Form a group of 8 to 12 people, and stand in a circle.
Invite one person (the faller) to stand in the middle of the circle, with their feet together and arms crossed on their chest.
The spotters position themselves with one foot in front of the other, hands-up in ready position close to the faller.
Upon issuing a series of agreed ‘Are you ready?’ commands, the faller will lean or fall in any direction they choose.
Initially, ask the group to support the weight of the faller all the way around the circle.
Continue passing the faller in any direction, gradually increasing the distance of the falls and passes, for 15 to 30 seconds.
Repeat these steps with as many volunteers who wish to participate as the faller.
How To Play Narrative
Form a circle of approximately 8 to 12 spotters – any more and your circle may start to get a little too wide to be safe or effective. Take a look at How To Teach Effective Spotting Skills to guide your lead-up activities.
Invite one person to stand directly in the centre of the circle, with their feet together and arms crossed on their chest. It’s also a good idea to ask this person to keep their body firm.
Upon calling the agreed ‘Are you ready?’ safety commands, the ‘faller’ will close their eyes, and then lean slowly to one direction – it doesn’t matter which way. Pivoting from their ankles, the faller should try to keep their feet stationary at all times.
Ideally at the very beginning, pass the faller fully around (360º) the circle so that every person has an opportunity to support their wooden colleague, as well as gauge their weight and momentum. For purposes of sharing the load (think ‘safety’) it is necessary for at least two spotters to be in contact with the faller at all times.
Upon completing the initial circle, the group may then pass the faller randomly back and forth across the circle.
Note, I said the word ‘pass’ and not ‘fling’ – this is critical. Even if the person being flung doesn’t mind this behaviour, it is possible that others in the group who have not yet been the faller, may reconsider their decision if they do not think the group is being safe.
As the group gains confidence and competence, allow for the circle to widen slightly to afford bigger leans and falls. Let the rocking motion continue until either the faller has had enough, or 30 seconds has elapsed.
Be sure to check in with the faller at the end to hear what the experience was like for them. Also, what did they observe, how easy was it to fully submit to the group, what did the spotters notice, etc.
Practical Leadership Tips
The potential for harm is very real in this exercise if your group is not adequately prepared – mentally, physically and emotionally – for the challenge. To this end, consider your activity sequence carefully.
Remember, the focus of this exercise is to practice spotting skills and supporting one another – it is not about practising the fine art of falling. To this end, focus your dialogue on teaching effective spotting techniques, rather than how far can a person ‘fall.’
Emphasise the spirit of Challenge by Choice here. Regardless of how willing and able the spotters are, a faller should only lean back as far as they feel comfortable. And vice versa.
Even though it may get tedious, always, always, always insist that the group commits to a series of ‘Are you ready?’ commands BEFORE the faller starts leaning. This routine not only sharpens people’s attention, but it will pay dividends later in your program, especially if you plan on embarking on higher-level adventures.
When a new person becomes the faller, ensure the group maintains a tight circle around them to begin, and then gradually open the circle slowly to increase the distance between passes.
Once again, emphasise that as the faller is being passed, at least two spotters should be in physical contact with the faller at all times.
Note, there is a tendency for some groups to treat this activity as if it was a human washing machine, tossing the faller back and forth rather thoughtlessly. If you observe this behaviour, call “STOP” immediately.
It is important that the faller keeps their arms crossed on their chest at all times. Crossed arms provide plenty of purchase for the spotters to make contact with the chest area of the faller, and especially avoids any awkward moments when a woman chooses to be the faller.
You may also know this exercise as Willows in the Wind – different name, same impact.
You could integrate Wind In The Willows as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
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
The dynamics of this powerful group initiative will necessarily speak to and leverage the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions to explore a variety of full value behaviours such as:
How did the group demonstrate its ability to care for self and others?
In what ways was the group influenced by the reactions of the person in the middle?
What did you make these reactions or behaviours mean?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Was adaptability a key component of the group’s success? In what ways?
The design and physicality of this activity highlight very obvious physical safety issues. Be sure to attend to the emotional and mental safety dimensions of the activity, too. All efforts to develop a positive and supportive environment will amplify the results of your group and each person who volunteers to have a go. The more positive and supportive your group is, the more likely these individuals will choose to take a risk and allow the group to support their movements.
There’s a lot going on for a group in this exercise – both the team of spotters and the individual who chooses to be supported in the middle of the circle – so it is ideally suited for reflecting on the emotional competencies involved. Invite your group to observe and reflect on a range of social and emotional cues such as tense bodies, inflexible spotting, the shutting or opening of eyes, the choice to participate or not, etc.
Prep for Levitate: Upon completing the typical back and forth motions, transition the faller into a position so that you can morph Wind in the Willows into Levitation.
Advanced Challenge: Invite the circle of spotters to sit down using their feet and legs to form a tight circle around the feet of the faller. This position effectively locks the faller’s feet into position. On “GO” the faller assumes their typical unbending stance, and the spotters raise their arms above their heads to support the falls. Note – this option is significantly more dynamic, and should only be presented to highly competent spotters.
Trust Prep: Take a look at Trust Leans and Trust Line as two fantastic lead-in activities to prepare your group for this exercise.
You Might Also Like...
Through The Wringer
Fun group initiative that rewards action & creativity.
Watch Your Step
Progressively challenging group initiative using ropes.
Playful variation of the Stepping Stones initiative.
Useful Framing Ideas
There are not many occasions in our lives when we get to choose to truly let go and let others look after our well-being. Folks, I’m about to introduce one of those times. If you choose to participate, you’ll be treated to one of the most exhilarating, frightening and all together fun experiences of your life…
Most of us do not enjoy the sensation of falling, especially if there is a good chance we’ll hurt ourselves. If we had to choose, we’d prefer to fall forward than backwards because at least we can see what’s coming and use our hands and arms to break the fall. But, how would you feel if you could fall in any direction within a full 360º circle?…
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 exceptional trust-building exercise:
How did it feel to be the faller? Why?
As a faller, what helped you feel comfortable or uncomfortable?
As a spotter, what did you observe? Did your role differ from other trust-building activities?
What else do you think or feel has changed as a result of this group experience?
What have you learned that helps us understand how to look after one another?
The inspiration for Wind In The Willows, and many more powerful, trust-building exercises, was sourced from the following publication: