Facilitating Activities

Jump to: Tips for Group Facilitators | Facilitating One-on-one Relationships | Reflection Exercises for Older Adults and Youth | Documenting Your Activities

Conducting Group and One-On-One Activities

No matter what the focus of your intergenerational program, you will probably want to engage participants in group activities to foster interaction. Activities give older and younger people opportunities to see their commonalities and differences, have fun together, and connect with each other.

There are a wide range of activities, such as gardening, technology, arts projects, book clubs, and oral/community histories that can bring generations together in meaningful ways. You can enhance the quality of your program by being intentional about creating a welcoming space, structuring activities that encourage self-disclosure and trust, and providing opportunities for participants to reflect on the experience.

Creating a Welcoming Environment for Your Program

  • Is the room clear of safety risks like tripping hazards or uncovered electrical outlets?
  • Is the space accessible to participants using wheelchairs or other mobility aids?
  • Is the space appropriate for the size of your group and the planned activity?
  • Does the space have the appropriate equipment readily available, including electrical outlets, a flip chart, projector, and projector screen?
  • Does the space have enough tables and chairs?
  • Is there minimal background noise?
  • Is there adequate lighting?
  • Can you adjust the temperature?
  • Can the program be relocated to another space if necessary?
  • Is the space near an accessible washroom?
  • Is the space a warm and welcoming environment?

Although senior housing sites differ in the way they use their physical space to foster cross-age interaction, the following are some principles that might be useful:

  • Involve residents and youth in designing spaces that promote meaningful interaction.
  • Encourage participants to personalize indoor and outdoor spaces. This might be as simple as asking participants to create their name badges, or to take photos of each other and create an intergenerational-themed board or mural.
  • Promote informal interaction and formal programming in outdoor spaces by placing benches, tables, and chairs in outdoor spaces, and creating walking paths that have interesting sculptures or art work.
  • Design spaces that are enabling and accommodating of the variations in participants’ abilities and preferences. The space should be welcoming to active participants and passive observers.
  • If possible, meet in rooms that can be adapted for both small and large group activities. Moveable walls and furnishings can create quiet, intimate spaces that facilitate self-disclosure.
  • Align the use of physical space with programming that intentionally promotes intergenerational values like interdependence, reciprocity, inclusion, social connectedness, and relationship-building across generations

Tips for Group Facilitators

Group activities need strong facilitators who can keep the group on task, help participants feel comfortable relating to each other, and ensure everyone’s participation.

Here are some helpful hints about serving as a facilitator:

  • Be the facilitator, not a group member. Observe what is going on and intervene when necessary. Be aware of body language, yawns, and side conversations.
  • Be prepared. Make sure you have the materials you need. Walk through your activity before you try it with the group.
  • Work with participants to set ground rules for the group. These ground rules might include instructions about not using cell phones during group activities, not interrupting when others are talking, keeping group conversations confidential, and respecting the opinions of others.
  • Structure seating so older adults and youth are mixed. Avoid situations in which people of one age group always sit together.
  • Pair participants or assign them to small groups to promote interaction and trust building. Introduce an activity in the large group, and then divide participants into smaller groups. Make sure you move around the room to make sure all participants are engaged in the activity.
  • Model and reinforce active listening skills, particularly when participants are interviewing each other.
  • Encourage people to share information about themselves. If the sharing of personal information elicits strong emotions, be prepared to follow up with the person in question or refer him or her to an outside partner, if necessary.
  • Try to balance the number of participating children and older residents. Having too many representatives of one age group can limit the amount of interaction that takes place

Facilitating One-on-One Relationships

Some residents may prefer to meet with one student on a regular basis rather than engaging in group activities. This preference may emerge through the Resident Survey you administer. Friendly visiting programs are based on this model. Although some relationships will bloom spontaneously, others will need support.

Here are a few strategies you can use to provide some initial structure for friendly visiting:

  • Brainstorm some concrete tasks students and older adults can carry out together, such as preparing a snack, reading the newspaper, playing a game or puzzle, working on a crafts project, listening to music, or participating together in a community service project. These tasks will help students and older adults gradually ease into their relationship.
  • Provide students and elders with information about their partner’s background and interests. This information will help the pair begin their relationship by identifying commonalities.

Reflection Exercises for Older Adults and Youth

At the end of each activity or friendly visiting session, provide opportunities for youth and older adults to reflect on their experiences. This approach will increase learning, make the program more meaningful, and help identify problems that need to be addressed.

There are many ways to engage participants in reflection. These include group discussions, arts work, poetry, letter writing, and journaling.

Here are a few reflection questions you can ask:

  • What did you learn about yourself through this program?
  • What did you learn about people who are a different age?
  • What surprised you about what happened today?
  • What concerned you about what happened today?
  • What else would you like to know about older adults or youth?
Younger and older residents of Country View Apartments and Town Homes, a multifamily property in Benton Harbor, MI, gathered together for an intergenerational “Teaching Tech” program through which they engaged in word games, puzzles, technology tutorials, and even made a YouTube video

Documenting Your Activities

The following is a form you can use to document each activity you plan. Compiling information about activities that worked and didn’t work well will help you with future planning.