The Hunger Games – Dahlem Style

What a weekend we had!  This last Friday and Saturday we held the inaugural Hunger Games – Dahlem Style.  Eleven kids, ages 11 – 16 joined us for two days of adventure in the woods.

The Hunger Games is a trilogy of books written by Suzanne Collins.  It’s a grim story in which the Capitol selects two children (ages 11-17) from each district as Tributes and has them battle it out in an Arena that is filled with danger.  The last child left alive is allowed to live, supposedly, in luxury for the rest of his/her life.

We thought this was a great opportunity to get kids outside, using their imaginations and outdoor skills.  Our version was a lot more user-friendly:  instead of kids killing kids, our participants had to swipe the bandanas of the other contestants – sort of like Capture the Flag.

Friday was spent in training.  We needed to give the kids some of the skills they’d need to “survive” in the games.  We started off with Bob teaching knot tying.

DSC_0006DSC_0002DSC_0001After that, we headed out to the Arena so they could see ahead of time what it would look like.  Along the way Gary taught them plant ID: what was edible (garlic mustard) and what was dangerous (poison ivy).

DSC_0012We covered shelter-building…to help them hide,



and camouflage, also to help them hide.  Some really got into this skill!

DSC_0037 Along the route we also covered compass use, how to make whistles from grass and acorn caps, and knife safety.  Upon returning to the classroom, we reviewed safety procedures and basic first aid.  Everyone got a bright orange t-shirt to wear the next day, and instructions to eat a good breakfast the next morning because they couldn’t bring any food or water with them.

Saturday dawned…it was going to be a beautiful day.



For posterity, we took a “before” picture of the kids.  There they are, all clean and smiling, hand-dyed bandanas loosely looped in belt loops (for easier stealing)…everyone eager to begin.


In the books, the Games begin at the Cornucopia, a giant horn-of-plenty where all the goodies are stored (food, water, packs, water bottles, weapons, etc.).  The Tributes are on pedestals surrounding it.  If they step off their pedestals early, they are blown up (I told you it was a grim story).  When the cannon goes off, the kids either take off for the woods to follow a strategy of hiding, or they dash into the center to try and get some supplies that will help them survive.  Some grab the closest stuff and get out of Dodge, while others go right to the center where the best stuff is stored.  This is where the “bloodbath” takes place, ans the more aggressive Tributes take out the weaker ones.

Well, we had nothing quite so grisly planned.  Our cornucopia was a fallen tree.  We had backpacks, water bottles, caribiners, binoculars, food, first aid kits, rope,  bug spray, hats, etc. scattered about.  The kids had to stand on carpet squares in a circle around the goodies and wait for the signal to begin.  If they jumped the gun, they were automatically out.  I tried to trick them, but they were all focused and no one left early.

The surprising thing was that all but two went for the supplies, and yet, even though they were only inches from each other, no one took any bandanas from anyone else!  You can see the video of that here.

Alec went right for the camouflage shirt – it was perfect for hiding the bright orange t-shirt!

DSC_0059We had four Skills Stations in the Arena:  plant ID, first aid, knot-tying and compass use.  Each one had a safety zone – if you were there demonstrating a skill, you were safe.  If you succeeded in doing the skill, you got a “prize,” which at two was a choice of food or bug spray, and at the other two was a choice of water or bug spray.

Gary manned the plant ID station:

DSC_0066Ben and Colin chose the bug spray when they successfully identified three of the plants.


We also had a table of food in the woods…if they could find it,

DSC_0072and a cooler of water.  Of course, not everyone had something to put the water into!


For a while, it seemed like everyone was just walking through the woods looking for the skills stations.  No one was hiding, no one was building a shelter, no one was sneaking.  Finally, we had some action, as Alec, in his camouflage shirt, started to pursue the others to get their bandanas.  You can see the video of the action here.

Lynn was in charge of the first aid skill station.  The kids had to demonstrate how to tie a sling and what they would do in case of a broken arm, or a severe cut.  If they succeeded, they could choose food or bug spray.


Those who found Bob, had to select three knots to tie – drawing names from a hat.  Sadly, most could not remember the knots he had taught them the day before, even though we gave them the how-to sheets to take home and practice.

DSC_0088My skill station was a wandering station:  I wanted to be able to go around in the Arena and take photos.  If they found me, the kids could test their compass skills.  I gave them each a bearing to follow out for fifty steps, and then they had to turn and tell me what the bearing was back to me (I stood where they started).  Several were close, but no one got it.  If they had walked out straight, following their compass, shooting back at me would’ve been 180 degrees more than the bearing the followed.

DSC_0091Many alliances were formed – some, I think, before the games even started.  The girls (Sarah, Jen, Olivia C.) formed a team, we had a brother-sister team (Olivia F. and Aiden), two sets of friends (Evan and Chance, and Ben and Colin), and two who went solo (Kaivon and Alec).  Kaivon drifted in and out of partnerships.  Here he joins up with Jen, whose other team-mates were currently missing.

DSC_0107 It took an hour and a half before anyone was out, and then it was four in rapid succession, all captured by Alec.

The games went from about 10:30 AM until 2:00 PM.  By 2:30 we still had four people in the Arena.  The kids who were out had a suggestion:  send them in as mutts.

In the books, the Capitol, who are not nice people, have done some genetic experimenting, creating “animals” that are dangerous, like Tracker Jackers, which are wasps with deadly, hallucinogenic stings.  These creations are called “muttations,” or mutts for short.  In the first book, the Capitol sends in mutts to try and eliminate our heroine.  They look like very large canines, but they have the eyes of all the Tributes who were already killed in the Arena.  Creepy.

Well, the kids wanted to become mutts and go back into the Arena to see if they could get out any of the remaining four.  So, instructed that they must “hunt” as a group, and that they must bay, bark and howl like dogs, I shouted a warning into the Arena that the mutts were loose.  There were 15 minutes left to the Game…and they succeeded in getting one more person out.

What an exciting and full day we had!  The last hour was spent taking down the flagging that marked the borders of the Arena and collecting supplies, like the water cooler.  We got a group shot on the way back to the classroom – everyone a bit dirtier and tired.


And as we were leaving the woods, we saw TWO juvenile minks!  What a perfect end to the day!

DSC_0148    And who won?  We ended up with three winners:

DSC_0101Olivia C. – who climbed the trees and knew how to use mud to its best advantage


DSC_0106Kaivon – whose birthday was the day before!


DSC_0045 Chance lightenedAnd Chance, who mastered the art of silence.

Congratulations to everyone for coming out and playing our Game!  I think everyone had a great time.   And an extra special Thank You goes out to our staff and volunteers whose help, especially patrolling the borders for three and a half hours, made it all possible.  I couldn’t have done it without them!


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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