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Camouflage: The Hidden Benefits of Hiding

Building Understanding

Yell out “Camouflage!” in a group of environmental educators anywhere in the country, and at least a few will scramble to find a place to hide. The game is ubiquitous in outdoor and environmental education. There are many variations of this classic game, but educators that view it as only a game are missing out on its full potential.   

In Camouflage, one person is the predator and everyone else becomes prey.  The prey have approximately 30 seconds to hide while the predator closes their eyes. As the prey must always be able to see the predator,  participants work to camouflage into their surroundings and remain still and quiet.  The predator tries to spot prey, but must stay in one place; the predator can, however, pivot on one foot or crouch down to get a different perspective.  Prey that are sighted are out for the round.  Once the predator has searched for a few minutes, they make a designated call and all remaining prey emerge from their spots.  The winner is the prey player who was able to hide the closest without being found.  

Really though, everyone wins with Camouflage when an instructor plans for learning!   Below are my top 5 ways to use Camouflage to augment your teaching, but there are many more.  Get creative, have fun, and find a place to hide! 

  1. Camouflage is a tool to compare ecosystems. Camouflage in the forest is pretty easy, but have you ever played camouflage at the beach?  It can be much more difficult to hide, and students will have a visceral experience as they try to find a suitable spot.  You might even hear cries of, “This isn’t fair!”  Use this as an entry point to discuss the plant communities of different locations or the habitat needs of different species.  Playing Camouflage in a field can also be illuminating for students as they scatter to the forested edges and build their own understanding of how animals could be affected by human clearing and development of ecosystems.  

  2. Camouflage is an introduction to adaptations.  Students often choose to take off bright jackets, as they realize those in duller colors are having more success.  Others will focus on finding a spot where they can comfortably stay still and quiet, or even move leaves and debris to better cover themselves.  Occasionally, a daring student will try to hide right behind the predator. After playing a few rounds of camouflage, students will be excited to explain the strategies they used. You can build discussions or lessons around  the importance of and mechanisms for adaptations, the difference between physical adaptations and behavioral adaptations, or examples of adaptations around you.    

  3. Camouflage can quickly change student state, increase excitement, and give you time to organize yourself.  Whenever students start to get antsy, yelling “Camouflage!” gives students a chance to run (moving their bodies) and then sit quietly (focusing themselves).  Conversely, if group energy is flagging, a quick game of camouflage gets the blood pumping.  The anticipation of future games of camouflage can keep student excitement high throughout the day.  If you need a minute to regroup your thoughts, you can either do this as the predator while counting down or you can designate someone else as the predator.    

  4. Camouflage is a way to increase mindfulness and presence.  After you’ve played camouflage one or two times, try giving students extra time in their spots before you begin searching. Guide them through a mindfulness exercise to tune into their senses. Be sure to tell them that you will keep your eyes closed during this part. Ask a series of questions and prompts that address the students as a prey species, pausing between each question.  The ‘squirrels’ (or whatever species you choose), need to quiet their breathing and heartbeat after racing to evade the ‘coyote’ predator.  Encourage all of the squirrels to listen quietly in their spots.  Ask them to pay attention to their hiding place - if they, as squirrels, had to stay in this spot for a long time, would the ground be comfortable to stand/sit on? Are they upwind or downwind from the coyote? What do they smell? After the mindfulness activity, give them 10 seconds to get resettled in their spot, and the game is on!  

  5. Camouflage encourages students to be aware of their surroundings.  As we move into new ecosystems, I often overhear students murmuring to each other things like, "It would be hard to camouflage here!"  "Look at all those stinging nettles, don't hide there" or "Look at that dead tree - that would be a perfect place."  You can foster this awareness, and build anticipation, by occasionally asking students where they would hide as you enter a new ecosystem. Encourage students that find something interesting during camouflage to share it with the whole group – even if it means pausing the game. Because we are dispersed, quiet, and paying attention to our surroundings, some of the most awe-inspiring wildlife moments I’ve had with students have been during camouflage. 

While some might think of Camouflage as just a game, it incorporates many of the primary tenets of experiential learning.  Used wisely and creatively, Camouflage is a fantastic and fun learning experience.      

 

Tips for playing Camouflage When you play for the first time with a group, choose a place where it will be fairly easy to find hidings spots among brush, rocks, logs, or other parts of the ecosystem. Pick a spot, at least for your first few rounds, that is an especially safe environment to run and hide in.  Avoid areas with lots of branches and sticks, slippery logs or mud, nearby hazards like water or roads, and plants that can sting, scratch, or irritate.  As you get to know participants better and they become more familiar with the game, you may decide to choose more challenging environments. As the instructor, you do not always have to be the predator.  Participants will enjoy the opportunity to fill this role, and playing alongside them can help build rapport.  You also have an opportunity to introduce different topics by using tricks, such as hiding under backpacks or hiding in plain sight.  This may lead to claims of “cheating,” which will lead to more impassioned discussions of behavioral adaptations.   It is likely that participants will ask frequently to play the game.  A way to minimize this is to explain that as the predator, you are always trying to surprise the prey.  Or you can simply be transparent with students about your need to find the right locations and fit specific learning objectives.

 

 

 

 

Yell out “Camouflage!” in a group of environmental educators anywhere in the country, and at least a few will scramble to find a place to hide. The game is ubiquitous in outdoor and environmental education. There are many variations of this classic game, but educators that view it as only a game are missing out on its full potential.   

In Camouflage, one person is the predator and everyone else becomes prey.  The prey have approximately 30 seconds to hide while the predator closes their eyes. As the prey must always be able to see the predator,  participants work to camouflage into their surroundings and remain still and quiet.  The predator tries to spot prey, but must stay in one place; the predator can, however, pivot on one foot or crouch down to get a different perspective.  Prey that are sighted are out for the round.  Once the predator has searched for a few minutes, they make a designated call and all remaining prey emerge from their spots.  The winner is the prey player who was able to hide the closest without being found.  

Really though, everyone wins with Camouflage when an instructor plans for learning!   Below are my top 5 ways to use Camouflage to augment your teaching, but there are many more.  Get creative, have fun, and find a place to hide! 

  1. Camouflage is a tool to compare ecosystems. Camouflage in the forest is pretty easy, but have you ever played camouflage at the beach?  It can be much more difficult to hide, and students will have a visceral experience as they try to find a suitable spot.  You might even hear cries of, “This isn’t fair!”  Use this as an entry point to discuss the plant communities of different locations or the habitat needs of different species.  Playing Camouflage in a field can also be illuminating for students as they scatter to the forested edges and build their own understanding of how animals could be affected by human clearing and development of ecosystems.  

  2. Camouflage is an introduction to adaptations.  Students often choose to take off bright jackets, as they realize those in duller colors are having more success.  Others will focus on finding a spot where they can comfortably stay still and quiet, or even move leaves and debris to better cover themselves.  Occasionally, a daring student will try to hide right behind the predator. After playing a few rounds of camouflage, students will be excited to explain the strategies they used. You can build discussions or lessons around  the importance of and mechanisms for adaptations, the difference between physical adaptations and behavioral adaptations, or examples of adaptations around you.    

  3. Camouflage can quickly change student state, increase excitement, and give you time to organize yourself.  Whenever students start to get antsy, yelling “Camouflage!” gives students a chance to run (moving their bodies) and then sit quietly (focusing themselves).  Conversely, if group energy is flagging, a quick game of camouflage gets the blood pumping.  The anticipation of future games of camouflage can keep student excitement high throughout the day.  If you need a minute to regroup your thoughts, you can either do this as the predator while counting down or you can designate someone else as the predator.    

  4. Camouflage is a way to increase mindfulness and presence.  After you’ve played camouflage one or two times, try giving students extra time in their spots before you begin searching. Guide them through a mindfulness exercise to tune into their senses. Be sure to tell them that you will keep your eyes closed during this part. Ask a series of questions and prompts that address the students as a prey species, pausing between each question.  The ‘squirrels’ (or whatever species you choose), need to quiet their breathing and heartbeat after racing to evade the ‘coyote’ predator.  Encourage all of the squirrels to listen quietly in their spots.  Ask them to pay attention to their hiding place - if they, as squirrels, had to stay in this spot for a long time, would the ground be comfortable to stand/sit on? Are they upwind or downwind from the coyote? What do they smell? After the mindfulness activity, give them 10 seconds to get resettled in their spot, and the game is on!  

  5. Camouflage encourages students to be aware of their surroundings.  As we move into new ecosystems, I often overhear students murmuring to each other things like, "It would be hard to camouflage here!"  "Look at all those stinging nettles, don't hide there" or "Look at that dead tree - that would be a perfect place."  You can foster this awareness, and build anticipation, by occasionally asking students where they would hide as you enter a new ecosystem. Encourage students that find something interesting during camouflage to share it with the whole group – even if it means pausing the game. Because we are dispersed, quiet, and paying attention to our surroundings, some of the most awe-inspiring wildlife moments I’ve had with students have been during camouflage. 

While some might think of Camouflage as just a game, it incorporates many of the primary tenets of experiential learning.  Used wisely and creatively, Camouflage is a fantastic and fun learning experience.      

 

Tips for playing Camouflage When you play for the first time with a group, choose a place where it will be fairly easy to find hidings spots among brush, rocks, logs, or other parts of the ecosystem. Pick a spot, at least for your first few rounds, that is an especially safe environment to run and hide in.  Avoid areas with lots of branches and sticks, slippery logs or mud, nearby hazards like water or roads, and plants that can sting, scratch, or irritate.  As you get to know participants better and they become more familiar with the game, you may decide to choose more challenging environments. As the instructor, you do not always have to be the predator.  Participants will enjoy the opportunity to fill this role, and playing alongside them can help build rapport.  You also have an opportunity to introduce different topics by using tricks, such as hiding under backpacks or hiding in plain sight.  This may lead to claims of “cheating,” which will lead to more impassioned discussions of behavioral adaptations.   It is likely that participants will ask frequently to play the game.  A way to minimize this is to explain that as the predator, you are always trying to surprise the prey.  Or you can simply be transparent with students about your need to find the right locations and fit specific learning objectives.

 

 

 

 

About the Author
Katie Aspen Gavenus

Katie Aspen Gavenus is from Homer, Alaska and a graduate of Bowdoin College. Her love for coastal ecology began with a fourth grade field trip with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies (CACS). After high school she returned to work as an intern for CACS and was immediately hooked by the opportunity to share her enthusiasm for this special coastal place with others. Although she has dabbled as a deckhand on a salmon tender boat and a wilderness trip leader, ecology education is her true passion. During seasons away from Alaska, she has worked at San Mateo Outdoor Education in California and The Ecology School in Maine. Following the BP/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, she created the Children of the Spills project to collect oral histories from children affected by oil spills and lead oil pollution prevention and preparedness education programs in Alaska and along the Gulf of Mexico. She is pursuing a Master’s of Science Education at the University of Washington because she wants to integrate ecology, art, and culture into her practice in a way that is mindful, joyful, and cultivates a connection to home and place.