Activities for Grades K-8
The purposes of group activities are to promote discussion or teach a self help skill. Kids can always take a pass on discussion--no one is forced to reveal feelings.
Send your suggestions for possible inclusion here.
I. Ice Breaking/Group Formation (For your first meetings)
Cut oak tag into small cards. On each, write a nonthreatening sentence stem appropriate to the age of your group, such as: "When I go outdoors I like to _______" or "The place in the world I most want to go is _______ because ____." Put these into a paper bag and pass them around the circle, so that each student pulls one, reads it aloud, and completes it. Ask the group each time: who agrees? what other responses do they have? This lets the kids get to know each other while establishing the Banana Splits routine of looking for commonalities and alternatives among members.
"Giant Steps" or "Stand Up" (For younger kids)
Create a set of statements such as: "I share a bedroom with a brother or sister", "I stay every night at my mother's house", "My favorite kind of candy is chocolate." Read these aloud one by one to the group. If you have the room, kids can take a giant step each time they agree. If space is tight, they can just stand up in place (and sit down in between.) End with "I like picnics with pizza and ice cream" so all the kids act in unison and anticipate the end of year picnic.
At an early meeting but not the first, children use doll families to demonstrate their family composition and with whom they live. They can field questions from other kids (kids may ask anything but children do not have to answer.) Multiethnic family dolls are available from www.childswork.com.
II. Talking About Feelings
At the start of each meeting, using a one-minute timer such as phone, the leader invites each member to update the group on what has been happening in the family. There are no questions or comments allowed until everyone who wishes to has checked in. (Anyone can pass.) Remind kids that they can ask questions or make a comment at the end, and that anyone who would like the group's input can then ask for it. This allows a structured and relatively risk-free way to participate, resulting in more kids speaking than might do in a freer discussion. (Thanks to Lila Margulies and Jan Mooney, NY.)
To help kids discriminate among different nuances of feeling and use the language in the group. Pointing to a face and feeling word on the poster, ask the group, "When do kids feel _______?" (This is less intrusive than asking "When do you feel..?") Order from www.creativetherapystore.com or www.childswork.com.
To do after some discussion of feelings. Write the names of feelings (angry, sad, worried) on pieces of paper, fold over, and place in a paper bag. Children take one and act it out, while other kids guess which feeling they are portraying. Errors in guessing can be used to underscore that telling someone how you feel is the surest way of communicating.
For cuddling or smacking: self soothing or harmless discharge. From an old sheet, cut rectangles twice as long as they are wide. Turn over about a half inch all the way around to make a smooth edge and iron it flat. Have the kids create a personal design for their pillows, using paper for a rough draft. Let them share and discuss their choice of design. Fold over the cloth rectangle, put cardboard between the cloth sides to prevent color bleeding, and then copy the design onto half the rectangle with permanent Sharpie markers. Have the kids stitch two sides shut, stuff the pillow with polyester fluff, and then stitch the remaining side shut. Kids keep these for years.
Learning to do something creative with anger. Make a smooth cookie dough without any hard bits such as chocolate or raisins. Place one Ziploc baggie inside another for double strength, then put a small amount of dough inside each, press out the air, and zip shut. Explain that these cookies taste better the more the dough is beaten, and then let the kids pound it. (Have extra baggies on hand in case of breakage.) Bake and eat, or let the kids take home their dough with baking instructions. Next meeting, ask the younger kids: who had the chance to bake their cookies? who helped them at home? (Thanks to Helen Fitzgerald, VA.)
Really great for kids dealing with change. I make homemade playdough and leave it white. Roll small amounts into a ball. Make a well in the ball and add a few drops of food coloring to it. Carefully close up the well so that it still looks like a white ball of playdough. Place the ball into a plastic baggie, one for each child. When the group meets, tell the kids they will be hearing a story about changes. Every time they hear the word change or a form of it, give the playdough a little squeeze. Eventually, the color will change and kids love to keep their playdough as a “prize”. You can make up a story that fits your group or make it very general. (Thanks to Julie Wolf, NY)
"Panel of Experts"
Kids create questions related to Splits living. A moderator is chosen and the rest of the kids sit behind a table. The moderator poses the questions to the panel for discussion, while you or your tech person films it.
If one or more students like to draw a cartoon character, let them create the art while the other kids contribute the plot, related to some aspect of Splits living. These can be saved so that future groups may read the comics of previous groups.
Distribute a small notebook to each student. For middle schoolers who sometimes dramatize or put on a public persona of braggadocio during discussions, to write for a few minutes on any topic before a discussion may get them in touch with their truer selves. As always, they do not have to share their writing. (Thanks to Dr. Jan Mooney, New York.)
Children write and illustrate a booklet about aspects of Splits life, i.e.: advice to other Splits children, advice to parents. (Thanks to Dr. Eileen Fitzgerald, New York.)
A good way to involve the school community in the program and also give kids role models. Kids of all ages love to listen to real life personal stories. Find an adult in the school community who experienced parental death or divorce in childhood and is interested in talking with the kids at a group meeting. It is essential that you first interview such mentors yourself, both to let them rehearse the stories they do and don't want to tell the group about their own experience, and to be sure they will be appropriate with the kids. It is not advisable to involve school staff who have children in the school system, even if they volunteer. Always remember that Banana Splits is there to address the needs of the students, not the adults.
Previous members who are now teens may like to be your assistants with a younger group. You can see a mixed age group in action in the video Breaking Apart, Coming Together" from www.InTheMix.org.
VI. Training in Problem Solving and Coping Skills
"CODIP" (Children of Divorce Intervention Program)
Along with other excellent activities, this published set of four manuals for grades K-1, 2-3, 4-6, and 7-8 contains instructions, reproducible cartoons, and a board game to use in teaching problem solving skills, as applied to living with divorce (www.childrensinstitute.net).
"The Coping Skills Game"
Board game from Childswork/Childsplay for ages 7-12 teaches problem solving skills in a broader life context (www.childswork.com). This company publishes many good board games.