Last week I wrote about some practical suggestions for running the CnC retreat and promised I’d talk more about the interpersonal stuff. Here’s the thing: even if all of the activities you do totally bomb and the youth still bond with one another, then congratulations, you’ve had a good retreat!
Really, the overall goal here for the retreat is not so much the information as that the youth will bond with one another. So here are 6 suggestions for making that more likely to happen.
1. Hold the retreat as early in the year as you can. There’s no specific time when you have to have the retreat, but we do suggest having it early on in the confirmation program. Having it early on in the year builds community in your group and makes it clear that you’re going to do this together. This is especially important if you have kids who don’t know each other.
2. Keep to the Rules of the Road—and maybe add new ones. The rules of the road that you develop in the first class are important, and it’s a good idea to bring a copy of those rules to the retreat (so you don’t forget or lose them in the end-of-retreat shuffle). Go over them with the group at the beginning of the retreat, and consider if there are any additional rules that apply to this weekend. (There are some suggestions about this in the retreat document.)
3. Talking sticks. If you have a real chatty group, consider using a talking stick during the retreat (also during classes as well). It allows whoever’s running the class a chance to say, “Wait, you’re not holding the talking stick” which works amazingly well. I suggest a talking stick that they hand to one another rather than a koosh ball or something else that they would throw.
4. Tell them the schedule. If you give the kids a timeframe for an activity, they’re better behaved. For each new activity, introduce it by saying, “For this hour and half, this is what we will be doing.” Too often we assume the kids don’t need to know, but they do, otherwise they’ll assume the adults will talk for the rest of the day. Conversely, adults need to stick to the timeline; if the person leading the retreat does tend to go over—actually, even if they don’t, make sure you have a timekeeper. It’s only fair.
5. PlayDoh. OK, this sounds strange, I know. But first of all, kids don’t have enough PlayDoh in their lives. Secondly, if you give them PlayDoh to fiddle with while they’re just sitting there, it makes it easier for them to pay attention. Especially since they don’t have what they normally fiddle with—namely...
6. No iPods, cell phones, computers, etc. Make sure everyone—parents included—know about this before the retreat. If parents are concerned about this, make sure they know how to get in touch with you. If there’s really an emergency, there’s a way for them to connect. But the kids need to know before the retreat what a retreat is. You can’t have a retreat if you’re talking to friends about how the dance was last night. This step really is crucial. When they’re unplugged they talk to each other because they’re not all connected to a machine. And when they talk to each other they connect to one another.
It’s true, you’re going to have kids who are going to be hard. They’re going to fight you. They’re going to be pissy. Don’t play into that; just tell them, “Sorry, you’re here now.” Hopefully, the group will pull them along. If they choose not to participate in that event, then that’s their choice. They do have to follow the rules and show up on time. And if you’ve got dynamics between a couple of kids who really hate each other, you have to sit them down and set up some boundaries just for them.
But the thing about the retreat is these kids really build friendships. When they spend the weekend together, they begin to see each other differently. They start to accept each other for who they are because they observe something different from the image they held of each other before. It’s eye-openeing for them. They would have never said a word to each other without the retreat. How often in life to any of us get that?
Again, if you have other questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just remember that success is not what they learn, but how they are and who they become when they’re with one another. It’s going to be great.