When we are used to faith formation structures that are divided by age group, planning for intergenerational learning can seem terribly foreign. Why wouldn’t teens want to learn with teens, adults with adults, etc.? Sometimes, the topic of conversation might be scripture as a guide for marriage. Or maybe it’s dating as a Christian teen, or coping with empty nest syndrome. These are times when we should honor the unique experiences of people in particular affinity groups and anticipate their privacy needs. But often, the topics we pursue will affect Christians across the age spectrum. Things like learning Bible stories, cultivating a prayer life, etc. affect every member of Christ’s body, and every member will have gifts and insights to share.
In this anxious time, some of the most profound gifts of intergenerational learning are skill-sharing and deep fellowship. For example, what might the tween/teens teach about how to share one’s faith via social media? What might the elders there know about baking bread as a spiritual practice, or how to stretch a dollar to make sure your neighbor has enough? What might the preschoolers have to teach us all about how to find joy everywhere we look?
While there is much that can be said about the art and science of intergenerational curriculum development, there are four basic guidelines that can prove helpful in many contexts:
- Choose one topic that everyone will study/discuss. Examples can be tailored by age, but the overarching subject should be accessible to all. When doing scripture study, all can read or hear the same text in different versions.
- Each component of the lesson should be no more than 7-10 minutes. This doesn’t mean that tasks and conversations have to end, just that there needs to be a break in the action. This might look like discussing a psalm for 7-10 minutes, doing a socially-distanced or asynchronous nature walk to look for/photograph objects discussed in the psalm, and then returning to post on social media and discuss what feelings emerged for each person.
- Engage at least three senses. While most “traditional” lessons will involve sight and hearing, what might we smell or touch or taste that could enhance everyone’s learning? And who has the skills/agility/creativity to best contribute them?
- Provide information/assignments that can be accessed in many ways. For example, content that can only be accessed through writing leaves out all those for whom writing is a physical challenge and people of all ages with limited literacy. Instead, consider asking students to share that same information with three friends, but letting them choose how they do so, or inviting students to capture a particular concept via writing, drawing, or a TikTok video, etc.
While planning for faith formation for people across the age spectrum can seem daunting at first, it often results in planning one lesson instead of many and, more importantly, strengthens the bonds of love amongst many members of God’s holy family, whether we are gathered around an altar or a screen.