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Practice Hints

A collection of short practice pointers for work with children, youth and families. Contributed by Brian Gannon.

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Group and regroup

We all work with groups in our programs — whether with the scheduled ball game or with two or three kids gathered around the end of the lunch table. Some groups we consciously plan, to make sure that we cover the curriculum required by the youngsters (recreation, stimulation, belonging, skills, achievement, etc.); other groups (of two, three or more) form spontaneously from moment to moment. Both kinds of groups, the planned and the spontaneous, are the concern of child and youth workers.
Some ideas about the groups you may plan or come across today:

Groups work for the kids. If we find that one youngster is being hurt (teased, excluded, made fun of) or that another is using the group to dominate negatively (hijacking the group for some purpose, bullying) then we clearly have a process which is working against our program goals. We will want to enter such a group to add support and balance where needed, or we might regroup the members into two groups. (Remember, we may want a particular youngster to be find a group difficult, to learn assertiveness or to experience some reality; or we may want another to be dominant in order to practise some new learning, but these groups will be carefully managed within our goals.) The point is that if a group is not working for the kids, we are losing program impetus and potentially harming young people.

Groups vary. Good planning will ensure that a youngster experiences groups of varying size, formality, composition and levels of activity during the day. We are always tempted to use groups "to keep the kids busy", and in doing this we will soon fail to meet their needs. We know that too many large, noisy and active groups can be overstimulating; too much undirected free time can be experienced as boring and neglectful. Children enjoy a quiet time after an active time, and vice-versa, and we are good at using this knowledge. We get opportunities to talk after a ball game; we blow off steam by jogging after a quiet study period. Youngsters also learn valuable social skills from variation, for example, to discriminate between boisterous and quiet times, between "locker room" and dinner table conversation.

Groups teach, challenge and reward. We have youngsters in our programs for a limited time and we should try to get the maximum benefit from the groups we work with.

• Try to give children at least one group a week where they get the opportunity to lead (perhaps helping with a younger group or teaching a skill);
• try to include children in at least one group a week where they are "bottom of the pack" and have to learn new things and work their way up;
• and, just as often, try to have them in groups of their equals where they face good peer interaction and competition.

One of the central principles underlying our work with children and youth is that it was in social, interpersonal situations that they were first hurt and harmed — and it is in social, interpersonal situations that they rediscover confidence and healing.

So group and regroup.

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