The Youth Ministry Garage blog recently asked “How much free time should be given on a youth retreat?“, so I thought I’d give my take on it here. And my answer is…….it depends.
I know, super helpful. It really does depend though on different variables, so below is a list of some things to consider when planning the free time in your youth retreat schedule.
(n.b. By free time, I’m talking about proper free time where youth can choose what they want to do regardless of the retreat schedule, so it doesn’t include shower time, getting ready for bed, etc.)
1) How long is the youth retreat?
If your retreat is being held over the course of the weekend, you’ve only got a short amount of time in which to fit all your talks, activities, etc. Free time at a weekend retreat should therefore be offered, but kept to a minimum (maybe an hour or two a day).
This would be different if the retreat is a week-long (or longer). For retreats of this length, it’s advisable to include a larger amount of free time in the youth retreat schedule – perhaps two to four hours a day.
2) What are the aims and objectives of your retreat?
A retreat that’s aiming to encourage team-building might want to reduce free time, so that team-building opportunities are maximized. This is because youth will usually choose to hang out with their friends during free time, rather than getting to know different young people.
On the other hand, maybe your retreat is about independent learning or personal responsibility. More free time in the youth retreat schedule would therefore be a great opportunity for your young people to put into action some of what they’ve learned.
3) What else is going on in your young people’s lives?
Is your retreat being held just before or after most of your students have exams? They’ll have been spending so much time revising and cramming, the last thing they need is an action-packed weekend where they can’t pause for breath. If this describes the timing of your retreat, consider incorporating more free time into the retreat schedule so that they can relax, especially if it’s just before exam time.
4) What facilities does the retreat center offer?
Does the retreat center have any games, open space, sports equipment, etc for youth to make use of? If not, bear in mind that offering a lot of free time could mean the youth have nothing to do for hours at a time so might get bored, although this also depends on how old your youth are.
Young people of any age can find something to do to kill time, but an extended period of free time in the youth retreat schedule might be harder with younger youth, especially if the youth retreat center has nothing for them to do.
Older teens tend to be better with being happy to sit around with nothing to do, whereas younger teens prefer to have something to do.
5) Do you want free time spread throughout the youth retreat schedule?
An hour or two of free time per day might feel like a lot for a weekend retreat. It doesn’t have to be a block of an hour or two though – you could split the time up into 15 minute or 30 minute slots in the schedule.
Spreading out the free time has a couple of benefits. Firstly, it means youth are less likely to get bored.
Secondly, it gives a perfect opportunity to transition between activities. Need an opportunity to rearrange the set up of the hall from being a meeting room to a game room? Free time! Need time for some of your volunteers to go from leading a discussion group to getting lunch ready for everyone? Free time!
**We’ve now published a book to help anyone planning a youth retreat. Find out more about How To Plan A Youth Retreat here**
Question: How much free time do you incorporate in to your youth retreat schedule? Let us know in the comments below.
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