Simple Service: Spreading Cheer


One of my all time favorite community service projects happened when I taught 5th grade.  I was flipping through a magazine at the end of October, when I landed on an article about the correlation between Thanksgiving and depression in nursing home residents.  The article stated that residents in nursing homes experience more feelings of depression around Thanksgiving than any other holiday.  It also mentioned suicide rates went up in nursing homes at this time.

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My heart was saddened to read this information.  I knew I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure how I could make a difference in less than a month.

A Great Idea

The idea hit me while I was driving to work.  I could take my 5th grade students to a nearby nursing home to spread some good cheer around Thanksgiving!  

Instead of just making cards or visiting with them, we could bring board games to play and truly interact with the residents. I shared the vision with my team (the other 5th grade teachers) and they said they were on board as well.  Spreading Cheer would be the title of our special outing.

I called the nursing home closest to my school on my lunch break to see if they would be interested.  Thankfully, the lady in charge thought the idea was magnificent! My only obstacle left was convincing my principal that it was a worthy cause. I presented the information and gave him time to think about it. He was able to get back to me the next day with a yes!

Organizing The Visit

I made several calls with the nursing home director.  We had to work around their breakfast and lunch schedule, and our lunch and P.E. schedule.  

The school I was teaching at had four fifth grade classes.  Due to space at the nursing home, we decided to make two separate trips, both the week of Thanksgiving.

I also had to inform all of the students’ parents.  I typed up an explanation of our trip and a permission slip form.  Part of the explanation dealt with the board games students were allowed to bring from home.  Of course, the board games had to be age appropriate, as well as time sensitive. We knew a game of Monopoly wouldn’t get finished in our one hour time slot.

It was fun helping my students brainstorm which games the residents would like the best.  Many students said they thought the residents would appreciate classic games, like checkers.

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Some students realized tic tac toe would be easy, so they volunteered to bring notebook paper and pencils.

Prepping My Students

Before our Spreading Cheer field trip, we discussed some things they might see and smell at the nursing home.  

We also talked about how it is okay to feel uncomfortable.  I know several adults who are uncomfortable in nursing homes!

Most of my students didn’t know anyone in a nursing home and many hadn’t ever stepped foot into a nursing home.  We talked about how a smile will go a long way in making everyone feel more relaxed.

Ultimately, they knew they could stick with me if they thought they couldn’t handle it.

The Day Finally Arrived

My students were super excited and nervous the morning of the Spreading Cheer project.  About half of my students remembered to bring a board game from home.  The other half took board games from my classroom, (I had purchased those for indoor recess) and some grabbed notebooks and pencils.

Some of the residents were finishing up breakfast when we arrived.  The employees were doing their best to clear off the tables so we would have enough space to set up the board games.  I asked for volunteers to help clear the tables;  I knew they wanted to speed up the process and play the games.  Many students jumped at the chance! They thought it was fun!

We had so many students, most of the residents were able to get one-on-one attention.  Our large group of students and residents spilled out of the dining area, filled another commons area, and into the lobby.

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What happened in the nursing home on that rainy November morning was absolutely beautiful.  I truly wish I had thought to record our special day.

Kids and adults were laughing and having fun together.   Visitors spending time with loved ones came up and thanked me for bringing my students in to spend time with the residents.  Some students made impromptu cards and drawings to leave with the residents.

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When it was time to go, I gave the famous, “you have five minutes” warning.  What happened next was the last thing I ever thought would happen.  


Pure sadness from most of my students.  They didn’t want to leave!! Several girls ended up shedding true tears and clinging to their new friends.  

Let’s just say it was hard for this teacher/momma/granddaughter to hold in her own tears watching those kiddos.  I wanted to stay there all day long! The reality was we had to stick to our schedule and get back on the bus.  

On The Bus

As soon as we got on the bus, I asked a question I already knew the answer to...

“Did you have fun this morning?”

Good gravy the bus almost exploded with the energy from those kids! “Yes!  Yes, we had a blast!  When can we go back? I would give up my lunch to be able to go back!  Can we go back tomorrow?”

It still makes my heart swell with pride and joy when I think about the memories my students made that morning.  I also know my students touched many hearts that day and were true experts at spreading cheer.

If you are considering a field trip like this one, I highly encourage you organize it for this year!  

Feel free to contact me at if you have any organizational questions.  I would love to help!

About the Author


Kale is a blogger, mother, wife, teacher, friend, and child of the one true King. She also has a soft spot for teaching children about community service. Kale married her exact opposite, Steak. They are living the dream in the Midwest with their two wonderful children. The family is constantly entertained by their hilarious mutt. is where you can find her writing, guiding, organizing, budgeting, eating plants, and cleaning up after the mutt.