Environmental Education Group Games & Activities

Games can be used as fun and interesting ways to engage children of all ages. While having fun, participants develop skills and gain knowledge about a topic. Using games in environmental education is especially beneficial, as it can convey complex concepts and relationships found in ecosystems. Players can come into a game with any level of knowledge. If learning is framed as a game, with fun being a high priority, then there is less pressure to learn the "right answer," especially if complicated topics are involved.

The following games have been selected according to their suitability in both formal and non-formal situations and their educational value. Please enjoy trying them out and don’t forget to have fun!

Bat and Moth

(aka Dolphins and Crabs, etc.)

An ideal time for this activity is at night, however, it can be played during the day. Always play on flat even ground without obstructions.

Introduction

Begin with the question, “How do bats find their food in the dark (or dolphins find their food beneath the sand or in murky water)?” Discuss how finding food using echolocation works, clarifying details and correcting misconceptions. Echolocation or bio-sonar is the ability of some animals to locate objects using sound waves. They emit a range of sounds and listen for the echoes. Many animals, including cetaceans with teeth and some bats, make use of echolocation to orient themselves and detect prey. Many of the details of echolocation are not completely understood, so research on echolocation continues.

Directions

  1. Have the participants form a circle where they can join hands.
  2. Everyone in the circle are trees that surround an open meadow where the bat hunts insects to eat.
  3. Select two volunteers, one to be the bat, the other the moth.
  4. Blindfold the bat.
  5. The bat claps and the moth claps back as they move about within the circle with the bat trying to tag the moth.
  6. Upon being tagged, the moth becomes the bat and a new moth is chosen.
  7. Play until everyone who wants to gets a chance to be the moth.
  8. Remind everyone that throughout the activity the trees” are the bat’s protectors making sure s/he remains safe within the circle.

Debrief

What happens to a specie that uses echolocation when it encounters excessive noise in its environment?

Migration Hopscotch

An ideal location for this activity is a beach where a hopscotch diagram can be drawn in the sand. Ropes on grass, chalk on pavement and a set of carpet squares can also be used depending on the type of open space available.

Introduction

The participants are all birds (pick species that migrate) flying from their summer habitat in Canada to their winter habitat in Mexico along their annual migration route (the hopscotch diagram). Summer habitat is at one end, winter habitat the other. While making the trip, the birds have places to stop, rest and sometimes eat (often a wetland or body of water) where they layover before resuming their migration.

Directions

  1. Have the players go through the hopscotch court once—from Alaska to Mexico--to start.
  2. Before round two, explain that a housing development was constructed while they were wintering in Mexico and mark one of the squares with an “X” to indicate it is no longer available to land on.
  3. Before each successive round continue to take away squares to represent loss of habitat to pollution (e.g. spills & dumping), and land-use conversion (resorts, marinas and more housing developments) until players can no longer successfully complete a migration.
  4. If a player jumps and lands short or misses the intended square they are eliminated. If no player can complete a migration the game ends.

Debrief

What happens to a specie that can no longer complete its annual migration?

Owls, Mice, Shrubs

(aka Seals, Fish, Kelp | Mountain Lions, Deer, Grasses | etc.)

This activity looks at population cycles, food webs and nutrient cycles. The activity has two parts: the tag game and the optional graph that is created during the rounds of play. Always play on a large flat area without obstructions and an established perimeter.

Materials

At least 25 participants (maximum of 50), a dozen bandanas (for every 25 players), a large sheet of graph paper and three colored pens/pencils

Directions

Set-up consists of creating three groups of participants in concentric rings around each other. In the inner ring are the OWLS (~15%), surrounded by a ring of MICE (~35%), with the remaining participants (~50%) in the outer ring acting as SHRUBS. The MICE hang a bandana from their belt or pocket. Record the number of players in each group on the data sheet.

The object of play is for the MICE to successfully hide under (get to) a SHRUB without being caught (having their flag taken) by an OWL. Each SHRUB can protect only one MOUSE. However, OWLS can catch as many MICE as time permits. The game is played in 30 second rounds, with data recorded after each round.

Each round of play begins when the activity leader yells “HUNT!” The MICE run for cover among the SHRUBS while the OWLS chase after them. The SHRUBS hold out their arms as if they were branches for the MICE to hide beneath. After 30 seconds play is stopped. First data is collected according to the following parameters, then the transformations outlined below occur and the next round can begin.

  • MICE that are caught become OWLS.
  • OWLS that hunted successfully remain as OWLS.
  • OWLS that did not catch a MOUSE become SHRUBS.
  • SHRUBS that harbor a MOUSE become MICE.
  • SHRUBS without a MOUSE stay SHRUBS.

Repeat the rounds of play 12 to 18 times to ensure sufficient data is collected to reveal any patterns. Plot the data on a graph (large enough for the group to read) where ROUNDS are on the X-axis and NUMBERS are on the Y-axis. Connect the dots.

Debrief

Each line in the graph represents a population’s growth and decline over time. The lines should be fairly accurate representations of how populations of species change in an ecosystem.

Ask participants to explain the patterns revealed by the graph. Was the game successful? Why or why not? Talk about population cycles and interconnection of species. What does being tagged in the game simulate in a real forest environment?

Generations

This activity explores the effect of consumption of non-renewable resources on future generations.

Materials

Have a large bag of M&Ms for each group of twelve participants. Put about half the M&Ms in one paper lunch bag and half into another—however, put no brown M&Ms in the second bag. Make a set of index cards with two of each for the following roles: grandchildren, children, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.

Introduction

To begin discuss the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources that humans rely on for survival. Next, explain that the M&Ms in the first bag represent those resources humans need to survive.

Directions

  • Tell the great-great grandparents to take as many M&Ms (i.e. resources) as they want without looking in the bag—but not to eat them until the end of the game.
  • Have each generation pass the bag to the next younger generation, each taking as many as they want, until each generation has had a turn or the bag is empty. It is possible that some participants will not get any M&Ms. If that happens, don’t worry! (Remember you have a second bag full of “renewables” in reserve.)Ask “What would happen to the next generation to be born if the bag is empty?”
  • After discussing the ramifications of running out of resources (i.e. M&Ms), explain that the brown M&Ms are non-renewable and the other colors renewable. And that in order to stay in the game, a player must have at least one brown M&M.
  • Explain that to acquire more M&Ms participants can trade with each other at whatever exchange rate they agree upon.

Allow several minutes to pass as trades are conducted.

  • At the end of trading, participants without any brown M&Ms are eliminated (they get to keep their pile of M&Ms) unless a generation before them wills them an inheritance that include a brown M&M.
  • Offer to trade with the remaining players (from the reserve bag of M&Ms) at a fixed exchange rate of 1 brown for 4 of any other color.
  • After trading any player without brown M&Ms is eliminated (they get to keep their pile of M&Ms). This concludes the “game” portion of the activity.

Debrief

Continue by discussing which type of trading the participants preferred—unregulated or fixed rate.

Then discuss the value of the brown M&Ms or non-renewable resources. [Historically, metals and gemstones have had the greatest value, while coal and oil where less valuable.]

Follow up with a discussion of leaving an inheritance for future generations.

Lastly, ask participants, “What is the value of clean air and fresh water?

Share the remaining M&Ms with the group and enjoy.

For the Common Good

Stones as tokens
©

In this activity participants play a game where cooperative decisions about renewable resources must be made if all are to benefit. The game reinforces the concept that cooperation, rather than selfishness, brings more long-term benefits to society.

Materials

Ten “tokens” (e.g. poker chips, pennies, stones, etc.) for each participant and a prize (in a quantity enough for everyone).

Directions

Circle the group. From the pile of tokens, put ¼ of them into the center of the group on a sheet of paper (the pool). DO NOT EXPLAIN THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TOKENS BEFORE PLAYING THE GAME! Then read the following rules to the participants—twice.

  • The name of this activity is For the Common Good.
  • The chips belong to all of you.
  • I will hum a tune. While I am humming everybody may take tokens out of the pool in the center.
  • You may trade ten tokens for a prize at the end of the game.
  • When I stop humming, I will double the amount of tokens remaining in the pool at that time, then continue the game.
  • There will never be more tokens in the pool than there were at the beginning, this is the maximum number of tokens the pool can hold.
  • You may not communicate in any way with anyone during the game. If you do, you forfeit your tokens.

The players will likely empty the pool at the start of the game. Each time they do, declare the game over for you cannot double zero tokens. Then collect all the tokens and start over. At the end of each round double the amount of remaining tokens then ask each player how many tokens they have. Continue play without allowing participants to communicate. After a few rounds let the participants talk for 30 seconds then resume play. If all players acquire ten tokens the game is over.

Debrief

Renewable resources can be maintained if managed properly. When resources are not given sufficient time or opportunity to be replenished or reproduce they can be exhausted quickly—especially when demand for those resources grows as result of higher standards of living and the population increases. Non-renewable resources are limited in quantity and can disrupt a society if they are depleted without sufficiently available replacements.

The following questions will guide the debrief conversation. What do the tokens represent? (Renewable resources, such as fish or trees. Non-renewable resources aren’t represented in this activity, but make sure participants understand the difference.) Can the participants draw any parallels between the way the group treated the tokens and the way individuals and society as a whole use or overuse renewable resources? (Examples include overfishing leading to collapse of fisheries and deforestation leading to loss of habitat, erosion and increased siltation of waterways.) How did talking about the game influence how you played it? How did you feel about players who took a lot of the tokens? Have you experienced a similar situation at home, with friends or in your community? What sort of attitude(s) do we need to have individually and collectively to achieve the goal of the greatest common good?

Social Hierarchy

This activity explores the value of individuals and their respective roles in contributing to the wellbeing of each other and the success of a community.

Materials

Make a set of index cards with different jobs/professions on them. Suggestions include: actor, artist, athlete, author, banker, business owner, carpenter, chef, dancer, doctor, engineer, electrician, farmer, historian, inventor, janitor, judge, land developer, lawyer, librarian, mayor, mathematician, mechanic, mortician, musician, nurse, pilot, plumber, police officer, programmer, realtor, religious leader, reporter, scientist, singer, teacher, and truck driver. [If you need more, substitute specific types for one generic role (e.g. biologist, chemist, physicist = scientist, etc.).]

Directions

  • Hand out or allow participants to select a card. The only instruction is for them to position themselves in order of importance.
  • Most groups will attempt to form a line.
  • The best answer is a circle where no one person is more important than another for each person contributes something of value to the wellbeing and success of the group.

Debrief

Establish ground rules for keeping the conversation positive. Then debrief this activity based on participant comments.

Fruits of the Forest

This activity looks at a variety of forest-based products and activities and their impact on the ecosystem.

Materials

Sets of Fruits of the Forest cards.

Directions

  • Participants are divided into groups and given a set of cards to read and discuss. The cards describe common forest-based products or activities, their production or usage, and their environmental impacts.
  • The group members try to agree upon where each card should be placed on a continuum ranging from “totally acceptable use’’ to “totally unacceptable use.”
  • If consensus is achieved, group members then decide individually where to “draw the line” on the spectrum of accepting certain environmental impacts because of the benefits while rejecting others.

Optional
Reconvene the small groups and do a Line Up activity where people position themselves along a line representing the continuum they just used. Individuals move towards the acceptable end or unacceptable end of the line in response to a prompt for each forest-based product.

Debrief

It’s important to stress that all of the forest-based products and activities are to varying degrees impacting the world’s forest ecosystems. Introduce the concept of sustainability. Discuss what practical steps people can take to safeguard forests (e.g. reduce → reuse → recycle paper products, purchase products from companies with commitments to sustainability, etc.).

Optional
If time permits, discuss the experience of seeking consensus. Was it difficult to reach? Is everyone satisfied? Are people unhappy or upset if they had to compromise their beliefs or values?

Paper

The world uses an enormous amount of wood pulp to make paper—an estimated 4 billion trees are cut each year for paper. Printing a Sunday edition of the New York Times requires 988 acres of forest. The pulp and paper industry is a big contributor to the problem of deforestation and is partly to blame for the endangerment of some species that live in the forests. The life cycle of paper is damaging to the environment from beginning to end. Pulp mills contribute to air, water and land pollution. Even paper recycling can be a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during de-inking—thus the need for soy-based inks. Recycling causes 35 per cent less water pollution and 74 per cent less air pollution than making new paper. Recycling a ton of newspaper also eliminates 3m³ of landfill. As paper decomposes in the ground it produces methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Timber (aka Lumber)

Sustainable timber has the lowest embodied energy (energy used in its processing, production and transport, from tree to consumer use) of any mainstream building material, and far less than for steel, concrete or aluminum. This is mainly because timber requires only minimal processing compared to other materials. How timber is logged does have environmental impacts. Clearcutting can increase the harmful impact of wind and rain on local ecosystems; destroy valuable wildlife habitat; and cause soil to become dry and overheated, which may in turn increase the risk of fire or interfere with seedling growth. The US Forest Service projects that demand for forest products will reach 25 billion cubic feet annually by the 2050, up from nearly 18 billion in 1991, due mainly to population growth.

Grazing

Large plant eating mammals historically have been and still are a natural resident of most forest regions of the world. However, the mix of species and their concentrations have been changed by humans which in turn has changed the forests too. Impacts have resulted from use of forests for livestock grazing, deliberate introduction of game species for hunting, and removal of top predators (e.g. wolves, grizzly bears) resulting in overabundance of wild large herbivores (e.g. boar, caribou, deer, elk). Widely spaced, fire-tolerant trees with swaths of grass between them have been replaced by dense stands of fire-sensitive and disease susceptible species or riparian forests with flat dry wastelands.

Studies have shown livestock alter ecosystem processes in a number of ways. Grazing cattle reduces herbaceous plants that outcompete tree seedlings, thus increasing tree density, greater vulnerability to insects and pathogens, and reduction of frequent surface fires resulting in more intense wildfires. Poorly managed grazing damages forest soils and stream banks, and contaminates waterways with fecal waste. Grazing also negatively affects biodiversity.

Charcoal

High quality charcoal is mostly pure carbon, called char, made by cooking wood in a low oxygen environment, a process that can take days and burns off volatile compounds such as water, methane, hydrogen, and tar—which are either allowed to escape as gases and other volatiles in the smoke, or can be recaptured, condensed, and converted to useful byproducts. Charcoal is used in the manufacture of carbon disulfide, carbon tetrachloride, sodium cyanide, and other industrial chemicals. Extensive amounts are converted to activated carbons. Its greatest use is for home and outdoor cooking.

Charcoal production was once thought to be a major contributor to deforestation, but research has shown it most frequently results in natural forest degradation. Making charcoal affects global warming through the production and emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). In tropical ecosystems it is thought charcoal production and use can significantly contribute to poverty reduction and environmental sustainability by providing energy in accordance with sustainable development goals.

Medicine

Extracts of many forest plants are used as the basis of modern drugs. Worldwide many indigenous people rely on medicinal plants using forests as their pharmacy. In the United States approximately two-thirds of the top 150 prescription drugs are based on natural sources: 74% come from plants, 18% from fungi, 5% from bacteria, and 3% from vertebrate species such as snakes or frogs. Medicinal species found in natural areas are of increasing interest to medical researchers and commercial producers.

The conservation group United Plant Savers lists 19 North American medicinal native plants as “at risk” and an additional 22 plant species make the “to watch” list. The threats to these species include: habitat destruction, bioprospecting, biopiracy, and overharvesting. Examples of species identified as at risk by the US Forest Service include: American ginseng (wild is more profitable than cultivated resulting in overharvesting), black cohosh and goldenseal both of the buttercup family (nearly 100% of supply comes from the wild, threatened by overharvesting and habitat degradation), Pacific yew (several species of this tree are being overharvested to produce the popular, profitable, and effective cancer drug taxol), slippery elm (trees are stripped of their bark and left to die), and others.

Firewood

Approximately one-third of the world’s population relies on firewood for heating and cooking. The smoke from fuel wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles (also called particle pollution, particulate matter, or PM). In addition to particle pollution, wood smoke contains several toxic harmful air pollutants including: benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Numerous research studies have shown how children living in wood-burning households experience “higher rates of lung inflammation, breathing difficulties, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases.” Fuel wood smoke is also bad for the outdoors environment, contributing to smog, acid rain and other problems.

Open fireplaces are the most polluting way to burn fuel wood. The more efficiently wood is burned (e.g. using an EPA-certified wood stove and seasoned wood) the less smoke is created. Use of wood pellets for energy has seen a dramatic increase in recent years (in 2014 global production grew by 17 percent). Wood pellets consist of wood particles sourced from trees harvested specifically for the purpose of manufacturing wood pellets, portions of harvested trees that are not utilized for saw-timber, such as tops, branches, and leaves, or timber mill by-products such as sawdust, woodchips or wood shavings compressed into small cylinders for use as burning fuel.

Forest biomass harvesting offers increased revenues for land-owners due to sale of logging residues in addition to saw timber, although there is some concern that timber harvesting for biomass or use of logging residues for wood pellet production may have negative implications for forest ecology and future sustainability. Due to the removal of woody debris, which under traditional harvest systems is mostly left behind, there is potential for impacts such as reductions in ecosystem carbon storage, the nutrient pool and overall landscape productivity, and levels of biodiversity.

Other Cards
Exotic Hardwoods, Mining, Grazing, Fur Trapping, Hunting, Pet Trade, etc.

template1
HEAR MORE FROM NEEF