provide members with “paper bucks” for the auction and invite an auctioneer to have some bidding fun with the group!
  • Hold some fair demonstrations for your group, e.g., making pickles, arranging flowers, or spinning wool.
  • Hold a best recipe contest, a fashion show, or a pet dress-up contest. Participants can play the role of judge and award ribbons for various categories.
  • Reminisce about World’s Fairs. Ask if anyone attended the popular Expo ’67, Montreal’s World’s Fair. Show photographs of some of the cutting-edge technology displayed at previous fairs, e.g., RCA televisions at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
  • Show old photos of early 20th century fairs in America, which often included airplane stunt shows.
  • Chat about the fair midway, including amusement rides and games. Ask your group to name favorite rides, such as the Ferris wheel, swings, carousel, wooden roller coaster, or tilt-a-whirl. Did they ever get on a ride on a dare from someone?
  • Challenge your group with some fun contests. Try pitching pennies, tossing rings on bottles, or a counting contest. Award simple donated prizes, such as small stuffed animals or a mug.
  • Encourage other fair recollections about harness and horse racing, tractor pulls and antique tractor displays, auto races, fireworks displays, livestock shows, milking parlors, and more.
  • To create a festive fair atmosphere for your group, you’ll want to provide some games and music. Bingo is the perfect game for older adults.


Fairs and food seem to go together. Sample some baked goods from the fair with your group. Serve pie, cookies, cake, donuts, muffins, or dumplings. Enjoy some freshly squeezed lemonade or iced tea. Add some honky tonk country music (try George Jones, Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, or Willie Nelson), and your group will be ready to uncover some treasured moments from the event! Here are some sample recall questions from “The County Fair” exercise found in the ElderSong book, Remembering: Recall and Reminiscence Exercises for Memory-Impaired Older Adults by Dace Teegardin.

  1. The county fair usually takes place in the season of _____. (summer)
  2. The children love the ride with the beautiful painted horses and calliope music; the ride is called the _____ __ _____. – (merry-go-round or carousel)
  3. Oddities of all sorts can be seen at the _____. (sideshows)
  4. You could win a whole set of carnival glasses just for pitching _____. (pennies)
  5. The sticky pink sweet stuff that is spun around a paper cone is known as _____ _____. (cotton candy)
  6. Some people take their prize hogs and bulls to have them judged at the _____ _____. (livestock show)
  7. Often a county fair will feature a show of cowboys roping horses and calves; this show is known as a _____. (rodeo)
  8. In the evening there is always a music show at the _____. (grandstand)
  9. We go to see the blue ribbon winners at the 4-H _____. (exhibits)
  10. Screams and shouts are always heard coming from the _____ _____. (fun house)


“Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” ~ Pablo Picasso

“FAIR TIME MEMORIES” written by Sue Hansen. © 2006 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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