Goals of icebreakers:
- Help students get acquainted. As they interact, and learn what they have in common, they begin to provide peer support to each other.
- Gets students up, active, engaged, and having fun. Engaged students learn more, and retain the information better, than those who just sit and passively absorb information. (They’re also more fun for the teacher!)
- Can reinforce their confidence and competence: by starting in a comfortable space with information they already know, it’s easier for them to feel that they can take in all this new information and tie it into existing skills and knowledge.
- They’re also a great way to fill time as you wait for late arrivals. Start the icebreaker when about half the students have arrived, and as new people arrive, help them to join in. Once everyone is there, then you can start class.
Formats for icebreakers, and examples of their use:
- Paired interviews: Match each person (or couple) up with one other person (couple) to interview each other. Afterwards, students are asked to share with the class something they learned about their partners. If you’re going to do this, make sure you “warn” them in advance, so they know to take mental notes on the conversation.
- Often used for initial introductions: due date, planned birthplace, boy/girl, something else they have in common.
- Can be used for lots of topics: fears about birth, things they’re looking forward to (or not!) about having a new baby, what they’ve heard about breastfeeding, positive and negative.
- Rather than just having someone pair with the person closest to them, you could give everyone another person’s nametag, and they need to search around the room to find that person, then interview them.
- Small group discussion: Class is divided into small groups, then given topics. (Sometimes it’s best to keep couples together within small groups, sometimes it works better to split them up.) Afterwards, one person summarizes each group’s discussion.
- Hopes and Fears: Divide group into men and women. Ask each group to discuss their hopes and fears (about labor, birth, and early parenting). After the discussion, each group presents a summary of their discussion to the other gender.
- Common discomforts of pregnancy. They talk about what they’re experiencing, what has helped, and also offer ideas to each other about remedies they have heard of or read about. [Note: I will often put the moms in one group to discuss common discomforts while I take the partners off to discuss their role as labor supporters, and to address any anxieties they have about their ability to fulfill that role.]
- Mixers: Students are given a list of things to find out about others.
- Scavenger hunt: make a list ahead of time, including things like “find someone who’s having the same gender baby (or is also having a mystery baby)”, “Find someone who is due near your due date” and “find someone who has never changed a diaper.” (Sample here) Make a copy for each student. They circulate around the room, trying to find someone who matches each topic, and write their names down on their list. You can also format this as Icebreaker Bingo and give a prize to anyone who is able to “get a Bingo.”
- Or… they’re given a sheet with all students’ names on it. They must find out one thing they have in common with each person (Other than the fact that they’re about to have a baby!) and write it down.
- Brainstorming: Put sheets of paper up, divide class into small groups, with one notetaker per group – they take notes on their brainstorm, and then share the results with the full class.
- First paper says: “Relaxation: Things which help me feel relaxed, mellow, and safe.” Second: “Distraction: Something I do when I need to take my mind off my worries.” Third: “Getting active: anything that inspires me to get up and move.” Later in class, when covering early labor, you tell them they already know how to cope with early labor. Reinforce the ideas of relaxation, distraction, and labor-enhancing activity.
- Food brainstorming: things that are good to eat in labor (I give them the hint that they want some protein, some carbs, and nothing spicy or acidic); things that are good to have in the house to eat after baby is born (hints: can prepare and eat with one hand; OK if you leave it sitting on the counter for hours before you remember to come back and eat it, etc.)
- Variations in labor / reasons for cesarean. After I’ve spent the first three weeks talking about “normal” labor, then week 4 is variations. I say “I know that you’ve all heard horror stories from your friends, relatives, and people in elevators about births that aren’t “normal” and aren’t what we’ve been talking about. I want you to write down some of what you’ve heard. I have three sheets up: “weird” labor stories, reasons why someone needed labor induced, reasons why someone needed a cesarean.
- Benefits of breastfeeding / challenges of breastfeeding.
- Divide into groups of people you have something in common with:
- At a newborn care class, I say “If your baby is due in the next month, go to this side of the room, if due one – two months from now, go there. If your due date is more than two months away, go there.” Once they’ve divided up, I encourage them to introduce themselves, and talk about whether they feel ready for baby, and what they feel like they need to know to be ready (sometimes I have them write this down for me). Then I say “If you feel like you have _tons_ of experience with babies, go there. If you feel like you have almost no experience with babies, go there. If you’re in the middle, go there in the middle. And note, you don’t have to stay with your partner for this one!” When they’re gathered, I talk to the experienced people about the fact that it may feel different when it’s their own baby. I talk to the really inexperienced, and reassure them that they will get information in the class, and resources for where to go for more help, and then I talk to the couples who are very divided in their experience, reminding the experienced one to let the less experienced one try things and not to hover over him/her correcting things. Then I divide them again into “having a boy, having a girl, and don’t knows.” Then I tell those having girls to talk amongst themselves while I talk to the others about circumcision.
- For newborn care class: say “we’re going to line up across the room. Imagine there’s a line across the room from 0 to 10, where 0 means you have absolutely no experience taking care of babies and 10 means you’re practically a professional at baby care. Think about where you are on that scale, and go stand there.” Then reassure the newbies!
- For pain medication class: 1) How good are you at coping with pain? Everyone who thinks they’re great at handling pain, go to that end; everyone who thinks they’re a pain wimp go to that end… the rest of you array yourselves in between. 2) How painful do you think labor is? If you think it’s painless, go to that end. If you think it’s unbearably painful, go there. 3) Pain medication preference: For moms, if you absolutely want pain meds in labor, go there. If you absolutely don’t want them, go there. Everyone else, arrange yourselves on the continuum in between. For partners, I want you to go to the place where you wish your partner was standing. 4) Follow up these steps with a discussion of how our prior experiences with pain, and our expectations about labor pain can influence pain medication choices. Also, discuss that partners and moms need to make sure they’re on the same page prior to labor, so partners can support mom in making the choices that she is hoping to make. [Note: be cautious with this exercise! It could cause divisions in the class if the students think “those are the people like me…. those are the people that are different than me… will they judge my choices?”]
- This is a powerful tool for building community. At the beginning of each week of class, go around the room, and ask each person to share their news from the week. Can frame it as “highs” and “lows” of the week, and each person decides what they want to share.
- For introductions, or check-in questions, rather than just going around the circle in order, pull out a tennis ball, and toss it to a dad in the room: he goes first, then tosses the ball to someone else to decide who goes next. (This is good for the kinesthetic folks in the room, and livens things up a bit.)