Virginia Tech® home

Best Practices in Intergenerational Programming: Practice 3


FCS-36P (FCS-90P)

Authors as Published

Shannon Jarrott, Associate Professor, Human Development, Virginia Tech; Karen DeBord, Extension Specialist, Family and Human Development, Virginia Tech; Reviewed by Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Extension Specialist, Community viability, Virginia Tech

Participation is voluntary.

Practice 3 • Voluntary participation

Intergenerational programs are most effective when participation is voluntary. It is important that potential participants of an intergenerational activity are given a choice of participating in the activity or not. In communicating, staff should be encouraging and enthusiastic, but not coercive. Once informed, participants can make a decision concerning their ability and willingness to join. Some participants may need time to ease into the routine of intergenerational contact, and staff can support that. By providing a choice, staff members set the tone of the activity in a positive light, while increasing the comfort of all involved.

Benefits of Voluntary Participation

  • It empowers adults and children by putting the participants in control.
  • Participants gain personal power and feel a sense of mastery over their own lives when they have choices.
  • True friendships grow best when connections are voluntary, not forced.
  • Sta facilitation is easier when participants join activities voluntarily.
  • A learning community develops, as opposed to unwilling or resentful participants going through the motions.
  • The total program improves as the community of learners grows.

Application of the Practice

Think about intergenerational exchanges going both ways. Children can visit adult settings and can also invite older adults to their classroom. A child who declines invitations to join activities outside the classroom may be reluctant to leave the comfort of the classroom rather than being afraid of older people.

Program Ideas

  • Be clear with descriptions, instructions, and expectations.
  • Model participation.
  • Pair compatible participants.
  • Be enthusiastic and encouraging without being coercive.
  • Arrange the task and seating conveniently and comfortably.
  • Assist with the task.
  • Allow participants to ease into the task.
  • Allow creativity with the task.
  • Offer a choice of more than one activity.
  • Do not assume that a refusal to participate in one activity means a lack of interest in intergenerational programming.

Best Practices for Intergenerational Programming

  1. Staff members of the adult and child programs collaborate to plan activities.
  2. Participants are involved in decision-making about the activity and during activities.
  3. Participation is voluntary.
  4. Participants are prepared ahead of time and reflect on the activity afterward.
  5. Activities reflect interests, backgrounds, and social histories of program participants.
  6. Activities are age- and role-appropriate.
  7. Activities support interaction among intergenerational participants.
  8. Facilitators skillfully stage the environment to promote interaction.
  9. Facilitators consider the social environment and the role of staff members.
  10. Adaptive equipment is used as appropriate.
  11. Facilitators document and communicate experiences to build on in future activities.

Additional Resource

Florin, P., and A. Wandersman. 1990. “An Introduction to Citizen Participation, Voluntary Organizations, and Community Development: Insights for Empowerment Through Research.” American Journal of Community Psychology 18 (1): 41-54.


Jarrott, S. E. 2011. “Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going? Content Analysis of Evaluation Research of Intergenerational Programs.” Journal of Intergenerational Relationships 9:37-52. doi:10.1080/15350770.2011.544594.

Project TRIP

Transforming Relationships Through Intergenerational Programming

A Children’s, Youth, and Families at Risk project of Virginia Tech with the Jeerson Area Board for Aging and the YMCAs of Charlottesville and Louisa County, Va.

Shannon Jarrott, Associate Professor, Human Development, Virginia Tech

Karen DeBord, Extension Specialist, Family and Human Development, Virginia Tech

Reviewed by Crystal Tyler-Mackey, Extension Specialist, Community viability, Virginia Tech

Contact: Shannon Jarrott,

This is one of 11 fact sheets on the emerging best practices associated with intergenerational programs.

Intergenerational programs are those that connect younger and older generations to foster positive experiences. Research continues to grow, noting that when successfully delivered, intergenerational programs result in positive health eects, child learning, and appropriate socialization for both young and old (Jarrott 2011).

The third practice relates to voluntary participation.

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law

Publication Date

May 8, 2019