Woodcraft Folk Games
and The Systems Game


Age group: 6 and over
Ideal numbers: 15 - 50
Equipment required: Scarves or pieces of cloth; pencil and paper, watch
Amount of time: 15 mins+
Reason for playing: starting point to discuss 'balances' in nature

How to Play
Players are divided into 3 roughly even groups - one group are foxes, one rabbits, and one are the leaves.
The foxes stand to form a circle. The rabbits each have a scarf or piece of cloth to tuck in their belt or waistband for their 'tail' - they stand inside the circle.
The leaves stand outside the circle - they cannot move.
Decide in advance on a length of time for each 'round' and how many rounds you will play (perhaps 6 rounds of 2-3 minutes each).
At a given signal, the round commences. The rabbits must try to get past the foxes to 'tag' the leaves - they can catch as many leaves as they are able.
The foxes try to catch the rabbits by pulling their tails; the rabbits are safe when they are in a crouching position, but they cannot move or tig a leaf when they are in a crouching position, but they cannot move or tig a leaf when they are crouching. The foxes can only catch one rabbit in any round.
When their time is up, call the end of that round.
Any rabbit caught by the foxes become foxes as well.
If the fox fails to catch a rabbit within any round it 'dies' and becomes a leaf.
If the rabbit fails to get food, it also becomes a leaf.
When the rabbit gets food, the food joins them as a rabbit.

Special Notes
At the end of each round, note how many there are in each group. When the game is over, discuss how the numbers varied - if there are too many rabbits there isn't enough food, so some of the rabbits die; it is also easier for the foxes to get rabbits, so the number of foxes temporarily increases. However, if there are too many foxes, they can't all get rabbits, so some die - therefore it becomes easier for the rabbits to get food, and their numbers increase!

Animal Consequences

Age group: 10 or over
Ideal numbers: 10-20
Equipment required: Paper and pencils
Amount of time: 15 mins
Reason for playing: reinforcing discussion around adaptation

How to Play
Everybody sits in a circle, and has a piece of paper and a pencil.
Players fold their paper into four, so that the folds run widthways.
On the top panel they draw an animals head - a bird, a lion, a crocodile, etc.
Make the two lines of the neck just over onto the second panel.
Players fold over their handiwork so that it cannot be seen, and pass to the person on their left.
Players then draw the top part of an animals' body, and again pass on the piece of paper.
The legs of the body and then the feet are also added in this way. Then pass on the completed animal to the player on the left.
Players open out the 'mystery animal' and decide where they think it lives (has it got webbed feet? A tail suitable for helping to climb trees?). What it eats (has it a slender beak or a long tongue for drinking nectar? Sharp teeth for meat eating?). What it might get eaten by? (Try linking all the creations in an imaginary food web!). Give each animal a suitable name.

Mouse Hunt

Age group: 8-12
Ideal numbers: 8-20
Equipment required: Small bells/wind chime. Outdoor play area with trees and bushes
Amount of time: 15 mins
Reason for playing: discussion of how animals hunt

How to Play
One person is needed to be the mouse - this is the least active role in the game, and requires somebody who will be observant.
The mouse has a 'home' somewhere central to the play area, and which should be clearly defined (a fallen tree, small clearing, area staked out with string to show the boundaries, etc). The mouse cannot move outside it's home.
The remaining players are all foxes. Their task will be to try and catch the mouse - however, please note that only one fox will be able to 'eat' the mouse - there is not enough for everyone.
Small bells or/and wind chimes are placed or hung in various locations around the mouses home, where they are not easily visible to the mouse.
Explain that before a fox can catch a mouse, one of these bells must be rung. This explanation should be suitably ambiguous ; some foxes will attempt to sneak up to bell, ring it and then rush in and tig the mouse - others may realise that it is to their advantage to move in as close as possible without being seen, then wait for someone else to ring the bell for them!
The mouse closes its' eyes and counts up to 100, while the foxes run and hide.
Once the mouse reaches 100 it should call 'ready', and the foxes may begin creeping up on their prey.
Any fox who is spotted by the mouse must give up the junt and sit out the rest of the game as an observer.
Foxes should try to be the first to reach and tig the mouse.
Play several times, with different mice - then discuss what varied techniques can players think of?

The Web of Life Game

Age group: 6 upwards
Ideal numbers: 15-20
Equipment required: ball of string
Amount of time: 10 mins
Reason for playing: to show how the natural world is interlinked, discussion of food-webs.

How to Play
All stand in a circle.
One person start of with the ball of string - they choose to be an animal or plant (in the wild or on a farm etc) for example a greenfly.
Somebody across the circle is asked to think of something which the greenfly is connected to/eats or is eaten by - for example a ladybird.
The greenfly keeps hold of the end of the string, and throws the ball across the circle to the ladybird.
The ladybird has to find someone else in the circle who can make a connection to them - possibly a blue tit. They keep hold of the string, and throw the ball - so that gradually a 'web' is created linking everybody in the circle. Keep the string taut, people may have to pull back slightly on it
Then explain that something has happened to affect one of the players in the circle - it may be that somebody has decided to chop down a particular tree, spray the greenfly or take some other 'action'.
The player affected is asked to 'die' sitting down or falling and pulling one the string.
Ask the players if any of them felt that 'tug' on the string - two other players should have done. See how they will be affected by what has happened - these players 'die', and so more feel the tug.
Continue until all the circle has felt the string 'tug'.
Some living things on a farm - apple tree, strawberries, bee, clover, cow, farmer, sheep, kale, greenfly, ladybird, wheat, oats.
Another way of doing this - go to a natural area and choose species from there.
You can use things such as sunshine, air, soil and water - these will be linked to almost everything else.

The above games are taken from 'Games, Games, Games' Woodcraft Folk. Available from Oxfam Education

The Systems Game

The following game is from 'Coming Back To Life' by Joanna Macy, Molly Brown (1998) New Society Publishers. It has gone down well with adults and teenagers.

Needed: about 15-20 people, a large room or space.
1. That life is composed of many different relationships (this is true for ecosystems, societies, economies etc)
2. That these relations are continually self-organising and re-adjusting as individuals try to make the best of things.

How to play
People stand in a large open space, either indoors or out. The guide may introduce what the game illustrates. The guide then gives 2 instructions. The first is: 'Select two other people in the group, without indicating who it is you have chosen. The second is: 'When the game starts, move so as to keep at all times an equal distance between you and each of these two people.' This, as the guide makes clear, does not mean just staying at the midpoint between the two others.

To do this, people immediately begin to circulate, each movement triggering many others in an active, interdependent fashion. Participants find they are, by necessity, maintaining wide-angle vision and quick responses and concentration. It is quite a silly activity and unpredictable but at the same time needs concentration and purposefulness. The process usually speeds up for a while, then may abate, accelerate, and again slow down toward equilibrium, but it rarely comes to stasis. The guide lets it continue for four or five minutes, then as activity lessens, invites people to pause where they are and reflect.

The question "What did you find?" can bring fruitful discussion.

• Key features of self-regulating systems, such as the interdependence of all parts, and their continual activity in seeking and maintaining balance.
• People may realize that they thought the point of the game was to achieve stasis; the guide can bring out and challenge this. The self-regulation of open systems requires constant internal activity.
• The game shouldn't stop, unless people swap the people they are moving with, or lots of people all have selected the same few people. One way to prevent the last could be for people to draw names out of a hat rather than choose for themselves.
• The guide may ask. 'Would anyone volunteer to organise this process?' It is obvious that no party or person on the outside could direct the movements necessary to keep this system in balance. Relations within systems are so complex they can only self-regulate. That is why life scientists came to the discovery of self-organising systems in their efforts to understand life-forms with more than one variable or moving part (ie anything more complex than a helium atom, which has only one electron).

1. Have two people stay out of the room during the instructions, then call them in at some point, and ask them to try and work out what is happening. At the end ask them if they could organise the process from outside.
2. The observers move through the game quietly without blocking anyone. (This is supposed to be like humans moving through a forest or swamp but not harming it). Then they move through again several times; this time blocking or bumping into people. Ask players to comment on their experience of disturbance.
3. As a follow on to the original game, decide with the group to keep two players still, than repeat the game and see any difference. This is to represent some dysfunction in the system.
4. If the group seems to be slowing down and approaching equilibrium, the guide can move if they are part of the game.