In my last year of grad school, I led a drama therapy group for elementary-age children on the autism spectrum. This group of kiddos were super creative and LOVED theatre, but sometimes they had too much energy to stay in a designated play space. Circle games? In the words of one of my group members, “No, thank you.” Some days, you just have to roll with the chaos and use it to your advantage.
Other days, we really struggled to get along. My group members, like many kiddos on the spectrum, wanted to make friends SO badly, they just lacked the social skills to do so. Have you ever played pictionary and no one on your team could guess what you were drawing? No matter how many times you try to redraw the image or point out different aspects, your teammates are just not getting it. That’s what every social interaction feels like for these kiddos. There is a broken connection between the overall picture and the thing that you are trying to communicate.
On our worst days, our drama therapy group had both way too much energy and too many missed connections. These usually resulted in lots of loud grunting and time spent in the chill out corner. As the facilitator, I had to do something to help these kiddos form connections, all the while, giving them freedom to run, hop, skip, and lobster crawl around the room. My solution? My dear friend, the Kraken.
If you haven’t heard of the book, The Kraken’s Rules for Making Friends by Brittany R. Jacobs, it’s a cute little picture book about, you guessed it, a sea Kraken trying to make friends. The Kraken struggles to fit in with the other fish since he’s so large and scary. He asks a shark to help him learn how to be friendly. The shark helps him learn the 6 Golden Rules to finding a friend and they all live happily ever after.
I used the story and the 6 Rules as the basis as my scavenger hunt. For each rule, the kiddos had to work together to solve the riddles and complete each challenge. You can find out how I did this below. Here is what you’ll need:
- Golden Keys- 1 for each participant (I just printed three keys out from the internet)
- Locks- 1 for each participant (Again, I used pictures of locks that I printed from the internet)
- A treasure box ( I was lucky to get a treasure box at walmart during their after-halloween sale. However, you could easily get a shoe box and tape a picture of a treasure box onto the lid)
- A message that says Rule #6
- Prizes for the treasure box (I put in snacks)
For my group, I brought the book in with me. However, if your group is too old for picture books, feel free to play all of these games without the story line. The book just made it easier for my kiddos to transition from one activity to the other. We started the day by playing a quick warm-up to get their fins swishing, their imaginations swimming, and their gills pumping. Next, we all sat or stood in a circle and I began to read the story.
Rule #1: KEEP YOUR COOL! For this challenge, we stayed in our circle. I started the game by being the Clown Fish in the center. The goal of the clown fish is to get someone sitting in the circle to laugh. The clown fish approaches someone, and says “Glub Glub” The person chosen must say, “No one likes a pouting fish!” without laughing. IF they can get through the phrase, the clown fish must go to another person (or fish) in the circle. If they laugh, they are the new clown fish. We played this until everyone in the circle had an opportunity to be the clown fish. I chose a kiddo who did well and rewarded them with a key. Then, we moved on with the story.
Rule #2: SMILE! For this challenge, I asked my school of fish to follow me, the leader, to another corner of the room. I dived, twirled, and zig zagged and expected my school of fish to do the same. Then, I asked each fish to partner up, backs together. Here, we played Emotional Greeting. When I call out an emotion, each fish was turn and face their partner anf greet each other with that emotion. We went through the easy ones: happy, mad, sad. Then, we did some trickier emotions, like annoyed, surprised, and shy. After each emotion, we explored what it felt like and how each emotion was unique. This activity is great for kiddos on the spectrum because they practice saying hello, making eye contact, and exploring different types of emotions. Again, the kiddo who I felt deserved a reward received a golden key. Again, another kiddo who tried their best receives a golden key.
Rule #4: SHARE! There are a lot of sharing games that you can play to practice sharing depending on the age group. For this activity, we were going to play Lava Island- a game that requires getting across the lava on stepping stones (paper plates or a sheet of paper) that require two peoples’ feet to stay afloat. If you jump to the next stone and forget your partner, you lose the stone. This makes it difficult to get all the way across safely. If enough stepping stones are lost and you can’t get across, you have to start over.
It’s a fun game that takes serious team work. However, when we got to this point in the scavenger hunt, I knew one of my kiddos would not succeed in this challenge. She was struggling to follow directions, listen to her group members, and have an overall positive attitude. However, this particular kiddo also refuses to go to the chill out corner when she’s upset because she doesn’t like to miss out on the fun. As I was reading the few pages to get to Rule 4, I was racking my brain for a relaxed activity for sharing so that she could earn a golden key. As I got to the part where the Kraken learns how to share, one of my kiddos (bless them) said, “Miss Anna, I’d like to share my key with [NAME] since she hasn’t gotten one yet.” Simultaneously, I felt proud of my kiddos and relief that I didn’t have to come up with a new game. Challenge completed.
Rule #5: LEND A HELPING FIN! For this challenge, we swam like dolphins to another corner of the room to play Lend a Helping FIn because it takes creativity and initiative. We started by following the leader to another space in the room. A player starts by pantomiming an impossible task to do by yourself: carrying a heavy box, playing volleyball, searching for treasure. One player, or multiple players, jump in and lend a helping hand. When the task is complete, the player who initiated the pantomime says, “Thank you!” so that everyone knows they finished the job and the next player can begin their pantomime. This time, I gave a key to the kiddo who gave their key away in the last challenge. I asked all the kiddos to present their keys to the treasure box, so that we can find out the final clue to making friends. We opened the treasure box to reveal the secret message and a prize for each group member. Can you guess what the final clue is?
Rule #6: BE YOURSELF! I wrote rule number six on a large banner that they got to unfold and read together. In the treasure box, I also included drinks and snacks. After all, they deserved it after all that socializing! While they ate their snacks, I finished the story and we discussed what we learned.
So there you have it! One giant scavenger hunt. It didn’t go as smoothly as I had planned (read rule 4), but what drama therapy game doesn’t call for a little improvisation?
If you liked what you read, go ahead and subscribe to our blog for weekly creative arts therapy inspo!
Do you have any other books that you turn into interventions? Comment your ideas below!