4 Team Building Games (To Confuse And Anger Children)

Children aren’t even fully formed versions of themselves, so to expect them to work perfectly as a team is a fool’s gamble. Watching any number of seven-year-olds attempt to create a cohesive group is like dropping a bunch of octopi into a bucket of scrap metal and hoping that they think progressively enough to build you a new computer. All you end up with is a wriggling, disorganized mess, and probably one or two less octopi/children.

Crying kid.

Yay! Team building!

I work with kids, and I stay away from any sort of team building activity. It’s not because the kids certainly can’t do it – I’ve seen children accomplish all of the activities below. It’s that, in a great number of the times I’ve tried it, I end up with opposite of the intended effect happening. When it comes to teaching kids how to work together as a unit, I just stick with dodgeball. It’s way safer.

1.     Balancing Egg

How it’s played:

You have a ring that you’ve attached several pieces of string to. In the center of that ring, you place an egg. After useless fighting about what string they get to hold, the children will pick up the string and step back, pulling them tight. From there, they have to transport the egg from point A to point cracked egg. The key is to not let the egg fall.

What They’re Supposed To Learn:

From this, they learn how to operate fluidly as a group, and how to be gentle around each other, or something.

What They Actually Learn:

How to get angry at the clumsier members of the group. Watching kids do anything that requires a delicate touch is suspenseful. Any time a rambunctious child picks up a cat, there is a 60% chance that a YouTube video will occur, and any time a water balloon is handed to a kindergartner, you learn one more way to swiftly get rid of your water balloon supply by means of the orangutan spasms that most kids call their “grip.”

2.     Trust Fall

How It’s Played:

One kid climbs up on a spot that’s above the ground, while the other kids nervously line up into two columns on either side behind them, everyone awaiting the cruel decision that fate has dealt. They interlock arms and when the kid above the ground is ready, he counts 3…2….1 and falls back into their arms and usually into the ground’s eager embrace.

Trust fall.

What They’re Supposed To Learn:

Trust. That, if they fall, metaphorically or possibly from a bunk bed, that their new friends will be there to help them.

What They Actually Learn:

Fear itself. As much as kids put inedible things in their mouths and handle losing a board game by exploding the pieces into the air, most of them know what gravity is. They’re very aware that the human body has a simple truce with the earth, and breaking that pact will slam you directly into it. They also know that, in the battle between falling body and forest floor, the undeveloped arms of their terrified peers will do very little to keep them out of that asshole dirt.

Imagine yourself as a young child, being told by an adult, the main people you’re supposed to trust, that it’s perfectly alright to climb up on that stump, face away from us, and fucking throw yourself backwards off of it. You’re suddenly questioning everything you’ve ever been told.

When they fall back, a certain sequence of events begins. First, prayer. Second, half the kids throw their hands up to prevent harm caused by careening child, so you’re left with the other, braver half of your unstable army to be the last defense against paralysis. Third, either a sigh of relief or you’re forced to deal with the sobs of “WHY DID YOU MAKE ME DO THAT?” I don’t know, man. I really don’t.

3.     Human Knot

How It’s Played:

You get the kids together into a circle and have them reach into the center to lock hands with another person. If you need a better visual, leave your headphone cord in your pocket for thirty minutes while you go for a run. Then pull it out and understand.

Human knot.

What They’re Supposed To Learn:

Patience, organization and how to communicate effectively.

What They Actually Learn:

They learn two things through gripping each other’s hands and limbo’ing/high-stepping their way into frustration. First, they learn that whoever is making them do this bore of an activity is the lamest person alive. Enjoying watching kids complain their way through a game of Human Knot is the ants-under-a-magnifying-glass of the camp counselor world. Secondly, they learn how to better take precise orders. After the fourth twisted arm and some misdirected ducking, you’re always forced to intervene, turning Human Knot into “Daniel untangles the emotionally strengthening mosh pit.

4.     Blanket Vollyball

How It’s Played:

I’ve never learned if there is a goal to this one. Kids grab ahold of a large blanket or old parachute that you have lying around and you flail your arms until you’re not having fun anymore.

What They’re Supposed To Learn:

How to have fun without getting their face smashed with a bouncing ball.

What They Actually Learn:

How to handle getting their face smashed with a bouncing ball. As we’ve made clear, kids don’t know their own strength, which is usually either far less or, sometimes, far, far more than what they’re aware of. So when you have them grab the edge of a sheet, toss a few balls onto it, and give the order of “Wave with all of your might,” you’re going to have a sort of imbalance. Half the sheet is going to shudder and half the sheet, the one with kids who went to youth football camp, are going to careen balls as hard as they can towards the teeth of those who cry easily.

Blanket Volleyball does a great job of letting kids know that a game of Blanket Volleyball is often very brief and consistently tragic. However, you learn a valuable thing as well: where to hastily find your first aid kit and how to lie when you have to reassure that a game of children slinging stuff with a blanket is the work of fun-loving creatives, and not the terror goblin that you’ve obviously become.

And that, my friends, is team building.

And that, my friends, is team building.



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To learn more about what Daniel’s learned, see 7 Reasons Why Going To A Bar Alone Never Solves Anything and 7 Life Lessons That My Birthday Reaffirmed. 

76 responses to “4 Team Building Games (To Confuse And Anger Children)

  1. “Any time a rambunctious child picks up a cat, there is a 60% chance that a YouTube video will occur….”


    1.The egg thing seems like a fine waste of household cleaners and paper towels.

    2.The trust fall is where I learned where you stood in the group because if they didn’t like you, they made a half-assed attempt to catch you and usually the ass/dirt connection was made in an unequivocal way.

    3. The human knot is an adult game. For mostly naked adults in the shallow end of a swimming pool. And there should be margaritas. At least, that’s how we played it.

    4. The blanket volleyball is a knock off of “parachute” which in 1975 involved an actual parachute and several hundred puff balls of brightly colored yarn. Not for ages over seven or the puff balls go missing.

  2. I didn’t mind human knot, but HATED the trust fall. The lead up is the absolute worst part. I’ve never been dropped, but seen people nearly get dropped. It’s just…no. No, no no.

  3. I refused to do the trust fall in junior high and was spoken to VERY HARSHLY by the people in charge. Not long after that, someone did the trust fall and no one caught her and she had to get stitches. I WAS BEING RIGHTFULLY CAUTIOUS, DAMMIT!

  4. PS… I don’t know why any adult in their right mind would still make children under their care practice the trust fall. It’s like asking for a lawsuit!

  5. Hilarious, I agree completely. My poor 5th grader is doing team projects all the time. He has my deepest sympathy. And desks in pods constantly? As an introvert, I liked rows and individual work. Everything is team work these days in schools. I think the goal is to learn how everyone can participate and get along with everyone else. The result is being constantly forced to participate in a process designed by the most charismatic extrovert without a lot of pausing for reflection. Is this a good process? My kid knows that better ideas are ignored for the cult of personality. What message does this send an introvert? Much the same as the trust fall — everybody loses and some need stitches.

    • Unfortunately that is how teachers are forced to teach. i am a teacher today and i was a good student as a child. i would have failed out in today’s schools. If you get a chance to read it the book Quiet discusses some of this issues surrounding today’s schools being geared to extroverts in the form of constant team activity.

  6. I’m laughing so hard that tears are coming. “Orangutan spasms” and “terror goblin” are priceless descriptions. As for the trust fall, let’s just say I wouldn’t trust anyone to catch me, even my husband. That is an insane idea all the way around! Still giggling though!

  7. I was a Girl Guide leader for a time and none of these games went over very well. We resorted to “dodge Bear” which is dodge ball using a soft stuffed bear so no one would cry.

  8. This is so true! My mum signed me up for a lot of these in school to ‘boost’ MY CONFIDENCE!! i came home everytime feeling dumb and stupid. Till now i freak out when i do the trust fall. Seriously whoever thought of that is outrageously weird.

    Thank you for this – made me laugh today! You have a great blog!

  9. I LOL at orangutan spasms so much the person next door probably on phone with HR right now thinking I’ve gone nuts…

    of all, I really hate trust fall. Seen a group nearly dropped someone during team building last year. I concluded that trust fall can only be done among friends, not with colleagues.

  10. Brilliant, I will pass this on to Mrs Sensible my Italian wife who is also a school teacher. She can try the team building on her kids, and when it all goes pear shaped we know who to blame… 🙂

  11. Well said! My son is home schooled, (he attends an online academy), and they make the kids do Collaboration projects together. My son has been enrolled for 4 years now and he has NEVER had a good experience with these collaboration projects. Thank you for posting what the rest of us are thinking!

  12. Children learn “mine” and “it’s not fair, you have to share” from adults. Turns them into selfish people who think the world revolves around them. Then adults come along and try to tell them how to play. Set good examples and the children will often learn what they should.

  13. Wow, my funny paw was tickled! You also have explained something my human hasn’t been able to explain to me. “Why do politicians find it impossible to get along?” Now I know. They were all forced to play the 4 games when they were in their formative stages. I won’t say growing up – most of those creatures never have. Sandy

  14. this is absolutely hilarious and completely true. as someone who taught a group of students drama (the subject that requires the most amount of ridiculous trust games), i relate 100%.

  15. Trust fall is the most horrifying game ever. Child or adult.
    My daughter has to play these games @ school and she hates all of them. She just comes home frustrated and questions the logic of things, like why she should jump into the arms of someone who called her ugly on the playground.

  16. Hilarious! I feel the same about play dates for young children. If peer socialization at that age was really a good thing, why don’t people have their kids as close together as possible, or, better yet, take fertility drugs and have them all at once! But we know those dates are really for the parents, who do need their peers.

  17. I do a lot of camps and have used all these activities with great success, with teenagers. With kids I won’t even try them (exept the blanket volleyball. Try using a beach ball – it moves more slowly and doesn’t hit as hard).

    Even with teens I do a trustfall only if I know the group very well and I lecture them for about fifteen minutes beforehand on safety and trust. I also do it fairly late in the camp program and it’s voluntary, otherwise it loses all meaning. (By the way, having the catchers interlock hands for the trustfall can actually lead to dislocated limbs if the faller lands awkwardly or is a bit heavy. It’s safer to merely let them extend their hands in an overlapping pattern, but again, kids aren’t going to get this.)

    The human knot again a bit hard for kids, but you can make it easier by having them hold on to pieces of pantyhose instead of each other’s hands. Pantyhose stretches, so it makes the untangling easier.

    What does work with kids? Competition. Make them think it’s about winning and they’ll not only participate with enthusiasm, they’ll actually learn something from it. You can manipulate the scoring system so no one’s actually the ‘loser’, and that way everyone, including you, has fun.

    I’d still keep the first-aid kit handy, though. They are children, after all.

  18. This is hilarious, but a bit sobering at the same time.

    In the context of school kids, what a lot of adults naively overlook is that a lot of the kids in the group they’re working with actually know each other well enough to have already learned who they can and can’t trust simply through daily interactions with each other.

    You simply can’t expect a kid to grasp the notion of putting a well founded distrust of another to one side for the “Common goal”. I remember having teachers who seemed to delight in teaming up kids who had an active dislike of each other.

    Not much is different in the adult world. Company team building activities are torture when you end up with teamed with someone who you know from experience has a lacking work ethic, accountability issues or is just plain lazy.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing some courses that taught autonomy in the workplace. I’ve seen a rising number of young people who came up in the “team building” trend who actually don’t know how to work effectively and be decisive in an unsupervised environment.

  19. Thank you! My kid’s entire elementary curriculum for gym was built around all these cooperative game. The school even won some kind of award for being a school with no competitive sports played. Children were constantly getting in trouble at recess for trying to play traditional tag, etc. It is ridiculous.

  20. Actually, the human knot and trust fall helped kids where I was. Maybe a sports team would be better for the average kid though.

  21. Trust Fall? Nope. Never once. I just never had that kind of trust in me. They couldn’t make me do it, no matter how they tried to persuade me or punished me for not being one of the herd.

  22. Pingback: Freshly Riffed 32: If You Haven’t Noticed, They’ve Infected Everything | A VERY STRANGE PLACE·

  23. OMG blanket vollyball-I am sitting at my desk at work cracking up with tears and my co-workers are looking at me like I have a serious mental issue. Good work…Funny stuff!

  24. Darn funny–and yah what, I totally use these all the time! And I will continue to do so, because I do hope at least 1 person is enjoying themselves (and I can chuckle at the ones who are just angry!)

  25. Vollyball blanket game always confused me too! The other one is that parachute thing where you take the big parachute and everyone flips it up, runs under and sits on it. Guess you’re learning how to sit under a big rainbow tent bubble….?

  26. I hadn’t even heard of these games, except for the trust fall, which we usually do in pairs, standng on the ground. Even to this day I don’t like it. In kindergarten you’re supposed to have a pedagogical reasoning behind everything.
    Your description of what is intended versus what happens is fairly accurate and highly amusing. Also it puts to question to what degree adults overestimate the ability of a group consisting of individuals, children no less, to simultaneously comprehend exactly what the adult is intending/thinking/means.

  27. I couldn’t read past the second activity, I was laughing so much it was physically impossible. I’ll continue reading later… when I calm down.

  28. We actually played the human knot with our Girl Guides last night, its amazing what they’ll do when you team them up against each other with a simple point system. The human knot was alright with them, but asking them to egg and spoon race with a bean bag firmly between there knees was considered cruel. Definitely trying your Balancing Egg with them, it’s a good one!

  29. “Half the sheet is going to shudder and half the sheet, the one with kids who went to youth football camp, are going to careen balls as hard as they can towards the teeth of those who cry easily.”

    … GENIUS!

    I remember this game from elementary school, and I sure as heck wasn’t one of the kids who went to football camp.

  30. Pingback: The 5 Most Frustrating Things About Using Craigslist To Find Jobs | Daniel is funny·

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