Leisure and free time activities are usually done in groups, and there are infinite possibilities for the activities that you can do. They bring the benefits not only of beneficial and appropriate leisure time, but also of participating in a healthy group dynamic. Group work embraces diversity, and educational activities in children’s free time promote the motivation and initiative necessary to participate, since it is always easier to confront situations and conflicts together than alone—and, on top of that, groups help turn the situation into something fun.
Group dynamics provide the participants with appropriate skills and social attitudes as well as knowledge that they acquire as individuals. Leisure and free time activities help teach the participants to solve conflicts, take control, and gain autonomy. This is because every member contributes and exchanges information and actively participates in making the decisions and solving problems.
It has been demonstrated that group work allows the participants to make decisions and come to richer conclusions than those that are a product of individual thought. Leisure and free time activities for children also improve the quality of the decisions they make through the experiences they gain and collective intelligence, which diminish the uncertainty and risk associated with making a mistake.
In order to secure the educational value and success of a leisure and free time activity in a group, you need to rely on what is, without a doubt, the fundamental key: communication.
The size of the group, the way it is organized and its characteristics will influence how it functions and how the participants acquire skills, which will all depend on the type of communication used. Communication makes room for activities of different types and with different goals, which should all involve both practical and theoretical group learning. All of this allows the participants to develop habits, gain values and beliefs, and perfect the skills that allow them to make positive changes to their behaviour, both as individuals and part of a group. In their personal relationships, communication also allows them to exchange knowledge and reflect upon the tasks and activities in question.
Groups provide the opportunity to open people up to a broad and varied vision of leisure alternatives, and to then look at them from different points of view through critical thinking, get to know them, evaluate them, and learn to think of their own ideas freely. It allows the participants to understand and learn initiatives, explore diverse fields of social and cultural reality, overcome their fears and face the unknown.
A large number of techniques have been developed for group activity leaders, which help the group develop attitudes and values related to learning (cooperation, help, self-esteem and trust, to name only a few) and also help improve group performance.
Group dynamics use different techniques, tools and resources to motivate participation and encouragement, and to help the individuals lose their inhibitions and integrate better. They also serve to make the topics and content simpler and easier to understand, among their other functions. But the practices and techniques that do all of this (which will differ according to their content and form) should be used above all as tools within a greater process to help strengthen the individuals and the group they form part of. It is these kinds of tools that a leader should be using in group work.
There is a large variety of manuals and guides about this topic and they usually present the most common group techniques in a structure similar to the following:
- Description: A small summary about how to carry out the activity.
- Objective: The aims of the exercise.
- Size and age of the group: The recommended number of people in the group and their suggested ages.
- Length: An approximation of how long the activity takes.
- Resources and spaces: The place, materials and documents that need to be available before starting.
Remember that just because someone is using a technique from a manual does not mean that they are truly carrying out proper group management.
Goals of the techniques for achieving healthy group dynamics:
- To promote knowledge acquisition.
- To understand the conditions that facilitate or inhibit the group running smoothly.
- To develop the ability to diagnose the behaviour of each individual.
- To help the participants to experience things that could lead to positive changes in their behaviour.
The person in charge has to be familiar with the techniques for group dynamics before using them. Even though they promote efficiency in the group when done right and are often indispensable, the techniques cannot be done in all groups, or at least cannot be done at any time arbitrarily. They have to be appropriate and pertinent to the objective of each group.
The techniques are not isolated tools that can be applied mechanically in every circumstance and context or to any person or group. This would lead to:
- An overly simplistic use of the techniques.
- Conflicts and tensions within the group.
- Not reaching the proposed objectives.
Pérez Serrano (1993) writes that the implicit goals of group techniques are the following:
- To develop a sense of “we” (togetherness).
- To show how to think actively.
- To develop cooperation, sharing, responsibility, autonomy and creation.
- To teach how to listen.
- To incite feelings of security.
- To encourage personal relationships.