Designate two ‘safe zone’ areas approx eight to twelve metres (25′ – 40′) apart.
Ask your group to stand within one of the safe zones, and supply every person with one stepping stone, plus one extra for the group.
The group’s task is to cross between the two safe areas, without touching the ground in between.
All movements across the area will necessarily involve the use of the stepping stones, with two conditions:
– Everyone must remain in contact with the stepping stones at all times; and
– If a stone is left untouched while it is placed within the forbidden area, that stone may be taken away from the group.
Also, if someone happens to touch into the forbidden area, the group will be required to start over.
Allow your group 20 to 30 minutes to complete the task.
When ready, invite your group to reflect on what happened and what they may have learned.
How To Play Narrative
Another in a long line of classic group problem-solving activities.
In advance, designate two areas between which you would like your group to traverse, a distance of approx eight to twelve metres (25′ – 40′.)
As a general rule of thumb, provide a distance of one metre (3′) for every person in your group. Lay boundary ropes, or use two parallel lines on your gym floor, etc to identify the safe zones.
Ask your group to stand within one of the safe zones, and supply every person with one stepping stone, plus one extra for the group (for good luck.)
Take a look at the Leadership Tips tab for stepping stone ideas.
Explain that the group’s task is to cross between the two ‘safe’ areas, but no one is allowed to touch into the ‘forbidden’ area at any time. This means that all movements across the area will necessarily involve the use of stepping stones. However, the stepping stones possess two critical qualities:
Everyone must remain in contact with the stepping stones at all times; and
If a stone is left untouched while it is placed within the forbidden area – even for a split second – that stone may be taken away from the group.
Also, explain that if someone happens to touch into the forbidden area – with any part of their body, eg hands, feet, etc – the group will be required to start over.
Furthermore, if that person happens to be the only person touching a particular stepping stone at the time they touch the forbidden area, the group will lose that stone as well. Brutal, yeah, I know.
Announce that the group has 20 to 30 minutes (your choice, depending on group size, athletic prowess, distance, type of stones, etc) in which to complete the task.
It’s often recommended to provide your group with five minutes of planning time to consider their options and discuss possible solutions. This is a great time for your group to practice the fine art of stepping stone placement and movement. Or not.
Your primary role now is to watch with eagle-eyes the movement and use of the stepping stones, hoping to catch unattended stones immediately.
Practical Leadership Tips
You have many ‘stepping stone’ options. 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.
If you have a large group, divide them into smaller teams of approx eight to fifteen people.
As with many group initiatives, you can nominate a time frame within which you want your group to solve the problem. Or not.
Observe the existence, or lack thereof, a contingency plan. That is, what happens if in the process of travelling from A to B, one or more people get stranded without an easy means to move. A useful debrief point perhaps, particularly, if this behaviour reflects the life of your group.
You could integrate Stepping Stones as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
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
With such a dynamic group activity, you can expect many opportunities to explore the development of healthy cultural norms. For example, follow these steps to help your group reflect on the health of their relationships.
Identify which interpersonal skills(s) you want to focus on, eg healthy relationships.
Ask each person to write a personal quality or strength that they think contributes to [ healthy relationships ] on one of the stones.
Present the activity as described.
Invite your group to reflect on their experience by posing the following questions:
Thinking of the words you wrote on your stepping stones, which qualities or strengths were exercised during the task?
Which ones were not?
Why are these qualities important when working with others?
In small groups, discuss which one or two qualities or strengths are the most important to developing [ enter your program focus, eg healthy relationships, resilience, etc. ]
Report back to the large group to share your results.
Goals-Setting, Resilience & Adaptability
Depending on your framing, the group initiative is a perfect vehicle to help your group set effective goals because there are so many moving parts, eg humans, who lose concentration, balance and agility, time pressures, limited resources, etc. And if set appropriately, you can expect a healthy dose of resilience and adaptability to be necessary for most groups to achieve. To these ends, consider making one or more of these characteristics the focus of your program design (see earlier comments above.)
Stepping Stones Challenge 1: Vary the number of stepping stones each person starts with. Generally speaking, the more athletic and high-performance your group is, the less stones they need. On the other hand, if you are working with people who have short attention spans, you may wish to supply up to three stones per person to allow for several ‘lack-of-concentration’ mistakes.
Stepping Stones Challenge 2: Consider your many alternatives for penalties, eg only the person who touches into the forbidden area is required to start again, or that person plus one other (the group gets to choose) must return to the start, etc.
Crossing Paths: Divide your group into two, and ask each half to start from opposing safe zones, ie they may cross in the centre. The goal is the same, to safely transport every person to the other safe zone, but note the propensity of one half or both to assist the other, or not.
Dynamic group initiative to focus on trust & support.
Watch Your Step
Progressively challenging group initiative using ropes.
Don’t Touch Me
Fun group initiative that teaches value of collaboration.
Useful Framing Ideas
Before we start this next exercise, I would like each of you to think of one positive quality or attribute that has helped your group to be successful. [allow a few moments for some suggestions…] Okay, I would like you all to write one of these attributes on a piece of tape and then place it on your stepping stone. [distribute stones…] It’s okay if the same word or phrase is used several times, but if you have more than one you have thought of, write something unique on your tape. [allow time for writing and sticking…] Ready? Your task is to use these qualities to successfully traverse an area that you cannot touch into. Sometimes, your group may even lose one or more of these attributes if it fails to focus on what’s important…
One of the most difficult skills to master is that of discipline and focus. Most of us are good at it for short bursts of time, but generally speaking, it takes a lot of effort and disciple to remain focused on a particular task for long periods. This next task will certainly challenge your group to stay on task. Indeed, the penalties for not keeping focused may mean the difference between success and failure for your group…
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 popular group initiative:
What did you notice during this experience?
How well did your planning process work? Did your plan go to plan?
What were the most difficult parts of the exercise? Why, and how did your group manage them?
Did you develop a contingency plan, in case things went awry? Why?
Did your group strike a healthy balance between planning and execution? Give examples.
The inspiration for Stepping Stones is unclear. What I do know is that it was certainly presented to me as a participant in one of Karl Rohnke‘s training workshops many years ago.