The school year was up and running, as was the after-school program. Just like in a classroom, the primary goal was shaping the students into a cohesive unit. For two weeks, we did activities that highlighted the individual, yet encouraged cooperation among the group. The students followed directions. They were treating each other nicely. They went through the motions of each activity, but something lacked. (You just know when the energy in the room is flat.)
One day, I observed the group during free-play. I wanted to know how they interacted and played naturally, without an activity to guide them. What I noticed was curious. Most of the children were playing parallel, not cooperatively with each other. These upper elementary students were so used to working independently that playing collaboratively was almost foreign to them. The activities (our curriculum) were too new and challenging.
After this realization, I knew that the objectives needed to be simplified so that students could achieve success as a group. Then, most activities focused on students working in pairs and occasionally in groups. Of course, they still needed free-play. With this balance, the students were secure and comfortable enough to be challenged by working together. Cohesiveness won't happen over night, but with communication and empathy, the group is now leaning in that direction. How do you create a cohesive unit? What activities or methods have been most effective for you?