My intergenerational retreat weekend

This weekend I attended a family / intergenerational retreat held at a lovely retreat house in New Jersey. This was the third year the retreat was offered by this particular local church. At least three generations were represented and some adults attended who were not at all related to the children who were there.

Given these demographics, I felt the retreat was a success before it had even started. I had a lovely time and it was great to see an important event like this happen and succeed in the local church. Prior to everyone arriving at the retreat house for the weekend, the pastor in charge of the retreat said to me, ‘You know, it’s really hard to plan activities that work for different generations.’ I agreed with her and thought maybe this was the place to offer some tips about planning successful events where the generations play together.

While learning together certainly did happen on this retreat, everything was done with a spirit of play. Nothing felt like a classroom. I’m sure the children who were involved hardly knew they were learning because they were playing with the other children and adults, even in the times that were not specifically designated for play.

So what did I learn from this weekend retreat that could be helpful to others in planning intergenerational events like this? Firstly, always be willing to recalibrate when things aren’t working out exactly as planned. This retreat was planned to begin on Friday evening with a specific set of activities designed to lay the basis for Saturday. As Friday afternoon wore on, it became clear that many people were not going to arrive on time. So the ambitious Friday evening plans were scratched in favour of a fun icebreaker and bedtime for the youngest children. Friday evening was still a lot of fun and a good time of relationship building.

Secondly, assume that everyone will participate in everything. No activity was designated an ‘adult’ activity or a ‘children’s’ activity. It was just assumed that everyone would participate in everything. Some adults were put in charge of certain activities. For example, the entire group made dinner together and adults were in charge of the fruit-cutting group or the bread-making group. But no one was excluded from participating because of age.

The children may not remember the details of the stories they heard, but they will remember the adults they cooked dinner with and the conversations they had 

Thirdly, listen to the group members for ideas on how to create a better experience for everyone. On Saturday, the group went to a soup kitchen to learn about food insecurity in the state of New Jersey. They had made goodie bags for those who came for lunch and ate lunch with the group. For many of the children, this was the first time they had been in this kind of environment. When we returned to the retreat centre one of the mums suggested that we take a little bit of our afternoon free time to process and reflect on what we had seen at the soup kitchen. The retreat leaders immediately saw the wisdom in this decision and gathered the whole group together to discuss what they had experienced.

Fourthly, make sure you have plenty of free time. Everyone appreciates not being over-programmed and for those who may attend without any familial attachment to the children present, time away from the children can prepare them for more time with them.

Finally, the adults – both parents and adults unattached to children – just need to relax and let the children be. While appropriate behaviour should be expected, we just need to sit back and let the children be children.

There is no question in my mind that these children will remember their experiences at this intergenerational family retreat. They may not remember all the details of the stories they heard or the Bible activities they did, but they will remember the adults they cooked dinner with, the conversations they had with the people at the soup kitchen and the experiences their family had with other families. Multiple generations in the church can learn and play together.


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