Editor’s note: Christmas is over; it’s a new year. But this story from the Dec. 24, 2017 Great Bend Tribune isn’t just for the holidays.
You don’t have to bake, knit or buy anything to make someone happy this Christmas. Put down the cellphone and the video game. One of the best gifts we can ever give is our time, and nothing illustrates that better than visiting senior citizens during the holidays.
Involving children in the act benefits young and old alike.
Recently, the third and fourth graders at Holy Family School in Great Bend walked to the Dominican Sisters of Peace convent and presented a musical program for the sisters. Principal Karen Moeder said having children interact with older people who are not relatives is a positive learning experience.
“It’s important for both groups,” she said. “Our children bring a lot of energy and excitement and life to the sisters, and the wise generation gives so much to our young people.”
The children didn’t just sing their songs and leave. Staying to visit with the sisters after the program helps the children learn how to make eye contact and carry on a conversation.
“With all of our technology, children are missing some of that ‘people interaction.’” Moeder said. “Our older people do that so well.”
Sr. Cecilia Ann Stremel and Sr. Edith Houser were once school teachers themselves and said they especially enjoy visits from young people.
Those who remember growing up with grandparents and lots of aunts and uncles should realize that children today don’t always have as much access to senior generations, said Steve Smith, the teacher at Great Bend’s Seventh-day Adventist School. But they are probably a short drive from a nursing home that would welcome visitors.
The children at the Seventh-day Adventist School make time for community service and monthly visits to Brookdale Nursing Home. Children might sing two or three songs or recite a poem.
For the holidays, Smith scheduled time for students to serve as bell ringers for the Salvation Army.
Teaching children by example to be regular volunteers is also a good way to help them understand the value of giving time.
Smith is new to the school this year but has past experience in getting the children to interact with seniors. He hopes to pair students with “adopted grandparents” who they will get to know over the course of the year.
At his last school, one of the adopted grandfathers showed the children how to twist balloons together to make animals. Sometimes the children made small gifts for the seniors. “The kids really enjoyed it,” Smith said. As for the seniors, “They really appreciated the thoughtfulness.”
Again, the gift of time was the most valuable thing exchanged. “A lot of the seniors would tell them about their childhood and how things have changed. They just visited and shared what was happening in their lives. The kids loved it, and the older folks did, too.”
Public schools also bring community service and holiday cheer to others at every opportunity.
Lincoln Elementary School’s fourth graders recently provided the entertainment for the Great Bend Senior Center’s Christmas party. Older students on Lincoln’s Student Council visited Cherry Village Benevolence Nursing Home recently during the residents’ bingo time. Children sat with senior citizens and visited about their plans for the holidays as they helped them listen for a Bingo.
“We do some form of community service every month,” said Lincoln’s family support worker, Kylee Graves. She talked to the children about the kind of questions they might ask to start conversations.
Soon a resident was telling a student about her week.
“I was so shocked when I saw Santa Claus yesterday,” she said. “He gave me a pair of tennis shoes.”
Spending time with elderly loved ones can be a treat for young and old alike. If you’re not sure what to do, here are five suggestions for fun quality time.
Participate in quiet activities — Play a board game, read to them or look through old photographs together.
Talk to them — Senior citizens have a lifetime of experiences. Ask what their lives were like when they were your age. You might want to bring a recorder and document the stories for posterity.
Go outside — Take them for a drive or visit favorite locations together.
Involve them in an activity — Prepare a meal together or visit while you do an easy chore such as folding laundry.
Celebrate the season — If they can no longer go out, bring in seasonal flowers or plants, a snowball or icicle, fresh vegetables, a cup of eggnog, etc.