It's true that many campers learn better by doing. The following activities will help your campers develop a better understanding of the natural world and learn the importance of minimizing their impact on the environment. The activities are appropriate for campers ages six to adult and for groups of approximately ten to thirty campers.
Soil Buggy Bingo
Purpose: To show fire's impact on living things in the soil
How to Make Soil Buggy Bingo Sheets
On cardboard or other heavy paper, create a five-row-by-five-row grid. Using the insect identification book as a guide, list a soil animal or insect common to your area in each box. Mix the order of the insects so each sheet is different. Be sure not to make the choices too hard (or the campers will get frustrated or bored). You may also want to dig in the activity area to make sure the soil critters can be found. If possible, laminate the bingo sheets for use with future groups.
Have the group begin looking in the area directly beneath the ashes of a previous fire. In this area, they should have a lot of trouble finding any animals or insects because of the damage done by fires. Don't spend too much time in this area or campers will quickly become bored.
After you are fairly sure that they are not finding very much, take them to the wooded area with rich soil. Ask them to repeat the use of the Bingo sheets and look for soil critters. This time they should be able to find many animals. They can also look beneath logs and under piles of leaves. They should have plenty of opportunities to yell "Bingo!"
After some time, gather the group together and ask them to list the different animals they found. Have them identify each soil critter and where they found it. You can also ask them to compare the soil critters they found over in the fire pit to the ones they found in the forested area. You can ask questions such as:
- Why were there more critters in the wooded area?
- What did the fire do to the soil below it?
- What can people do to prevent this from happening? (You can use fire pans for fires, eliminate the use of fires, and not build fires anywhere where they haven't been built in the past.)
Note: Be sure to remind campers to replace the soil that they dig up; it is an animal or insects home.
(Adapted from Bradford Woods Environmental Education Curriculum Guide, Spring 1999)
Purpose: To demonstrate how everything in an ecosystem is interconnected.
Index Cards or other paper
Large ball of yarn or string
Begin by having the group name a variety of animals and plants that are natural to your area. Be sure to include insects, small plant-eating animals (herbivores), larger meat- and plant-eating animals (omnivores), large meat-eating animals (carnivores), green plants used as food (producers), and funguses (decomposers). Once you have a list that runs the gamut of animals and plants, assign each group member an animal or plant and have them write it down on their index card. They can illustrate the card if they like.
As the group leader, your card is the sun. Beginning with the sun, ask campers what animal or plant needs the sun to grow. The answer will likely be a green plant because of photosynthesis. You should then toss the ball of string to the person holding the plant card, being sure to hold onto your end of the string. Next, ask what animal eats the green plant. The answer will most likely be an insect or other small plant-eating animal. Toss the ball of string to the person holding the appropriate card and again the previous person should maintain a grip on the string. Continue asking the group what will eat the previous plant or animal and tossing the ball of string around. Eventually you will come to the highest animal on the food chain (the meat-eating animal). After this animal, you will want to ask, "What eats this animal after it dies?" The answer should be the fungus or a small insect or small animal such as a worm - the decomposer. Then you can start the food chain again with the animal or plant that eats the decomposers or uses the nutrients produced by the decomposers.
Once you have circulated through the food chain a few times, you should have created a nice web of string and each group member should have hold of the string at least once. Now, ask the group to identify what it is you have created. It is a food web.
The final step in the activity is to show the impact that each part of the food web has on the other parts. Begin by destroying a part of the web because of human presence; for example, some hikers camp in a pristine spot but do not take care and trample all the green plants in the area. The group members holding cards of the green plants that were trampled should tug on their string(s). Now, campers who feel a tug should start tugging on their string(s) and so on. Eventually, all campers should be tugging on their strings because everything is connected.
(Adapted from Sharing the Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell)
Camouflaging: Field versus Wood
Purpose: To demonstrate an animal's ability to camouflage itself in two distinctly different areas, an open field and a wooded forest.
- 1 Blindfold
- 1 Hula Hoop plastic hoop or something to mark a circle
- An open area with only a few hiding spots
- A wooded area
The scenario of the game is that there is a "predator" by a water source (the circle), and a group of "prey" around it who are very thirsty and want to get to the water source. The "prey" need to be careful not to be detected or they may be eaten/seen by the "predator."
Begin this activity in the open area. Mark off some boundaries where you will be able to monitor where campers are hiding and keep track of them. You will want a fairly large area. Place the plastic hoop somewhere in the middle area of the boundaries. You will need one volunteer to be the predator. The predator will be the one participant who is blindfolded. The rest of the group will be prey.
The object of the activity is for the prey to get as close to the predator as possible without being seen/eaten. Begin with the predator standing blindfolded in the plastic hoop. The rest of the group has 15 seconds to hide within the boundaries. After 15 seconds, remove the predator's blindfold. Remaining within the confines of the plastic hoop, the predator has to name all the campers he/she sees. If the predator cannot name some campers or guesses incorrectly, those campers can remain in hiding. The counselor will need to monitor this. There should be a designated place for all those identified to sit until the end of the game.
After a minute or so, blindfold the predator again. Now the remaining campers have 15 seconds to move closer and try to camouflage themselves again. The counselor will need to monitor the prey to be sure they are actually moving closer and not farther away. Hiding places in the closer spots tend not to be very good. After time is up, remove the predator's blindfold and have him/her identify all the campers he/she sees. Those campers sit in the designated area. After a minute or so, blindfold the predator again and give the remaining prey 10 seconds to move closer and camouflage themselves. Then remove the blindfold again and have the predator identify everyone he/she sees. Repeat this process about four to five times total, shrinking the hiding time as you go. When you are finished, ask all the unidentified prey to stand up and show where they were. You may want to repeat the game several times with different predators.
At the end of each game, identify how campers camouflaged themselves, what worked well, what was difficult about camouflaging, and what helped the predators identify the prey better.
After a few games, move the group into a wooded section of camp. Here you will need to set up new boundaries and pick a new predator. Then play the game as you did in the open area. You should find that it will be easier for the prey to hide and more difficult for the predator to identify people. Again, you will want to play a few times before ending. It is always nice to let everyone be the predator at some point.
After playing the game, ask campers if the wooded area made any difference in camouflaging and why animals camouflage themselves. Discuss whether it is it easier for animals to camouflage in wooded areas or in areas where humans have cleared out much of the trees and plants and whether animals have a better chance of surviving in a clear area or wooded area. The comparison is a great way to show the difference that minimum impact can have on the survival of certain species of animals.
(Adapted from Bradford Woods Environmental Education Curriculum Guide, Spring 1999)
Kathy Henchey is program director for Camp Ondessonk in Ozark, Illinois. She is the former manager of professional development for the American Camp Association.
Michelle Carvajal has coordinated and taught outdoor education programs for children and adults. She is meetings coordinator for the American Camp Association.
Originally published in the 2000 September/October issue of Camping Magazine.