Games to help children prepare for disasters

We ran around the house, searching for hidden buttons, then made a mooing call like a cow to attract the team leader to collect the button… we didn’t have any digital devices to detract us when I was growing up but we did play some crazy games. The button hunt was a team game, only the leader could pick up the buttons, we couldn’t speak but could make the animal noise of our team. What did the neighbours think?

IMG_20160414_190117Writing picture books for children has connected my back to my childhood. Particularly the books I used to read but also the collections of shells, feathers and bones that I had as a budding naturalist, and, the games we played.

I don’t think I would have started writing stories if hadn’t visited the Philippines and been plunged into a biodiversity hotspot filled with new and exotic wildlife to discover – just like when I discovered new animals as a child. And maybe I wouldn’t have started writing stories if I hadn’t witnessed the impact of a typhoon so soon after I visited.

Recently I’ve been wondering if the games I played as a child and could be adapted to help children learn about disasters and the importance of being prepared. Could games help because they are fun and you learn without knowing you’re learning?

Hazard memory matching cards

A really simple way to learn that there are different types of natural hazard. All you need are cards with pictures of hazards on them (two cards for each hazard: volcano, earthquake, typhoon, tsunami, flood, drought etc)
Shuffle the cards, turn them face down in a square. Each player takes it in turn to turn two cards over, if they match keep them face up, if they don’t match turn them face down again.

Fish flap race

Basic game: Each player (or it could be made into a team game for larger groups) needs a paper fish (tissue paper or similar is ideal because it is very lightweight) and a newspaper or magazine. The players then use the newspaper to ‘flap’ the fish along the floor to the finish line.

To make it relevant – each fish represents a different type of hazard (volcano, earthquake etc). Children write on their fish the hazard (if using normal paper rather than tissue paper, they could draw a picture).

At end of the race, write a leader-board on the blackboard. This then becomes a discussion point about the speed of the onset of disasters. E.g. if ‘drought’ won the race and ‘volcano’ came last, the discussion is about what would happen in reality and how that affects our planning.

Kim’s game

Using a set of cards show items that should be included in an emergency bag.
Lay the cards out, children spend 1 minute looking at the cards.
Then either – take one card away and children have to say what it missing or – cover all the cards and they have to remember all the items.

It’s a memory game but could help children understand the concept of an emergency bag, what the different items are and why they are needed.

Snakes and ladders 

Snakes and ladders seems to be made for learning about disasters – you go down a snake for a disaster and up a ladder when you plan and prepare.
It would work well if it was mainly pictures with as few words as possible. The only squares with illustrations/words should be the ones with snakes and ladders on them – keep the others as a blank colour to focus the children’s attention on the snakes and ladders squares.

Each snake is a hazard (flood, typhoon, tsunami, drought, fire, earthquake, volcano).
– different types of hazard
– disasters can happen at any time
– the varied length of the snakes could illustrate the impact of a disaster

Each ladder is something you can do to reduce risk, plan and be prepared.
It might be possible to divide the board so that the first ladders would be things to do to reduce risk (plant trees, clear gabbage from rivers), the next ladders would be planning/preparation (emergency bag, practice evacuation, know your safe place to go to).

– things to do to reduce risk and be prepared
– the more ladders you go up, the better prepared you are = reach the end of the game quicker

It could be printed as a board to use on a table and printed large-scale on tarpaulin that the children move on.


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