With summer approaching, the thoughts of summer camps and kid groups are dancing in our heads. As professionals these groups can be exciting as we get to choose what we love to do and turn it into a session of weekly groups for the kids we love to work with. However, a smidge of anxiety often creeps up when we think about keeping all of these kids focused and engaged in all of the activities of session.
Some days our inner resources as child care professionals might be worn and low and we result to raising our voice or even shushing the group. While those strategies may work, we are always looking for new positive ways to engage and manage a group. Here are a few group management and engagement strategies that are fun, use the whole body while activating the sensory systems, allow for creativity and self-expression, and most importantly are effective when working with a group of kids.
Often time the placement and orientation of a child’s body and visual gaze can greatly impact their ability to remain focused and engaged on the group leader and tune out other distractions in the environment.
- Make a Circle: Placing the group in a circle is a great way to increase the engagement. By creating a circle you are taking all the energy in the room and pointing it towards the middle where you are the focal point.
- Body Position: As you look around your circle you may see some kids folding forward, kicking their feet, or even tipping backwards in their chairs. A simple solution is to get rid of the chairs all together or have the kids sit ‘criss cross apple sauce’ in their chairs. When sitting on the floor the kids will feel more grounded into the earth. More of the body is touching a surface (the floor) versus dangling in space looking for stability. By having the group cross their legs you are again providing stability to the body, increased sensory input to the body, less access to movement, and you will also notice an improvement in spinal posture creating an outlet for increased eye contact and focus on the group leader.
- Visual Boundary: Kids who are moving about and seeking movement during seated tasks are often telling you with their body that they need sensory input in order to organize their sensory systems to attend and engage. Create a square shape with painters tape for each child to sit providing a visual boundary. This eliminates the fidgeting of carpet square corners and teachers boundaries to children.
As a group leader you often feel like a ‘one man show’ attempting to get the focus of a group of children. Here are some ideas to spark focus in the group.
- Ball Play: At the beginning of each group start with a ball activity. The ball can be big, small, textured, or colored just whatever you desire. If you forget a ball you can even use an imaginary ball allowing each child to use their hands to show how big the ball they “catch” may be. The visual of the ball ignites engagement for kids. While passing the ball pose an engaging question with a self-expression flare such as “Tell me your name and your favorite pizza topping” or “If you could be any animal which would you choose”. The question might be silly to build rapport and engagement or it may be setting the stage for what you are teaching the group that day. Focus will flare up as each kid waits for their turn to hold the ball to answer the questions I have posed. Here are 2 fun ball activities to create attention and engagement in a group setting.
– Memory Ball: While each child is sharing their answers to the questions, write them on small cards without the child’s name. After everyone has shared, flip through the cards and whoever is holding the ball must pass the ball to whoever’s card is being shown.
– Feet for Hands: Instead of using your hands to pass the ball, switch it up and have the kids pass the ball while holding it between their two feet. This is great to activate the core muscle groups as well.
This is the tricky part. Now you want each kid to not only sit – but listen to you as well as all of the things each child in the group wants to share. Here are some tips to keep EVERYONE engaged and absorbing new information from your group.
- Race Track: Set the kids up in two horizontal lines facing one another. Be mindful of who is across from who to prevent side talking. If your topic for the day is ‘Making Friends’ place cards at the end of the race track asking questions regarding that topic. When it is a child’s turn have them start at one end and move in a creative way to the end of the track where the questions are. I will often have the kids animal walk to the end. Now while the kids on the side are watching their friend do the animal walk they can also have a movement based task. These kids can hold a related yoga pose. Example: Child who is in the middle can bear walk while the outside kids hold Tree pose to create the forest for the bear to roam through. With this activity each kids body and mind are both engaged keeping their attention focused on the group activity.
- Act it Out: Any concept that I am teaching I find a way to incorporate an “Act it Out” portion. Get creative here with any topic. If your topic is bullies, have your kids walk or stand like a bully. No words needed. If your group is focused on sensory exploration and the substance is shaving cream, have your kids make their bodies move like shaving cream.
- Pop Quiz: When children are answering questions or providing suggestions, turn their answers into a pop quiz to decide who gets to take their turn next in a game. This will work on memory, focus, and retention of the new information.
Use these strategies not only for your summer groups but also in your classroom if you are a teacher or in your group therapy sessions if you are therapist or even in your yoga classes if you are a yoga instructor. All of these strategies are activating the senses and getting the whole body engaged which is our most powerful tool to get the mind focused on what we hope to teach our kids in a group setting.