Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Benefits of a Positive Recess Environment

Everyday, elementary school children are given the opportunity to take a break from their schoolwork and go outside for recess. There are many benefits of allowing children to take recess breaks during school. From an educational perspective, children are found to be more attentive to academic work following recess and demonstrate improved cognitive performance on school related tasks (Pellegrini & Bohn, 2005). Recess can provide exercise and physical activity for children as a preventative measure for obesity (Barnett, O’Loughlin, Gauvin, Paradis, & Hanley, 2006). The social implications of recess are substantial and have a lasting effect on the developing child. Interacting with peers (rather than adults) at recess is a predictor of positive school achievement (Pellegrini & Smith, 1993), and the opportunities that exist for social interaction assist with developmental tasks—such as improved social skills and cooperative play—and building close relationships with peers (Pellegrini & Bohn). In general, recess behavior is a positive predictor of social cognitive development in children (Pellegrini & Smith). In addition to being proven in studies, teachers and parents often witness these positive outcomes of giving children a recess break during school.
Although recess time provides students with opportunities for positive growth, children don’t always necessarily receive these benefits. For many children, recess is not a time for positive social interaction or physical activity. It is important to keep children active and engaged on the schoolyard at recess and break times. Given the potential recess has for influencing the educational, cognitive, and social development of children, it is important that we take steps toward creating a positive recess environment that supports and encourages children to experience the benefits of recess time. Here are a few ways that peer-led, organized games on the schoolyard can help with this goal:
1.      Provides opportunities for inclusion and social interaction in play
Research on the benefits of peer interaction at recess suggests that peer-led games may be an excellent way of allowing children to engage in positive, meaningful interaction. Social skills and peer relationships often develop within the context of active, social games such as tag, soccer, and jump-rope (Pellegrini & Bohn).
2.      Provides structure in order to decrease opportunities for bullying
The elementary playground/schoolyard was found to be a school location where the highest frequency of bullying takes place (Vaillancourt et al., 2010). Organizing structured activities on the schoolyard may reduce bullying, as children are engaged in goal oriented, cooperative and, often, competitive tasks.

Let’s set our children up to succeed. If we do our part to create a positive recess environment, our children will thrive.

Barnett, T. A., O’Loughlin, J., Gauvin, L., Paradis, G., & Hanley, J. (2006).
Opportunitites for student physical activity in elementary schools: A cross-sectional survey of frequency and correlates. Health Education & Behavior, 33(2), 215-232.
Pellegrini, A. D. & Bohn, C. M. (2005). The role of recess in children’s cognitive
performance and school adjustment. Educational Research, 34, 13-19.
Pellegrini, A. D. & Smith, P. K. (1993). School recess: Implications for education and
development. Review of Educational Research, 63(1), 51-67.
Vaillancourt, T., Brittain, H., Bennett, L., Arnocky, S., Mc.Dougall, P., Hymel, S., …
Cummingham, L. (2010). Places to avoid: Population-based study of school reports of unsafe and high bullying areas at school. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 25(1), 40-54.

Written by: Shea Wood, Dynamix Montreal office.

Dynamix: Team-building for Kids and Teens, since 2002.
Picture taken from Google Images, source:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Strong Teams Stick Together: A Lesson in Cooperation

"Cooperation" author Virginia Burden summarized, "is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there." At Dynamix, we have multiple activities centered on this principle; games designed to encourage our students to move as one unit and arrive at their goal together. These are my favourite types of games because you can see group-consciousness forming in young minds right before your eyes. A child who loves being the fastest runner in her class, for example, decides to slow down so that her team can move at a more careful pace - an especially important choice as her team is trying to carry a pyramid of cups balanced on a board while only holding its strings! (It is as cool as it sounds - request 'Pyramid Insanity' for your next Dynamix Event!)

However, it took an extraordinary group of eight and nine year olds to show me the essence of Burden's point. We were playing an old Dynamix standby in which each team must travel to different "islands" (hula hoops) as a group using "magic floating" (foam) boards without falling into the "ocean" (floor). Once the whole team has one foot on their island (in the hula hoop), they are allowed to plant their team flag on it and move onto their next one. That's the key - everyone has to be there; they can't leave anyone behind. A little boy, whom I will rename "Arnold," was growing frustrated with this game. Travelling by foam boards requires the kids to squish together, and so allow their personal space to be invaded. Arnold appeared increasingly upset by this arrangement and made the choice to sit out for a few minutes to calm down. When Arnold's team arrived at their first island I asked, as I always do at this point of the game, "Ok, is everyone here? Can I give you your flag?" And, to my delight, many on the team replied, "No!" and pointed to Arnold. They had not forgotten about him; he was part of their team and they could not complete the task without him. Arnold beamed with pride as he rejoined his team to plant their flag.

Anyone who works with kids will agree that their choices are constantly surprising and insightful. That day, Arnold and his team showed me that it is not so much the destination that is important. After all, Arnold's team did make it to their first island without him. Of most significance to them was that they complete the task together. It is often the case in school or at work that one assertive member of a team takes over a project. The task gets done, but the team as a unit is unsuccessful. Cooperation, then, is the thorough conviction that nobody can accomplish their goal unless everybody helps to accomplish it. 

By Shira Lurie, Dynamix lead facilitator, Toronto Office

Dynamix: Team-building for Kids and Teens, since 2002.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Making a Difference through Empathy

How do we educate our children about essential character traits that will help guide them to make good choices?  What traits are important to foster in our children?

I was reading through this list of “amazing kids who make a difference” and was thinking to myself, what is at the heart of these children’s kindness and giving spirit? What is a trait shared by these children that contributes to their ability to make a difference in the lives of others?
I realized that it is Empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else might feel; to put one’s self in “someone else’s shoes” and consider how another person is affected by their life circumstances and experiences. Empathy is essential. Empathy is at the foundation of qualities like kindness, respect, loyalty, and patience.
Many of the children in this list have seriously considered how someone else is feeling and, in turn, have taken action to improve the lives of others. Empathy can lead to taking initiative to help people; learning to be empathetic changes our behavior towards others. It’s important to teach kids how to be empathetic, but it’s also necessary to help kids realize that, once they understand how someone else might be feeling in a certain situation, they can actually make a difference and change those feelings through their own actions.
Children who have empathy are less likely to bully and more likely to intervene to stop bulling. It’s harder to hurt someone or standby and watch someone be hurt when we are tuning in to how they are feeling and how we would feel in a similar situation. 

It’s important to realize that empathy is a learned trait.
So, how do we teach our children to be empathetic?

1.      Don’t shush, discuss – In moments when children say or do things that could be hurtful to others, discuss the situation rather than simply telling them not to say or do those things. Discussing why their words or actions could be hurtful to others, a child can start to think about how another person might feel and how their actions contribute to those feelings.

2.      Model it  - If the adults in a child’s life model empathy, the child is far more likely to understand and acquire this trait. Talk through it and verbalize what you’re doing as you demonstrate empathy. For example, if you stop to help someone pick up coins that they have dropped while with a child, tell them afterward that you helped because the person may have been embarrassed or upset about dropping the coins, and helping that person to pick them up may have made them feel better.

3.      Praise it - Kids need to see themselves as capable of changing feelings, so when a child does something kind to another person, point it out and praise it! Make sure to be specific and mention the feelings involved. For example, “Annie looked really happy when you shared your toy with her. That was a very nice thing for you to do!”

4.      Ask questions – Asking a child to consider how someone else might be feeling is a good way to encourage empathy. Whether you are reading a story, watching tv, grocery shopping, or going for a walk, don’t be afraid to ask a kid how they think someone else might be feeling in a certain situation. For example, if you see a child being left out of a game, you could ask “how do you think this boy feels to be left out of the game?” or “how do you think it would feel to be left out of the game?”

Discussing situations where children are not being empathetic, praising children when they are, modeling empathy, and asking questions about feelings are all simple ways that we can foster the development of empathy in our children. If we are able to raise kids who have the ability to think about how someone else is feeling and in turn, treat that person with kindness and respect, we will have a whole generation of children who make a difference, in subtle and in big ways!

Written by: Shea Wood.

Dynamix: Team-Building for Kids and Teens, Since 2002.

Picture taken from Google Images:

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ontario Ministry of Education Approved!

We, at Dynamix, are proud to have had our Bullying Prevention Plans Ontario Ministry of Education Approved!

Dynamix is now listed on the Registry of Resources for Safe and Inclusive Schools

What does this mean for you:

Our proactive strategy is to prevent bullying by creating positive relationships. Through experiential activities, students learn to make good choices and to respect and care about each other so they do not bully and shut bullying down when they witness it. Studies show that when bystanders care about the victim, they can stop bullying within 10 seconds. Our Bullying Prevention Plan has programs that:

  • Build a team of recess leaders for an active, inclusive school yard.
  • Train students to recognize/exercise great character.
  • Develop student leadership skills to energize a school.
  • Create engaged teams in classes, faculty and school communities.
Registry Classification Checklist for this program (PDF, 44KB)
  • Audience recommended by the provider: K-12, Teacher/Parent Tool
  • Costing Information: Please contact.
Dynamix, 1703 Victoria Park Avenue, 2nd Floor, Toronto, ON M1R 1R9
Jo-Ann DaPonte

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Two Words that will help your team outperform the rest!

There are two simple words that make every team better. "Thank you!"  It's that simple.  Say them often.  Say them loudly.
With thanksgiving just around the corner this seems like the perfect time to be talking about these two simple, yet incredibly impactful words.
G.B. Stern once said: "Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone."  If you want to see positive choices and actions repeated, the best thing you can do is show gratitude for them happening in the first place!
It always amazes me how much more frequently we see people giving what has become affectionately known as "Constructive Feedback" (Which, overtime, has become another way of saying: "I'm about to tell you something I'd like you to do better, please don't get mad."), rather than Positive Feedback (which I guess would be more like saying: "I'm about to tell you exactly why I think you're wonderful!")  If you truly want your team to perform at the highest level, you and your teammates must reverse this trend.  Challenge yourselves to give positive feedback twice as much as it's 'constructive' counter-part.  Once you think you've achieved that, push yourselves to give positive feedback three times as much!  And never stop pushing yourself and your teammates to do better!  

Now, if you are going to do this, please make sure you do it properly, so get ready for "Thank You 101"...

Step 1: Always be looking for positive choices and actions.  Keep your antennas up!
Step 2: When you see great things happening, give immediate feedback.
Step 3: Be specific.  Don't just say "Thank you" and expect your teammate to know what you are talking about, tell them what you are thanking them for.  This may seem obvious, but it is often an overlooked step.
Step 4: When possible, thank your teammates in front of other people.  This has a double benefit.  (1) it feels great to be publicly recognized  (2) it gives others an idea of something they too can do for the team
Step 5: Repeat.  Often.

Now it's time to walk the walk...

THANK YOU for taking the time to read this article! 
Written by: Mitch Zeltzer, Dynamix Co-Founder.

Dynamix: Team-building for Kids and Teens, since 2002.