Christmas Crafts at a Nursing Home – a Free Field Trip Idea

A student-generated community project field trip

Christmas Crafts at a Nursing Home – a Free Field Trip Idea

A student-generated community project field trip

Christmas Crafts at a Nursing Home – a Free Field Trip Idea

A student-generated community project field trip

by: Jordan Godwin
Colorado Teacher

 

When brainstorming class service projects with my advisory class of freshmen through seniors, the students insisted that they wanted to go somewhere to interact with the community in some way.

What better than a “free field trip” in their minds?

And, truthfully, their intentions were good. After much deliberation, they decided they wanted to make Christmas crafts and play games with the residents of a nearby nursing home.

The challenge, but also part of the growth opportunities that come from student-ownership, was the logistics.

Trip Planning with a “Free Field Trip” Goal

 

In this whole process, I tried to leave the planning to the students, and it worked to an extent.

They brainstormed and voted on the trip and purpose of their project. They had to research where we could go, and one of them called to inquire about the feasibility of our visit–an entire class of high schoolers coming to a nursing home one morning in the next two weeks.

This free field trip to interact with, and benefit, the community was also a perfect holiday outing!

Our most outgoing and civic-minded senior took this on, but it was one of our most shy freshmen who volunteered to connect us with her family member who worked at a local nursing home facility.

Despite the students’ enthusiasm and insistence that the field trip would be simple, I had to spend my next few planning periods filling out field trip intent forms, finding chaperones, following up with the nurses at the nursing home, and creating a permission slip.

What began as a student-generated idea turned into a considerable amount of work for their teacher (a.k.a. me), but every single student who participated commented on the impact the trip had on them. They enjoyed the creation process, the walk (yes, the 1.5-mile walk!) to the destination, and the smiles on the faces of the residents.

Transportation

Since buses were most decidedly not free in our district, in fact they cost upwards of three or four hundred dollars, I had students focus in on locations within one mile of the school. The idea of obtaining permission to drive them in my personal vehicle and those of chaperones felt impossible.

My hopes came true when the nursing home our students had a connection with turned out to be under two miles from our school. Then I kept my fingers crossed that the Colorado weather would hold on a December morning so that our walk wouldn’t be miserably cold.

 

Activity Planning for the Nursing Home

Students also determined what type of craft they wanted to make with the residents, and how they would pay for the materials. They checked Pinterest for craft ideas which I vetted for those that would be simplest to reproduce and buy supplies for. Then, they developed a list of supplies.

They dug into their pockets (turned out a free field trip wasn’t quite free) and we ended up with twenty-one dollars for the purchase of craft supplies. One of the students took on the responsibility of procuring these from Dollar Tree, which was around the corner from the school, on a free period.

The second half of their plan, games, also had to be portable. Ideally, they would be games we already possessed and ones they would want to play with an older generation. The students focused on classics and easy-to-play games like Uno and Trouble, and two more students volunteered to carry these on our walk to the facility.

 

Permission Slips

One struggle with field trips is always the permission slip. We have to justify the trip with a solid rationale: The students will benefit from the trip in this way… The community will benefit from the trip in this way… 

We have to give clear start and end times, and explanation of transportation and alternative situations for students who do not receive approval or are unable to go. And finally, in our school, we had to have a matrix where students received permission from all of their teachers to miss class for those hours.

What I would have given for a permission slip app at that moment.

Instead, students had to take the permission slip around to eight different people to gather signatures and remember to bring them back in time to go on the field trip.

 

Walking to the Destination

Walking with a group of teenagers presents a few challenges as well. This was a school-sponsored field trip, during school hours, and I was responsible for the students’ safety and behavior.

Pre-printed maps are a must in this situation!

My students ended up debating the best way to arrive at our destination, but I handed one leader in each group a map and told them all to stay within sight of me and the other chaperone.

I was nervous that small groups would try to break off and take their own “field trip” to McDonald’s, but no one did. In fact, students seemed to enjoy talking with different sets of classmates and popping forward or back in the sets of walkers.

 

Interacting with an Older Generation

Before leaving, I initiated a discussion between students regarding how to interact with the residents of the nursing home. The expectation was that we would abide by our school’s values, as always.

For some students, initiating conversation with the nursing home residents took them far outside their comfort zone. It helped that they had tasks to focus on in their interactions, helping residents cut or tie ribbons, choose colored pom poms, and writing the year in silver Sharpie across their ornaments.

Other students sat down to a rousing game of Trouble, enjoying the interaction with their fellow students in a new context as much as they enjoyed interacting with community members.

After an hour, it was time to head back to school. The students said goodbye to the residents, all of them exchanging smiles and thanks.

 

Reflection

At our next class meeting, the students raved about how fun their “free” field trip was, and how good it felt to interact with the residents of the nursing home. They admonished their classmates who hadn’t managed to return their permission slips on time, and insisted that we should do it again.

We should do it again. From our experience, student-planned and (mostly) student-executed field trips developed student skills in project planning, communication, organization, and feelings of efficacy and contribution to their communities.

This free field trip to interact with, and benefit, the community was also a perfect holiday outing!

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