Simple Activities
by Matthew Chatfield


ere are some basic things to do with a group of primary age children (5-10 years old), or indeed anyone who wants to have an enjoyable and slightly educational time in the countryside. Of course, they need not all be done in the countryside. Many of these could be done anywhere and require the minimum of equipment or pre-preparation. They are mostly things I have used myself as 'fillers' between more structured or site-specific learning experiences. Despite this, or, more likely, because of it, I enjoy them the most.

These activities are not original, although most have been adapted by long use. I cannot remember where I first learnt any of them, but my thanks and acknowledgements to those who taught them to me.

More activities required! Please submit them to us and we shall add them to the list.


Time: 1-5 mins+
Numbers: up to 40
Equipment: none
Location: Any space, ideal on a path or ride

How to play
Very good for travelling from one place to another. Get the children to line up in front of you in single file. Ensure a fairly sensible one is in front. Get another adult, if available, to keep an eye on the lads at the back. Ask them to raise their hands in the air, and then put them down on the shoulders of the person in front. Then take the hands of the leader, and ask them all to close their eyes (and mouths!) whilst you lead off, walking backwards and leading the 'millipede' along. Sometimes this breaks down after a few seconds, sometimes they get very good at it. If so you can lead them over more and more challenging terrain - over logs, around trees, through puddles or whatever. Eventually you get to wherever you are going, or they fall over. Try to stop before it gets at all rowdy. Emphasise how hard it is to do it right, and how important it is to co-operate and not push or pull, using the senses other than eyes to feel your way. If they do peek (and little ones always will) then it doesn't really matter. A big round of applause for everyone if they do well - as of course they always do. You can also talk about a real millipede or caterpillar or whatever, and how it feels its way along.

Hug A Tree

Time: 20 mins
Numbers: 20-30
Equipment: Blindfolds
Location: A carefully selected area with trees in it. Ensure there are no obvious hazards for blindfolded children such as water, nettles, brambles, holes, thorns. Also ensure that there are enough, reasonably sized trees fairly well spaced, and that the trunks, or part of them, are fairly accessible, i.e. not covered in scrub. A beech hanger is ideal.

How to play
The original 'earth game'. Have the children in pairs or threes. If possible, or if the kids are younger, I recommend an adult per 'pair' if they are available. One blindfold per pair. It is easier to demonstrate this game than explain it. One child wears the blindfold, and the other leads them by a circuitous route to a tree. The blindfolded child feels, smells, even tastes the tree until they think they really know it, and all its shapes and features. They are then led away, the blindfold is removed, and they find 'their' tree. Then the next child has a go. Keep swapping and trying different trees. You could try this in different areas with different types of tree and see if it is easier or harder.

Bat and Moth

Time: 30 mins
Numbers: 15-20
Equipment: at least one blindfold
Location: Anywhere

How to play
Hummingbird hawk mothStand the children in a circle. Talk about how bats see their food (echolocation). What do bats eat? Often moths. Choose someone to be a bat (I usually choose the one who knew that bats use echolocation) and another child to be the moth. The first two should be sensible children so that the others get an idea of how it works. Blindfold the bat, but not the moth. The bat goes around saying 'bat!'. Every time the bats says this the moth must reply 'moth!'. Thus a sort of echolocation can be done. The bat must tag the moth, to eat it. The others in the circle must gently guide the players back into the circle if they hit the edges, and not let them run out. This is both a very good model of the process and an enjoyable game. However, it will take a little effort to make sure it works safely.

Possible problems
• The bat must keep saying 'bat' or it becomes blind man's buff. Some children can't cope with saying 'bat' at the same time as hunting in the dark. Might be worth practicing without the blindfold.
• The moth must always reply immediately, and loudly. Cheats get eaten!
• If it drags on and the bat is obviously not going to get the moth, everyone takes a step in to restrict the area.
• If the circle is too big or too widely spaced, the bat can escape, and the players can get up enough speed to do some damage! Best to keep the circle small and very closely spaced.
• To make sure everyone has a go in the time allotted, you can have more than one moth or more than one bat, or both. Choose your 'opponents' carefully to make sure that one will not squash the other!

The Great Circle

Time: 30 mins
Numbers: any
Equipment: none
Location: a diverse countryside environment where picking flowers and leaves etc is not going to do any harm. A clear area is also needed. A meadow ready to be mown, or which has just been cut but not cleared, adjacent to an already mown area, is ideal. This is best done in an area you know well and are confident will not be harmed, e.g. at the back of the school field. Note also that it is not a good idea to play this game too often in the same place because of the potential to cause damage.

How to play
DaisyChoose a thing which everyone can find, such as a certain leaf or a flower. Start with an easy one. Make sure everyone gets as close a match to the thing you chose as possible. This improves identification skills. When everyone has one, stand in a circle on a reasonably flat, clear area. Kneel down and place the item on the ground in front of you. Everyone else does the same, and places their thing there too, so they are all in a circle. The first circle should be tight, so make the things touch each other. It can be more effective if the things point along the radii of the circle, but there is no reason why they should not be at right angles to them. Then chose another thing, and do the same, creating another circle just outside the last one, and so on until you run out of ideas, things or time. Then admire your work and leave it for passers by to wonder at.

Make sure the children understand why it is permitted to pick wild things here, and that it might not be permitted elsewhere. Make sure that it *is* permitted. If you are not the land manager you should  ask permission before you do this. Also make sure that what you do will not leave a mess behind you. You can, of course, do this with non-natural things. If you include man-made things, such as litter or things you have brought with you (contents of pencil cases, items of clothing) make sure that you clear it all up afterwards. Can be a good way to collect litter!

If you give the children a bit more license to choose their own things, make sure there is nothing dangerous which they might find.

Choose things which provide a contrast, e.g. a bright green bracken leaf and then a dry stick. Only use flowers sparingly. You could even use individual petals. Stones, sand, and earth are also good.

Created by Sir Robert Hitcham's Primary School.
This game can be done in a much more relaxed and spontaneous manner than described here. It will very much depend on the group you have, and how much license you have to rampage around the surrounding area!

Food Chain

Duration: 20 mins+
Numbers: up to 30
Equipment: a ball of string
Location: Any, preferably an identifiable habitat such as a woodland or beach

How to play
This game is a kind of dramatised story which the leader tells and the group acts out. It's good when the group is a bit tired and needs to stay still for a while - don't try it first when they want to run about.

Talk about the place where you are, and the sort of animals and plants which are there. (Also possible to talk about a pond or other specific ecosystem with older kids). Stand in a circle. Ask, where does all the energy come from? (A: the sun) Get the bright spark who knows that one to hold one end of the string and stand in the middle. Explain that the string represents energy. Then attach a chain of plants and animals to the chain in a spiral around the sun, bringing children in from the outside circle as they give an answer. If you only allow those outside the web to give answers this ensures that everyone gets a turn. Often talk through the chain as you build it. Use examples of animals which are right there where you are, to try to limit those who like to list off loads of higher carnivores from tropical habitats. When everyone is in the chain you can try eliminating a few key members to see what happens. I do this by keeping one person back, the little shy one usually, to be the 'Alien' from outside the ecosystem. The alien dosn't understand about ecosystems. They want to do an experiment and take one bit away. The alien chooses a person to fire his/her magic gun at, and that person dies horribly. Make sure the alien chooses someone near the bottom of the chain - they get another shot if not. All those who depend upon the person 'zapped' then die in turn, until everyone - or most of them - is on the floor! The consequences are so dire that the alien quickly fires the magic gun at the original victim again and the balance of things is restored as each one gets up and 'comes back to life' in turn.

It is also possible to do this without string but just holding hands, or just standing in a line. But the string is a lot easier, and kids might be embarassed at having to hold hands for so long.

Animal Movement

Duration: 15-20mins
Numbers: 15
Equipment: Pond-dipping or minibeast stuff. Requires captured creatures in a container easily examined, e.g. a white tray or a plastic tank.
Location: Anywhere where pond-dipping or minibeast hunting is appropriate.

How to play
A game to play after you have done some pond-dipping or minibeast hunting, and when you are discussing the various animals you have caught. Particularly suited for younger children, or pre-school.

Sit around in a circle and have a look and talk about the creatures you have captured. Look at the different ways they move. This is particularly good for pond creatures. Make sure they have enough water to show their movements clearly. Take turns to do an impression of the creature, imitating the way it moves. Everyone else has to guess 'who you are'.