The holidays are here and with them come family gatherings. It’s a perfect time to consider holiday activities that are intergenerational, as these offer some of the best opportunities for memorable, meaningful engagement. Grandparents and grandchildren working together can open up conversations to family history, as well as exploration of talents, and the precious gift of time together. Adult children may find opportunities to finally ask the questions they never got a chance to ask of their parents, but for which they now have the time and intention.
Below you will find some activities that can easily be adjusted for age and ability of participants, ensuring lasting memories and fun times together. These are also great ways to start or pass along lasting family traditions.
Capture personal histories
One of my favorite organizations is StoryCorps. At their heart is the belief that “every story matters.” Their mission is to “preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” What better time to capture the stories of a loved one than at the holidays—usually a time of tradition, warm remembrance, and sharing?
StoryCorps has a free app that provides instructions and allows you to record your interview from a smartphone or computer, preserve it, and share it. They also offer resources such as Great Questions. Use these instructions in thoughtful preparation for interviews, whether you use the app or not.
Sometimes, simply asking questions, and writing down or typing the answers on your computer, is just as effective. The key here is to carve out time to talk, and ask those questions to which you’d like answers. Kids are often curious about what it was like when their parents and grandparents were their age. And the adults can turn the interview around and ask kids about their dreams, school experiences, and friends. The key? Quality time spent together, getting to know one another on a more personal level. This experience is adaptable to any age or ability.
For those who feel comfortable with video, take it a step further. Many smartphones offer great video-capture and editing capabilities. And if you aren’t comfortable with the technology, I think I know who is: your grandkids! Ask them for a tutorial. Make learning how to use the technology part of the project.
Family photo projects
The possibilities here are only limited by your imagination. With the ubiquity of cameras on phones, scanners, and platforms such as Facebook, there’s an endless opportunity for pulling together family stories and events through images.
Some families choose a more traditional approach, creating photo albums or memory books with supplies from a craft store. Younger kids especially love working with colored paper, stickers, and glue. Craft and book stores are filled with supplies and options for tools and ideas. Baby pictures are always a fun first step and can lead to lively conversations as the project is developed.
Others build a family Facebook page, which can be private and open only to friends and family. A private family Facebook page can bring family members together from remote locations. I have a friend whose family members live on five continents. The pictures, stories and adventures they share are energizing. And family feel closer emotionally even though they live miles apart geographically. Here’s an article from AARP on how to create a family Facebook page.
Gather photos and other mementos. Consider how you would like to capture, display, and share these family treasures. Some families make a family tree. Others create collages using large pieces of poster board, stickers and markers. Some companies, like Shutterfly, have platforms for creating photo books and calendars for a reasonable price and nice quality. Others, like Famlu, allow you to create a family website and share events, write a blog, and create a family history.
Collect family recipes
My grandmother made the most incredible sponge cake for our birthdays. The cake was held together by a delicious chocolate frosting in the center and a fluffy vanilla icing on the outside. My mom made copies of this recipe for all of us kids after my grandma died. While I’ve never mastered making the cake on my own, I’ve had fun in the process. It brings back wonderful memories of time spent in my grandma’s kitchen, which was always filled with the aromas of yummy baked goods and scrumptious dinners. To me, that cake translates into lots of love.
Family recipes can be the conduit to all sorts of great activities, from making a grocery list and shopping for the ingredients, to working on creations together in the kitchen, to collecting family favorites into a cookbook. Perhaps you can share a long-loved family recipe and use it as the starting point for a personal history or family heritage project. Here in the Pacific Northwest, families surely have salmon, Dungeness crab, blackberry and apple recipes to share and fond stories to tell.
Helping others in need isn’t limited to the holidays, of course, but the holidays are a wonderful time to share with others. From adopting a family through your faith community or a charitable organization, or shopping for food and donating it to a local food bank, families can find deeper purpose through charitable projects and giving.
In my old neighborhood back in the Midwest, a family of wonderful knitters always creates scarves and matching hats for the homeless, donating their creations to a local shelter. Another family I know has a band that performs at senior centers and community events on the weekends. Does your family have a special talent that can benefit others? Share that special talent generously.
Let your imagination guide you
With a little imagination and minor modifications for age and ability, families can find new ways to bring the generations together for engaging projects. Don’t be limited to what’s on this list! Let this article serve as a springboard for ideas. Give one or all of them a try. Adapt activities to common interests. For some that might include sports, travel, pets, or outdoor adventures. The key is bringing all generations together around a project or activity that everyone enjoys.
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, an Aging Life Care™ practice (geriatric care management) serving King, south Snohomish, and Whatcom Counties, and co-chairs the UW Elder Friendly Futures Conference.