When things really soar

Here at the annual religious education conference at Ferry Beach Conference Center, I’m one of the adults leading the children’s program. Along with Lisa, I’m doing nature and ecology with the elementary age children. At the end of the morning today, we had the third and fourth graders for an hour. The plan was to play a game for half an hour that would teach about cycles of life, and then going out into the woods and giving the children some alone time. As can happen with children, we went astray from the plan.

The children were feeling active today. We started playing the game, called “Foxes and Rabbits,” and the children got so excited and were having so much fun I had trouble getting them to transition from one round to the next. I didn’t want them to descend from excitement into chaotic lack of structure, so I really worked hard to get them to stay focused. I was getting a little frustrated with them. Fortunately, they’re a cheerful group so they tried hard focus a little more even though they were getting a little frustrated with me. It was one of those teaching situations where the children were pulling in one direction, and I was pulling in slightly different direction.

But we were all having fun, in spite of the frustration. I looked at my watch and fifty minutes had gone by — we had to wrap things up pretty quickly. So I asked the children to sit in a circle, and we talked about the game. And they came up with some wonderful insights about the cycle of life, about what might happen if humans destroy part of the web of life, about birth and death, just a wonderful free-for-all discussion. It was one of those times you sometimes get while teaching:– with the whole group, kids and adults, soaring together.

Fifty minutes of frustration for ten minutes of soaring. That’s the way it goes in teaching.


If you’re curious, below are the rules to the game. It’s both simple and really quite complex, and part of the frustration we all experienced was my inability to explain the game quickly and concisely.

Game: “Foxes and Rabbits” adapted from Steve van Matre’s book Acclimatizing

Divide the group into Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves. (If you have a group of ten, a good proportion would be 4 rabbits, 3 leaves, and 3 foxes.) Give the Rabbits tails (pieces of white cloth to stick into back pocket).

The Rabbits start out crouched down in the middle. The Foxes start out in a loose circle around the Rabbits. The Leaves stand (with their hands in the air so everyone knows they are Leaves) in a loose circle outside the Foxes.

Each round begins when a signal is given. During each round, the Rabbits try to “eat” (tag) the Leaves. The Foxes try to catch and “eat” the Rabbits (by pulling tail). The Leaves are are rooted in place and cannot move.

During each round, Rabbits are safe and cannot be tagged when they are frozen in a crouched position. However, the Rabbits may not move or “eat” Leaves unless they are standing up. Each Rabbit must get food in each round, or s/he will die from hunger. Each Fox, too, must get food in each round or s/he will die from hunger. A Fox may only catch ONE Rabbit each round.

The round should last no more than five minutes, or when all the Leaves are eaten. The Leader calls out “End of Round!”, all play stops, and then you tally up those who got eaten or who starved to death:

  • If a Leaf is eaten by a Rabbit, in the next round she becomes a Rabbit.
  • (All other Leaves remain Leaves.)
  • If a Rabbit is eaten by a Fox, in the next round she becomes a Fox.
  • If a Rabbit is does not manage to eat a Leaf during a round, he “dies” and becomes a Leaf.
  • (All other Rabbits remain Rabbits.)
  • FOXES:
  • If a Fox fails to catch a Rabbit within the round, he “dies” and becomes a Leaf.
  • (All other Foxes remain Foxes.)

Play three to five rounds (or more, if it’s going well).

2 thoughts on “When things really soar

  1. Jean

    Wow, no wonder you got frustrated — that is one complicated game!
    It reminded me of a twist on Rock/Paper/Scissors but with more rules, and um…sorry UU educators… a pretty heavy(heavy-handed)agenda. I’m all for teaching about the cycle of life, but maybe there’s a more elegant way to do it?

    This is really me, Jean the teacher, speaking. I’m all for teaching complicated concepts, but the teaching tool has to be clean and sharp. This one seemed in need of sharpening.


  2. Administrator

    Jean — Did the same game again today with 5/6 graders, and it went extremely well. Did it with 1/2 graders the day before and it went extremely well. I really think that two things happened that led to the frustration:– (1) The kids got all wound up from their previous activity, and (2) I was not entirely clear when I taught the game. As teacher, I’ll take most of the blame.

    The game sounds complicated on paper, but in practice it is lots of fun, and after two rounds everyone pretty much gets the basic idea.

    It isn’t as heavy-handed as it may sound, mostly because it’s so much fun to play. I find you have to be much more directive (heavy-handed if you will) with school age children than with college age folks that you teach, Jean.

    I should be sure to give better credit for the game. It comes out of the work of Steve van Matre, an environmental educator (not a Unitarian Universalist) who is best known for his book “Sunship Earth.” This activity comes from a workshop I took with him years ago, and it is recorded in his earlier book “Acclimatizing.”

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