Summer approaches! From May Day festivals to Vacation Bible School, opportunities for our young people to come together and build relationship and community are increasing as the school year winds down. While this may be exciting and positive for many of our young people, for others who have experienced significantly reduced peer interaction over the last two years, this could be stressful or challenging.
Just as many adults have grown into their inner introvert and find themselves with shorter tolerance for large group interaction than before the onset of the pandemic, youth reentering academic and faith formation settings that were previously digital or highly regulated are experiencing the same. Even when large or loud group activities bring smiles and are greeted with active participation, young people may have shorter tolerance or require longer recovery time from the unaccustomed energy output and sensory stimulation.
How can we support young people with adaptations that encourage group participation and relationship building and also accommodate the need to grow into higher-stimulation environments? Offering increased options with different levels of participation can be done with minimal expense or time.
Using a station rotation model? Add a quiet reading station. Consider writing or art journals with a Bible story–related prompt. Create sensory play bins filled with low-sound activities that can range from weaving to clay—all ideas adaptable for most ages. Gathering around a central activity? Empower leadership in young people by creating supportive roles students can volunteer for. Allow students to do tasks either alone or in small groups, or as duos in addition to larger groups. Ask students to write answers on a large paper or board as well as speaking aloud, similar to how we might use both chat and "unmuting" on Zoom.
One of the most powerful tools we have to encourage the participation of shy, introverted, tired, or stimulation-sensitive young people is consent (take note there are actually MANY valid reasons a young person may not be up to full engagement in a large or loud group environment). Using language of invitation as opposed to language of command and words of encouragement instead of language of assumption can be empowering and much less stress-inducing for our kids.
Some of this may seem like knowledge you have and practice as part of your long-term ministry. I pray you welcome this as a refresher to affirm your needed and precious care of our growing Christians in a time of challenging transition. God be with you and them as summer adventures begin.