By Filip Tkaczyk
One of the best ways to teach youth is through the use of outdoor games for children. You can probably remember playing all kinds of games outdoors when you were younger. Perhaps, you still do. Some of the most well known and well loved outdoor games were often some variation of games of hide-n-seek or tag. Many great nature games for children are based off of these classic games.
The use of outdoor games for children engages them on a more physical level, where all their senses may be engaged and their enthusiasm unleashed. The natural world is arguably the best classroom there is. Outdoor games for children have been shown to help children learn about things such as plants, mammals, birds, and many other topics in a way which is more likely to be retained by the children over time.
Below are a few great outdoor games for children that combine enthusiasm with education:
One of the great outdoor games for children is a variation on the game of tag which is called "you're only safe if." The rules of the game are as follows:
1. The instructor calls out various things in the landscape by saying "You're only safe if…" and then call on a specific herb, rock, tree or other feature on the landscape. The idea is to encourage them to learn to recognize various things by name, such as big-leaf maple, dandelion, raccoon track, white clover and so forth.
2. You give all the children a moment of time – generally a few seconds – to locate the item in question. The more experienced the students, the less time they get to find the item.
3. Then, the instructor chases the children with the intent of tagging them before they touch the item in question.
4. If the children touch the item before they are tagged, they are safe. If not, they become one of the "its." As another tagger they can assist you in chasing the rest of the group.
5. The game tends to end quickly when more and more people get tagged and become its. It can be helpful to restart the game before everyone has become a tagger.
Depending on the age and experience level of the children present, certain aspects of the game can be adjusted. If for instance, none of the children are familiar with the particular tree or herb you call out as the instructor it helps to introduce some of them to the kids ahead of time. It is helpful to play in relatively open areas such as woodland edges, fields and open forests. Be mindful of hazards such as poison ivy or bramble patches or whatever other hazards might exist in your area.
Eagle eye is another one of the best outdoor games for children. It is basically an elaborate variation of the game of hide-n-seek. It is an excellent game to teach children how to be comfortable down in the undergrowth and dirt. Eagle eye is one of the truly amazing outdoor games for children because it can also help you teach children how to be still and quiet for extended periods and how to move about more quietly in the natural world. The rules are as follows:
1. You as the instructor delineate a small area several meters in circumference that will be the "eagle's nest." Use whatever material is available – sticks, rocks, pine cones, backpacks – to create a clear visual boundary as the edge of the nest. It can help to include a tree or large boulder as part of the edge of this circle so it can be leaned against, and faced into when counting.
2. Announce how long you will be counting. As you count to between 40 and 60 seconds, face away from the children and if possible cover your eyes and lean against a tree or boulder for an added light barrier. At this time, the students go out and hide. When you are done counting, you can open your eyes and visually scan around to see if you can spot the students. You announce that you are done counting by saying something to the extent of "the eagle's eyes are open," or "the eagle is awake." You can move to any place inside the boundaries of the eagle's nest and look from there, but you may not step outside of that boundary at anytime.
3. The children must hide so that they are not seen or heard by you. They must, however, keep one eye on you – the instructor (or "eagle") – no matter where they are hiding and at all times.
4. Any children that are spotted by you come and sit quietly in the nest. They are not allowed to tell you nor point to where the other children are hiding. You can have them pretend to be eagle chicks or pretend to be some kind of eagle food, i.e. a rabbit, fish or bird.
5. After about 1 to 2 minutes of visually scanning, you can turn around again and count. This time count 5 or 10 seconds less. It helps to announce what number you are counting too each time you count.
6. At this time, the children have to move 5 steps closer to the eagle's nest. With each consecutive time you count, they have to come closer to you by 5 steps. The goal for them is to get as close as possible to you without being spotted.
7. The last child to be spotted becomes the new eagle. If the children are very young, it might be best for you to remain as the eagle, as sometimes it can be a challenge to remember all the rules.
This outdoor game for children is generally best played in a forested area with some undergrowth. Although the intention is to spot the kids, it can add a bit of fun to prolong the time which it takes you to spot them. Even if, you can already see some of the children as you scan. Consider taking the opportunity before or after the game to talk about how many animals have to stay hidden to stay alive. After the game, you can also ask the children questions such as:
What colors blend in well in this landscape?
Where are the good hiding spots?
Can you name an animal that has to hide to stay alive?
What animals do you think live and hide around here?
What might happen to a mouse, rabbit or small bird that makes a lot of noise and does not hide?
Another one of the great outdoor games for children is owl and crow. Owls and crows often have an adversarial relationship in nature. Large owls prey on young crows. Crows often chase and harass owls that they find roosting or flying during the day. This game plays off of this relationship, while also combining aspects of tag and true-false type games. The rules are as follows:
1. Have the children form 2 lines that face each other. It helps to have group or 4 or larger for this game.
2. You are the announcer, and as such you ask true and false questions. These questions can cover all kinds of natural history and outdoor related questions on whatever topic is relevant. For example you might ask, "Do robins eat worms?" or "Are bats blind?" or "Does water run up hill?" and so forth.
3. You do not give the answer immediately; rather you let the children decide if this is a true or false statement. If it is true, the owls chase the crows. If it is false, the crows chase the owls. You do not announce what the answer was until the children have started chasing each other or you can wait until they have returned to the line. Once they are back in line you can give a short description of why it is true or false.
4. If the owls chase the crows, and one of the crows is tagged it becomes an owl and vice versa.
5. The game restarts when all of the players end up on one side of the line, i.e. all crows or all owls.
You as the announcer can make the questions as difficult or easy as you want. If some confusion happens because the kids don't know the answer, and they end up running in the wrong direction this is okay. Making mistakes is a big part of the process of learning.
Outdoor games for children are an excellent teaching tool. Try using these and other outdoor games for children to help encourage kids to maintain and grow their connection to the natural world.
Now, go out and play!