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Careful planning needed when designing, conducting adventure activities

This is an excerpt from Adventure Education: Theory and Applications by Project Adventure, Inc.,Dick Prouty,Jane Panicucci & Rufus Collinson.

There are numerous adventure activity guides and curriculum guides that can provide you with ready-to-use activities. The New Games books mentioned earlier in this chapter are out of print but can be found at some online bookstores. Many newer books of cooperative games exist, such as Terry Orlick's Cooperative Games and Sports, Second Edition (Human Kinetics, 2006). Both the AEE ( and Project Adventure ( offer excellent activity books.

The majority of popular adventure activities are in the public domain and do not have names of their creators associated with them. Facilitators put their mark on any given activity by changing the rules or modifying the objectives slightly-either intentionally (to fit group goals or assets) or by forgetting a piece of the briefing. Sometimes a new piece of equipment will spark a fresh idea, sometimes creativity is required when a week of bad weather keeps an outdoor program indoors, and sometimes an unusual client request serves as inspiration. When adapting and creating activities, keep these guidelines in mind:

• It is easier to create within the framework of an idea than it is to create from scratch. Adapting an existing game is easier than creating something totally new.

• Making one change at a time allows the practitioner to evaluate the impact of that change, good or bad.

• Try many ideas. Some will be fun, some won't; those that are fun and exciting will stick around.

• The more facilitators experiment with the process of creation and understand the components of games, the better the games become at the end of the creative process.

These guidelines have been adapted from an article by Steve Butler, ZipLines Magazine, 2000.

For learning to happen through adventure, activities must be intentional. It is critical that activities be appropriate to both the constituency and the goals of your group. For example, you wouldn't design the same activities for a group of first graders that you would for adolescents; obviously there are major developmental differences between the two groups. Further, you wouldn't design the same program for adolescents trying to develop leadership skills that you would for adolescents trying to remain sober.

A good facilitator will use activities in sequence. For example, it is important not to jump right into trust activities when the group has just met or when there is unresolved conflict from yesterday's initiative. When preparing the adventure session, it is vital to know where your group is. For example, are they cruising along and ready for an activity that provides challenge, or are they having difficulty and are in need of an activity that ensures triumph? You can use your group's performance on previous activities to assess their readiness for future activities. Other things to consider when creating an adventure experience include the following:

• Are my activities appropriate to the fitness level and physical abilities of my group?

• Are the group's behaviors telling me they need to blow off some steam, take a break from intense activity and laugh, and so on?

• Are my activities appropriate to the setting-inside or outside, urban or rural, challenge course or no challenge course?

The sample adventure lesson plan on page 138, designed for middle school physical education students, exemplifies proper planning. Group goals, age development (readiness, group affect, group physical ability, group behavior), and program setting are all accounted for.

Conducting Adventure Activities

Facilitating adventure activities requires much more than reciting a set of rules. Without careful briefing, good equipment, boundary and time-frame selection, attention to safety, and a spirit of fun, the activity will remain a simple list of instructions and not become a learning opportunity. Effective leadership is vital to bringing an activity to life.

Careful Briefing

The way that an activity is briefed should be viewed as a step in the planning process. There is no right or wrong way to brief an activity, but there are some basic guidelines for planning your briefings.

• Allow time for questions (especially for initiatives).

• Provide written instructions.

• Be aware of your choice of language. "Everyone must tag their partner" has the same meaning as "You will have the opportunity to chase your partner," but the wording can help decrease anxiety. Use language that reinforces the commitment to challenge by choice.

• For initiatives that involve creative thinking, explain in advance what is and is not permitted within the scope of the rules so that a group's creative thinking is not shut down in the midst of the activity.

Good Equipment

Many adventure activities require no equipment whatsoever. For those that do, select equipment (often called props) that is unique and will help set the tone of the adventure experience. In Warp Speed (page 132), the facilitator used a beanbag frog instead of a tennis ball. Why? Most participants do not look at a beanbag frog and make assumptions about their ability to throw it and catch it, as they would a tennis ball, and they are likely to handle the frog more gently than the ball. Introduce only the props that are necessary for any given game and keep the rest in a bag or out of sight. A pile of fun-looking toys can be distracting. Keep equipment clean and in good shape. Introduce new props to keep a group engaged.

Boundary and Time-Frame Selection

The size of the play area and the duration of the activities and activity sessions have a significant influence on adventure activities. Consider the following guidelines:

• The boundaries for active games and for initiatives should fit the goals of the session. For example, Everybody's It (page 130) is played in a small rectangular area so that a group can explore issues of safety and personal space. If played in a wide-open gymnasium, it can be a great fitness activity.

• Many initiatives, such as Mass Pass (described in the previous corporate example), involve multiple rounds. Be clear with participants as to how many rounds will be allowed. For example, you might say, "You will have three rounds or 30 minutes to complete this activity, whichever comes first."

• End adventure games at a time when participants are fully engaged; don't wait for the activity to get boring or for behavior to deteriorate.


It is important to consider the safety aspects of each activity and to address the concerns that each one presents.

• When briefing activities, point out hazards in the play area that may cause harm, such as dips in terrain. If grass is wet and slippery, be especially wary of running games.

• Be aware of medical and physical concerns in your group that may cause a particular activity to be inappropriate. Shoulder injuries, sprained ankles, and back problems are common and can be exacerbated given the nature of some activities.

• Challenge by choice is more than a cornerstone of program quality; it's also a vital tool in keeping people safe. Make sure that participants understand their choices.

• Do participants have the skills to perform the activity? Follow the guidelines for sequencing to increase the chances of a safe experience for all.

• Maintain an emotionally safe environment.


The energy and spirit of a group is largely influenced by that of the facilitator. Participate when it is possible and safe to do so, and model what you desire from the group. Use fun metaphors and fantasy when briefing an activity. Point out rule infractions in a way that keeps the spirit positive.

This is an excerpt from Adventure Education: Theory and Applications.

More Excerpts From Adventure Education: Theory and Applications