Using Games to Teach Empathy

Across KIN Village, Bush Inventors Club and our Nature Connection series we use Wilderness Awareness Games with our participants. Whilst they are excellent icebreakers before a program and a great opportunity to let off some high energy, the most significant lesson that these games teach is empathy.

Wilderness Awareness Games help children get in the mindset of the animal or natural feature they are playing as. From the high energy of a Forest Fire to the stillness of a sleeping fawn the children get to leave their predictable world for a few minutes and enter the world of a rabbit or a Djitty Djitty (Willie Wagtail).

Wilderness Awareness Games

Natural Demonstrations

Sometimes in a moment of pure serendipity, the natural world gives us a real-life demonstration of the game we are playing.

Recently, whilst on the grass area of Pelican Point we had a discussion about an event the Year 4s from Perth College had just witnessed. A raven had been trying to get into the nest of a Djitty Djitty. Although a third of the size, the two Djitty Djitties were fending off the very hungry Raven. This was the perfect segway for the game we would play that day – ‘Djitty Djitties and Wardongs’ (Willie Wagtails and Ravens). The students were to be the Djitty Djitties watching over their nests as the teachers acting as the Wardongs came past to steal food and eggs from the nest. It would take at least 2 Djitty Djitties to fend off a Raven.

As we started to share the story the scene unfolded right in front of our eyes. A greedy Raven was after a nest and the parents were fighting valiantly and successfully to scare him off. You can imagine how much more thrilling the game was after watching the whole scenario play out in front of us!

Becoming Aware of our Impact

On another occasion, we used a Wilderness Awareness Game to teach a valuable lesson about our presence in the bushland.

At a recent program, we discovered two ducks with their newly hatched ducklings in a small piece of swamp land on school property. The children were so excited that they ran towards the ducks, calling for others to come and see. As expected the parents disappeared as quickly as they could taking the babies with them. We gathered the children to explain what our presence had done to scare the ducks and how it may have felt. The students understood but still on the next sighting the whole scenario was played out again.

The following week we played a game of T-Rex stalking humans. We talked about the size and features of a T-Rex and their hunting strategy. The students were sent into the bush space to hide, with specific instructions about how any movement detected by the T-Rex would have them hunted down and eaten. The students hid away in the bush and soon 6 adult T-Rex were on the hunt. We had never seen students sit so completely still in our lives. After the game we talked about how it felt to be hunted, what was their body telling them? We talked about how we were the T-Rex to the ducks and how they would feel hunted by our energy.

The next time we went into the swamp space the children were much calmer.

Empathy through Games

Just like we can not fully understand another person’s feelings unless we have lived their experiences, playing games with children where they tap into the mindset of an animal helps them achieve a deeper level of understanding. They gain empathy for the difficult life that many animals face and how we humans can add to that difficulty.