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There is No “I” in Team!

If you are a teacher I know how you are spending some days late in July and early August…
You are planning and decorating your classrooms! What is your favorite part of the new year?
Mine was always getting my class list and finishing all the labels and setting up desks and just getting ready for those kids to come on the first day. Part of my first few days of school had to be about community building- it’s those relationships you nurture right from the beginning that make your year the best.
Now, as a specialist, I still do those same things!  I still focus the first few classes on team building. 
Team Building Games for the beginning of the school year! (Or all year long!)

My Favorite Team Building Activities

I have tried all sorts of game type events and the ones I am sharing with you are those that work really well and kids love doing them. I don’t know about you, but as an introvert myself, I don’t always like team building things. My least favorite one is having a bingo type grid and having to go around and talk to other people to get their names on my grid. I really hate that. I promise these team builders are events most kids really like doing- and not just at the beginning of the year!

The String Lifter

I have no idea what else to call this one! Here’s what you need to make:
Team Building Games for the beginning of the school year! (Or all year long!)

You need a circular object – I use a large binder ring. It’s about a 3-inch diameter. You also need some heavy weight string. Yarn won’t work because it stretches. Cut about 12-20 lengths of string, each 10 feet long. Now, just loop them through the binder ring so that the free ends of string dangle. (Fold the string piece in half, thread the middle loop through the binder ring, and pull the loose ends through the string loop.)

This contraption will lay flat on the floor like you see pictured above.

 The idea is that students will hold a loose end of the string while standing in a circle and altogether they will lift- which causes the ring in the center to rise up. They must focus on keeping the string taut and the center ring level…

Team Building Games for the beginning of the school year! (Or all year long!)

…because you are going to place objects on that ring to be lifted! Above you can see teams that have advanced enough to be lifting a cup with a ball on top!

Team Building Games for the beginning of the school year! (Or all year long!)

Now, don’t start off that hard! Start with a ball that will sit fairly steady on the center ring. That makes the first attempt a little easier. As the kids lift they will have to talk to each other and keep lifting at a steady pace. After any failed attempt have them talk. What went wrong? What could they try next?

When they get that first object lifted, try something harder. I usually go with a cup next and turn it upside down. When they successfully lift that I add something sitting on the cup. Eventually, I end with a small stuffed animal that sits precariously on the center.

Some quick tips:

  • Each student should be holding one string, but sometimes you will have some that have two strings. In fact, you can add enough to the center ring so that every student has two strings.
  • If it gets frustrating have them all sit down and talk it out. This is where you need a rule about one person talking at a time.
  • No calling-out of students that aren’t doing this well. We all can drop a string or not hold one tight enough.
  • Start a chant to encourage them- like “Go slow” or “Hold those strings tight”.

Kids love this! I have tried it with first through fifth graders and they can all do it!

UPDATE: I get so many questions about this string device so here are some details for you!

The binder ring in the center has a diameter of 1.75 inches and the strings are nine feet long. Here’s a step-by-step.

  1. Fold the length of string in half and make a loop in the center.
  2. Place the loop under the ring.
  3. Pull the strings through the loop.
  4. Pull the strings tight and continue this all the way around the ring.

The Hula Hoop

Team Building Games for the beginning of the school year! (Or all year long!)
I know that’s a lot of hula hoops in the photo, but you really only need one. At first, I have had kids that were not happy with this challenge, but once they get started it becomes a very encouraging event.

Have everyone (you, too!) stand in a circle and hold hands. (This is why some kids don’t like this one!) The hula hoop should be over your arm before you grab the hand of a kid.

The object is to get the hula hoop to travel all the way around the circle- without letting go of any hands.

So, you start! Step through the hoop and then flip it over your head. The kid you are passing to will have to move his or her arm to help you maneuver the hoop and this will continue. The passing kid moves arms to get the hoop over the head of the receiving kid and so on – until the hoop goes all the way around. It’s actually quite funny to watch. It also takes tremendous cooperation from the kids that are locked together!

Want to add something extra? Secretly set a timer for the first try of this. Then tell the kids what their time was and see if they can beat the time on a second try!

Silent Toss

This is our absolute, most requested, all-time favorite. Kids beg to do this all year.

You need a ball. The one I use is a rubber band ball. Funny story. I bought that ball at Wal Mart 20 years ago. I do occasionally bring it home and wash it in the dishwasher.

Team Building Games for the beginning of the school year! (Or all year long!)

It doesn’t have to be a rubber band ball. A small foam ball or squishy ball will work. It just needs to be soft. (You could try a tennis ball, but I never have. I don’t want a ball to bounce and hit something in the room.)

The rules are simple:

  • Kids stand anywhere they want to in the room. It doesn’t have to be a circle.
  • They cannot talk except to say the name of the person they are throwing the ball to. This is one of the fair things about this game. The person is warned that the ball is coming. If the thrower doesn’t say the catcher’s name they are out!
  • They must toss the ball. They don’t throw it hard or fast. It must be a soft, easy underhand toss.
  • The toss must be catchable. If it’s over someone’s head or doesn’t reach the person it is supposed to, then the thrower is out.
  • If the receiver of the toss does not catch the ball they are out.
  • When you are out you sit down (I send kids back to their seats so they are out of the way.)
So, how long does this last? Ha! Here’s is where it gets fun!

After about 2 minutes I add a new rule.

I say, “STOP! Put one hand behind your back. Now, you catch with only one hand. The ball can also touch your body.”
This continues for about 2 minutes and then I stop them again! Below is a list of new rules that are added every couple of minutes.
  • Use only one hand to catch. The ball cannot touch any other part of your body.
  • Bounce Catch – this means when the ball comes to a student he must bounce it in the air and then catch it.
  • Bounce-Bounce-Catch -This means the catcher bounces the ball two times and then catches it.
  • Over-Under – This means the catcher bounces the ball with palm down and then palm up and then catch it. (This is hard!)
  • Bounce-Clap – Bounce the ball, clap one time, and then catch it.
  • Bounce-Clap-Clap, Catch – you get it!
And you just keep adding rules until you have a winner. How long does this take? I would say this is a 10-minute game. I use it at the beginning of the year as a team builder- because the kids work together to make those soft, pretty tosses catchable and we cheer loudly when someone makes a spectacular catch. Later in the year, it is a reward game or a time filler. We don’t always finish and declare a winner.

So, as your year starts think about some fun activities that get your kids up and thinking and working together. What’s your favorite go-to game?

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