Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Building Better People--One Laugh at a Time

How can we develop happy, healthy, and successful kids who, in turn, become happy, healthy, and successful adults? More and more resources, studies, television programs, blogs, journal articles, “expert advice”, and educational theories are disseminated on the subject every single day. Sometimes, it’s more than I can absorb or handle.

For me, learning to live with, work with, and respect others are essential skills I use everyday as a wife, mother, employee, daughter, and friend. I practice relationship building, relationship management, and relationship repair almost daily.

How can we as parents, educators, youth development professionals, and leaders teach relationship building to kids? We must nurture their growth, give them tools to deal with the obstacles, and celebrate their successes. We must provide them with varied communities where they can grow and learn and experience different people and different ideas. We must let them try, practice, and fail—then try again. We must be wise and thoughtful in our own relationship building, because our kids will practice what they see. Most of all, we must share a belief in our shared humanity—one in which we have more in common than not—no matter how our ideologies have shaped us.

Laughter and play are two of the most basic commonalities we all share, and in order to be able to successfully work with or live with others…it is also essential to be able to play with others.

Icebreakers are an essential part of building relationships, building communities, and learning to play together. A good icebreaker does four things:

• Facilitate the learning of names
• Help to draw shy individuals quickly into a larger group
• Make everyone feel more at ease with new acquaintances
• Is darn fun.

There are name-learning icebreakers (great for first days of school, conferences, team development, opening days of camp); shared interest icebreakers (finding out we had more in common than we thought); active icebreakers (we learn names faster if we use multiple learning modalities); sensory awareness icebreakers (which help us practice better listening, and hearing); and facilitated icebreakers (where the group shares hopes/fears about the upcoming shared experience).

One of my favorite name-game icebreakers is called The Blanket Drop, and this is how you play:

• Divide any size group (big is good) into two teams and separate the teams by having two people hold up a blanket between the teams. The blanket should be large enough to prevent players from seeing what is happening on the other side.
• Each team then selects one player to creep up to the blanket.
• The blanket holders (an important responsibility) drop the blanket on the count of 3, leaving the selected players from the opposing teams staring into each other’s faces.
• Each of these two players tries to be the first to shout out the name of the opposing player.
• The fastest name-shouter gets to bring the losing player over to his side of the blanket.
• Then the blanket is raised and two new players are sent forward by their teams.

In the case of a certified tie (determined by the blanket droppers) both players go back to their original teams and the blanket is raised for a new round.

To provide variety, the blanket droppers may also ask each team to send more than one contestant for some blanket drops.

The game continues until everyone is on one team, until everyone knows everyone else’s name or until everyone is laughing so hard it is impossible to continue.

What is YOUR favorite icebreaker?

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