Part of the vision statement for Cedars Christian School states: “Both teachers and parents unite to help the child to:
- develop his or her unique potential
- internalize spiritual values
- live a life of service, fellowship, stewardship, discipleship, and obedience to God.”
In this article I’d like to focus on the phrase “teachers and parents help the child to . . . live a life of service.” People are not born with a natural desire to serve others and God. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case: we are born with a tendency to serve ourselves and get the best we can for ourselves. We see that in newborns and toddlers, as children naturally ball up their little fists and cry until their needs are met. As we grow older, this message of “me first” becomes reinforced in the media. Examples that reflect this message are abundant, for instance: “You deserve a break today” (advertisement by McDonalds); “You got to serve yourself. Nobody gonna do for you” (John Lennon); the fact that the media creates a need in us and then seeks to convince us that we need to fill that need with a new form of technology, a new tool for the workshop, a new work-saver for the house, or some other product.
It is our belief at Cedars Christian School that since all of us, including our students, are born with a natural tendency to serve ourselves, and since all of us, again including our students, are bombarded with a media that says we ought to first serve ourselves, we need to provide opportunities for our students to learn to serve others and God. The Cedars staff does that in a number of ways, but I’d like to illustrate one way that a program of visiting seniors in our community with my grade 4 class attempts to teach children what it means to serve others and God.
An aside, I also used to do this when I was teaching grade 6. The grade 6 classes responded beautifully to the program, and when I moved to teaching grade 4, a move that somehow seemed like a graduation to me, I decided to try it again. I wasn’t sure how it would go, thinking that perhaps the younger students might be frightened by the seniors we visited, but I thought I would try it and then decide after a year of experimenting. The grade 4 students loved the seniors, the seniors loved the students, and the program passed with flying colors. Fourteen years later, we’re still going strong.
I’m sure there are many other teachers in non-Christian schools who would advocate the practice of schoolchildren visiting the elderly for various reasons. It might be seen as just a nice thing to do, and there are benefits in cross-generational contact. While these are valid reasons, I am passionate about children visiting seniors mainly because I see a strong connection between this practice and serving God. Visiting seniors is a natural outflow of the children’s faith, and it encourages them to set themselves aside while exercising the Christian discipline of serving others.
Here’s how the program works: Several times throughout the year, the students in our grade 4 class go to visit the residents of Laurier Manor, a care facility for the elderly. Our goals in going there are twofold: to present a short program of plays and individual performances, and to interact with the residents in some meaningful way by playing a game or making a craft with them. We have, for example, made spring hats out of paper plates and we have made placemats for the seniors to use at the Manor. Sometimes the students just visit and chat with the residents. I had thought that any unstructured time might be awkward for the students, but they have been surprisingly adept at thinking of things to talk to the seniors about. The five or six parents of the students who accompany us are excellent at alleviating potentially stressful situations that do arise from time to time. At the end of our time, we enjoy some refreshments together, with the students first serving the seniors their snack and drinks, and then getting some refreshments for themselves. That is in keeping with the theme of “others first, selves second.”
The students are very intentional in making this visit a positive one for the residents; our goal is not first of all our enjoyment, although that certainly is a result. Rather, our primary goal is to make this time an enjoyable one for the residents, to pay some attention to them, and to bring some sunshine into their lives. Most importantly, this is not just my goal; rather, it is a goal that the students and I share. We have a common purpose in going to the seniors’ home.
The parents of our students have encouraged the program with seniors for many years, as they also realize the value in these intergenerational visits. So, parents come along with us to the seniors’ home and help out in many ways: providing rides for students, taking pictures, preparing and sending goodies for the refreshments, assisting where needed during the activities.
The impact of our visits is illustrated by some of the feedback that we receive. In response to a recent visit by our students, the family of a Laurier Manor resident wrote: “We would like to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for all of the lovely visits you have made to Laurier Manor. Please keep up all of your good work with the seniors! It really does make a difference.”
One grade 4 student said: “Laurier Manor is a very nice place for seniors and kids. My senior always has a fantastic time with me, and I always have a fantastic time with her!”
Another grade 4 student added: “I really like our Laurier Manor visits. I think they are a great way for kids to help seniors. My resident is a good example. She’s very kind. I hope grade 4 will be going to Laurier Manor for years to come!”
One of the parents of a grade 4 student said: “I am so thankful for the opportunity of visiting our senior friends at Laurier Manor. This has been such an enriching and rewarding experience not just for my child, but for myself as well, attending as a parent chaperone. Our senior friends have so much love and wisdom to speak into these young children, and to see the joy they get from the students visiting them is heart warming. As a Christian, young and old, we are called to love our neighbors, and this is a most amazing way to do so.”
And finally, some comments from our friends at Laurier Manor:
“The kids make us all smile.”
“I like the kids very much and I always have a nice visit.”
“I love to hear them sing and play their musical instruments.”
One of member of the staff at Laurier Manor stated: “The benefits our seniors realize through the visits are well received. The friendships that are developed and the stories shared between the seniors and students add so much to their day. They could work on a craft together, play a game, or provide entertainment for an enjoyable afternoon. There is so much energy in the room when the students come, the seniors do look forward to their visits. This year a few of the seniors visited the students in their classroom and participated in their ‘Grandparents’ Day’ events. They all appreciated the time and attention from the students and would love to go back!”