Observation and awareness skills can add a lot of enjoyment to time in the woods. We miss so much of what is going on around us. By honing these skills, you will find more treasures, see more animals and if the need ever arises, be more safe.
OBSERVATION SCAVENGER HUNT
Before the activity begins, hide (in plain sight) a number of “unnatural” items along a forest trail- it can be anything that is not part of nature. Then, have the participants with notebook and pencil, walk out slowly behind the leader, looking for items and writing down any they see. Make sure some items are hidden up high, low, in shadow, back from the trail. Once they’ve walked one direction, turn and walk back pointing out each of the items and seeing how many got them. Discuss why some were seen by everyone and others not by any or only a few. Discuss how we look and blind spots and how we can train ourselves not to do this and how to use it when stalking others.
Divide into two teams and have them line up facing each other, about four feet apart. Have each group line up from tallest to shortest or youngest to oldest. The leader will yell out an item in the play are that all players must touch. Use this as an opportunity to make players aware of the natural world around them by calling out items such as, “touch a flower petal”, “touch a knot in a tree”, “touch the seed of a tree”… When an item is called, all players must run to touch an item that was described. After touching it, they run back and get in the correct order in line. The first team to get all players back in the appropriate place win a point. The team at the end with the most points, wins.
*If your group is learning specific edible or medicinal plants or other aspects of nature, use these very specific things- perhaps a specific type of tree or plant (cedar, pine, thimbleberry, salmonberry, Oregon grape, vine maple…), an animal track (maybe specific such as deer or raccoon if in a good tracking area), animal run or trail, good natural shelter, a source of natural cordage, etc.
Turn over any object that has been on the ground (a rug, rock, board or brick). Notice all the activity underneath from insects and worms. Notice the lines and holes and small hills .Make notes on the types of life found underneath and how they live there. Why would anything want to live underneath? Be sure to carefully place the object back as to not disturb their home when you’ve completed your survey.
ANIMAL HOUSE HUNT
Divide into two teams. Each team must go out into the woods and find as many animal homes as they can. Take paper and pencil to keep track of the types of houses. Talk about what types of things they might find (nests, spider webs, ant hills, bee hives, burrows, holes in trees, cocoons…) and what types of things to be looking for that might lead them to the homes (animals-where they are going, areas they might like, areas where there is food for them, tracks…) Remember to be careful and respect the homes of the animals you do find- if you turn over a log to find a beetle, make sure you carefully turn it back when you’re finished. After an allotted time, teams return, compare lists. The team with the most different types of animal houses wins.
Arrange a variety of outdoor treasures (interesting rocks, cones, leaves, bones, shells, nuts or seeds…) on a table or blanket. Give everyone a chance to observe it. While the others turn their backs, one person removes an item. The first person to identify the missing item wins a point. Rearrange the items and play again. Play to a set number of points.
Place at least twenty items on a tray or platter. Tell everyone they will be asked awareness questions after the tray passes. Have one person carry the tray, allowing everyone approximately the same time to observe. That person leaves the area with the tray. The leader then begins to ask questions. The questions, however, are not about the items on the tray but about the person carrying them. What color hair? What color shirt? Were they wearing a watch? Do they wear glasses?…. you get the idea. Then talk about experience and how their expectations limited their observations.