Energizers Get Children Learning
Tables and chairs pile against the walls, creating a dance space in the middle of the tiny cafeteria. Pop music fills the room; it's catchy beat punctuated by the dancers' low side kicks and flapping chicken arms. As the leader yells, "hold hands with the person next to you!" the music and the dancing come to a crashing halt. Laughing, the participants reach for one another. Moments later, the music is turned back on and the jumping, twisting and air guitar moves continue.
This is a Right To Play Energizer.
"Energizers energize!" says Linnaea Jasiuk, a program officer with Right To Play's Promoting Life-skills for Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program in Canada. "They're fun activities that increase the energy in a group. We use them before we start any of our lessons because they mentally, physically and emotionally prepare the kids for what they're going to learn."
Typically five to 10 minutes long, Energizers are a big part of how we play and are used at the beginning of our programs around the world, whether it's for a math class in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania or a positive coping-skills lesson in Aamjiwnaang First Nation Community in Ontario. They range from partner-oriented challenges, like a three legged relay-race to memory-based circuits, like remembering and running a figure-eight pattern―and all of them get kids on their feet, interacting and moving.
With a well-stocked library of options to choose from, our teachers, community mentors and coaches select each Energizer based on participants' needs and the lesson being taught in the program.
"They're simple to understand, easy to play and require little to no skill, so anyone can do them," adds Linnaea. "They're also incredibly beneficial and a really important factor in the success of our work."
Read on to discover why...
#1: Energizers Create a Safe and Positive Space
Because we work with vulnerable children in disadvantaged communities, many have experienced conflict, cultural challenges, disease, natural disaster, bullying and more. "These children and youth are in crisis," affirms Linnaea. "Their walls are up and they aren't letting anyone in. But they need to let go and trust us and each another in order to benefit from the educational, peace-building and health-based lessons in our programs."
Participating in Mingle Mingle, an Energizer where participants dance to music until the leader calls out a command like "make a group of three people" or "find someone wearing the same colour as you," work to break down emotional barriers. The upbeat music and group spirit create a sense of excitement, liveliness and unity. The leader's directions reinforce familiarity, likeness and similarity. And it all works together to create a peaceful, positive and safe environment for the participants. In our programs in Burundi, 87 per cent of the children say they now know how to resolve problems peacefully.
"After a few rounds, there are no more cool kids,"
explains Linnaea. "Everyone is doing exactly the same thing. This creates a safe space, empowering the kids to willingly act freely and to open up, which is a key state of mind to
be in when our lessons begin."
#2: Energizers Teach Inclusion and Gender Equality
All Energizers are created equal. In other words: they've been developed for girls and for boys to play separately and together. In all of our programs around the world, we promote inclusion for girls and for boys. As a result, in Pakistan for example, changes in positive gender attitudes have increased by 16 per cent vs 5 per cent in non-Right To Play schools.
"Every single one of the kids in all of our programs are given the exact same opportunity to play," affirms Linnaea. "It's just who we are and what we stand for, our team, Right To Play."
Group Energizers like Circle Up empower children and youth to join in, especially girls when they are playing with boys. Built with inherent comradery, Circle Up supports connection by encouraging the children to meet and greet one other in a safe and inclusive environment. Standing in a circle, the participants introduce themselves to the peers standing next to them. Then, at the leader's command, the circle breaks apart and the children and youth run around until they're directed to make another circle and the process starts again. "Everyone has a different threshold of comfort," explains Linnaea. "So sometimes it takes the girls a little longer to join the group, but when they see how easy it is to talk to boys or someone new and that the female leaders are laughing and having fun, they start playing too. That's why we don't stop until everyone has had a chance to participate."
"This is also where the shift occurs in all of the kids," adds Linnaea. "Not just the girls.
Once everyone is playing together, a sense of belonging clicks inside of them. The volume in the room increases, there's more laughter. It happens slowly and then suddenly, everyone is frantic and excited and comfortable."
#3: Energizers Build Self-Confidence and
All of our Energizers have been crafted with easy-to-follow rules so that anyone can participate in them at any time. Plus, they're adaptable and can be easily modified to accommodate the physical needs of the participants. This approach makes the children feel confident about joining in and can have lasting impact on their self-esteem. For the children and youth in our programs in Tanzania, self-esteem has increased from 16 per cent to 88 per cent.
"The Energizers don't come with an attachment," adds Linnaea. "There's no winning or losing so the kids just get to be themselves and enjoy playing. That's very freeing."
In Energizers like Huckle Buckle, participants gain self-confidence and coping skills by overcoming a new challenge. Divided into partners, the kids sit back to back with their arms linked together. On the leader's command "go!" the partners try to stand up without separating. This Energizer requires teamwork and communication, encouraging the participants to step outside of their comfort zones and find solutions together―all in a risk-free environment.
"The kids in our programs deal with changing environments all the time," explains Linnaea.
"It could be moving up to the next grade in school, standing up for themselves or applying for a job. These energizers infuse them with confidence and the ability to cope in a new situation."
#4: Energizers Promote Healthy Minds and Bodies
We use Energizers as the opening act to our programs, because they get children and youth dancing, jumping, singing, running and playing. This physical activity increases circulation, stimulating the blood flow to their brains. It also helps work the excess energy off, allowing the children to better concentrate on the program activity or lesson that follows whether it's inside or outside the classroom. Energizer's contribute to better learning outcomes. In Pakistan for example, children in schools taught by Right To Play teachers scored 10 per cent higher on standardized tests than children with no Right To Play teachers.
"Every Right To Play coach, mentor and teacher knows the benefits of our Energizers," laughs Linnaea. "They warm the kids up, wear them out and prepare them for learning, literally."
Participating in Go, Slow, Stop, an Energizer where participants pretend to ride a bicycle, drive a car or ride a motorcycle without bumping into one another until the leader calls: "go," "slow" or "stop," exercise the body and mind. The racing around, combined with reacting to the leader's commands correctly create a sense of physical liveliness and mental accountability. The activity physically tires the kids out and activates their brains enabling them to sit still and listen to their lessons after the Energizer is over.
"This sounds so simple, but it's very beneficial," says Linnaea. "Energizers are physical so they get the blood pumping to the body and to the brain. Kids need this because it physically and mentally gets them ready to sit in a classroom and pay attention. It increases their attention span."
Story by Adriana Ermter
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