Environmental games and activities: Web of Life

Play this quick and easy game to illustrate the connections between all living and non-living components of the environment.

Famed environmentalist John Muir once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” The interrelationships in the natural world are numerous and affect us in many ways. How are we affected? How can we help youth to see the importance of these connections? The “Web of Life” activity is a great illustration for youth to see this in an active and fun way.

The inter-connections of ecological concepts can be seen and felt in food chains, ecosystem relationships, environmental responses and our actions now will have an effect later, whether they are harmful or productive. We can plant a tree or construct a bluebird box, providing a positive effect. We can also dump used oil on the ground or burn garbage, resulting in a harmful effect on the environment. The Web of Life activity helps illustrate how everything is connected and, as a result, all things are affected by one another.

Start the activity by having youth gather in a circle. There is no limit to the number of participants. Pass out small slips of paper to each youth with a name of something found in the environment. Examples can be insects, mammals, soil, plants, rocks, birds, water, air, etc. Try to proportion these as would be found naturally; more insects and rocks, fewer mammals and birds. Begin passing string randomly across the circle, making sure each person holds onto a section of the string. Continue passing the string until each person is holding the string, creating a “web.” Have the group step back slightly to tighten the web.

Have one person pull gently on the string. Ask the following questions: How many of you felt that? Did more of you feel it than didn’t? Have those that are a rock, mammal or insect let go of the string. Try letting go of one item and then another. Ask again, how many of you felt that? If you felt that, you were affected and you should let go of the string. Now, how many are affected? It should become very clear how everyone in the circle/web is affected. Finish by having a discussion about these connections. Create examples of some real life connections and how they are affected.

Barry Commoner explained the four laws of ecology with one of those laws being “everything is connected to everything else.” We as humans should recognize that we are a part of the system rather than an observer or in a role to manipulate it. Teaching youth these inter-connections helps bridge the gap between real life effects and the natural world.

Michigan State University Extension encourages participation in new experiences that are safe and expose youth to science involvement with 4-H Science: Asking Questions and Discovering Answers.

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