It has been our beautiful experience this year to visit the nursing home several times. What is homeschool (or church for that matter) worth if we aren’t learning compassion, community, and how to communicate despite age or restriction? I’m the director of our church’s Adventurer program (the homeschool-related benefits of such are for another post), and we made these visits with the Adventurer and Pathfinder groups. However, I know, at least from my childhood, that you don’t need an Adventurer program to make a trek to the local nursing home!
In my childhood, we only sang. The singing was beautiful, the singing was important, but I always felt a disconnect…a large chasm between me and the residents. So, I was very intrigued when a friend told me how they take crayons and color with the residents after singing.
I wanted to take it a step further. I have been talking to my kids about the importance of touch, that when we go to the nursing home, our hand on the shoulder, arm, or hand of a resident does much to brighten their day. A side note: Always remember hand-sanitizer before and after visiting. They don’t want our germs as much as we don’t want theirs, but they crave our touch!
Kids are often frightened to go up and shake someone’s hand, but — I’ve seen it with my own eyes — when they are actively engaged in an activity with them, touch happens naturally, and without fear.
So, what activities are safe for little kids, safe for aging (often senile) adults, easy to do with less-than-fine motor skills, easy to clean up, and not too expensive? Here’s what we’ve done so far…
I called the nursing home’s activity director. She was delighted and said that we were more than welcome to do something extra with the residents. I found a tissue paper fall tree craft that begins with a traced hand and wrist. I asked the students to pair up with the residents so that they could trace each other’s hand and help each other with the glue. Instant touch! And the effects were visible on faces. Comfort of the child, and joy of the aged.
They tore off bits of colorful tissue paper, wrapped them around the eraser-end of a pencil (it’s easier to hold) and used the pencil to push the tissue-paper leaves into the glue on the “finger branches.”
I always encourage the students to give their finished product to another resident that wasn’t able to come to activity time on our way out, but of course that’s optional.
Our latest venture was a beaded sun-catcher craft. Just a thin pipe cleaner, translucent pony beads, some odd beads, a twist, and a thread to hang it from. I wanted to sparkle-up their rooms!
I brain-stormed for a month and finally landed on this idea. I could just see them all working together to string the beads. I could hear the objection from the residents, “My eyes aren’t good enough for this,” and my answer, “Well, good news! I brought good eyes and lots and lots of little fingers with me!” And then, the day before we went, the activity director emailed me and said “about half the residents can’t have beads…they’ll try to eat them.”
Aaahhhhhh!!! I hurriedly packed crayons and fun coloring sheets in addition to the beads. The director said that she could seat them at separate tables. (The twist-up crayons encased in plastic are perfect for older hands.) “Half” turned out to be only 4 residents, so the majority got to work with beads, and it was wonderful to watch student and resident working together to make it happen. Haha, remember to ask before you plan.
Jesus knew the value of touch. Sometimes it speaks what cannot be heard…especially if your hearing is not all that good.
Comment below if you have some touch-promoting ideas for me. We are loving it and looking forward to next time. I think one of those giant toy parachutes with all the handles is in our near future!