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There are certain absolutes when considering retreat activities for middle schoolers. The lessons and games you plan must be short, fun, gross, fast-paced, engaging, social in nature, involve candy and have a point. This age group can spot a novice a mile away and will eat you for dinner if you are not prepared. Be prepared to switch gears if what you are doing is not working. Always have a backup plan and extra activities.
Bubble Gum Sculptures
Introduce the concept of God as the Creator of all things. Discuss the Biblical account of Creation. When you get to the creation of man, have each student chew between five and ten pieces of bubble gum, spit the glob into their hands and form it like clay into some type of living thing. Instruct them not to tell anyone what they made because there will be a contest and candy prizes when everyone is finished. The sculptures can be displayed on small plates. After the contest, read Genesis 2:7 about God blowing the breath of life into man's nostrils to make him a living being. Invite your students to blow life into the living things they formed. The lesson: Only God can give life.
Split your group into two for this team-building activity. You will need a big room inside or an open space outside to play this game. Have each team select a captain and give the captain a newspaper. The teams are both on the same side of the room or play area. Tell them that to win, their entire team must be the first to go from one side of the room to the other, but that the space in front of them is a radioactive swamp. If anyone steps in it, they will die. In addition, several of their team members have infirmities: being blind, deaf, with a broken leg, being quadriplegic, with missing limbs, etc. Each group must work together to figure out how to get the whole team across the radioactive swamp safely. They realize immediately they will have to carry some team members. Eventually, they figure out that they can tear the newspaper apart and walk across on the pages. The winning team gets candy.
The Image Game
You will need a bag of dress-up clothes or costumes and makeup for this activity. Discuss how teenagers often wear the images other people give them. Talk about the media concept of beauty and how cruel life can be if you let other people tell you who you should be and what you should look like. Divide the group into boys and girls. Then try to pair up a boy with a girl. Often, there are more girls than boys present, but do the best you can. Groups of three are fine. First, blindfold the boys and have the girls use the dress-up clothes to dress them. Then, allow the boys to put makeup on the girls. Find a place for a pretend runway and have a fashion show. Provide candy for being good sports. Talk about finding identity in truth, in what God thinks of them, not in the way other people define them.
The Tool Bag
You will need index cards, pencils and a paper lunch bag labeled "tool bag" for this activity. Discuss the concept of tools in a tool bag. Tell the students they all have tools in their tool bags to help them in times of sadness, stress, confusion, depression, anger. Pass out index cards and have them list anonymously the tools they think are in their tool bags. They will probably list things like: Bible, God, prayer, parents, friends, guidance counselor. Collect the cards and read them out loud with the group. No one should know whose card you are reading. Discuss each card. As you finish with it, put it in your paper tool bag. Leave the bag with the group so they can use it after the retreat.
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Writer and storyteller Paige Tighe has been published since age nine. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in English from Towson University in 1986, Tighe freelanced in southern New Jersey, and had her articles and poetry appear nationwide in "Writing Teacher Magazine," "The Storytelling Classroom" and others. She is also a certified special education teacher.
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