This is the third part of a list of activities that are enjoyable and foster self-understanding and friendships among children (see end of article for links to prior articles). These activities help children feel bonded to each other and to their teacher or group leader. When students feel accepted and have a sense of belonging, their attitude toward each other and learning is enhanced. These activities are most effective when appropriately adapted to specific age levels and group sizes.
1. Make a large, blank puzzle out of poster board. Give a puzzle piece to each student and have them write their first name in the middle. Have them draw items that represent themselves or decorate their piece with a variety of materials. When they are finished, put them together to make a bulletin board entitled, "Each of us is important!"
A variation is to make a classroom quilt. Cut pieces of light colored construction paper into 8" x 8" squares. Show the children how to draw a diamond in the middle of the square leaving four triangles, one in each corner. Have them write adjectives that describe themselves in the four triangles. Divide the children into pairs or groups of five and have them discuss what they wrote. Then ask students to glue their picture in the center of their square and attach the quilt pieces to a bulletin board.
2. Ask the children to brainstorm negative feelings they or their friends have had, such as sad, angry, lonely, embarrassed, afraid, frustrated, jealous, disorganized, lonely, or hurt. You may want to write them on the board. Give the children a large index card and ask them to write down one of the words that describes an emotion they have had.
Sit in a circle on the floor and place the mixed cards, face down, in the center. Pick up a card, read the word and ask, "What could make you feel (insert the feeling word)?" Accept all answers by restating what the student said. Then ask, "If you were feeling (name the emotion), what could you do to feel better?"
Encourage the children to name positive coping skills. For the emotion, anger, a child may answer, "Hit him!" In that case you may want to ask the children if hitting is a good idea and discuss more positive methods for handling anger. If the card pulled is a duplicate, pick another one to discuss.
Variations are to have the emotions printed on cards ahead of time, to place the cards face up instead of face down, and/or to have the children take turns choosing a feeling card and answering the questions.
3. Define "birth order" in a family. Ask the students to divide themselves into four groups:
- The eldest in the family
- The youngest in the family
- Any place in the middle
- An only child
Then ask a child to volunteer to be the leader from each group. The leader's role is to:
- get everyone involved
- ask questions
- write down the children's answers
- report back to the class or group
Questions to ask:
- "What do you like about your birth order?"
- "What don't you like about your birth order?"
- "How are we alike as a group?"
4. You will need an open space with the children standing. The teacher or leader whispers the name of an animal to each child, or the children choose a slip of folded paper with an animal name or picture on it. At a signal the children imitate the sound their animal makes. They move round the room, making their sound until they locate their animal matches. Examples are cow, pig, sheep, horse, chicken, dog or cat. Depending on the group size, have five or six of the same animal in a group. This is a fun way to mix the students to form small groups for other activities.
5. Discuss what constitutes a compliment. For example, say, "Eric, I like the way you take turns. Eric, when I say that, how does that make you feel?" After listening to the response say, "Eric, now you give someone else a compliment. You may think someone is good at running, drawing, being kind, reading, or playing fair." Eric gives a compliment and then the receiver gives one to someone else. The children may want to respond with, "Thank you, I'm glad you like the way I..."
A variation is to have the children sit in a circle. Start by giving a compliment to a child next to you, who in turn gives one to the child next to him or her. The compliments continue around the circle. Another variation is to pass out a class list to each child and have them write complimentary comments by each name. After the compliments are handed in, the teacher lists the names of each student on a separate sheet of paper along with what everyone said about him or her. An advantage of this method is that any inappropriate comments can be deleted. These positive peer statements nurture feelings of self-worth and good will in students.
6. Have a child pick out a crayon and hide his or her eyes as another child places it on something of the same color. (Make sure the crayon is in sight.) Then ask the child to open his or her eyes and walk around the room. Together, the children and teacher say "cold" if the child walks away from the crayon, "warm" if the child goes toward it, and "hot" it the child walks close to it. The student continues to look until he or she finds the crayon. Then everyone claps and two new children are chosen.
A variation is to choose any item in the room and have the students guess what it is by asking questions that can be answered by a "yes" or "no." For example: "Is it bigger than the desk?" "Is it on the floor?" "Is it blue?" The child who guesses the object is the next person to pick an item. After playing the guessing game, discuss how the children benefited from each other's help and that the "no" answers assisted them in finding the answer as much as the "yes" answers.
7. Have the students form a circle and throw a soft ball of yarn or cloth to one another. Begin with the letter A and the first person says a word that begins with that letter. The ball is tossed to another child who says a word that begins with B. The ball continues to be tossed around the circle until the end of the alphabet. If a child cannot think of a word for his or her letter, he or she may call on another child for help. The child with the ball repeats the word provided and the game continues. If a child throws the ball in a wild manner, he or she is out of the game. Variations are to have the students name animals, fruits and vegetables, names of people, nouns or verbs that begin with the letters of the alphabet. This can also be played while the children are sitting at desks or tables. Remind the students to throw the ball to children who have not had a turn.
8. Have the children partner with another child they do not know well. The students pretend to be reporters and interview each other. When both children are finished, ask them to introduce each other to the class or small group. Or have them write a paragraph about their partner to be read to the class and/or published in a class book or newspaper. Say, "When you interview another child, ask the question, listen, remember and/or write down what your partner says."
The following are possible questions that may be included in the interview. A variation is to have the students brainstorm their own questions.
- What is your name?
- How old are you?
- Where were you born?
- What is your favorite color?
- What is your favorite food?
- What food don't you like?
- What do you enjoy doing most?
- What do you like about school?
- What don't you like about school?
- How many brothers do you have?
- How many sisters do you have?
- Who is someone you like?
- If you watch television, what show do you like?
- What kind of art do you like to do?
- Where would you like to go on a trip?
- What is your hobby or interest?
- What sport do you like?
- What is your favorite thing to do with your family?
- How are you most like your mom, dad, or another adult?
- If you were going to live alone on an island and could only take one thing with you, what would you take?
- What is the hardest thing you ever had to do?
- When was the last time you were angry?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- What was the best thing anyone ever said to you?
- What was the best thing anyone ever gave you?
- When are you the happiest?
Leah Davies received her Master's Degree from the Department of Counseling and Counseling Psychology, Auburn University. She has been dedicated to the well-being of children for over 44 years as a certified teacher, counselor, prevention specialist, parent, and grandparent. Her professional experience includes teaching, counseling, consulting, instructing at Auburn University, and directing educational and prevention services at a mental health agency.
Besides the Kelly Bear resources, Leah has written articles that have appeared in The American School Counseling Association Counselor, The School Counselor, Elementary School Guidance and Counseling Journal, Early Childhood News, and National Head Start Association Journal. She has presented workshops at the following national professional meetings: American School Counselor Association; Association for Childhood Education International; National Association for the Education of Young Children; National Child Care Association; National Head Start Association; National School-Age Child Care Alliance Conference.We are sure you will benefit by reading her blog.