Last week, the residents of the Mount Vernon Nursing Center learned that good things come in small packages.

When third grade teacher Marti Cox brought her class of 30 eager and lively children from Woodlawn Elementary School, on Highland Lane near Fort Belvoir, to the nursing home, the residents didn't quite know what to expect.

They had been told the children wanted to "adopt" them as grandparents.

That's when the fun began. First the boys and girls, who had dressed up for the occasion, sang songs and performed a dance as the residents clapped and sang along.

One of the songs was "The Old Gray Mare, She Ain't What She Used to Be," and Ester Boarman, 87, loved it.

"I like that song," laughed Boarman. "I guess they're singing about me."

After the show, the children were led to the residents selected as their new "adopted" grandparents. Cox said she and music teacher Karen Grabau came up with the idea.

"I didn't feel that visiting the old people once was fair because so many people go one time to visit and never come back.

"They really are forgotten people," Cox said. Her class plans to visit the residents several times and exchange birthday and holiday cards.

David Caron, 8, was matched with Joseph Heitner, 80, who taught high school physics in New York City for 40 years. As David said goodbye to Heitner, the former teacher instructed, "I want you to read about spaceships and atoms and neutrons and we'll talk about it when you come back."

David also adopted Ruth Neitzey, 90. He was so excited about his new friends that he took his mother to meet them over the weekend. The boy and Neitzey have a lot in common: They both love dogs.

"We invited David to bring one of his dogs in to visit and show Mrs. Neitzey," said Mary Anne Whalen, activities director of the nursing center.

The center has 130 residents and is located on Tis Well Drive behind Mount Vernon Hospital south of Alexandria.

"I was amazed at how well the children took to the older people," Cox said. "The kids were excited the entire day after meeting their new grandparents and I'd hear them say things like, 'My grandma is 87,' and another child would shoot back, 'Well, mine's 90.' It was wonderful."

Emma Johnson, 87, and Kizzy Bailey, 8, hit it off right away when they met.

"I think she'll grow up and be very helpful to people," Johnson said of Kizzy.

"I think she'll be a great grandmother and I think she'll be real helpful to people too," Kizzy said.

Henrietta Roche, 73, had her arm around her new friend, Melissa "Already we have one family that wants to take the little girl's adopted grandmother out to dinner."

-- Marti Cox

Weyrick, 8, when she described her as "a lovely, lovely girl. I just can't thank her enough for coming here."

When Jason Hodges, 8, was asked what he had been talking about with his adopted grandmother, Mary Schlafer, 88, he replied, "We've been talking about pets; we both like cats." Then Schlafer told Jason, "I'll have a little Christmas present for you when you come back."

The class will make its next visit on Dec. 10.

"A lot of the residents think it's too long to wait," said Betty Solomonson, administrator of the privately owned nursing center. "They've been asking me all week when the children will return."

Said Cox: "I'm so excited that the excitement of the children has spread to the home and that their parents are so receptive. Already we have one family that wants to take the little girl's adopted grandmother out to dinner."

Another pupil's mother is expecting a baby in November.

"The little girl wants to take the baby to see her new grandma," Cox said.

Solomonson said this was the first time a group of children has come to the home with plans to return and to stay in touch with the residents.