How to Start a Nursing Home Ministry

21 Jun 2013

This information accompanies the article: Benefits of participating in Nursing Home Ministry.

Begin interacting at a facility where you know a resident, family or friend. Or if you are interested in starting your own ministry, below are some ideas to get you started.

First, know that anyone can do this.

Second, trust that this ministry will greatly enrich your lives in more ways than I could put in words.

And third, never doubt that the power of one can change the world, or specifically, someone's world.

Knowing some things ahead would have made our journey a little easier, so I offer these ideas as an encouragement to you.

  1. Small nursing homes are easier to navigate than larger ones and usually do not have the resources that larger ones do.The assisted living place where we volunteer is small. Larger nursing homes may require background checks, etc., however, I do not think working through those requirements would be difficult.
  2. The activity director is your friend.Activity director's are always looking for things to put on the agenda. They welcome suggestions and love all that we do for the residents.
  3. The activity director wants something that is of value to the program.I met a gal who was trying to be a part of what a nursing home offered the residents and was told many times that her kids were too young to help in their ice cream shop, etc. Find ideas that will benefit the home. Start with a consistent time, once a month, bi-monthly or weekly. Many activity directors make schedules, and it is good to get on their schedule so they do not plan something else during your time and so they can get the residents ready for your visit.
  4. Most of the activities we do would work perfectly with pre-school children. They are easy, do not require a lot of time and are inexpensive. Some residents will put things in their mouths or take things back to their rooms so you need to be aware of this. (We did a bead craft once and a resident thought it was candy.)
  5. It helps to get another family to volunteer with you.It helps you be consistent. They share the burden of having to come up with ideas, and it makes it more fun.
  6. Relationships, relationships, relationships–they will be so rich.The more you visit and get to know the people, the more you will fall in love with them. Ask questions and learn about them, where they came from, their family, favorite colors, etc. You will be surprised at what you learn. We have met women who served in the military in WWII, men who flew in fighter jets and beautiful Sunday school teachers. These are precious lives with precious stories, Ask!
  7. Death happens.Just when you and your children have fallen in love, it often happens. We have grieved over losing a relationship many times. It does get easier over time but is a difficult transition for children. Death is a part of life. I truly believe it is healthy for children to experience this. Talk to your kids about this aspect before beginning your ministry.
  8. It really is amazing what music can do. Use music whenever possible, especially popular or religious songs from their era. Most nursing homes have collections that you can play. Ask! One resident sang the same song over and over during the course of the year. "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" will never be the same for me. Sometimes the residents who appear to not have any mental activity will come alive with music.

Here are some ideas we have used with our residents:


  • Put on a puppet show. (This was so successful, another nursing home close by asked if we could come and do it for their residents).
  • Conduct a chair exercise class with kid songs. (Think "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" or "The Hokey Pokey")
  • Do manicures and pedicures. The touch is healing.
  • Do a Christmas Nativity with kids dressed as Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds and wise men. The children just stood there looking cute as Christmas music played.
  • Sing Christmas carols.
  • Do skits of various types.
  • Make Thanksgiving trees with resident's pictures on branches. Another time we pressed their finger prints to decorate a Thanksgiving tree.
  • Play with a parachute where the participants all hold part of the parachute. You can also toss a beach ball on it.
  • Participate in a Veteran's Day celebration.
  • Play music of the 30s and 40s and dance.
  • Play dress-up. They lovedthis, hats and all!
  • Play ball with a beach ball or balloons.
  • Have an ice-cream party with all the toppings. (Offer sugar free for any diabetics. Ask the activity director.)
  • Decorate cookies.
  • Look at shell collections, coin collections or other collections.
  • Create an interview of all kinds of questions: favorite color, what they would like to be remembered by, favorite food, things they love, memories of children, where they worked, etc. Write answers and make a keepsake for their family.
  • Carve a pumpkin with the residents. The room smelled like pumpkin. It was wonderful.

Crafts. Remember to think pre-school

  •  Play-doh, make your own bring bought.
  •  Cut out snowflakes and hang them in the activity room to make it a winter wonderland.
  •  Color.
  •  Paint. Watercolors are easy.
  •  Make homemade Christmas/Valentines/Mother’s Day/Easter cards and give out to residents.
  •  Make cute things on string to hang on their walkers or doors.
  •  Make small floral wreaths to hang on their doors.
  •  Make fall yarn leaves.
  •  Trace handprints for a hand print heart wreath.
  •  Make heart shaped doily flowers.
  •  Make Christmas mosaic cards.
  •  Make Christmas ornaments.
  •  Make salvation bracelets have children explain the Gospel.
  •  Make pictures with foam cut-outs.
  •  Create tissue paper flowers or giant flowers Mother's Day.
  •  Make a cross painting.
  •  Use Learning , Pinterest and Family Fun websites for great kids crafts that can be turned into crafts for senior residents.


  •  Bingo. Let children call out.
  •  Preschool puzzles. Wood ones or chunky ones are especially good.
  •  Relay races. Human tree trimming relay or make some up of your own.
  •  Cards (Old Maid, UNO, War).


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