Beats a lecture

Through games and other interactive activities, a group encourages people to bond and broaden their perspectives.

Published July 27, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - "Taylor's really smart."

"Jake's a good runner."

"Delaney's a good reader."

"And a good sleeper ..."

Working together to list their individual and family strengths, the Cullen family took turns making suggestions as 9-year-old Taylor wrote them down on an inflated beach ball.

Intended to foster support for one another and the family unit, the beach ball exercise was just one activity that the Cullens and other families enjoyed at a recent Family Enrichment Night at Boyd Hill Nature Park. The event was sponsored by Pathfinder Inc., an experiential education group that uses hands-on, interactive activities to develop participants' sense of character and community.

The nonprofit group, accredited by the Association for Experiential Education, partners with schools and youth organizations to offer youth programs, educator training, parent and family programs, and special events.

At the family night, facilitators Lynn Marshall and Maurie Lung, Pathfinder's Southeast director, started with an icebreaker game, "Have You Ever?"

"We call this type of activity a "deinhibitizer.' It's to get people laughing, to open up," said Crystal Sierra, Pathfinder's director of fund development.

Once everyone had been introduced, Marshall instructed the group on Pathfinder's "five finger contract," which promotes consensus, accountability, respect, commitment and safety during activities.

The group then headed outside to the deck for a game of "Team Bob." Many Pathfinder programs are done outdoors to get people out of their normal environments - and normal thought patterns. The hands-on focus, it's hoped, will help imprint lessons in ways that reading from books cannot, said Sierra.

Using a rubber chicken and a rubber banana peel, the group played keep away, working in tandem to "get" other people on Team Bob. The lesson: cooperation.

"You couldn't have done it by yourself. You had to have a team to help you," said Taylor Cullen, 9, of Clearwater.

The theme continued as participants went back inside to collaborate on art projects. Families separated into groups and were given a piece of paper and a felt tip pen. Without speaking, each family member helped hold the marker to create a picture together. To communicate, they used charades and head nods to give visual clues to their teammates.

Dr. Vikki Gaskin-Butler, visiting from Athens, Ga., worked with her son Malcolm, 6, her mother, Victoria Gaskin, and her aunt, Helen Davis, to draw a person's face. To encourage his family to add some hair to their drawing, Malcolm used his free hand to pat his head.

The point, Lung said, was to explore alternative ways of communicating and to improve group decisionmaking.

In another art project, one family member drew something and then passed it to another to add to the drawing. Afterward, each family picked one of their drawings and explained to the group what they thought it looked like.

"Sometimes we have to take a closer look at things," Lung told the group. "We also need to look at things from a different perspective."

Broadening our perspectives, Lung said, helps us better understand others and respect different viewpoints - valuable building blocks for children of any age.


The Pathfinder series continues at Boyd Hill Nature Park, 1101 Country Club Way S, St. Petersburg, with classes on Cultural Diversity on Thursday; Science and Environment on Aug. 11; and Personal Well-Being on Aug. 25. All programs are from 6 to 8 p.m.; cost is $5. For information, call Pathfinder at 328-0300.