In advance, randomly distribute a large number of soft items and objects on the floor/ground inside boundary ropes (approx 5 x 5 metres.)
Invite one partner (per pair) to volunteer to be blindfolded.
The objective for each pair is to guide the blindfolded person from one side of the bounded area to the other without touching any of the various items inside.
The blindfolded person may only move based on the verbal directions of their partner.
The sighted person must issue their instructions outside of the boundaries at all times.
Any other (blindfolded) person is considered a part of the minefield too, ie cannot be touched.
Allow each pair 2 to 5 minutes of planning time in advance of their first attempt.
When ready, invite all pairs to begin their traverse.
When a blindfolded person touches an item, they may start over or keep a tally of touches (aiming to keep the number of touches as low as possible.)
When the blindfolded person has traversed the minefield, they swap roles with their partner.
Continue play to allow for two or more attempts for each person.
To conclude, facilitate a discussion to invite your group to reflect on their experience.
How To Play Narrative
Minefield has to be one of the most successful and popular adventure programming group initiatives in the world, introduced by my friend and mentor Karl Rohnke in the 1980s.
You start by simply dumping a large bag of soft items or toys on the floor/ground and then distribute them somewhat randomly, yet evenly within a large open space. Aim for a space at least 5 x 5 metres, larger if possible. You can use boundary ropes to contain the medley of items, but it’s not always necessary.
The space between each item will always vary – the more space there is, the easier the activity will be to accomplish. As a rule of thumb, I place about 4 to 6 items per square metre which is moderately challenging for most groups.
When ready, stand back and look at your creation. Your object in creating this fabricated minefield is to provide a maze-of-mines through which a blindfolded person will be verbally guided to traverse safely from one side to the other.
To this end, invite your group to divide into pairs. If suitable, adopt a random pair-making strategy by referring to our Getting Into Pairs ideas.
Instruct each pair to select which person will be blindfolded first, meaning the other will be issuing the requisite verbal directions to get their friend to the other side of the minefield safely. And by safely I mean without touching or knocking over any of the items.
Announce three further parameters to make this soft-footed jaunt fun:
The blindfolded person may only move at the direction of their partner;
Any other (blindfolded) person is considered a part of the minefield too, ie cannot be touched; and
All verbal instructions must be delivered outside the perimeter of the minefield, ie the sighted person cannot stand next to their partner within the minefield (it’s too dangerous for that!)
This last instruction makes the task all the more challenging. You see, if your minefield is large enough, you will be able to invite multiple partnerships to be working at the same time, which is ideal. This also means that there will be multiple sets of verbal instructions being delivered all at the same time. Yes, this will make it harder for those blindfolded individuals to hear.
Clearly, the ultimate test of this exercise is to traverse the minefield without touching or knocking any of the items inside the perimeter. Which raises the question, what happens if (and more often, when) a touch is made?
You have at least two options:
Count the number of items that are touched but keep going, with a view to improving this result on future attempts; or
Stop and start over from outside the perimeter.
Once you have dispensed with the obligatory questions, allow 2 to 5 minutes for each partnership to plan a successful strategy. When ready, invite all teams to begin.
Your task at this point is to supervise and facilitate the minefield, making note of any significant events such as unclear instructions, lapses of integrity and wonderful moments of vulnerability and trust.
Practical Leadership Tips
Note, when it comes to blindfolds, I typically ask people to close their eyes. But if you sense that your group may be tempted to look more often than they’d like to admit, by all means, distribute a blindfold of sorts to each pair (just remember to wash them after use.)
In the early days, I used to set up the minefield myself so I was ready to present it as soon as my group was ready. I’m too lazy these days, and now ask my group to help distribute them for me. This is a better idea for two reasons – one is obvious (I don’t have to do it on my own) and the other gives your group an opportunity to be invested in the design of the activity.
In case it’s not obvious, do not add any sharp or fragile items into your maze in case someone happens to step or fall on them. Even balls such as tennis balls can be problematic because stepping on one may cause someone to lose their balance when it rolls away under their foot.
Beware. Most of us feel very vulnerable when we have our eyes closed, and this is especially true in this exercise. Even more so when it is possible for some cheeky characters to interfere with the journey of others. I have witnessed this sort of trickery manifest itself in a number of ways, including:
Making superfluous calls such as “Watch out!” which sow doubt in the blindfolded person’s mind;
Instructing a blindfolded person to step over non-existent items or far beyond the minefield; and
Instructing a blindfolded person to step directly into the path of another person or, sad to say, a wall.
In regards to the possibility of what I describe above, I frequently remind my group of the fragile nature of trust and well-being. I encourage them to focus on their own efforts, and if they happen to complete their traverse earlier than others, to simply observe the work of other pairs. In the event that sabotage does occur, be sure to use this as a teachable moment about the impact of these actions on others and the whole group. This speaks directly to the competency of responsible decision-making as described in the Social-Emotional Learning tab. For example, you may like to focus on actions that may have seemed like fun at the time but resulted in corrosion of trust in the group.
The inference to war in the name of this group initiative is not lost on me. If this is an issue for you, your group or organisation – please adopt some other name for it, eg the Blind Maze or Sure-Footed Jaunt.
You could integrate Minefield as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to establish and maintain healthy and trusting relationships.
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
In addition to those elements described below, you could frame this activity with the express purpose of focusing on wellbeing, relationships, trust or any number of other attributes. For example:
Place several hula-hoops inside a very large maze of objects.
When they step inside one of the hoops, ask a blindfolded person to audibly share their response to a question you have posed in advance.
Questions could include: What contributes to your wellbeing, or What do you need from others to feel safe? or I feel I can trust someone when…”
With eyes closed and only the sound of their partner’s voice to guide them, there will be ample opportunities to build one’s emotional literacy in this activity. Trust and empathy are clearly significant, so be sure to explore what these feelings look like, sound like and feel like. You could also reflect on the presence of a variety of emotional signals that convey certain messages such as tone of voice, facial cues and body language. For example, what does it means when we see someone take really little steps when one big one is requested? Or, when someone deliberately walks into the path of another person even though they were warned against it?
A lot of patience will be required to safely and successfully traverse a minefield. To this end, prep your group in advance about what resilience could look like in this activity, prompting your group to imagine when it may be necessary. For example, resilience looks like a blindfolded person waiting until they are able to clearly hear instructions from their partner, or if they are getting tired of keeping their eyes closed, to look up, open their eyes for a short moment before closing them again and recommitting to the exercise. Frequently hitting an object would be another opportunity for some members of your group to practice certain strategies to prevent frustration from setting in.
Timed Events – Invite your group of pairs to record how long it takes each person to safely traverse from one side to the other. Add a 15-second penalty for every touch. Beware, adding a competitive element may dilute your ability to focus on trust-building.
Circle Minefield – Set up your minefield inside a circular boundary. This presents a common distance for all blindfolded people to travel and prevents those cheeky individuals who would prefer to (literally) cut the corner of a squarely-bounded area.
Squeaky Reward – Place a suitably squeaky toy in the centre of the minefield and instruct every blindfolded participant to step on it as part of their journey, ie serving as a reward. Note, if only one toy exists, some people may have to wait their turn to step on it to avoid touching others.
Target Practice – Place one or more hula-hoops inside the minefield area and instruct each pair to step in and out of them as part of their journey.
Target Practice Competition – Set up one hoop inside a large minefield area and invite all pairs to compete against one another to be the first to step inside it. Any team that touches an object or causes the touch of another competitor, is eliminated.
Real Consequences – For a touch of surrealism, try adding a bunch of mouse traps to the minefield. Insist that every participant is wearing sturdy shoes, lest, well you know…
Non-Verbal Commands – Usual set-up and eliminate all forms of verbal communication once a blindfolded person starts their journey. In this way, all pairs must find alternative methods of communicating, eg claps, whistles, clicking, etc.
Heat-Seeking Missiles – Set up as normal and equip every blindfolded person with a soft tossable such as a fleece-ball. At any time during their traverse, they are entitled to throw their fleece-ball at another blindfolded person. If the ball strikes this person below their shoulders, they are eliminated and required to start over. A sighted partner may retrieve an errant fleece-ball and attempt to toss it back to their blindfolded mate (carefully of course, because the latter is still blind) to put it back into play.
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Useful Framing Ideas
When our eyes are closed, it is difficult for most of us to know exactly the direction we are walking. Imagine trying to do this and negotiate around a variety of obstacles, too. Well, you won’t have to imagine this situation for too long…
There are so many ways in which trust and empathy can be developed in a relationship. It is also true that there are just as many ways, if not more, to destroy it. In this next fabricated experience, I would like to offer you and a partner the opportunity to build a heightened sense of trust between the two of you…
I’m sure most of us have tried to imagine what it must be like to be visually impaired or, indeed, blind. Thankfully, most of us will not have to know this for real, but what if you were blind for a short time only? How do you think you would manage? If you had to rely on just one person to be your eyes, how might your relationship be impacted, do you think? Let’s find out…
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 leading this dynamic trust-building exercise:
What sorts of strategies did you discuss in your planning stages?
Did these strategies work? Did you have to revise them and for what reason?
Describe some of the feelings you experienced when you were blindfolded.
What frustrated you?
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being awesome,) how effective was your partner’s communication guiding you safely through the maze?
What’s an example of when your communication was successful/effective?
What other skills or competencies did you rely on during this exercise? Did these grow?
Were there any teachable moments?
Did you observe or hear anything that concerned you? Why?
Can you think of an action that seemed fun at the time but may have eroded an element of trust in the game?
What might this exercise teach us about building relationships that work?
The inspiration for Minefield was sourced from my friend, colleague and mentor Karl Rohnke who first demonstrated it to me in my very first Project Adventure workshop in 1989. You can find a description of this activity in the following publication: