For the different age groups in a church community to worship together and serve together seems fairly intuitive and achievable. However, as soon as people contemplate all-age learning, there is widespread disbelief. It seems impossible that learning could be done among people of multiple age-groups simultaneously. Surely a child learns one way and an adult another way, and they need to be kept separate?
Not at all, according to intergenerational ministry expert John Roberto, who will be leading the Provincial Clergy Conference and one-day Lay Conference in Brisbane in early August this year. Drawing upon the work of James White, Roberto suggests there are four kinds of learning experience which are useful for intergenerational (IG) purposes:
1. In-Common experiences: an experience shared by all ages together, like watching a video or hearing a story;
2. Parallel learning: where age groups are separated temporarily, but each group is working on the same topic or project. This takes away the difference in experience from the equation;
3. Contributive Occasions: where the age-groups come back together to share what was learnt in parallel learning, usually with some thought given to how to best present it to the other age groups;
4. Interactive Sharing: opportunities for interpersonal exchange; hearing and responding to each other’s experiences.
In an ideal IG learning event, all four of these patterns would be seen and used. So such an event might look something like this:
1. Welcome / community building / opening prayer.
2. An All-Ages Learning Experience for the whole assembly that introduces the theme or topic for the program.
3. In-Depth Learning Experiences that probe the theme or topic, organized for all ages (intergenerational) or for specific age-groups (families with children or children-only, adolescents, young adults, and adults), and conducted in one of three formats:
• Whole Group Format: learning in small groups with the whole group assembled in one room (age-specific or all ages small groups);
• Age Group Format: learning in separate, parallel groups organized by ages;
• Learning Activity Centre Format: learning at self-directed or facilitated activity centres (age-specific and/or all ages learning centres).
4. An All-Ages Contributive Learning Experience in which each generation teaches the other generations.
5. Reflection on the learning experience and interactive group sharing.
6. Closing prayer.
I used a program very like this when I was invited to lead at a parish’s Family Camp recently. The theme was ‘Thankfulness’ and as part of the learning activities, I split the attendees up into ‘generations’ which I defined as ‘being born in each decade’, which worked well. Each ‘decade group’ took butchers paper, blutacked it to a wall and drew an outline of one of their members. They then illustrated the outline with the ‘look of the decade’ (e.g. flower child for the 60s), and wrote around it all the reasons why they were thankful they were born in that decade. Each group then reported back to the whole group on the things listed and time was given for people to walk around and look at the other groups’ efforts. Much discussion followed about similarities and differences between the groups, e.g. it was noticed that the young were thankful for technology and the elderly were often thankful they were NOT born in the age of technology!
This is just one example of how it is possible for an intergenerational group to be learning together on a particular topic. No doubt John Roberto will be able to teach us more when he visits, but in the meantime, one of his better sites is: www.lifelongfaith.com which I would encourage you to explore.