Favorite ways to add cooperative group bonding to your regular fun group activities

Copyright National Lilac Publishing, LLC

Have a group of people you'd like to foster cooperation and group bonding with? Think group bonding is impossible with "certain people?"

Does it seem far-fetched to say group bonding activities or certain board games work miracles in this regard? Well, years ago, we put together a day of relatively normal fun activities with an unruly mismatched group, but the activities had a group bonding twist to them. In this case it was a group of mixed age children but it can be adapted for adults as well. Here’s a direct quote from a parent whose kids took part in our group bonding activities day, “After she (the speaker’s daughter) took part in your activities day, she’s completely stopped her favorite pastime of hitting her little brother over the head… on her own! We need more of this."

Some of us believe cooperation is part of humankind’s inherent wiring. Just tap into it enough and it will grow naturally and start guiding behavior subconsciously. Now, unlike some, I also like competition. But I think society might be blind to the fact that there’s way too much of it, and we don’t know what we’re missing as far as becoming a better society. Natural cooperative behavior, in fact, even helped my competitive sports teams play better together.

So, we created an after school cooperative activities enrichment class. All we did was do cooperative activities and cooperative games. As time went on, changes in behavior beyond the after school program became apparent.

Parents were loving it and asking for more.

Here's how we did it and how it can be adapted to other situations:

Do group broad jumps to see how beyond-human far the group can jump as a collective whole. Draw a beginning line and have the smallest run and jump from that line as far as possible. Keep the beginning marked, but then mark where the second jump landed. As each participant takes his turn, move that second mark up. Have the strongest jump last. By having the smallest start, he sees his contribution very obviously. By having the strongest jump last, she sees how her strength contributes instead of needing to prove it with bullying or showing off. This was a favorite group bonding activity in our class. The smallest was especially encouraged, all were cheered on; the strongest was the group hero rather than the bully.

For smaller spaces indoors, do a similar group bonding game with ping pong paddles and balls. You don’t need a ping pong table, just a paddle and ball for each. This activity is so good at helping motor skills, it can even help hand and eye coordination in real ping pong games. Hold a paddle and repeatedly hit the ball up, and up again over and over as many times as possible without it hitting any other object.

Start with the smallest person and end with the most physically able again.

Count each hit, creating a group number that they couldn’t reach on their own. Some kids will still compete, pointing out how many more hits they got. Keep emphasizing the group number, and try to beat it in the future as with the above game. Others' contributions will start to become more apparent.

The group bonding counting game above can be adapted to other activities such as jump rope skips without missing, hula hooping whirls without dropping the hoop, bean bag or ring toss games without missing, basketball shots, and many others. If you want to do a lot of these, do each one initially mainly to establish a base number you want to try to beat as a group.

Occasionally use cooperative board games for sleep-overs, parties or family game nights. A company called Family Pastimes has many.

Brainstorm regular puzzle, card and board game ideas for turning competitive ones into group bonding cooperative ones.

It seems awkward at first, but after a while you’ll get the hang of it. Set a timer and play Scrabble as a cooperative group, seeing how many of the squares can be put on the board by a given time. Part of the challenge is that every family member has to contribute an age appropriate number of words. As another example, play Monopoly as “one company.” The board and a timer are the challenges for the group to overcome. See if, and how quickly, your company can become top dog within the set amount of time.

Or, time four adults as they each play solitaire with their own deck of cards. The idea is for all four collectively to finish in as little time possible with as few leftover cards as possible. The timer supplies the challenge. When one finishes as far as she can go, she can help the others. Players soon learn to hurry but not rush, and how to help, when to just cheer someone on, or just quietly let him focus. Save the group's time, adding a minute for each unwanted leftover card, and try to beat it later.

As with timed counting games, the first time you play a timed cooperative game, don’t tell anyone that you’ll try to beat this time in the future, or players may go slow on purpose for the first one.

Change art and craft competitions to art shows, galleries or “museums.” Many people put on pumpkin carving contests, scarecrow competitions, or contests to see who makes the coolest African paper mache mask.

Instead, organize carved pumpkin art galleries, scarecrow art shows and mask museums. Play appropriate music, offer theme-based snacks, give guided tours, and invite important people like the media, school principals, the mayor or grandparents to add to the challenge and festivities of the activity. Choose from the above board game ideas for a group activity to share at the event.

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