Duration: 30 to 40 minutes
Setting: Outdoor – General
Vocabulary: habitat, predator, prey
Summary: Students will play a tag game where they act as trees, squirrels, and foxes.
Objectives: Students will obtain a deeper understanding of predator/prey relationships, and also understand how habitat loss can affect this and the food chain.
Materials: Optional: any creative/affordable way to differentiate between squirrels and foxes, like orange bandanas for the foxes to wear, or paper ears for the squirrels.
A habitat is defined as an area that provides an animal or plant with adequate food, water, shelter, and living space. For a deer, “adequate” food might mean enough grass and leaves to eat, while for a wolf it might mean enough deer! In this last example, the wolf is the predator and the deer is the prey.
The factors of food, water, and shelter determine where an animal will live and ultimately allow a plant or animal to reproduce and make life sustainable. Plants and animals depend on their habitat for survival. As humans develop more and more land, many animals are losing their habitat. In some cases, this has caused animals to actually go extinct.
The eastern gray squirrel is a common animal found in the forests of Pennsylvania. These animals depend on trees for survival—they build their nests in the branches, travel by leaping from tree to tree, and eat the acorns and nuts trees produce.
The red fox is another animal that lives in similar areas, and feeds on squirrels and other small animals.
Ask students to define the word “habitat” and give some examples of habitats in their area. Are there any on the school grounds themselves? Why does an animal need a habitat to survive?
Finally, ask students to explain what might happen if habitat is removed. For example, what will happen if we cut down the trees in a forest?
Divide students up in to different groups and assign them to pretend to be squirrels, foxes, or trees. The group of squirrels will be the largest, followed by trees, and finally foxes. For example, in a class size of 22 students, assign 12 to be “trees.” There will also be 8 squirrels, and 2 foxes.
Send students pretending to be trees out into the play area first. Have the students divide into pairs and become a tree by standing face-to-face and holding hands with their arms raised over their heads. If there are 12 students, there will be 6 trees. Have the “trees” stand a small distance apart, and remind them that once they are ‘planted’ they cannot move!
Once the trees are into position you send out the squirrels to find a home. There will be more squirrels than trees. Explain to students that a squirrel must stand underneath the raised arms of the students making a ‘tree.’ When they do this, it is as if they are up in the tree, and they are safe. If all of the trees are taken, a free squirrel can go to a squirrel in a tree and tap them on the shoulder. The squirrel that was tapped must leave out the other side of the tree and find a new one to be safe in.
Give the squirrels a few minutes of establishing a cycle of tree swapping. Once this has been done, explain to the students pretending to be foxes that they can “eat” the squirrels by tapping them on the shoulder. Those squirrels tagged are to sit out of the game. Send the foxes in!
After a few squirrels are tagged, start taking away “trees” by cutting them down. Make a chain saw noise and explain to students that you are cutting the trees down to build a new mall. When a “tree” is cut down, those students are out and there is one less place for the squirrels to hide. Over time, it should be easier and easier for the foxes to catch the squirrels, as the squirrels have fewer places to hide.
Once there are no more trees and most of the squirrels are eaten, end the game. If there is time, rotate the role each student plays and start again.
After the kids have played this game, ask them to explain what happened. Why was it easy for the foxes to catch the squirrels in the end? Ask them who they would rather be in this scenario, a tree, squirrel, or fox? You’ll find most players will want to be squirrels and foxes, and few will be trees.
Ask students to brainstorm ideas for how to reduce the loss of habitat. Have them make a poster advertising one of their ideas.
Have students suggest other local animals to use in this game. For example, students could be deer and mountain lion, or robins and earthworms, etc.