|DOWN MEMORY LANE
By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
by Marge Knoth
It was one of those unexpected moments that one is sometimes privileged to witness.
The sun was barely up that morning as I walked into the local Walmart. As I grabbed a
cart and started past the snack bar I saw something that looked like a high school pep
session. The employees, some with coffee or soft drinks in hand, were all involved in
discussing issues that concerned them when someone shouted, “Give me a W.”
“W!” the employees shouted in unison.
“Give me an A,” the leader challenged.
“A!” they chimed back.
“Give me an L.”
“L” they cheered.
“I need an M. Give me an M,” the leader roared.
“M!” they shouted.
“ Give me an A.”
“A!” they cheered.
“ Give me an R”
“R!” they yelled.
“ Give me a T.”
“T!” they roared.
“What’s that spell?” the leader prompted.
“WALMART!” they all shouted proudly and triumphfully.
Soon they broke ranks, and each person headed to their department, smiling broadly.
They had had a good time and were full of good will that they could now pass on to
each other and to their customers. There was so much hype and energy in that
gathering that I almost wished I were a part of their lively team.
Work is necessary, but fun is a choice. Sometimes our work can be enriching, but how
often is it really fun? How often do you and other staff members share deep-down belly
laughs? Probably not often enough. So today I’d like to challenge you to consider
introducing some good clean fun into your facility. You may see employees begin to
bond together in a new and exciting way.
Some activity directors just have a natural way of getting staff actively involved in
activities, but for others, it is like pulling teeth.
We are not talking about a one-time involvement, but rather a way of incorporating
regular fun into our workplaces. There are many ways to do this–contests, games,
competitions, projects, parties, displays, surprises, games, employee recognition,
special days, and food-related activities to name a few. I’d highly recommend you read
Matt Weinstein’s book, Managing to Have Fun at Work published by Simon and
Schuster in which he shares some of these activity ideas. And be sure to keep a video
camera close by. You never know when you will find that perfect shot that may spark an
idea for a fun new activity. So without any more introduction, let’s jump in with both feet.
1) Introduce the staff to something different from the norm. Declare a a
“wildest/ugliest” shirt contest. Challenge each one to come dressed in something that
will definitely draw attention. Encourage Goodwill shopping, if necessary, to find an
outlandish shirt for your special day. Give a nice prize.
2) Invite everyone to bring their high school yearbooks and mark where their picture is
found. Display these on a table in the lobby so staff and visitors can enjoy them. If a
staff member doesn’t have a yearbook, have them bring a picture of themselves as a
teenager. There’ll be lots of laughs.
3) Choose a day to play “Name That Tune”. Play small bits of songs each hour on the
hour. Choose songs of the different decades to accommodate different age groups.
The first one to identify the song can call yours, or another designated person’s,
answering machine and leave their name, the song’s title, the time, and the
approximate year it was popular. Or you could have a sealed box with a slot on top.
Have a stack of 3 x 5" cards next to the box. If a staff member or resident feel they know
the song, they can jot down the title, approximate year of popularity, and the exact time of
their entry, and then drop it in the box. Offer small prizes (candy, fresh popcorn,
unneeded bingo prizes) to the winner.
4) Hold a “funniest home video” contest. Solicit staff to bring in their funny home
videos. Encourage residents to be the judges. Laugh together about each entry at
breaks, lunch, or a special gathering. Watching them on a large screen makes a great
activity for residents.
5) Have a carry-in sack lunch. When lunch is about to begin, have everyone trade bags
with someone. Surprise! Videotape responses as each person opens the strange
lunch. The next day show the video.
6) Arrive early and decorate your facility with helium balloons. Tie some on every office
door and every nurses’ station, the kitchen, activity area, maintenance, and grounds.
Employees will quickly pick up on the festive mood.
7) Hold a clown day. Challenge each employee to dress either as a tramp or a circus
clown. The outfit doesn’t have to be elaborate, (but it can be) just something clown-like
to bring laughs to everyone in the facility–big floppy shoes, polka dots, painted face, a
crazy clown hat.
8) Cook up a hobo stew for lunch and serve fresh bread with it. Encourage everyone to
bring in a vegetable of some sort--onion, potato, carrot, beet, celery--or a bag of frozen
ones) and an interesting type of bread. For more fun, ask them to tie a red workman’s
handkerchief around their necks. Enlist the kitchen to turn the vegetables into a unique
hobo stew. Serve the stew in aluminum pie tins..
9) Hold regular contests and displays. Make your central bulletin board a gathering
place for employees. Ask staff to bring in their best “pet” photo for a display. Another
day make it their “most un-photogenic” snapshots. Another time feature staff
members’ wedding pictures, then later their baby pictures. Also institute a “brag
board” where staff members can post pictures of their children and grandchildren. This
board is on-going so photos can constantly be added.
10) Regularly display an employee’s (or resident’s) collection of something dear to
their heart. Different employees will have different collections: baseball cards,
thimbles, stamps, dolls, shoes, kitchen utensils, plates, coins, antiques, salt and
pepper shakers, most anything. You may have a quilter, an artist, a woodworker, or
another craftsman. Showcase their projects. This activity will help staff members get to
know one another as individuals and not just co-workers. It may also draw those of
similar interests together and create new friendships within the facility.
11) Every month or so, consider setting up a coffee-tasting party in the early morning.
Keep it available throughout the day as staff members take their breaks. Encourage
them to sample various imported and flavored coffees and flavored creamers. I once
attended a traveling coffee- tasting party while visiting a company in Louisville,
Kentucky. Engineers, writers, and clerical workers spent their lunch hour seated
around a board table, sipping in miniature cups, many freshly-brewed coffees as they
tried to determine which they liked best. There were several pots of coffee, and a fresh
one was always brewing, because they said, “this is when the coffee is at its best.” If
your budget is tight, set out a small plate for donations. If your budget can afford it,
purchase small bags of coffee and offer them for sale with the proceeds going to the
12) Know someone with a hot air balloon. Ask them to bring it to the facility and take
willing staff members a ride, while residents watch. Be sure to get signed releases.
13) Work with your administrator to help staff “earn” tee shirts and jackets with your
company logo on them. We did this one year. Everyone who was there a year got a tee
shirt. Those who were there five years got a windbreaker jacket. They can also be
earned by excellent job performance or a great attendance record.
14) Involving the whole staff in worthwhile projects encourages cooperation and
workplace bonding. Have an ongoing penny collection(hopefully folks will throw bigger
coins and dollars in, too) and use the money to support a Third-World orphan, or buy
food for a homeless shelter, or buy toiletries and supplies for an abused women’s
shelter. Collect new or nearly-new stuffed animals to give to a child advocate who deals
with abused children. Collect old eye glasses which can be fitted for the poor in
impoverished countries. Consider adopting a needy family for Christmas and supply
them with gifts and food, or better yet, meet some of their needs throughout the year.
15) Always leave a partially completed jigsaw puzzle out on a table. Encourage
passerbys to try to fit in a piece or two. Keep box games like yatze, and playing cards
available in lunch and break areas.
16) Post jokes about the break room walls and tape on the tables. Read them and get
a chuckle during your lunch hour. Warn everyone the “joke master” might draw their
name out of the hat , so always have a clean joke ready.
17) Announce a “dress-up”day. Then secretly enlist a friend-photographer (who works
free or very cheap) to come in, and throughout the day, take photographs of each
18) Try to recognize every staff member’s birthday by having someone sing Happy
Birthday over the PA early in the morning. Remind everyone to wish them a special day.
19) On Valentine day, make an old-fashioned valentine box and have everyone
20) Use every possible holiday as an excuse for a staff celebration. Create reasons to
celebrate when none exists--first day of summer (everyone wear shorts and sun
glasses); school starting (have a spelling bee); the first snowfall (have a snowball fight
with marshmallows). Include the residents with staff, if you like.
21) For entertainment, try children’s games. You’d be surprised how much fun adults
can have doing this. There’s a big kid inside each of us who wants to come out and
everyone is gathered for an all-staff meeting, play the “Hokey Pokey” and have everyone
do it together. Draw a hopscotch lines on your activity room or hall floor with masking
tape and challenge staff members to show how they used to play hopscotch. A hula-
hoop contest is great.
22) Hold an old-fashioned cake-walk. Challenge everyone to bring their favorite goodie
to share--carrot cake, angel food cake, brownies, cookies, fudge, whatever. Each
goodie is numbered. Corresponding numbers are placed on the back of folding chairs
which are in a large circle. There is always one more person than chairs. Like musical
chairs, the music starts and everyone scrambles for a seat. Do this several times and
the last one with a seat gets his pick of the goodies. You can do this one time or
several time throughout the day.
23) When a meeting is about to begin, challenge staff to recite a nursery rhyme from
memory. If they can’t, ask for a poem, even if they have to make it up.
24) Give everyone a sheet of paper in the morning and announce that a paper airplane
flying contest will soon take place. Challenge them to get their planes made and
identified with markers of colorful decorations and be ready at a certain time. Be sure to
videotape this event.
25) Hopefully you have filmed all the parties and fun events throughout the year. The
Christmas party is a great time to relive, though the magic of video, all those fun times.
26) Another fun activity is to ask each person to share something about themselves that
is not common knowledge. This activity helps you to better know the people you work
with. Another activity, “Continuing Stories” can be hilarious. You start with a scenario, “It
was my first day of school. It started out such a good day but then...” or, “We’d waited
so long and our wedding day was finally here. We were so excited but then...” or “This
hunting trip was all we thought of. We had spent the whole year planning it, but then our
wives....” Each person adds a line or two, and the story gets more and more
interesting. You never know where it will end.
27) Make a festival out of decorating the Christmas tree. Have everyone bring an
ornament. Play carols, provide hot chocolate, and invite everyone to hang their
decoration. It needn’t take long, ten minutes maybe. Or better yet, have a contest and
challenge each staff member to make an ornament. Let them know there will be a nice
prize for the winner (maybe your administrator can work with you on this one--perhaps
being able to leave work early). To encourage greater participation, leave craft supplies
to make an ornament in the break room.
28) Establish a secret-pal program. Have all staff members exchange names and
spend the next month surprising their secret pal by doing nice things for him or her.
This might involve giving meaningful little gifts. Tell them they must find creative ways to
do this without exposing their identity before the big day of revelation.
29) Catch (with a camera) someone doing something good–sometimes just doing
their job well. Everyone deserves a little recognition. Display their photos on a visible
Ideas for fun are everywhere. Let me throw a few more at you quickly.
* Have no-reason gag-gift exchanges.
* Have a staff pet show, or each week invite a different staff member to bring their pet
for a day. * Hold a plant exchange.
* Try aroma therapy or challenge employees to identify various spices by smell alone.
* Read a daily devotional and an inspirational account over the intercom at the start of
each day. * Daily, pass out a word game or puzzle to be filled in during slow times.
* Ask each staff member to show what they can do with a box of Jello.. The only rule is
that the recipe must use Jello in it. Have them bring their creations in on a designated
day and hold a dessert-tasting party.
* Feature a chocolate decadence party with everyone bringing a favorite homemade
chocolate treat to share.
* Consider forming a facility baseball team.
* Sponsor a sub sandwich lunch with everyone making their own. Ask specific people
to each bring in one item.
* Have a color analysis expert come in and analyze staff about which colors look best
* On a slow day, surprise everyone with an ice cream social. Put out all the trimmings
and let everyone make their own sundaes.
* Welcome new staff members on board by giving them a little gift.
* Encourage employees to make a habit of practicing “random acts of kindness”
toward other employees, residents, and people outside the facility. .
Now how do you go about incorporating a fun-filled workplace into action?
First off, try to sell your administrator on the idea of introducing more fun into your facility.
Share some neat ideas, and be excited about the possibilities. Your excitement will be
contagious. If your administrator is skeptical, ask permission to try it for six months, or
even a couple specific events at which time the results can be evaluated. It shouldn’t
take long for your administrator to see improved morale and other positive results.
Once he or she is on board, share your ideas with all other department heads. It will
take a team effort to make it work.
Next, find a way to make staff want to participate. Reward those who do participate
however you wish–maybe pass out candy bars to those who take part. But better yet,
purchase a large roll of theater-type tickets, and for each participation, staff members
earn a certain number of tickets. At some point during the year, a very big item can be
given away in a drawing. The lucky ticket will win. The more they participate, the better
chance they have of winning the big item. Hopefully your administrator will work with
you on purchasing the big gift. Vendors also may also contribute.
Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from the great Walmart chain. Maybe part of their
success comes because they seem to care about their people, and they create a
sense of teamwork among their staff. More and more companies are implementing
fun activities into their workplace. And the reason is because it works! When people
have a good time at work, they are less likely to leave for another job. So why not give it
a try? You might be pleasantly surprised. God bless, Marge
References: Managing to Have Fun at Work by Matt Weinstein published by Simon and
The Playbook by Roger Maness, Kenny Shackelford and Don Washburn, and illustrated
by Larry Creson.
Activity Planning at Your Fingertips by Marge Knoth
Activities Encyclopedia by Marge Knoth