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Comfort Circle Activity

Team Building

In the event that students have very varying comfort levels or are inconsiderate of others a Comfort Circle activity is a great tool.  The Comfort Circle is similar in concept to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development as well as the “A Great Wind Blows” activity.

Set Up/Explanation

Have students stand in a circle arms distance apart.  Draw a circle in the dirt at the student’s toes, and a circle around the outside of their heels behind them.  The innermost circle represents the Comfort Zone.  The Comfort Zone is where one feels the most at ease and comfortable.  No challenges are present and activities and interactions are easy to accomplish. The ring the students are standing in represents the Challenge Zone.  The Challenge Zone is where one feels nervous, unsure, or challenged in some way.  It is also an area where students are still capable of performing but benefit from assistance.  The beyond the Challenge Zone ring ring is their Panic Zone.  The Panic Zone is where one shuts down and is unable to continue.  Situations categorized in this zone evoke a mental or emotional shut down. 

Once the students understand the three zones explain to them that you will suggest a series of scenarios.  Ask students to physically stand in the zone/circle that particular scenario evokes for them.  Start off with scenarios mild in nature such as trying a strange new food, hiking in the woods, touching a banana slug.  Once the students all display a full understanding of the activity suggest some more challenging scenarios such as sleeping away from home, walking up the canopy tower, holding a snake.  Tailor your scenarios to your students and find out how they might react to situations that they may be expecting to experience.

Expectations

Depending on how you want to use this activity the expectations can be different. 

As an assessment on what students are generally comfortable with there isn’t as much of a need for emotional safety scaffolding.  Students can react with silliness and when presented with certain scenarios run far beyond the circles and these acts may be used as assessment themselves. 

As a tool to evaluate emotional trust and safety it is important to establish expectations as such.  Students should understand that this is not a time for silliness and under no situation.  This can be an entirely silent activity to create a sense of comfort and remove the need to defend ones decision.  It can also be paused between each scenario to open dialogue about each person’s feelings given the situation.

Debrief

The point of the activity is to tangibly show that sometimes we are all in the same circle and sometimes we end up being in a different circle depending on the scenario.  We have varying levels of comfort and have come together from very different experiences.  Just because something is comfortable for you does not mean it is comfortable for everyone and vice versa.  It can allow students to externally see other student’s feelings or challenges.

The activity can also create a discussion on personal growth.  Asking what would happen if someone were to stay in their Comfort Zone your entire life could create a dialogue about the necessity of challenge.  On the flipside if an individual were to be constantly placed in their Panic Zone there would not be very much opportunity for growth.  Most of the growth occurs in one’s Challenge Zone.  Express the importance of challenging ourselves and finding ways to support each other in our respective Challenge Zones.

In the event that students have very varying comfort levels or are inconsiderate of others a Comfort Circle activity is a great tool.  The Comfort Circle is similar in concept to Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development as well as the “A Great Wind Blows” activity.

Set Up/Explanation

Have students stand in a circle arms distance apart.  Draw a circle in the dirt at the student’s toes, and a circle around the outside of their heels behind them.  The innermost circle represents the Comfort Zone.  The Comfort Zone is where one feels the most at ease and comfortable.  No challenges are present and activities and interactions are easy to accomplish. The ring the students are standing in represents the Challenge Zone.  The Challenge Zone is where one feels nervous, unsure, or challenged in some way.  It is also an area where students are still capable of performing but benefit from assistance.  The beyond the Challenge Zone ring ring is their Panic Zone.  The Panic Zone is where one shuts down and is unable to continue.  Situations categorized in this zone evoke a mental or emotional shut down. 

Once the students understand the three zones explain to them that you will suggest a series of scenarios.  Ask students to physically stand in the zone/circle that particular scenario evokes for them.  Start off with scenarios mild in nature such as trying a strange new food, hiking in the woods, touching a banana slug.  Once the students all display a full understanding of the activity suggest some more challenging scenarios such as sleeping away from home, walking up the canopy tower, holding a snake.  Tailor your scenarios to your students and find out how they might react to situations that they may be expecting to experience.

Expectations

Depending on how you want to use this activity the expectations can be different. 

As an assessment on what students are generally comfortable with there isn’t as much of a need for emotional safety scaffolding.  Students can react with silliness and when presented with certain scenarios run far beyond the circles and these acts may be used as assessment themselves. 

As a tool to evaluate emotional trust and safety it is important to establish expectations as such.  Students should understand that this is not a time for silliness and under no situation.  This can be an entirely silent activity to create a sense of comfort and remove the need to defend ones decision.  It can also be paused between each scenario to open dialogue about each person’s feelings given the situation.

Debrief

The point of the activity is to tangibly show that sometimes we are all in the same circle and sometimes we end up being in a different circle depending on the scenario.  We have varying levels of comfort and have come together from very different experiences.  Just because something is comfortable for you does not mean it is comfortable for everyone and vice versa.  It can allow students to externally see other student’s feelings or challenges.

The activity can also create a discussion on personal growth.  Asking what would happen if someone were to stay in their Comfort Zone your entire life could create a dialogue about the necessity of challenge.  On the flipside if an individual were to be constantly placed in their Panic Zone there would not be very much opportunity for growth.  Most of the growth occurs in one’s Challenge Zone.  Express the importance of challenging ourselves and finding ways to support each other in our respective Challenge Zones.

About the Author
Tim Ichien
Author: Tim Ichien