Generators: 20 Activities to Recharge Your Intergenerational Group

Generators: 20 Activities to Recharge Your Intergenerational Group

by Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner
Rejuvenate your whole community and bring generations together with Generators! This book of reproducible handouts offers a variety of ways to involve everyone-from the young to the young at heart-in building assets and promoting interaction through fun, intergenerational activities. Participants can choose from quick and easy activities or long-term projects, all of


Rejuvenate your whole community and bring generations together with Generators! This book of reproducible handouts offers a variety of ways to involve everyone-from the young to the young at heart-in building assets and promoting interaction through fun, intergenerational activities. Participants can choose from quick and easy activities or long-term projects, all of which are easy to follow and adaptable for different situations and groups. Each activity highlights one or more examples of real groups that successfully implemented the idea and built assets in the process.

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20 Activities to Recharge Your Intergenerational Group

By Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner, Tenessa Gemelke

Search Institute Publication

Copyright © 2005 Search Institute A Search Institute Publication
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57482-864-1



The Idea

A group is united through a shared effort to plant, tend, and harvest a garden or a number of gardens.

Resources Needed

( ) Small plot(s) of land suitable for growing plants

( ) Water and sunshine

( ) Basic gardening tools such as shovels, hoes, trowels, and hoses

( ) Seeds or seedlings

( ) People willing to garden and to share what they sow

The Basics

Community gardens are becoming more common, and they offer a perfect space where generations can gather. A shared plot of land is divided into sections that are cared for by people from the surrounding area. Some plots are quite large, filling empty lots or portions of parks or other public property. Others are very small, and may be located in individually owned yards.

Gardening together doesn't usually cost a lot. You need fertile soil and tools for preparing it, a source for water, seeds, and sunshine. It also helps to have composted manure, grass clippings, or other nutrient-rich mulch. If you are brand new to gardening, you could visit a local nursery and talk to a staff person, or check out information online or in a library. Many university extension services provide free gardening information. Your state or province may also have an agricultural department that offers free information. Some basic questions to answer might include:

• What types of plants are suitable for our climate?

• When do I need to plant seeds? seedlings? established plants?

• Do I need to know what kind of soil I have? If so, how can I find out?

The approach you take to organizing will of course depend on your situation. You could, for example, choose one plot of land and work collectively to grow vegetables and herbs to share. If you do not have community garden space, you could start a monthly gardening exchange in which neighbors gather to share the produce and flowers they've grown in their yards. If a neatly tended garden isn't your thing, you could study perennials and grasses native to your region and work on restoring the area to its more natural state. What you grow and how you grow it isn't nearly as important as having young people and adults involved together in both the process and in sharing the results. Gardening in an intergenerational group gives everyone a chance to learn or improve skills while getting to know each other better.

Recommended for All Ages

• Youth and adult pairs can research information about gardening.

• Young children can dig, plant seeds, and water plants.

• Adults and teenagers can help younger children identify plants and learn how to remove weeds.

• Adults and elders with lots of experience can offer advice to novice gardeners.

Check It Out

Pick up a copy of Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, with illustrations by Judy Pedersen (New York: HarperCollins, 1997).

Visit to learn more about the project in Red Hook, and check out for additional information about gardening with young people.



The Idea

Young people and adults participate in ceremonies or rituals that celebrate, acknowledge, and honor the responsibilities and duties that come with the new rights and privileges that various transitions bring into the lives of young people.

Resources Needed

( ) A special occasion

( ) Small tokens or sincere words to make the ceremony special

( ) Person(s) willing to participate in the ceremony or ritual

The Basics

Many significant and notable transitions in our culture typically go unnoticed beyond immediate family members. Consider, for example, the lack of fanfare that accompanies getting a driver's license, voting for the first time, registering for the selective service or as a conscientious objector, or getting a first job in the community. All of these things are important to communal life.

Unfortunately, when young people recognize their own milestones, some of their rites of passage are not healthy or safe (e.g., hazing, gambling on an 18th birthday, drinking 21 shots of alcohol on a 21st birthday, watching R- or X-rated movies).

Intergenerational groups can and should look for authentic, enjoyable ways to celebrate the tremendous growth and development that adolescents experience. This can mean sharing a special meal with an opening toast to the celebrant, presenting a symbolic reminder of the occasion, or sharing a blessing or prayer for those experiencing transition. These kinds of things can happen in extended-family gatherings, civic-group gatherings that include parents or other elders, schools, or youth centers or groups. You might also distribute invitations or use a sign in your yard or on your apartment door to invite neighbors to join the celebration.

Recommended for All Ages

• Young children can hold and/or present a symbolic reminder.

• Elders can read part of a prayer, blessing, or toast.

• Adults can take turns offering words of reflection or encouragement.



The Idea

Youth and adults enter fun contests in which everyone has a chance to participate, and competition is minimal.

Resources Needed

( ) Game master/planner

( ) Space

( ) Equipment/game(s)

The Basics

When competitiveness is set aside, playing sports and other games together can be fun, safe, and invigorating. There are plenty of books available with instructions for all different kinds of games, and many communities have access to "challenge" or team-building activities such as Ropes Challenge Courses and climbing walls. But none of that is necessary if the people involved come with open minds and a bit of creativity. Here are some real, tested, creative ideas:

• Soccer, touch football, softball, road hockey, kickball, or any other "ball" game with as many people as want to play

• Casting contests with fishing poles (using a casting plug and casting into a bucket if no body of water is available)

• Building your own slingshot and shooting balls at signs out in a field

• A contest in which you try to dress somebody up as a character and judges decide who did the best job

• Apple-eating contest, with the apple hanging from a string strung through a hole in the fruit and tied to a rope or board stretched between two trees or posts

• Talent contests (singing, dancing, telling jokes)

• Dessert-making contests or chili cookouts (with lots of taste testing, of course)

• Two-by-four trot (in which three people stand on two parallel boards tied to their feet, forming a sort of human caterpillar; the group can only go as fast as the smallest, slowest person)

• Build-a-bridge with popsicle sticks and rubber cement (in one contest, the bridges had to span three feet and the winning bridge was the one that supported the most weight)

Recommended for All Ages

• Young people can teach adults the games that are currently popular with their friends or classmates.

• Elders can serve as judges or referees.

• Young children can retrieve balls or other equipment when it goes out of bounds.

Check It Out

A quick search on the Internet will reveal many books of cooperative games. One example is Best New Games by Dale N. Le Fevre (Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Publishers, 2002).



The Idea

Youth and adults read the same book (separately or aloud together) and then get together over snacks or a meal to discuss and have fun with the book.

Resources Needed

( ) Access to multiple copies of a book

( ) A place to gather

( ) Food

The Basics

Book groups are popular these days. Moms and daughters are reading the same books and sharing their reactions, as are business professionals, dads, single women, and just about any other subgroup you can imagine. Typically, members find out in advance the book they are to read so they can purchase or borrow it. They do the reading individually and then gather at someone's home, a library, a school, or other site. Participants usually spend time discussing the book, but the things these groups do together are certainly not limited to talk. Here are some ideas for book-related activities:

• Preparing and sharing a meal that somehow relates to the book (e.g., food that was described, is common for the era or location in which the book takes place, or ties into the cover art)

• Doing art or craft projects

• Preparing in advance a PowerPoint or other presentation on the aspects of the book that are most personally significant or meaningful

• Reading sections aloud together

• Acting out a scene

• Writing and sharing alternative endings

Family book groups are a bit unique, in that young people involved are at different developmental stages and therefore will benefit from different levels of engagement with books. A family book-group gathering should include movement, hands-on activities, and lots of time for just being together (that's part of why having food is also helpful).

Recommended for All Ages

• Adults and elders can offer historical context for books set in the past.

• Young people can ask a librarian for help in choosing a book for the group.

• Teens can read aloud to younger children or to adults with limited vision or literacy challenges.

Check It Out

Pick up a copy of The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh, and Learn Through Their Love of Reading by Shireen Dodson (New York: HarperPerennial, 1997).



The Idea

People of many different ages come together to make music in concert with one another.

Resources Needed

( ) A director, guitar or piano player, leader, or other "guide" who has some musical talent

( ) Performance space (a living room will do for informal gatherings)

( ) Sheet music for instruments or lyric sheets for songs with familiar tunes

The Basics

As any 3-year-old can tell you, making music is simple — not easy, but simple. If someone is willing to play guitar or piano, and others remember some classic old tunes like "I've Been Working on the Railroad," you've got yourself a sing-along. There are music books available with songs that many people know.

If someone owns or is willing to rent a karaoke machine, that adds a slightly different (and sometimes more amusing) twist. Participants volunteer to get up "on stage," or simply in front of the rest of the group, and sing along with pre-recorded tunes while words appear on-screen. This works best when people are comfortable with one another or at least several in the group are willing to perform or act silly in front of others.

To take it up a notch (or two or three), you can form a band or choir that may eventually be ready for a performance. In this case, you'll need someone with experience coordinating and directing an ensemble, people who are willing to commit to regular rehearsals, rehearsal space, and sheet music. If your group loves music but can't carry a tune or play instruments, strike up a rhythm band using everyday objects as drums.

Recommended for All Ages

• If young children are unable to perform musically, they can introduce performers or dance.

• Elders can teach traditional songs that may be unfamiliar to younger generations.

• Adults and teens can help young children make their own "instruments": Use dried beans in small jars to make maracas, or rubber bands around an empty box to create a makeshift banjo.

Check It Out

For more information about the Beacon Centers project, visit the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation Web site at A search on the foundation's site for the keyword "Beacons" will lead you to a number of articles and other publications.



The Idea

Youth and adults gather to enjoy bingo, board games, or other types of games.

Resources Needed

( ) Board games such as bingo, puzzles, or other "equipment"

( ) Treats

The Basics

It doesn't get much easier than "game night" (or afternoon). Just bring people together, provide treats, make introductions, and get things rolling. Here's what it might look like:

• Teenagers visit a senior center or assisted-living facility to play games with the adults who live or spend time there.

• Elders visit a youth center or community center and play games.

• Neighbors who share an interest in a particular game meet in one family's home for a "marathon" gaming session.

• A school or service club sponsors a chess club, where older youth and parents are coaches for younger players.

• Three families plan a regular family game night.

• Teenagers and adults form a gaming club and play online computer games.

• A grandpa and his granddaughter play a long -distance computer-based game once a month.

Challenging games have lots of benefits, including cognitive development, problem-solving skill building, and increased self-confidence. Simple games are also great equalizers in intergenerational groups.

Recommended for All Ages

• Adults and young people can take turns choosing which games the group plays.

• Elders can teach youth card games and other games that may be unfamiliar.

• Children can help serve treats.

Check It Out

Visit Board Game Central at for board-game information, rules, software, and links.

Intergenerational Innovations is a nonprofit organization that develops creative intergenerational programs and activities. For more ideas of fun ways to bring youth and elders together to play, go to



The Idea

Adults and youth watch a movie together that contains messages about social, cultural, personal, or other issues. After watching, group members share a snack or meal and talk about what they saw.

Resources Needed

( ) Access to a movie theater, or to a VCR or DVD player

( ) Food

The Basics

All you need for this activity is a comfortable spot for viewing, food, a good movie, and several open-ended questions, such as those on the worksheet on page 28.

Different groups will be ready for different themes and levels of maturity. An adult may wish to pre-screen the film to avoid unpleasant surprises and to check for age-appropriate themes and language. Here are a few movies that your intergenerational group may find fun or thought-provoking:

Finding Nemo: A children's cartoon that features themes about safety and rules.

To Kill a Mockingbird: A classic film with lessons about racism.

Buena Vista Social Club: A documentary about retired Cuban musicians who reunite to perform music together again.

Freaky Friday: A comedy about the different challenges of being a teen and being an adult.

Dead Poets Society: An inspiring movie dealing with individualism and suicide.

Driving Miss Daisy: A movie about aging and interracial friendships.

The Goonies: A movie about young kids who try to save their neighborhood and end up on a wild adventure.

Mean Girls: An edgy comedy about high school cliques.

Recommended for All Ages

• Elders can recommend classic movies that were popular when they were children.

• Young people can suggest current movies that are especially popular in their generation.

• People of all ages can take turns asking discussion questions after the movie.

Check It Out

For help finding child-friendly films, visit the National Institute on Media and the Family online at



Adults and youth get together to enjoy nature by planning a camping trip or other outdoor activities.

Resources Needed

( ) The Great Outdoors

( ) Gear, which may include:

( ) Tent(s)
( ) Sleeping bags
( ) Camp stove
( ) Lanterns/flashlights
( ) Saw (for firewood)
( ) Matches
( ) Suitable clothing
( ) Food and water

The Basics

Camping together can be a great experience for youth and adults if you have the right equipment and an experienced leader. That said, camping ought not be taken lightly. Weather, wildlife, equipment, and other factors have to be thought through and planned well. Consider these questions:

Lodging: Will you be in tents, campers, rustic cabins? Do you need accessible accommodations for people with limited mobility? If you are in tents, are they in good condition, sturdy, and water-resistant? Does anyone need access to electricity for medical equipment?

Gear: Do all campers have appropriate clothing and gear: shoes or boots that fit well, rain covering, layers for when the temperature changes? Do you have first-aid supplies? Is there a limit on how much stuff people can bring?


Excerpted from Generators by Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner, Tenessa Gemelke. Copyright © 2005 Search Institute A Search Institute Publication. Excerpted by permission of Search Institute Publication.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner is a writer, editor, and youth development consultant. Her recent publications include a Web-based youth-worker training curriculum, a technical assistance training curriculum for youth development program leaders, and the following three books published by Search Institute: The Journey of Community Change: A How to Guide for Heathy Communities, Healthy Youth Initiatives(2005), Your Workplace: Simple Investment, Big Reward (2004), and Your Family: Using Simple Wisdom in Raising Your Children (2003). She holds an M.Ed. in Youth Development Leadership.

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