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Strategies for Leading Youth Activities

We are in the season of summer camps and group activities and it is a time for fun and games for kids of all ages. I thought this would be a good time to share some strategies for youth leaders who may not have the same experience working with kids as physical education teachers do. Although all of these strategies are helpful to teachers as well!

Maintaining Appropriate Behavior

When providing activities for kids the goal is to maintain appropriate behavior so everyone has a fun and enjoyable experience. The goal is to build a community where kids feel safe, are able to take risks, try new things, help one another, and feel a part of the group. Yes, you will have discipline problems and may need to address bad behavior, but by focusing on keeping kids engaged and active you can provide a positive learning environment for everyone. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Treat everyone fairly
  • Use a variety of kids to demonstrate activities and help you with tasks
  • Be encouraging and helpful during activities
  • Model and promote good manners
  • Choose fun and engaging activities at the appropriate skill level
  • Establish and teach your rules and expectations
  • Use positive interactions with kids both verbal and non-verbal
  • Prompt kids with the behavior you are looking for not what they are doing wrong
  • Keep everyone safe- physically and emotionally

Creating Partners and Groups

Forming partners and groups can be one of the biggest challenges for leaders of kids activities. Many Sometimes it is best for groups to similar skill ability while other times having all levels of skills in a group works well. The goal is to group as quickly as possible, reducing inactive time and providing for smooth transitions. Here are some strategies for forming groups and partners:

  • Lost and Found
    • Ask kids to find a partner or tell them what size group they should be in, “groups of 3”.
    • Groups should be formed before you count down from 5. Kids not in a group should be invited to join others, or move to a central spot (“Lost and Found”) where you help them find a group.
  • No “Captains”
    • Do not let kids “pick teams” by calling out names of individuals 1 by 1). This is emotionally unsafe and wastes activity time.
  • Creating 2 Large Groups
    • Cue kids to get back to back with partner. E.g., 1 is “an apple;” the other “an orange.” All apples form 1 group; oranges the other.
    • Use pre-existing groups, like grouping by who their leaders or counselors are.
    • White tops in 1 group; colored tops in the other.”
    • “Those with a pet in 1 group; those without in the other.”
  • Creating 4 Large Groups
    •  Ask kids to get into groups of 4. In the group they number off “1, 2, 3, 4.” All “1s” go to 1 corner, all “2s” to another corner, and so on.
    • Kids walk the perimeter of the activity area. As they pass, hand each a playing card. When all have a card, create groups by suit. (If you want equal numbers, pre-arrange the cards.)
  • Creating Pairs or Small Groups
    • Play Back to Back. While kids move randomly throughout the activity area, call “Back to Back.” Kids quickly find a partner and stand with backs softly touching (hands by their sides).
    • Play Mingle-Mingle. On the cue, “Mingle-Mingle kids move randomly throughout the activity area. When a number is called, kids quickly form groups of that size.
    • Match by criteria- find a partner or group that has the same…
      • Color of shirt
      • Number of siblings
      • Number of pets
      • First initial of their name
      • Number of letters in their last name
      • Length of hair
      • Birth month
      • Birth day date of the month

Additional Tips for Leading Activities with Kids

  • Be prepared and organized.  Kids sense when there is confusion and tend to misbehave when there is a lack of structure.
  • Supervision is important for safety reasons as well as to make sure kids are engaged in activity.
  • Establish a system of helpers to set up and put away equipment
  • Mix up partners and groups often. This helps break up cliques, and mixes up age and ability levels.
  • For your activities determine if each one is safe, enjoyable, active and age/skill level appropriate.
  • If the activity isn’t working, modify it. Change the rules, the equipment or the groups.
  • Be enthusiastic! The more fun you have, the more kids will enjoy it. You can participate too!

Leaders should always strive to lead physical activity sessions that are well paced and enjoyable. Kids should be encouraged to actively engage in activities. The quality of the leader will determine the success of activities and the experience kids have in the program. Hopefully these strategies will help you become the best leader (or teacher) you can be! Contact SPARK for more strategies and activity ideas.

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