How Experiential Adventure Activities Can Improve Students' Social Skills

By Forgan, James W.; Jones, Christopher D. | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview
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How Experiential Adventure Activities Can Improve Students' Social Skills


Forgan, James W., Jones, Christopher D., Teaching Exceptional Children


Ken, a second-grade student with a behavioral disorder, often demonstrated verbal and physical aggression, cried frequently, and sought positive or negative attention. He often appeared depressed and demonstrated behaviors indicative of a low self-concept. General education peers at school and in his neighborhood often teased Ken. The teasing caused Ken to retreat from group activities. When he did participate in a group activity, he was easily frustrated and often erupted into tears and aggression.

Ken was a student in Mr. Jones's classroom for students with "varying exceptionalities." Mr. Jones decided that Ken and the other students in his class would benefit from social-skills instruction. He implemented the Project Adventure curriculum (Rohnke, 1984) as part of a districtwide initiative.

This article describes how Project Adventure works, what effect it has had on students like Ken, and practical steps for teachers to follow as they introduce their students to this social-skills curriculum.

Whl Is Project Adventure?

Project Adventure is an adventurebased curriculum that teaches students social skills, teamwork, and conflict resolution (see box on page 54, "What Does the Literature Say?").

The Project Adventure curriculum consists of experiential adventure games, problem-solving initiatives, and trust-building activities that teachers and other professionals can use with students-from prekindergarten through 12th grade. Project Adventure combines experiential learning, outdoor education, and group counseling techniques that special education teachers can implement in the classroom.

Since 1982, special education settings have comprised the fastest growing segment using the Project Adventure curriculum because of its applicability to youth confronting emotional and behavioral challenges (Schoel et al., 1988). The experiential social-skills activities help develop an atmosphere of acceptance, where students are willing to take risks, share, discuss, and problem-solve together. Students become actively involved in the adventure activities and report high levels of enthusiasm and willingness to participate (Welby & Saum, 2000).

Students in Mr. Jones's class were eager to participate in the adventure activities (see box on page 55, "Add-OnTag," for a description of one activity). During activity debriefings, students discussed target behaviors and issues, such as working toward the group's goal, rather than individual goals.

One Student's Progress

Ken had difficulty seeing past his own feelings and working with the others toward the group goal especially since he perceived that the class had rejected him. Initially, Ken was reluctant to participate in the adventure activities, and at times he refused to participate. By the 3rd week, however, he began to participate at the onset of the activities, but would leave in tears when frustrated.

After 5 weeks, Ken began taking a leadership role. He started encouraging others to "get over it" and began to volunteer first. As a result, Ken earned positive praise from his peers and teachers for his success in the activities, and improvements began to appear in other aspects of Ken's school performance. Ken's average daily behavior point scores increased; his grades improved; and, most important, his self-concept began to increase, as evidenced from positive selfstatements. Further, he acquired and maintained several friendships both in and out of school. By the end of the school year, Ken had earned placement in a less restrictive environment.

Of all Mr. Jones's students, Ken achieved the most success from the consistent use of the adventure curriculum. Many other students also achieved higher daily point scores throughout the school year. The experiential social skills activities contributed to the success of Mr. Jones's students.

How Can Teachers Use Experiential Activities?

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

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