So here’s the scoop on what Kerri Meyer, DRE at Unity Church-Unitarian, and I covered in our workshop last month at the LREDA Fall Conference in Albuquerque. Basically, we built on the work of James White, author of the book on intergenerational religious education, which is aptly titled Intergenerational Religious Education. We recommended to all of the participants in the workshop that the find this book (which could very well be somewhere on the shelves in their congregation’s RE office) and read it. Or buy it and read it if they can’t find it. I personally owned a copy of this book for about five years before I actually sat down and read it–and my response was, “Why the heck haven’t I read this book before now?” It really is the number one resources for learning about how to do intergenerational religious education (or, as I prefer, multigenerational faith development).

If you don’t have the time to read White’s book, the next best thing is to check out this article by John Roberto: Best Practices in Intergenerational Faith Formation [PDF]. The article is basically a “best parts version” of White’s book. Here, then, is the heart of both the article and the book. According to Roberto, “James White identified four patterns of relationships that shape the four components of an IGRE learning experience. Briefly summarized, these patterns are:”

In-Common Experiences. Intergenerational religious education begins with a multigenerational experience of the theme that all the generations share together. In-common experiences of generations are usually less verbal and more observatory than in the other three elements. In this pattern there is something “out there” or “over there” for us to see or do, something that equalizes the ages. Thus, at the same time and place and in a similar manner, different-aged people listen to music or sing, make an art project, watch a video, hear a story, participate in a ritual, pray together, and so on. In-common experiences for the most part remain at what Jean Piaget calls the “concrete operational” level, where all can learn together.

Shared experiences are absolutely critical for building IGRE. They are the stuff by which other patterns of relationships are built. To the point, Fred Rogers, of television’s Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, makes the case for what is prescribed here when he asks rhetorically, “How can older and younger people respond to each other if they have no experiences together?”

Parallel Learning. Parallel learning is the second major IG relational pattern. With it the generations are separated in order to work on the same topic or project, but in different ways at a “best fit” development, interest, or skill level. Some of the developmental levels we are talking about are cognitive, psychological, physical, moral, valuational, and so on—all the ways that make people different and special.

Though age groups may be separated, each one is focusing on the same learning task or topic. One of the major criticisms of IGRE is “the tendency to view equality or persons across the age spectrum with uniformity of experience,” with that experience only from the vantage point of the child. By engaging in parallel learning, however, this IGRE shortcoming is avoided.

Contributive-Occasions. The third pattern of learning is that of contributive-occasions. These occasions are often the step after parallel learning. What is involved is a coming together of different age groups or classes for the purpose of sharing what has been learned or created previously. The joining or rejoining becomes a contributiveoccasion where separated pieces to a whole are added together for everyone’s benefit.

Contributive-occasions are more participatory than the other three patterns. If the contributions come from a previous period of parallel learning, the last part of that parallel learning would have been concerned with how to communicate acquired insights or behaviors to other age groups. By engaging “in mutual contribution” to one another, IG learners discover that the educational whole is great than the sum of its parts.

Interactive Sharing. Interactive sharing is the fourth major pattern in IGRE relationships. It is a distinctive style or way of learning. Here persons are provided with an opportunity for interpersonal exchange, which may involve experiences or thoughts or feelings or actions. At its best, interactive sharing facilitates a “crossing over” to hear and respond to another’s perspective.

In an ideal IGRE program or event, all four of the patterns of relationships will be enacted. People come together and have an in-common experience. Then they break to separately investigate the common subject at a level appropriate for their highest learning abilities. They come back together to present their insights and work in a shared program. Finally, different generations interact with one another, giving and receiving in the exchanges. In the latter case the participants are sharing, reflecting, debating, and dreaming from the side of the other but for their own edification. (From James White’s Intergenerational Religious Education, pages 26-30.)

I’ll reveal how Roberto ties all of these together in a single event soon.