Place a large tarp (approx 2 x 3 metres) on the floor.
Randomly distribute a bunch of soft toys around the area.
Ask your group to stand on the tarp entirely, and distribute a ‘stepping stone’ to each person.
Announce that the group’s first task is to flip the tarp in an effort to stand on its under-side without any person touching the floor in the process.
Any touches onto the floor/ground will require the group to start over.
Then, instruct your group to use the stepping stones to retrieve the numerous soft toys.
Challenge your group to retrieve all of the objects within these two parameters:
– Every stepping stone must maintain unbroken physical contact with the group at all times, otherwise they will lose it; and
– If someone happens to touch the floor, they must return to the tarp and possibly lose the stone on which they were standing.
Allow ample time for planning and execution.
At the conclusion of the exercise, process your group’s experience as appropriate.
How To Play Narrative
This initiative is a classic example of how much fun it can be to combine two or more individual problem-solving activities into one.
Start by placing the large tarp (approx 2m x 3m works well for 15 people) on the floor, and randomly distributing a bunch of soft toys around the area (within 3-4 metres from the tarp.)
Now, ask your group to stand on the tarp entirely, that is, no overlapping of feet or other body parts. Distribute a ‘stepping stone’ to each person (refer Leadership Tips for options.)
Announce that the group’s first task is to stand on the under-side of the tarp, and in the process of doing this, the group is not permitted to step off or touch the ground at any time.
Without giving too much away, most solutions normally involve twisting the tarp at one end and moving people from one side to the flipped-side. Dispense whatever penalty for outside touches seems reasonable, but I normally require the group to start over.
Then, the group’s next task is to retrieve the soft toys. Again, no one is permitted to touch or step onto the ground during the process, but may use the ‘stepping stones’ to traverse the area safely.
To ramp up the challenge, two rules apply:
Every stepping stone MUST maintain unbroken physical contact with the group at all times (ie if a stone is left untouched for even a split-second, for example, between steps) otherwise it will be removed from the game; and
If someone happens to touch the floor (eg by falling, or foot overlaps the stone), they must return to the tarp.
Note, if a person should ‘fall’ (requiring them to return to the tarp) and no one else happens to be touching the stepping stone at the time this person fell, that stepping stone may also be removed from the game. Yeah, I know, brutal!
Clearly, there are tons of opportunities for teamwork, communication, leadership and problem-solving skills to be practiced during this exercise.
Game continues until all of the animals have been safely rescued, or… all of the stepping stones have sunk!
Allow ample time at the end to process your group’s experience.
Practical Leadership Tips
If you have a large group, divide them into smaller teams of approx eight to fifteen people.
You have many options of ‘stepping stones’ to choose from. From simple props such as sheets of newspaper, carpet tiles, and rubber poly spots, to much more sophisticated versions of foot-print sized blocks of wood or ethafoam. Ideally, choose an object that elevates a person’s foot off the ground (by 10 to 30mm) because it will be much easier to identify when someone touches the floor or not.
As with many group initiatives, you can nominate a time frame within which you want your group to solve the problem. Or not.
The process to retrieve the soft toys requires the most focus, because any slip of concentration, the group may lose one or more of their stepping stones, which in turn, makes the entire task a lot harder to pull off.
Also observe the existence, or lack thereof, a contingency plan. That is, what happens if in the process of retrieving a soft toy, one or more people get stranded without a means to return to the tarp. A useful debrief point perhaps, particularly, if this behaviour reflects the life of your group.
Ordinarily, it is not possible for the group to use their ‘stepping stones’ to assist them in the process of flipping the tarp. However, as suggested in the Variations tab, there are many ways to vary the challenge of this problem-solving exercise, so choose appropriately.
You could integrate Madagascar Rescue as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
This is such a rich group initiative for exploring many group behaviours and cultural norms. It is ideally suited for being introduced to your group in advance, during or after you facilitate a conversation about developing positive and supportive full value group norms. Look for opportunities to explore leadership, adaptability and resilience throughout the exercise, not to mention specific full value tenets such as Be Here, Be Honest and Care for Self & Others.
In addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, invite your group to reflect on their responses to the following questions to help them identify what’s working and what is not:
Can you think of a time that someone’s leadership was useful to your group?
Can you think of a time when your group could have benefitted from more effective leadership? How?
Share three examples of when you or the group had to adapt? What happened?
Where did your resilience as an individual or a group show up in this activity?
What helped support your perseverance or resilience when events did not go your way?
Madagascar Rescue 1: The number of stepping stones you supply to each person will significantly influence the challenge. For example, supplying only one stepping stone for every two people will be much more difficult than giving two stones to everyone.
Madagascar Rescue 2: The size of the tarp relative to the number of people in your group will influence the difficulty of the challenge too. That is, the smaller it is the harder it will be to fit everyone on it, and possibly flip it over, and vice versa.
Driftwood: For a lesser challenge, permit the members of your group to use one or more of their stepping stones as driftwood to support the group off the ground as they flip the tarp over.
Tidal Patterns: Extending the scenario from which this activity gets its name (see Framing Ideas tab,) explain that owing to tidal patterns, some animals may ‘drift’ (ie change their location) relative to the ship at any time. Alter the tides at your discretion.
Animal Distribution: Rather than a higgly-piggly distribution of animals, place them in a zig-zag formation away ‘behind’ the ship. Or, place the animals in an upside-down Y shape requiring the group to split left and right perhaps to complete the rescue.
Progressively challenging group initiative using ropes.
Fun group initiative to develop problem-solving skills.
Dynamic group initiative to focus on trust & support.
Useful Framing Ideas
Set the scene by describing that the group is standing on the underside of a capsized ship which was bound for Madagascar (ie think of popular animated movie of same name.) The ship was full of exotic animals, and sadly, they have now been tipped into the ocean, and will drown within 30 minutes (or other seemingly appropriate time-frame). A true Madagascar Rescue of sorts. Explain that the group’s first task is to upright their vessel, and then, to rescue all of the animals using the drift wood they have been supplied…
Establish a scenario in which your company has to move it headquarters from one location to another (flip and stand on other side of tarp.) And once re-located, explain that since company has experienced extraordinary growth in recent years, it has decided that it needs to hire new staff (soft toys)…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this playful problem-solving exercise:
Describe the process your group used to solve your various tasks.
How successful were you? Provide examples.
What were the most difficult parts of the exercise? Why, and how did your group manage them?
Did your group develop a contingency plan if things went wrong? Why or why not?
Did your group strike a healthy balance between planning and execution? Give examples.
The inspiration for Madagascar Rescue was sourced from David Wright (Boston, USA,) a regular visitor and contributor to playmeo’s original incarnation, the InspireYourGroup blog. With gratitude.