How does playing games grow a naturalist?
SEPTEMBER 27, 2012: In the second week of our naturalist workshop, one participant observed that we have played several games and wondered aloud what that had to do with being naturalists. That is an excellent question.
One favorite game has been Firekeeper, in which a blindfolded person determines whether people are approaching him/her and from which direction as they try silently to snatch a stick or pinecone stacked in front of the blindfolded person. Another games calls for everybody to lie absolutely still like a fawn sleeping while a “coyote” attempts to spot or provoke any movements.
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In the first game, participants showed great skill in moving noiselessly around crisp fallen leaves and pinecones. One person observed that she had to think about which moss would make the least noise when she stepped on it. The second game really challenged participants’ comfort in remaining still, even as grass scratched their skin and insects buzzed around their faces.
In between, during, and after these games, we noticed a perfectly camouflaged spider on the trunk of a hemlock tree, the banter of two mockingbirds, caterpillars in the grass, a goldenrod spider, puffballs, a monarch, and the variety of bees attracted to the goldenrod. We also took time to learn how to fox walk, and we made our first entries in our nature journals. Through the games, it is my hope that we develop a little more of the stillness and silence that a naturalist needs to discover more wonders. What better way to ease into these attributes than through play?
My source for the games we are using is Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, by Jon Young, Ellen Haas, and Evan McGown. It offers a distillation of the best practices that nature educators at the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington State have gleaned in nearly 30 years of work (and play). You can visit their website is here.