How to Stage a Carnival in Senior Living

A Unique Activity for Seniors

Active senior girlfriends enjoying cotton candy at the fair in Amsterdam
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The smell of funnel cakes in the hallway, the sound of carousel music coming from the dining room, and the unusual sight of a clown walking in the front door means one thing at Sterling Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Media, Pennsylvania—it's carnival time. Creating a carnival atmosphere in a senior living home is a unique activity. Here's how to bring the carnival to residents.

Three times a year Nancy Newman, activity director, and her staff bring the fun, excitement, and magic of an old-fashioned outdoor carnival indoors and accessible for 160 rehabilitation and long-term care residents.

“The carnival brings back the residents’ memories of when they were young and attended carnivals with their families,” Newman said. “The smell of funnel cake, the cold lemonade, the joy at winning a prize. Everyone, young and old, loves a carnival!” And it’s a lot of fun for the food services staff too.

How to Set It Up

For the carnival, Newman clears a large dining room and transforms it into a place of games, food, mystery, music, and prizes.

Games of chance, some made from plywood, painted festive colors with number boards covered in felt line the room. The games are:

  1. Horse race - residents sit at a 'track' a table marked with lanes. Each player receives a cardboard horse that advances with a roll of the dice.
  2. The Wheel of Fortune - a color wheel where residents pick a color and watch for the spinning wheel to bring them luck.
  3. Ring toss - Residents toss rings over tall painted bottles, decorated by the residents prior to the event, to secure a prize.
  4. Fish pond - A steady hand on a pole cast into a cardboard fish pond can secure a paper Mache fish and make the resident a winner.
  5. Wii - electronic games. Played on the large flat screen television bowling, boxing and baseball attract a crowd.
  6. The duck pond - toy ducks floating in a baby wading pool. Each duck has a painted number on the bottom indicating the prize of a lucky resident.
  7. Bean bag toss - residents’ practice their skill as well as their luck.
  8. Slot machines - two of the real deal casino style complete with winning rows of cherries, flashing lights and ringing bells are stuff with play coins and ready for residents to grab the handle, pull and strike it rich.

As some residents try their luck at the carnival games, others enjoy carnival style entertaining favorites.

Frank Marchese, general manager, on this day doubles as magician. He amazes residents by making balloon animals, standing in for the voice of joke telling puppets and creating magic with a tall dark hat and a wand.

Activity assistant Louise Smith plays fortune teller.

Activity assistant Kelley Smith dresses as a clown and walks through the carnival arena on stilts. Meanwhile, a strolling violinist entertains residents who have paused from the games. Other food choices including carnival favorites lemonade and hot from the popper kennel corn.

To remember the big day, there is the photo stand where residents can put their heads through a wooden cutout of a clown and immortalize their jovial side.

And for the inner-star in everyone, a video station allows residents to place themselves on a TV screen where their usual singing in the shower tunes can be shared with the crowd.

All attendees win tickets used to select from a prize table of body lotions, jewelry, purses and of course the prize of choice at every carnival—the stuffed animal.

It is clear to see that Sterling has embraced the tenets of culture change where the resident is clearly at the center of care and employees are passionate about providing the best care. After all, you really need to be devoted to dress up like a clown.

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