Playing in the Trees

The cypress forest at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach is Coastside Leadership Academy’s primary learning location. The forest is calm, offers protection from the wind, and has very few visitors during the week, so usually we have the entire forest to ourselves. We have an hour of movement every morning and playing in the trees is one of our favorite activities. Here are four of CLA’s most loved tree games.

Playing the Tree Circle Game

The Tree Circle Game– In the forest, find a circle of trees. This game is great for a group of five or more, and it helps when the tree circle has one less tree than people. One person stands in the middle of the circle, and the other people stand on the outside of the tree circle, touching their tree “base” with their hand or foot. The players on base make eye contact with each other and try to switch trees without the person in the middle stealing their tree base. When people switch trees, it creates a race between the person in the center and the people dashing to their next tree. Players can switch trees in any direction. Side to side is the easiest and across the circle is the most risky. If the person in the center is having trouble getting to a tree fast enough, or if no players are moving, they can yell “banana!” and this forces all players to move and find a new tree, giving the “it” person an opportunity to find a tree base. 

For us, this game usually starts off quietly, with eye contact only, but we also like to add new phrases to yell or rules. For example if someone yells “raccoon” everyone has to move to the tree directly to the right of them before the person in the middle steals their tree. It adds a twist and more fun chaos while running from tree to tree. This game is a great warm up in colder weather. After a few minutes of playing the jackets come off from the short sprints!

This Tree or That Tree– Playing “This or That” is a common ice breaker, but adding trees is a fun element. The group stands in a line and one person is a “caller” giving instructions. The caller gives a scenario like “Run to THIS tree if you prefer vanilla ice cream or run to THAT tree if you prefer chocolate ice cream” and then each player has to make a personal decision. It helps to be specific about which tree to run to, by pointing in opposite directions. I also like to give a few seconds to pause at their tree before coming back to the center line so students can see who they have things in common with. Here is a list of 10 This or Thats for teens to get the game started. After going through my ideas for That or That, students often have ideas to throw out to the group as well.

After playing a round of this game, we usually have our students reflect on how comfortable they felt making decisions in a group situation. Sometimes players find themselves standing by a tree alone and we ask them to think about how this relates to leadership. 

Get To Know Your Tree– Students are paired up in a small section or tree circle within the forest. One partner is blindfolded and then spun around in the center of the area. Their partner leads them to a tree. The blindfolded partner touches and gets to know their tree as best as they can for two minutes. We encourage students to feel the bark, the branches, different knots on the tree, and really use their sense of touch to help them remember which tree is theirs. After time is called, their partner walks them back to center and gently spins them around again. From here, the blindfolded partner takes off their blindfold and tries to figure out which tree is the one they became familiar with. Having clear boundaries within the forest is important or else it can be really hard to find your tree again after being unblindfolded. This game is a challenge for players of all ages, but it helps build appreciation for nature and using their senses. Everyone always wants a second chance!

Sardines– Sardines is similar to Hide and Seek, except once the “it” person is found, players quietly hide with them until the entire group is hiding in the small location. The first person to hide with the “it” person gets to hide next. Instead of counting to a certain number, we set a timer for one minute and then everyone gathers with closed eyes and makes random animal noises until the timer goes off. “Oink, meow, honk!” It is pretty funny, and the noise helps the person hiding because the animal sounds cover the directions of footsteps. Sardines is fun to play in the forest with lots of possible hiding places, but it is important to be clear on the boundaries of the game. One time we had a student missing while playing Sardines for about 20 minutes. She was hiding up high in a tree and was right above us the entire time. None of us bothered to look up!

Whether the games are structured with guidelines and boundaries, or the activity is simply to climb as high as you can, playing in the trees is magical for all ages. I hope everyone can try these games and spend some time in the trees this summer.

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