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Step Four: Stretching

Difficult situations naturally arise if the group is together long enough. These situations are catalysts for stretching. However, since many youth groups are together for only a short period you may not want to wait for a stretching experience to surface on its own. It is sometimes necessary to initiate one. The following games include a wide variety of stretching exercises. Some introduce the issues that allow stretching to occur through symbolic means, while others ask players to draw from their own lives. Above all, these games are experiential. Many of them have hidden goals and benefits for the participants. For these games to work, everyone must actively participate, remaining aware of the emotions that arise in the course of playing. Group members facing struggles together must actively care for each other. Individuals cannot merely say they care for each other in a stretching exercise; they must actively show it.

Stretching experiences reap many benefits. They create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable enough to expose their imperfections to the group. It is vital to conclude stretching exercises with a talk-back or open-ended discussion of what just happened. If the time is right, these discussions will lead right into deeper sharing of the issues that came up for individuals and for the group

Stretching experiences can be a tremendous catalyst for personal growth. Facing and overcoming programmed difficulties give young people the confidence that they can cope with the everyday problems they face. They learn that they can accomplish more than they thought possible, if they believe in themselves.

Trust Walk Variations

Parameters: Perfect for a group from two to infinity!

(Remember anyone can opt out if they don’t feel comfortable. This, like other activities has the ability to trigger those who have experienced trauma. Make sure you explain the activity so people know what they are getting into.)

These exercises are adaptations of an essential idea—the value of interdependence. The group tests the boundaries of their trust in one another by experimenting with dependency. The trust walk also challenges group members to expand their perception of the world to include information picked up by senses other than sight. These exercises work best, but a large indoor space will do.

Ask group members to pair up. Explain the trust walk: One partner will shut their eyes or be blindfolded. The other will be their guide, and lead him by touch around the space. You can decide whether to allow speaking or not. The guide is responsible for the safety of their partner. Encourage them to explore unusual areas where the air might feel different. Have all pairs return after a specified time and switch roles. If you have any blind youth, you might leave space for them to share at the end of this exercise.

Variation: Have the guides lead their partners to within a few inches of a wall, then tell their partners to open their eyes.

Variation: Have the pairs stand back to back. Tell the guides to lead their partners around the space without breaking contact.

Variation: Have the guides lead their partners from the middle of the room to an object somewhere on the periphery. They can take a round-about route to this object, so as not to betray its location to their partner. When they have chosen objects, have them place their partners’ hands on the objects and encourage them to explore the texture, weight, smell, sounds of the objects. Then have everyone return to the center and open their eyes. Have the partners attempt to find their object with their eyes open.

(Lifting/carrying/supporting participants is a serious activity, along with remembering that anyone can choose to not participate, you MUST make sure a group is ready for the activity so as to have no one dropped.)

Trust Fall

Parameters: 2 to 60 people

Divide the group into pairs. In each pair, have one person stand directly in front of their partner, with their back turned toward him. Tell the person in front to close their eyes and fall backwards toward her partner. Their partner will catch them under the arms and take their weight gently to the floor, or lightly place the, back up to standing. Have the partners reverse roles. Variation: Break the group into groups of four to six people. Have them arrange themselves in circles with one member in the middle. Have everyone in the circle take a solid stance: one foot positioned in front of the other and hands out, ready to catch the falling body. The person in the middle can prepare to fall by closing their eyes, crossing hands over their chest and relaxing their body while remaining erect. The person in the middle can then ask the group whether they are ready to catch them, and fall in whichever direction gravity takes them. Have the groups pass their body between them and play with different speeds.

Trust Carry

Parameters: 10 to 60 people and a large open space

Divide the group into groups of nine to eleven. Have one member of each group lie on their back on the floor, while the rest of the group stands on all sides of the body. Have the standing members gently slide their hands under the body, being careful to support the head, torso, and pelvis. They can then lift the body over their heads, and carry them around the room or rock him gently. Tell the person being lifted to completely relax their body and take in the sensations of being carried. Then the group can slowly bring him down to the floor and take turns being lifted.

Variation: Place an object on a table. Make a line with masking tape four feet from the table. Move the whole group to behind the line. Tell them they have a mission: to pick each person up in turn, move them to the object and have them touch the object with a body part (finger, nose, shoulder) while the group is in complete control of the task. They must pick up every person in the group, and no body part can be repeated.

Forest Trail

Parameters: 15 to 40 people

(Remember anyone can opt out if they don’t feel comfortable. This, like other activities has the ability to trigger those who have experienced trauma. Make sure you explain the activity so people know what they are getting into.)

Have the group form a double line with people facing each other and standing about three feet apart. Have them extend their arms forward and imagine that they are trees in a forest. Then have one person stand at the end of the aisle, close their eyes and start walking through. They must get through the interweaving of branches in order to proceed through to the other side. Sometimes the branches may be stiff and require a firm push to get past, other times they are as soft as ferns. When they reach the end, they can open their eyes, return to one of the lines and become part of the forest. Let everyone have a turn.

Human Scavenger Hunt

Parameters: 15 to 60 people

Materials: Photocopies of the statements, made in advance

This is a good game to lead into a discussion of diversity.

Come up with a list of statements ranging from silly to meaningful, that could pertain to the people in the group. Some examples are “I have seen more than fifty Simpsons episodes,” or, “I don’t believe in God.” Make sure at least some of them will only pertain to a few people, if any. Write out the statements and leave a blank space next to each one. Distribute the papers among the group members, and tell them to find one person for each statement. You can stop the game before everyone is done, and discuss which spaces were easiest/hardest to fill.

Breaking Stereotypes

Parameters: 15 to 60 people

Sit or stand in a circle. Ask the group to think of human categories that they fall into and the stereotypes normally associated with these categories. Some examples are: woman, queer, white, student, sister, poor, short. Then ask them to think of ways in which they do not fit into the stereotype. Ask them to voice what they are thinking about when they feel moved to speak. Give an example by making your own statement: “I’m a blond but I’m not stupid,” or “I’m a mother but I have my own life.” Let the sharing continue until everyone has spoken.

Variation: (Materials: index cards and pencils for everyone.)

Pass out the cards and pencils. Give everyone a few minutes to write down adjectives that they feel describe them as part of a group like young, Irish, straight, or punk. Go around the circle reading out the cards. Choose someone to facilitate a discussion about people’s reactions to the words on the cards.

Pins and Needles

Parameters: 15 to 40 people

Materials: Paper and pencils, plastic straws and straight pins

Divide the group into at least three smaller groups, with at least five members each. One person in each group will be the leader. Talk to them each privately and explain what style of leadership they should adopt for their group. The three styles are: Autocratic (give orders like a dictator, not accepting others suggestions), Laissez-faire (stay out of decision-making, letting the group do what it wants), and Democratic (guide the group through a consensus process on all decisions, making sure everyone’s voice is heard).

One person in each group is an observer. Give them a pencil and worksheet with the following questions: Who is the leader? Describe their leadership. Describe others’ behavior in reaction to the leader. Describe the group atmosphere. How fully did all participate?

Distribute drinking straws and pins among the groups. Tell them their task is to create a structure. They have 15-20 minutes. Bring everyone together and share observations and reactions.

Human Machine

Parameters: 5 to 15 people

The object is to build a moving, churning, humming human machine. Have one person start with a motion, and noise to go with it, in the center of the room. When someone feels moved to do so, he can go to her and become a part in the machine, with a motion that interacts with the first and a sound that fits rhythmically. Let the machine grow until every person is in place. Then pick one person and whisper in her ear to begin malfunctioning, to get off the beat or start blocking another person’s motion. Let the machine slowly break down until everything is utter cacophony. Then quiet the group down and talk about what happened.

The Number Game

Parameters: 15 to 40 people

Materials: Chairs for all.

Arrange everyone in a circle. Explain: “In this game, the best thing to be is Number One. Number One is the most wonderful and powerful person in the game because they get to make the rules. I am Number One and the person to my right is Number Two. Number Two is a pretty awesome thing to be, because its almost Number One, but not quite. Number Three, the person the right of Number Two is also high up in the hierarchy—one of the royalty in this game, if you will—but not quite as good as Number Two or Number One. There is no Number Four. The person to the right of Number Three is Number Five, and the numbers proceed counter-clockwise around the circle. The goal of the game is to be Number One.” Begin by saying your number and someone else’s number: “Number One, Number 12.” Then Number 12 must remember who he is and say, in rhythm, “Number 12, Number Five”. If someone forgets her number, or gets out of rhythm, or says “number four” by accident, she must move to the last seat, and everyone shifts up one to fill her seat. Everyone moves up, but now they must now learn a new number. If Number One messes up, Number Two becomes Number One and can change all the rules and goals entirely.

Stop the game after several people have had the chance to be Number One. Make sure to discuss this one when it’s over.

(Power Shuffles and The Lap Game can be very powerful; therefore they need to be well planned. Chaplains and advisors should review the questions. If you think there is a chance that a question might be inappropriate, stay away from it. Remember to explicitly state that people always have the right to stand aside.)

The Lap Game

Parameters: 15 to 40 people

Materials: Enough chairs for everyone in the group, arranged in a circle.

This game is best for people who already know each other. Have everyone find a chair. Explain the game: when someone shouts out a question, everyone will answer without talking, by changing seats. Anyone can call out a question, but it is a good idea to start with funny, mellow questions and proceed to more intense ones. Some examples: “Everyone over 6 feet tall move three seats to the left,” or “Move as many seats to the right as siblings you have.” If there is someone in the seat you move to, sit on their lap.

Variation: Come up with a scripted set of questions to read to the group, Power Shuffle-style.

Space Ship Catastrophe

Parameters: A group of any size divisible into equal subgroups of ten or more, leaders for each group, and a separate room for each group.

Materials: Identical lists for each group, index cards for each member.

Come up with a list of characters to be copied and given to each leader, and write each character on an index card to be distributed to team members. Divide the group into equal teams. Have a leader take each team into a different room and give them identical explanations. The scenario: They are in a space shuttle circling the Earth, and have just witnessed its destruction in World War III. There is no human life, and very little plant and animal life left on Earth. Their ship is rapidly running out of supplies and oxygen. They have one emergency craft that can return to Earth by using the remainder of their energy, but it only seats one fourth of the people now on board. They will each be given an identity of someone on board, and they must defend their right to live, and come to consensus as a group about who will get a place on the rescue craft. Pass out the index cards. Each character should have advantages and disadvantages. For example, “A” might be a young fertile man, but he has a history of heart disease, or “B” might be post-menopausal, but she has a doctorate in world literature. Have the leaders leave them the master list and shut them in the room, instructing them not to emerge until they have decided and agreed.

Silent Tension

Parameters: 15 to 60 people

In your group, brainstorm ideas for scenes (i.e. characters and situations) that would create so much dramatic tension that the characters would be unable to speak. Examples: Two players. Where—a restaurant. Who—a couple. What—they’ve just broken their engagement. Or, three players. Where—a bedroom. Who—an old man who is dying, his son and his daughter in law. What—the couple is waiting for him to die, and he knows it. What is going on between the characters must be communicated in the silence between them. Ask for volunteers to be actors in the improvised scenes. Remind them that there is no dialogue, but to act on their impulses. After you do a couple scenes invite responses from audience and actors.

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