"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.