For nearly 25 years, Janice Maxine Jones of Carrollton, Alabama, has created games to encourage relatives to mingle at the biennial Windham family reunion. The wagon-cover pull and Hula-Hoop chain game are so popular that they’ve become regular events.
Whether you’re planning a small backyard barbecue or a 200-person jamboree, fun activities are key to keeping people entertained, bridging multiple generations and maintaining momentum. When people are engaged in activities, they are forming connections, telling stories and sharing family history.
“If you’re going to get people together, there should always be an element of fun,” says event planner Corrine Thomas, owner of Absolute Events by Corrine in Kearny, New Jersey. “The more fun they have together, the more they will want to get together again.”
That’s especially true for relatives who drive long distances to a reunion or make it their annual vacation, says Sylvia Ford-George of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, who serves on the Family Reunion Institute’s advisory board. Also, “activities are a way to get the younger people interested and involved in the reunion planning to keep it fresh,” she says.
Relatives may not have seen each other for some time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so incorporating some icebreaker activities can be helpful to getting everyone reacquainted or acquainted.
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 reunion planners. “People need to get to know each other,” she says. “You do as much interacting as you can.”
DesChamps recommends arranging dinner seating by birthday month (everyone born in June sits together). Another idea for both in-person and virtual reunions is to create 10 questions such as “Do you speak another language?” or “What is your favorite movie?” to jump-start conversations, she says. Check out 100 icebreaker questions from SignUpGenius, a digital platform for planning and managing events.
Ford-George suggests another icebreaker called Whisper Down the Lane. The first person in a line or circle says her name and where she lives. Each person after that must introduce themselves as well as all the people who preceded them. “People forget,” she says. “It’s hilarious.”