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For nearly 25 years, Janice Maxine Jones of Carrollton, Alabama, has created games to encourage loved ones to mingle at Windham’s biennial family reunion. The wagon blanket raffle and the Hula-Hoop string game are so popular that they have become regular events.
Whether you are planning a small garden barbecue or a 200-person jamboree, fun activities are key to entertaining people, bringing multiple generations together and maintaining momentum. When people participate in activities, they make connections, tell stories and share their family history.
“If you want to bring people together, there should always be an element of fun,” says Corrine Thomas, event planner and owner of Absolute Events by Corrine in Kearny, New Jersey. “The more fun they have together, the more they will want to see each other again.”
That’s especially true for parents who travel long distances to get to a reunion or make it their annual vacation, says Sylvia Ford-George of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, who serves on the advisory board for the Family Reunion Institute. Plus, “activities are a way to get young people interested and involved in planning the meeting to keep it fresh,” she says.
Relatives may not have seen each other for some time due to Covid-19 pandemicso incorporating some ice-breaking activities can be helpful for everyone to reconnect or familiarize themselves.
When the Christian Bush Tinsley family reunion takes place in September for the first time in about 30 years, many of the 100 attendees won’t know each other, says Jackie DesChamps, 60, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, one of the organizers of the meeting. “People need to know each other,” she says. “You interact as much as you can.”
DesChamps recommends reserving seats for dinner in birthday month (everyone born in June sits together). Another idea for in-person and virtual meetings is to create 10 questions such as “Do you speak another language?” or “What’s your favorite movie?” to start conversations, she says. Check 100 icebreaker questions of SignUpGenius, a digital event planning and management platform.
Ford-George suggests another icebreaker called Whisper Down the Lane. The first person in a line or circle says their name and place of residence. Each person after that must introduce themselves as well as all the people who preceded it. “People forget,” she says. “It’s hilarious.”
For children and teenagers
The trick is to get young people away from their phones and video games by providing activities that interest them, says Ford-George.
Face painting, temporary tattoos, and a crafting table are always big hits with young children. Consider renting a bouncy house or buying one if you plan to use it many times over the years.
For young adults, plan a series of sports tournaments such as basketball, softball and volleyball. Organize teams by age or country of origin.
Jones finds many ideas to play Minute to win it on PlayPartyPlan.com, featuring over 200 games from the old TV show where participants completed tasks in less than a minute to earn money. A popular game with his family is Face the Cookie: you tilt your head back, place a cookie on your forehead, and use only facial muscles to move it toward your mouth.
Activities to connect the generations
The reunion challenge involves planning activities for parents who can range from babies to 90+, all with different interests.
“One of the most important things is getting to know the older members of our family,” which is how family stories are passed down, says DesChamps. “You have to do different kinds of things. What might be fun for a 50-year-old man is not fun for a teenager.
Here are nine intergenerational activities:
Board games: Dedicate a night to playing board games. Kids may be surprised that their grandparents played games like Battleship and Candyland that they still enjoy. Plan a tournament, mixing older and younger generations on the same team.
Movie night: Set up chairs inside or blankets outside and provide popcorn to watch a family movie like Lucas Where Soul.
Throwing water balloons: Two rows of people facing each other toss water-filled balloons back and forth. When your balloon bursts, your team is eliminated and the team left standing with a full balloon wins. It’s a great game on a hot day.
Relay races: Make sure there’s a race for each age group, with prizes like small trophies or ribbons, suggests Ford-George. Options include a baby crawl, sack jump or potato race.
Family photo bingo: Players match photos of family members instead of combinations of letters and numbers.
Treasure hunt : Participants search for listed objects, such as a type of flower, or solve clues leading to treasure. Create cousin duos or pair an adult with a teenager to foster camaraderie.
Talent Show: Everyone has a talent, even if it is to recite a poem. Meeting planners should let attendees know early enough to give them time to prepare.
Dance competition : Before the meeting, ask younger and older generations to suggest music for a playlist. “Older people love swing dancing and younger people think they can dance,” says DesChamps. “It’s a lot of fun and it brings the generations together.”
Nautical sports: If your meeting is near a beach, lake, or river, consider swimming, kayaking, canoeing, or fishing.
For longer family reunions, people like to plan an offsite excursion, Thomas says. The cost is either built into the meeting registration fee or people pay separately. Some ideas include:
Amusement park: A trip to a nearby amusement or water park is a guaranteed hit, especially on a hot day.
Escape room: A game in which a group of people must work together to find clues and solve puzzles within a given amount of time to get out of the room.
Hay ride: Family members big and small can enjoy a tailgate ride through the countryside on a nice day.
Picking fruits: Find a local farm where all ages can pick fruits like apples and blueberries. The best part is that the family can snack on the delicious bounty.
As Ford-George says, “You try to strike a balance so everyone has something they like about the meeting.”