Count it Up

I was recently in my car listening to CBC Radio 2 (for Americans, this is like Canada’s version of NPR Radio) and I heard a song titled Count it Up by the UK band Field Music. I didn’t necessarily love the song but I thought the content of the lyrics were quite meaningful. It went through some of the basic things that we often forget to be thankful for or recognize the value of what we already have. The song asks the listener to consider if they  “own their own car” or “If your mom or dad had a job growing up”, or "if you can walk down the street without being judged by the colour of your skin", ect... – then COUNT IT UP.

The connection of this song to Social-Emotional Learning is quite  direct. The song asks listeners to become more self-aware and socially aware of the things and experiences they should be grateful for and consider the barriers that would exist if they didn't have such privileges. Gratefulness and understanding barriers are essential in building Self and social awareness, two of the main tenants of Social Emotional Learning.

From and experiential education perspective, this idea of "Counting it Up" reminded me of a game I was taught a long time ago. The game consists of a facilitator reading aloud various things or experiences to be grateful for or that could be perceived as barriers in one's life . For each item read, the participants would move forward one step for each thing they may consider as an asset or something they are grateful for and take a step backwards for each thing they would consider a barrier. If they held a neutral perception of the item read aloud that would remain in place. The result is, that after numerous ideas are read, the activity would end up with the participants standing spread out, some having moved mostly forward, some having moved backwards and some ending up, after going forward and backwards, close to where they started.  A participant's final position would be dependant on what ideas read they have perceive as an asset or barrier in their own life.

Examples of ideas or situations that the facilitator could ask participants to respond to could include:

  • Identify as a minority
  • Are considered as an immigrant
  • Has a parent who did not graduate high school
  • Questioning one’s sexuality or gender
  • Taking illegal drugs
  • Have a drivers licence
  • Have travelled to another country
  • Have a passport
  • Play a sport regularly

(Many of the same ideas expressed in Field Music's "Count it Up" lyrics)

The objective of the game is to build on self and social awareness. However, this should not be the end of the game. There should always be a NOW WHAT - what do we do with these new insights? You could imagine that in such a game, if it is not debriefed effectively, there could be a variety of unforeseen negative perception develop. One potential negative consequence result is that the activity could accidentally reinforce a self-image of inadequacy or of being a victim by those who already perceive themselves as having many disadvantages. What if I can’t “Count Up”? Another misperception from the activity is that the haves may feel superior to the "have nots" and/or the "have nots" become jealous of the "haves". Yet, neither perception solicits any form of change or resiliency, there is no NOW What of any substance.

To ensure the process of the activity result in  positive take-aways, I the facilitator must ensure that NOW WHAT goals of the activity are highlighted and discussed (I believe this idea of NOW What was also the objective of the song “Count it Up”). Here are some some positive take aways that could be addressed in the debrief:

  1. Explore way to support the participants  and others in the world in becoming more aware of the different assets and barriers that exist in this world
  2. To Acknowledge one’s own assets and barriers, supporting a more positive or gowth mindset
  3. Discover what resiliency strategies or support networks one needs to help themselves or help others Count IT Up.

With these goals in mind, the debrief should be tailored to help build empathy, understanding, and appreciation; ensuring that the activity does not contain elements of competition.


The examples of the question or ideas that the facilitator can read out that I gave above are more designed with for working with participants12 and older. I do think this activity could be meaningful even being done with younger participants. Though, the topics would have to be more appropriate. Younger examples could include:

  • Spend time with a grandparent
  • Have clothes to wear
  • Have some toys at home to play with
  • Have someone to wake you up in the morning
  • Have been on a trip with your family
  • Staying up late at night
  • Have been to the hospital for 2 days or more

In the end I think it’s a meaningful exercise for us all to take time to “Count it Up, and take account of the things, attributes, and privileges that we have given or denied. Just ensure that when we take these this idea of iCounting it Up into account that we realize this is not the end. We need to ensure there is a NOW WHAT… How can we use this self and social awareness to support create growth change and learning?

I hope you find meaning in your Play. 


Sheldon Franken

Inquiry Adventures

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