Problem solving activities for youth

Written by lisa baker
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Problem solving activities for youth
Problem-solving activities can help a group of youth learn to work together as a team. (moving group of people image by Pavel Losevsky from

Problem-solving activities create valuable opportunities for youth to build teamwork, express creativity and foster communication. A problem solving activity is a game or role play that simulates a problem that a group of youth must work together to solve. These activities can be used in a variety of settings, from schools and churches to correctional facilities. When they are designed well and led by a qualified facilitator, problem-solving activities can give youth significant experiences that teach trust, empathy, reflection and initiative.

Human Knot

Human knot is a problem-solving activity that requires no props and can be played anywhere. At least seven players are needed, but no more than 16; larger groups can be divided into groups of ten . To play, have the group stand in a close circle with their shoulders touching. All the players should then put their right hand into the centre of the circle and grasp someone else's hand. Without letting go, they should then place their left hand in the centre of the circle and grasp a different person's hand. With none of the players letting go of either hand, the group must then untangle themselves so that they form a circle with hands linked around the circle.

This problem-solving activity can be used for multiple purposes. If the youth have just met at a summer camp or a similar setting, they can introduce themselves when they clasp hands, making the game into an icebreaker activity. Because the game requires participants to interact physically, it is also a good warm-up game for other activities that require touch, such as trust activities.

Helium Hula Hoop

Helium stick is a deceptively simple problem-solving activity that requires a group of youth to work together and communicate at a higher level. The only prop needed is a hula hoop. The group must be small enough for everyone to touch the hoop at once; ten to twelve players is the ideal size.

To play, have the youth stand in a circle. Tell them that the hula hoop is filled with helium and may float upward if not held down. Have all the youth hold both hands out with index fingers extended. Place the hula hoop on top of their index fingers. The goal is for the group to lower the hoop to the ground without anyone losing contact with the hoop. If any player's fingers lose contact with the hoop, the group must start over with the hoop at the original height. Usually the hoop will move up instead of down at first because the players are trying so hard to maintain contact with the hoop.

This activity requires concentration, patience and communication. A group of impatient youth may become frustrated quickly when the hoop continues to move upward. If they are able to work through their frustration, this is a powerful activity for facilitating concentration and focus among an active group of youth.

Toxic Waste

Toxic waste is a classic problem-solving activity that requires the group to solve a complex problem. To set up, place a small bucket full of water or balls inside a large circle (marked by rope or chalk on the ground). The circle should be at least eight feet in diameter. The bucket is the toxic waste, and the circle is the radiation zone.

Place a second bucket, large enough for the first bucket to fit inside it, outside the circle, 30 to 50 feet away from the toxic waste bucket. This is the neutralisation bucket. Once the toxic waste has been transferred to the neutralisation bucket, it will be neutralised.

Place a pile of supplies for the group to use on the floor just outside the circle. These supplies should include a small bungee circle and several cords or ropes. It can also include any "red herring" objects you want that look like they might be useful.

The goal of the activity is for the group of youth to move the toxic waste bucket to the neutralisation bucket without spilling any of the toxic waste or allowing any participants to enter the radiation zone. Any body part which enters the radiation zone is disabled for the duration of the game. Toxic waste spillage can result in penalties such as blindness or deafness. You can make this activity more difficult by enforcing a time limit, placing the buckets farther apart, or adding obstacles between the buckets.

The most common solution to this game is to tie the ropes to the bungee circle. Each player then grasps the other end of a rope, and by working together they can move the bungee circle to the toxic waste bucket and place it around the bucket. They can then lift it by lifting the ropes, working together so as not to spill any of the "toxic waste."

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