Published on 12/17/15

Plan ahead to make holiday get-togethers fun for all ages

By Keishon Thomas

During the holidays, my thoughts always turn to the enjoyable times I had with my family and extended family. The memories are filled with tasty food, hilarious family stories and shared times together.

I can clearly remember my aunt putting the finishing touches on the potato salad and cornbread muffins. We would engage in heart-to-heart talks with my grandmother. These memories are indelibly imprinted in my heart and stay long after the pressing demands of sought-after presents and colorful decorations fade away.

Most of us yearn for these shared experiences and opportunities for connection, especially with loved ones from older generations whom we seldom see during our busy lives.

Unfortunately, the chaos and stress of the season often overshadows our time for togetherness, and after the holidays, we are left with empty bank accounts, high-calorie hangovers and fatigue.

So, if you want to create opportunities for better intergenerational connections this holiday season, take a break and consider these tips from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension:

Be sensitive to the special needs of older family members. While many older people are in great physical condition, some may have visual or hearing impairments, mobility challenges, chronic health conditions or memory loss that might limit participation in some activities.

Turn off the television and eliminate background music to make it easier for everyone to understand conversations. Arrange furniture so the space is accessible for loved ones using canes or walkers.

Sometimes younger family members don't understand these health struggles, so it's important to prepare children ahead of time by explaining these challenges to them.

Plan generationally neutral activities. Activities such as board games, card games and food preparation bring people of all ages together and provide a setting where everyone can participate. Children as well as older adults love to help prepare family dinners. Both parties feel useful and productive. It also helps children to learn those coveted family recipes.

Well-established board games, such as Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, and my favorite, Taboo, and familiar card games, such as Old Maid, Go Fish and Uno, allow all generations to join in, which can start entertaining conversations.

Engage in the gift of music. Music transcends generations. I have a radio in the kitchen and have found my mother-in-law and my children often listen and sing along as we prepare dishes for the holiday feast.

Occasionally, we have impromptu DJ battles. It is a joy to see my teenage son playing the classics we all enjoy.

Set up a photo booth. Let's face it, we live in a picture-centric society. You can easily set up your own photo booth with old hats, scarves and other inexpensive props. Younger family members can assist older members with uploading the pictures to social media or texting them to other family members.

The holidays will be here and gone before we know it. Consider the possibilities. What kind of memories do you want to create this season?

Keishon Thomas is the University of Georgia Extension family and consumer sciences agent in Bibb County.