Changing the Message: A Handbook for Experiential Prevention

ISBN: 978-1-885473-58-5
SIZE: 8.5 x 11
PRICE $27.95

“The goal of any experiential prevention program should be to assist all students in developing their capacity to make healthy and informed decisions about all aspects of their lives.”

The importance of prevention cannot be underrated when working with youth; however, many prevention programs currently rely on scare tactics and statistic repetition.  Changing the Message instead offers an experiential approach to prevention that is based on the naturopathic approach to disease, which views ailments as imbalance in the system, and in which the individual actively contributes to health and healing.

Fun, entertaining activities that demonstrate the importance of a safe and healthy lifestyle—from communication and trust in relationships to healthy methods of coping with conflict and hardship—build a prevention curriculum that invites participants to engage themselves in the process of learning about and living a disease-free lifestyle.  Changing the Message favors prevention, offers healing processes, and directs youth toward strong life choices.


“A healthy, much-needed, critique of current prevention practices and a great resource for those looking for experiential activities.”
–Martin Fleming, Director, For KidSake

“I really enjoyed his laid back descriptions and stories. He writes like I do - he writes like he would talk, with little side stories here and there. I like how the book is set up to honor the stages of group development. Jeff understands and reminds teachers and trainers that the games and the playing are part of the real learning. His debriefing hints are very valuable, especially for the new facilitator. As a prevention specialist, I was thrilled to see so many games with an emphasis on ATOD issues, youth development and asset building.”
–Stephanie Bass Faust, WRTI State Coordinator, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

“First and foremost I love how Jeff’s personality, passion and humor for prevention and working with youth/adults shine through his writing. I believe this curriculum will be useful to all prevention/intervention specialists and educators committed to helping students learn social/emotional skills in creative and effective ways! This work is a creative, clear, energetic and powerful example of ‘Experiential Prevention.’”
–Mona M. Johnson MA, CPP, CDP, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Learning and Teaching Support, Prevention/Intervention Program Supervisor

“Changing the Message: A Handbook for Experiential Prevention… the title alone is inspiring! The good news? It gets better. Jeff's writing is refreshingly conversational, insightful and accessible. His Facilitators Tool Box section alone would make a terrific facilitation primer. I was equally pleased with the quantity and quality of the icebreakers, activities and initiatives. The activity descriptions are coupled with facilitator notes and reflecting (debriefing) suggestions. The book will almost certainly become a facilitator favorite, even for those working in non-prevention milieus.”
–Mark R. Kaser, Program Director for the Indiana Teen Institute,

“To be able to prevent problems in young people we must be able to reach them, to reach them we must gain rapport and the best way to gain rapport is to have fun with them. These are Jeff Albin's great strengths. Jeff is the kind of teacher/facilitator/human being I wish my own kids had been able to experience. This handbook reflects his humanity and spirit. He has exactly the right idea about what it takes to reach kids.”
¬Jack Pransky, Ph.D., author, Prevention from the Inside-Out, Parenting from the Heart, and Healthy Thinking/Feeling/Doing from the Inside-Out school curriculum

“Jeff Albin has the spirit of an adventurer, and is able to take his life experiences into the realm of prevention work. In this book, "changing the message" is more than a catchphrase. Jeff combines a philosophical foundation of creating a safe environment, risk taking, and reflection with practical activities to help students change the message of their lives. Jeff knows from his own experience that prevention does not occur only at the cognitive level—the brain must be combined with the heart. This book is a refreshing alternative. to programs that focus solely on information. Jeff's stories and imaginative ideas will jumpstart your creative process.”
–Laurie Frank, Director of Goal Consulting, co-author of Games for Teachers, and author of Journey Toward the Caring Classroom

Excerpt from the Book


Snow never lies. After a fresh snow, I wander through the woods around my home and see what the residents have been up to. From quite a distance away, I can tell whether the tracks are a coyote or a deer. Coyotes never walk in a straight line. They sniff here, urinate there. They are insatiably curious. They are so curious that they will stare at a rancher long enough to be shot. Deer, on the other hand, walk in straight lines or gently curving lines. Mostly they are shy. They often bolt as soon as you see them. Young deer, however, will eventually turn around and look to see what’s following them. Ravens, the wise jokers of the forest, are almost impossible to stalk. They harass me, laugh at me, and joke in large groups about the pitiful human in the forest below.
Human beings never lie either. They always leave a trail for you to follow. Some part of them cannot completely conceal what’s going on with them. Sometimes it’s a look. Sometimes it’s body posture. As a facilitator, I need to know who left the tracks, what the tracks mean, and how I can use the information. The same is true when working with groups. If I start down the trail of group development and nobody is willing to follow, I’m just wasting my time. If I do an activity the group is not ready for, I need to recognize that quickly. I need to be able to shift directions so smoothly that nobody knows it’s not just a part of the plan.
A time-honored method for a quick evaluation of any group is the GRABBS (Goals, Readiness, Affect, Behavior, Body, Stage) modality. This was first articulated by Schoel, Prouty, and Radcliffe (1988) in the adventure education classic Islands of Healing.
Goals: Does the chosen activity match the goals of the group? A poorly chosen activity will only lead to unnecessary frustration.
Readiness: Does the chosen activity match the stage of group development at which your team is functioning?
Affect: What do the facial expressions of your group tell you? Are they bored? Are they excited?
Behavior: What behaviors are you seeing? Are they drifting away? Are they focused?
Bodies: What are their bodies telling you?
Stage: Are they storming? Are you still doing icebreakers when you could be doing complex initiative problems?


An adventure facilitator cannot be toting around stacks of books or curriculums full of activities. Get some sticky pads. Know shorthand or make up your own. When I plan for a group of people, whether it’s a group of teachers or a kindergarten class, I plan enough activities so there is no danger of running out of things to do. I write it all down on my sticky pad and put it in my shirt pocket. After the session is over, I write down everything that group has done (see the Activity Log on page 124).


That’s fun, not phony. A lot of people want to know what my secret is, as if there were some formula to follow. I want to know too. I have some vague ideas. I have had some lengthy conversations with other successful facilitators about why some people can do this stuff and others can’t. Michael Becker, 8th grade teacher at Lyle Middle School, told me that to make it work, you pretty much had to have been a knuckle head back in your own school days. That’s true for me, but I don’t know if it’s true for others. What I know about people who are successful with kids is that they are real. What you see is what you get. They have a great sense of humor about everything—especially themselves. In the schools where I work, I am known as a “good-time Charlie.” When I show up, kids expect to have fun, be challenged, and learn something they didn’t know before. Kids remember the stuff they learned because of two main factors. First, they’re moving. They generate a kinesthetic body memory. Second, they have fun. People tend to remember times when they were laughing.


“You can’t teach what you don’t know” is an often-repeated belief statement that may or may not be true. I prefer to rephrase it to “Don’t take people to places where you are not willing to go yourself.” The true nature of experiential group development is that you know you’re going on a journey, but you don’t truly know where you will end up. The intensity will be different for different people. You may have your trusty curriculum in hand and be ready to start at the cooperation or forming stage, but your group may already be at performing and ready for high-level trust activities.
If you are doing ATOD (alcohol, tobacco, and other drug) and violence prevention, you need to be very clear on where you are with your own issues. If you are a recovering alcoholic or a child of an alcoholic, you need to understand clearly that “NOT EVERYBODY COMES FROM A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY!” Since I am always asking people to grow and change, I make sure that I am always growing and changing.
An unwritten rule for anybody who works with children has always been not to discuss disagreements in front of the children. This is often true, but we need to understand that every skill a child learns he learns by seeing an adult do it first. It’s important that kids see adults disagreeing in healthy and functional ways and still working together with respect.

Table of Contents

Facilitator’s Tool Box
Facilitate (Don’t Teach)
Spontaneity Is When You Deviate from Your Plan
Fidelity to the Program
Experiential Learning Cycle
Meet ‘Em Where They’re At
A Common Agreement
Goals of Experiential Prevention
Ice Breakers
Branching Off
Check-In and Check-Out Ideas
Cooperative Activities
Trust Activities
Using Role-Play Cards
Initiative Activities
ATOD Specific Activities
High Ropes Course
Creating Shift
Community Connection
A Dream?
Afterword/The Ultimate Initiative
What’s in Jeff’s Bag
Teaching Tools & Resources
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