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Trial and Error

SOG lives by trial and error. It is the most commonly used and widespread problem solving technique on the earth. As animals, it is built into our genes. We try something, when it doesn’t work, we remember not to do it that way again, and we try it another way. We construct our own systems on how to more efficiently build on our knowledge. It is the essence of learning!

Team SOG Argentina tries new things everyday. We have had so many challenges with children’s behaviour that we have had no choice but to experiment with our behaviour management strategies. We have been using a behaviour management strategy called “Communities”. It functioned extremely well, and giving points to a child’s community for their individual behaviour really motivated the children. We created the system so that it didn’t create too much competition between the communities. We called them communities and not teams, we called the older children representatives and not captains, and we promoted teamwork at any opportunity.

But… the underlying fact was that the children were winning points to ‘win’ at the end of the week so that their community could have certain responsibilities. Even thought the responsibilities were trivial tasks like handing out the water cups and dinner plates, taking the register, and entering the venue first, we were seeing some negative effects on the children. Some children were getting very upset when their community didn’t receive points, or gloating about their community winning. These don’t sound like major things, but it isn’t an environment that we want to create, one of competition.

We started to implement the next phase of the behaviour management strategy last week, and so far it seems to be working. We still have communities because they are very handy when doing certain activities as we can split them into groups, and the children still win points. The only difference is the children now win points as one big group. We have created the “point pig”. When any child, or the group as a whole, behave well or show a good example, the whole class gets a point (scored on a picture of a pig). In this manner, the children motivate each other to win points as one big unit. When they reach 100 points they get a surprise. Last week they reached 100 so on Friday we had a movie session with popcorn.

We have also been trying every strategy under the sun with a child who has been with us for the last month or so. I’ll call him Brian. Brian finds it extremely difficult managing his behaviour in group situations. He is violent, vocalises every thought going through his head very loudly, becomes very fixated on things, is very negative, verbally abuses others, doesn’t follow instructions, and basically does what he wants. Many of his behaviours could be associated with a type of autism. One of those characteristics is his lack of empathy. For example, he had a really good friend in one of the girls, but abused her so much that she had enough and stopped talking to him.

You could say that we have our hands full. There are moments of calm, concentration, and happiness, which we are seeing more often, but he has definitely changed the dynamic of the venue. The other children are getting used to him slowly and our methods seem to be making a difference. We have a little workbook for him to draw in when he get’s bored. He now vocalises when he is bored so that we can take appropriate action. We keep instructions very simple and precise. Writing down instructions and making him read them also works. We also found that he is calmer around female children and adults. We know that his father used to beat Brian’s mother in front of him so this could be a cause. He is also now starting to make friends with some of the boys so it is a good sign.

We are currently seeking to meet and talk with Brian’s psychologist. His mother is stoked with the work that we are doing and is very cooperative. We are looking at a holistic approach, so the connection between us, Brian, and his mother is paramount. Hopefully we will soon be able to include his psychologist in that communication circuit. Finger crossed, we will soon have our own Psychologist who will visit the venue once a week. Maybe the staff will need the psychologist more than the kids!

To also throw a spanner in the works, we have been politely asked to find a new venue. The movement, MTD, a movement for the unemployed who owns the venue we currently function in, has asked us to move on. We are very thankful of them for the free use of their space for the last year and a half, which enabled us to get Food for Thought off the ground. The challenge now is to find a space big enough and with a kitchen. It also has to be local, as if we move too far we would probably lose some of our children. I’m confident that we will find something as we have maintained good relationships with the community and the general vibe is that people are keen to help out! Toes crossed too!