Using Community-Building Activities

Community builders are short activities that help break up the day. They can be used as follows:

    • To get kids to feel more like they are part of a community by interacting with each other,
    • To transition between larger activities,
    • To gain control or focus in a class that is starting to stray or act out.

This section describes a few community builders you can try; many great ideas are available elsewhere as well. Collect them from colleagues and write them on index cards to add them to your repertoire.

Sound and Action Games

    • Zoom. Standing in a circle, students orally pass the word "zoom" around from one person to another. The activity moves rapidly to build and sustain community involvement. Variations include switching directions, multiple zooms at one time, students leading zoom, standing in shapes other than a circle and using other words to build vocabulary. The first time, have students sit in a circle with their legs crossed, sitting up straight with their hands in their laps. Model this posture, and ask the students to have their knees touch their neighbors' knees to form a tight circle.

    • In-Motion. This game is similar to mirroring, except that in addition to movement, it incorporates sounds and more extensive movements. In the beginning, a suggested rule is, "Keep your feet on the ground and stay where you are standing." One person (initially the teacher) conducts an action involving both movement and sound. Everyone repeats the model, then another person in the circle models an action with everyone repeating. The order can be determined by proceeding around the circle or from a caller who selects the next person.

    • Fruit Basket. The class sits in a circle on chairs, with one person standing in the middle. Participants are equally divided between three fruits (such as apples, oranges and pineapples). When the middle person calls out a fruit (e.g., "apples"), all the apples change chairs, including the middle person. The person "out" becomes the next caller. If a caller says "fruit basket" all participants have to change chairs.

Language and Word Games

    • 20 Questions. Most people remember this game from childhood; in it, one person picks something to be, like a famous person or an animal, and then the rest of the kids ask yes/no questions until someone guesses who that person is. It's a great way to keep kids focused when they have to stand around waiting or are moving between places. Here's a tip: If one kid is starting to act up a bit, put him in charge of the game or have him go first. It will bring him back on track.

    • Frozen-in-Motion. The leader and participants sit on their chairs. Initially, have the participants feel the floor, feel the chair and feel the space they are in. This can be done with eyes open or closed. Participants are then directed to feel and replicate an emotion, such as boredom, surprise or anger. The leader (the teacher or a student) then says, "Freeze!" Everyone freezes like statues, and the leader now says, "We are in the museum of boredom" (or surprise or anger, whatever the selected emotion is). The leader selects one person to hold his or her frozen pose and be the "statue" and everyone else focuses their attention on that person. Ask the class to describe different aspects of the statue, such as the posture or facial set. This is a great exercise for training observation skills and is good for building enhanced vocabulary for writing.

    • Proverbs. Take some standard 3"x5" index cards and write on them a number of famous quotes or proverbs that reflect the core values of your center. Make two cards for every quote, and be sure that the quotes are appropriate for the age and reading level of your kids. Bring the cards to class, and distribute them face down to the kids, either by passing them out at random or by letting them select from a box. Have everyone read the cards silently to themselves. Now tell them that everyone in the room has someone with the same quote; ask them to find that person and talk about what the quote means. (If you have an odd number of children in the group, use a card yourself.)

      Let the kids mingle and talk to each other, sharing the quotes until they find their partner. Make sure they understand that it's not a race. Once all the students have found their counterparts, have them return to their seats. You can stop now or continue discussing it as a group. Try asking questions like, "What strategy did you use to find the other person?" or "What does your quote mean to you in your personal life?" Try this activity using other things written on the cards, such as characters or quotes from books you read during the year.

Behavioral Games for Very Young Children

    • Have kids take a piece of tape when they come in every day and put it on their chairs. That's their "spot." If you have the need to calm things down during the session or transition from one activity to another, tell everyone, "Let's sit on our spots!" When they get there say, "Let's freeze on our spots."

    • Have everyone stand up. Give each child two pieces of easily removable tape about 8" long to put on the floor in an X shape. Tell them, "This is your spot. Can you stand on it please?" Now ask them to do various motions, such as, "Can you stand on one leg on your spot?" or "Can you touch your spot with three parts of your body?" or "Can you hold hands with somebody on another spot while still touching yours?" Do four or five variations. When finished, be sure to say, "Let's all clean up our spots" and have them remove the tape from the floor and throw it away.