One Thursday in October, I’m walking through the forest with a group of Fiery Foxes (ages 7-9). There’s a chill in the air and the leaves are turning. Winter is coming.
“What changes will winter bring?” I ask the group. We all close our eyes and imagine what this park will look like in winter. The river is frozen over, bare trees mark the landscape, and animal tracks are peppered throughout the layer of snow on the ground. Whose tracks are they? What is winter like for them?
Mice become the centre of discussion. Oh no, what food will there be for these small creatures?! They’ll have antlers! Deer drop their antlers each year, which then become an important source of calcium, phosphorus, mineral salts and even protein for mice. But while the mice scurry around for food, they must be on high alert. Hawks are awake during winter too and mice are the perfect afternoon snack. What would that feel like?
We decide to try putting ourselves in their shoeless feet with a game of ‘Hawk and Mouse’. I explain how it works – Kids are mice, they need to find a hidden antler. Staff are hawks, they need to catch the mice. Mice are safe at their mouse nest (a tree).
A cacophony of noise fills the quiet park. We run and scream, trying to stay safe and find food. Anyone who knows a 7-9 year old knows they often have lots of energy and love moving their body. They’re in their zone. We finish a round, with the mice successfully bringing the antler back to the ‘mouse nest.’
One Fox asks if we can play again but with hawks, rabbits and mice – with the hawks eating the rabbits and rabbits eating the mice. “Wait a second,” someone else says, “rabbits don’t eat mice.” Another fox chimes in, “But snakes do.”
It’s true! After deciding the rules as a group, we begin this new game – Hawks, Snakes and Mice. The round begins and ends quickly. Some kids express feelings of unfairness with the new rules. We come together to talk about it. Each child is asked to listen and consider the other’s point before responding. We hear many thoughts, we discuss, and we adapt the rules. Ok now we’re ready. We play another round and it’s the best. We’re all happy. Some of us didn’t win the game, but we got to experience it and felt it was fair.
We come back together for a reflection. Each person has formed a different connection to an animal and feels empathy for their challenges. Some are hawks – predators, but getting the calories needed takes hard work. Some are snakes – sneaky creatures looking for prey, but not safe themselves. Some are mice – always on the lookout, trying to juggle searching for food and staying alive.
We also feel closer to each other, going through this exciting but challenging experience together. We had to listen, understand why others were feeling frustrated, and come up with a solution that we all agreed on. In the end it made us stronger as a group. Plus we’re really happy to burn some energy and have fun! We’re grateful that our questions about winter led us to this experience.