From time to time, NJ Kids and Suburban Mom like to highlight one of the great businesses here in New Jersey. Today: Team Makers – a place where children and adults learn to become better leaders and problem solve. Read on to learn about the great work of our friends at Team Makers!

Suburban Mom:  What is your name and title?

Keith Gold: Owner, Team Makers of North Jersey

SM: What is your background? 

KG: I am a former teacher and coach for K-12, as well as at the college level. I was also a summer camp director for most of those same years. Then I got my MBA and began a career in brand management and marketing for a number of companies, including a school multi-channel corporation.

SM:  Describe Team Makers – what is your mission?  Whom is it geared to?  Where is it located?

KG:  Team Makers is based in Tenafly, but we serve most of North NJ. Our mission is to help children and adults become better leaders, increase their problem-solving skills and social integration abilities. A great side-effect is that as the children learn about each other, their perspective changes on how they view their peers and the program has a great anti-bullying effect.

SM: How did you get the idea for Team Makers?  What made you want to work with kids?

KG: I’ve always worked with kids – even for the past 13 years while working in business, I was still coaching my children’s teams and leading our town’s soccer and basketball recreation programs.

Then I learned about the concept of Team Makers and knew this is where I belonged.  The concept was created by two gentlemen in Canada and I am trying to get it going in the U.S. starting with NJ.

SM:  Talk a little bit about why the concept of Team Makers is so important to helping our children develop into well-rounded young adults. Why is it important to learn to be a team player, and how does it help them throughout their lives?

KG:  Children who go through the program play large format games that require different things at different times. I have over 100 games that I play with the children—depending on the track they choose. Some games require strong leadership, while others require every player to work completely together to solve it. Our games are really challenges because they need to be solved. We give very little direction to the children requiring them to reason out how best to solve the games and work through the challenge. Some games have only 1 way to win, while others have dozens of ways to complete them.

Then, after each challenge, we sit down to discuss “what happened and why” so the children can talk through how they played and can discuss how they could do it differently next time.  Our emphasis is on Leadership, Respect for others, Team Work/Cooperation, and Team Spirit. There is a lot of problem-solving and we are helping the children develop their critical-thinking skills. One of my favorite expressions is that I am helping children and adults learn to “think differently”. In other words, the best solution to a problem is not always the most obvious one.

SM:  What sort of classes do you offer?

KG: We offer classes for ages 3-5, K-2, and 3rd -5th. We also do leadership workshops for Middle School and High School students as well as staff trainings for adults.

SM: Do you offer any special events such as parties, scouting events, summer camp, etc.?

KG: We do birthday parties where the children are all actively participating in games, summer camps, and cub scout workshops. We also do school assemblies.

SM: Do you have any classes for Special Needs Children?

KG: As is our nature, we do get a fair amount of special needs children in our program.  However, we have not yet been asked to do a class for only special needs children or adults, but could certainly modify our program as needed.

SM: Are there any tips you can give to parents for facilitating team building at home?

KG: I always encourage parents to play with their children and allow the games to develop without them giving too much direction but instead just gently encouraging them toward a direction. I hear all the time teachers and parents state, “Oh they can’t do that, its too hard”. I reply, “Yes, in the beginning it will be hard”, but we need to let the children struggle for a few moments, give them a chance to collect themselves with gentle encouragement from us—and then you will see they CAN solve the challenges. Even 3-4 year olds.

SM:  Any stories of children learning from your classes you want to share?

KG:  This past fall session we had one boy, Jack, who did not speak virtually at all the first two classes.  By the 3rd week I decided to call on him and have him lead a team in their set of games that week. Each week thereafter, he became a little more confident and his mother actually waited for me at the end of the 8th week to tell me how much her son loved the class and how much more confident he was in school and at home.

Another child, Andrew, actually told us that he received his best grades in school this past fall and attributed it to taking our after-school class. He basically stated that our class helped him think about each question and assignment differently than he had before and he was coming up with more detailed answers because of it and thus doing better in school.

We even had a child once stand up at the end of an assembly and address his classmates by telling them how much fun he had during our assembly and he admitted in front of 75 children that he had been getting bullied by some of them but that he hoped they now got to know him a little differently during this assembly and saw he had some great ideas how to solve some of the games. He then sat down and within seconds, the boy received a standing ovation from his class.   Pretty cool stuff.

Team Makers:
400 Tenafly Road, #626, Tenafly, NJ 07670. 

Written by  Jenny Tananbaum, Google+