Hunger Games II – Dahlem Style

We had such a positive response this summer when we did our Hunger Games – Dahlem Style that we decided to do it again this fall, but we were not quite prepared for the influx of calls that came in at the last minute!  We went from six kids to over 50 in a matter of about four days!  Unfortunately for many, we could only accommodate 24.  The rest are on a call list to receive first notice when we offer it again next summer.

The program began on Saturday, Oct. 5, with a full day of training.  We started off with learning how to tie knots, and then moved on to knife safety and some basic first aid.



By then it was nearly 11:30, so we took a break for lunch before heading out to learn how to do fire starting and how to use a compass.

DSC_0011Gary showed the kids how to identify poison ivy and how to tell it apart from potential look-alikes (or look-similars).

DSC_0013All the skills we taught them on Saturday are a) good outdoor skills that everyone who spends time outside should know, and b) potential testing skills for the next day in the Arena.  We had four Skills Stations out in the Arena, each one testing one of the many skills they learned on Saturday – but they didn’t know ahead of time which four we would pick.  Each Skill Station was a safety zone, and, if the skill was demonstrated correctly, the participant got a reward, which might be food, water, bug spray, or camouflage face paint.

As we headed out to the Arena, we stopped along the way to learn shelter-building,


and camouflage.  Intentionally getting muddy was a new concept for many of these kids.


DSC_0026 For others, it was old hat.  Sarah (and her brother Alec, above) were in the Games this summer, and she is master of mud!

DSC_0027The day was hot and humid, and we expected rain at any time, but it held off.  As we continued out to the Arena and around its perimeter, the kids also learned sneaking and disguise, how to make whistles from acorn caps, what to do in case of lightning, and what to do in case they needed to answer “nature’s call.”  We also showed them how to make cordage, discussing some of the native plants that can be used to create wilderness rope.

We sent them all home with instructions for what they could and could not bring on Sunday, and each was gifted with the uniform for the day:  a bright green souvenir t-shirt.

Sunday dawned with a touch of sunshine, but it was chilly.  Soon the storm clouds rolled in and we were nervous that the 100% chance of rain, with a passing T-storm and damaging winds would ruin our day.  Luckily, the rain held off for most of the day!

So, here they all are – shiny and clean and a little bit nervous, ready to begin!


And here are our staff and volunteers, ready to test skills and keep everyone safe.




There was a little more competition at the Cornucopia this time than there was this summer.  Isaac ran up to take Mara’s bandana, and she yelled “NOOO!”  He stopped and backed up.  She got away this time!



Chuck was monitoring the Fire Starting Skill Station.  He didn’t have many takers at first.  Only one participant succeeded in getting smoke with the hand drill – congratulations, Alec!


Like this summer, I ran a Roving Skill Station – I wanted to be mobile so I could also take photos.  At my station participants had to demonstrate competency with the compass.  A couple were successful.  The others need to practice a bit more.  GPS might be great, but if your batteries die or there aren’t enough satellites overhead to get a signal, it won’t do you a lot of good.  Learn how to use a compass, and how to read a map, and you will be golden.


This time Gary’s Skill Station was Making Cordage.  We had a bundle of raffia for their fiber source.  I think most who tried this skill did well.


Many Alliances were formed.  One group had eight members!  Here we have a group taking a break.  I think the Arena was so large that finding other people, even in those bright green shirts, was a challenge.  And we had one girl who went to ground immediately – we didn’t see her until the game was nearly over!



Those whose bandanas were stolen were out and had to make their way to the perimeter where they got to hang out with one of our volunteers.  It wasn’t all bad – many seemed to have just as good a time on the sidelines as they did in the Arena.  A second chance in the Arena was only an hour or so away, though.


Another group takes a rest.  Where were the others?


I wandered through the 60+ acre Arena looking for participants, but also checking on the Skills Stations.  Bob reported he didn’t have any takers yet, but as I stood there with him, things soon changed as one group chased another past.  The chance to seek safety at a station was a draw.

Bob tested several participants in knot-tying.  Those who could tie a bowline got a bonus goodie:  camo face paint!  Well done, Libby!  Not many can master this knot.


Bob let them tie knots until they missed one – Libby was on a streak.


Most of our Arena is in the woods.  We expanded it for Game II because we had more than twice the number of participants as we had in August.  This time we included a vernal wetland, the glacial pond (which is mostly dry) and a section of the grassland.  The glacial pond, which is mostly tall plants right now, was a great place to hide, provided one stayed low!


By 1:45 we had only 10 kids out.  This was the magic half-hour – they all got to go back into the Game as Mutts.  They were required to stay in packs (3-4 kids each), and had to be barking/howling the whole time so those who were still in the Game would know who/what they were.  Here are the Mutts just before they reentered the Arena.

DSC_0075 DSC_0076 DSC_0077

At 2:15 the Game ended.  Whoever still had his/her bandana was a winner.  We had six winners!  Whew – that’s a lot.  We need to work on whittling them down a bit more next time!  But well, done:  Amelia, Brechal, Sarah, Alec, Emma and Nick!


And here are all the contestants (minus one) – a bit dirtier, a bit more tired, and all happy to have had the chance to play!


Everyone got a certificate of participation, and the winners each got a gift certificate for the Nutshell Gift Shop (at Dahlem).  Parents came and collected their less-than-clean children and soon had all the details of how the day went.

DSC_0100Thank you, everyone, who played and helped out!  This was a lot of fun and the rain waited until it was nearly over.

I will be editing video over the next couple of days and hopefully will get that posted this week.


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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One Response to Hunger Games II – Dahlem Style

  1. rodmalloy says:

    Reblogged this on rodmalloy and commented:
    Hunger Games Dahlem Style impacted 30 lives in South Central Michigan — a great outdoor experience for teenage contestants!

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