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Working with larger groups of children

2018

Hi CYC friends,

I'm used to working with children one-on-one or in small groups, but lately I've been facilitating larger groups. I feel like planning and leading activities is not my forte as much as counselling-on-the-go or hanging out (etc.) are. I was never that interested in organized activities as a kid, so it's harder for me to be enthusiastic about doing them, I suppose. My role at the moment feels more similar to Early Childhood Education than CYC.

I'm also struggling a bit with "getting them to listen". I put this in quotation marks because even that language makes me feel uncomfortable – I feel as though it's seeking compliance. But how can I make sure that kids are more engaged and focused when they get off track? I hate raising my voice, but I understand it can be necessary for them to hear me. Still, it brings up something for me.

Are there environments/positions that my skills would be better geared towards? How do you keep kids engaged in group activities without feeling authoritarian?

With care,
Falon Wilton
___

Don’t try to control it – have fun with it!

Our approach to facilitating large groups is simple. Make it fun. You entertain to engage, engage to educate and educate to enlighten – but you always start with entertainment. Kids will never be interested if it bores them. If I find the group slipping I personally start tap dancing. But a 6’5” guy suddenly tap dancing is likely going to get anyone’s attention :)

I will say this sentence caught my attention: “ I was never that interested in organized activities as a kid, so it's harder for me to be enthusiastic about doing them.”
Never forget – kids can spot a bullshitter a mile away.

Andrew Middleton
___

There are a few things to consider.

One is the difference between authoritarian and authoritative. The first uses power over others, while the other is the use of power, which from a restorative and relational context, involves using power WITH children.

The second element to think about are engagement strategies to get attention. Part of this requires doing whatever it takes to get attention and bring focus from where the child/children are at to you...and activities.

Have a look at this TEDx. It is based on the above and Improv Everywhere. The concept behind Improv is "Yes and!" There is no NO! Do not fight the energy in the room...go with it and channel it!

https://www.ted.com/talks/charlie_todd_the_shared_experience_of_absurdity

I always carry a bag of "stuff" puppets, squishy balls, pipe cleaners, bubble to blow! In fact I just found my finger puppets the other day and my favorite...the noise making moose!

Rick Kelly

Hi Falon,

I really enjoy and have found success using techniques that grab attention to help recover a group that has gotten off task. One of the ones I've found really successful is something that grabs their attention and encourages a group response.

This can look something like you calling out, "If you can hear me, clap once!" and clap your hands. When the group claps in response, you then call out, "if you can hear me clap twice!" and clap twice, when the group responds, you can then address what's needed. I've used this technique with kindergarten students up to grade 5/6 students and it's been fairly effective.

Not every student will respond to the first clap. However, those that do will attract the attention of the rest and most will typically participate in the second claps, even if they don't fully realize what's going on yet. This one does not require much explanation before using it as it includes the directions in the technique and tends to work well. I always follow up by thanking them for their attention, then move forward.

Some techniques I've seen work when others use them are similar in concept but do require explanation to the group before using. My son's teacher calls out, "1, 2, 3, eyes on me!" Then the group responds, "1, 2, we're looking at you!"

Another teacher I know manages the volume level by saying, "Waterfalls!" And the class joins her in saying "Shhhhhhhhh" as the sound the waterfall makes.

I would also consider the Redl & Wineman behaviour management techniques. There are a lot of good tools discussed there to give you guidance on how to manage the group to meet their needs.

I hope some of that is helpful,

Becca

Greetings Falon,

I understand the feelings of supporting children in participation and find it interesting that you feel like an Early Childhood Educator when doing group work with children. Part of being socially aware humans is to know that there are times to be or work in groups while there is also time to be an individual. There is never a formula for when this should happen.

As for yelling, I think there is a difference between yelling and raising your voice to get the groups attention. It's the intent and delivery. For instance when we yell we need to understand the emotions that are tied to it such as frustration, fear or anger, when we raise our voices it may be to get attention or a clue as to where you are in the space. One technique depending on the children you work with (age wise) could be to use a whisper technique. Say something fun and playful quietly with some directions and gain the children's attention slowly but make it a game. As CYC we do lifespace work and if children speak and communicate through play, we need to speak their language. Use fun and play.

As for getting children to do group work, your right it may not be everyone's favorite thing to do, in this case we can only encourage them to join or find ways to adapt to the interests.

Hope this helps.

Devon

Hi all,

Thanks for some great suggestions.

Hmm, I don’t think I’m bullshitting them! I’m more referring to a lack of drive to organize certain things (this comes with my neurodiversity). I also want to clarify: I feel more like an ECE in these two jobs because of the kind of activities we do/the setting, not because we are in groups. I’ve spent a lot of time in various childcare roles as well, and am aware of some of the similarities and differences!

I can definitely understand the nuance of yelling vs raising voices, it’s just a personal trigger I’m working through. The whisper idea is clever, I like that a lot. Using fun and play is a good reminder to think outside the box in that way. (I think I play, it just looks different because I’m autistic). Thanks, Devon.

Becca, thank you for the concrete suggestions! These are very practical and I can see myself using them. And Rick, I appreciate this resource a lot. As a former drama kid, I love me some improv theory.

Sincerely,
Falon

Hi Falon and everyone!

I love your questions and advice-seeking here Falon – it shows courage and a passion for developing your skills as a practitioner. There has been some very concrete and useful advice here as well – that is wonderful! Nowhere in your original post did I get a sense that you were a 'bullshitter' or socially unaware. I am glad you clarified those points as you did.

I do think one of your questions was left unanswered:

"Are there environments/positions that my skills would be better geared towards?"

I would have to say that yes, there definitely is. Although it is great to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, I think there is great value in understanding where our strengths lie as practitioners. Not all child and youth work has to be in groups. There are lots of CYCPs who go into private practice and even become psychotherapists. As I see it, psychotherapists, individual counsellors, or social workers with a CYC educational background are very well-rounded! I highly recommend you explore these roles further.

Also, with the advent of online counselling and mental health support, I see a future of CYCPs counselling young people in their online life-spaces.

So, do not fret! There is CYC work outside of groups. As many of our prolific writers like to say: ‘CYC is a way of being in this world. It is not a prescriptive practice.’

Best,
Nancy

Hi Falon,

May I just simply say these things:

First off, just be yourself and GIVE yourself time to get comfortable in your own "skin" and the environment.

Getting feedback is wonderful and you couldn't ask for a better platform, but you control your destiny.

Please do NOT give up, give in or think your not making an impact in these children's lives. Falon, you’re growing and stretching too.

Go easy on yourself and maintain your inner child....don't get lost out there, probably all you have to do is just try to have fun. Relax. Breeeeeeeeeathe. I forget how relaxing that can be. Maybe that could become a daily ritual to get everyone focused.

These relationships take time and children basically all still just want to be kids, perhaps starting there first. Let them be. Perhaps the stragglers or non-attentive will come around in time. Be confident in who you are as a grown up person.

Good luck to you and I'm sure your doing a much better job than you realize.

Peace,

Aliese Moran
...

Hey Falon,

I realise I am jumping into this conversation a little late, but I just read your post again and I am wondering about something. It sounds to me (and I may be completely wrong) that you might be more introverted than extroverted. I am a strong introvert, and it has taken me all my life to realise how this impacted on so many things that did not make sense to me. I also prefer one-on-one and things like raising my voice just don’t “feel right” to me, yet I see others doing it so easily.

I am wondering if that is something you might want to look into: understanding your own personality better. Now that I am starting to understand what it means for me to be an introvert, I am able to make a greater effort where I need to. I had to learn (more than others) how to do things in groups, and even today I don’t feel entirely “in my skin” as I do – but I am much better than I was. On the other hand – now that I understand myself better, I also know my strengths and I excel in those areas.

So I am suggesting that this might be a bit of a personal journey for you to understand yourself better – that will also help you understand some of the kids better.

Just my thoughts....

Stay well.

Werner
South Africa

Hi again,

Thank you for some more food for thought. Nancy, I appreciate you answering my question about environments. I’m not new to working with young people, but I am new to CYC and was having doubts that I was “the right fit”. I see more now that our profession is so complex and dynamic! The suggestions you made really resonate with me.

I’ve always had the tendency to be much too hard on myself, even as a little one. It is such an important reminder not to take individual challenges as global failures. Thank you, Aliese. I’m learning to return to playfulness each day.

Werner! Funny you should bring this up, actually. I’m a big fan of all different kinds of self-reflection; recently I looked to MBTI types after assuming I was an INFJ for so long. Turns out I am an INFP! I appreciate external structure for many situations, but have a hard time generating it from within. (I think I knew this deep down, but it was harder to ignore when the internet spelled it out for me, haha). This is why interdependence is so crucial, isn’t it?

I appreciate the opportunity to be self-reflective in such an established and resourceful support network.

With Love,

Falon Wilton
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