Suitcase in the Woods

Updated: Feb 7

Exercise is good! We're always being told that we should get outside, get more exercise, fresh air etc. It's not always a child's idea of fun, though, so the onus is on parents to make it a bit more entertaining if they can. One way to do that is to play a game (or series of games) while doing the fresh-air activity. This can have the added advantage of giving Got-A-Head®? users another chance to put into practice some of their newly-discovered skills and techniques.


Many parents will already have a battery of word games in their arsenal for entertaining children on walks or car journeys. Most, if not all, of those can be adapted to include an Observation and/or Memory element. Here's a great example of how one has been amended and what techniques to use for it.


I put in my suitcase...

Why not amend this to 'On our Nature Walk we saw...'? That way, they'll not only be practising their Observation skills, but also their Memory ones. The rules are simple. Each participant takes it in turn to say the phrase 'On our Nature Walk we saw...', which they then follow with an object that they can actually see at that moment. They should describe it in as much detail as possible, including where exactly it is so that the others can see it, too (thus practising that element of their Observation skills). Encourage them to go for unusual or noteworthy items rather than just 'a tree', as having very distinctive objects will aid both the Observation and Memory elements. At the very least it should have a colour, shape or texture to distinguish it. Everyone present has to look for, and find, that specific object before the game can continue (so clear descriptions, including its location, is clearly a must). The next person repeats the introduction, the previous person's object and then their own. This continues, in turn: introductory phrase, previous items (in order!) and then a new item added. How many items can be remembered in turn before a mistake is made?


It would look/sound something like this:

Close observation, detailed description (including location), and memory work make this a great multi-diciplinary activity

Start again from scratch after each mistake, but note the number of items so that you know what the target is for future. As the participants get more experienced, they'll be able to select even more interesting items with lovely descriptions and clear locations and will be able to remember increasing numbers of items before slipping up. Don't forget, you'll be walking on as you play this game, so the original item will no longer be in view.


Observation techniques

Encourage the participants to select interesting items from the environment around them. Don't forget to remind them:

  • Search the whole area to look for the most interesting item.

  • Use search patterns to make sure they have covered all the area to be searched (Up and Down works well in a large area where you have to search a bit at a time; Spiral Out starts from where they are and they could stop when they find something of note; Up and Left is good when going down paths in a maze or looking in trees).

  • Anticipate what they might find - they are more likely to spot it.


Locating Items

When describing to the others where to find their object, they can use a number of different techniques:

  • at the very simplest level, pointing at the selected item

  • describing an item in relation to a landmark or obvious feature in the area, or to something they've previously identified e.g. the fallen tree to the left of the path about 3 metres ahead; the moss is at the far end of the fallen tree; the hole is at the bottom of the tree trunk directly behind the fallen tree we used for the first item; the rotten wood is at the end of the fallen tree nearest to us.

  • using compass bearings (if you have a compass or the cardinal points are very obvious) - the fallen tree in the clearing to the north of us

  • using clock coordinates/bearings e.g. the hole is in the tree at 1 o'clock (where the fallen tree is on the 9 o'clock - 3 o'clock axis)

  • using a version of Cartesian coordinates to describe its location (from where we are, go forward 10 paces and left 3 paces)


Memory techniques

Once they've selected their item, they still need to remember it. That's one of the reasons we encourage detailed description - as well as enhancing their vocabulary, it makes an item more memorable. There are a variety of techniques that could be adopted to remember the sequence.

  • Each item selected in the game could be linked by the learner using a peg system. In the early stages, you could use something like number shapes or number rhymes, which go up to 10 items. The learner would come up with a memorable link between their number shape item and the selected object. If we use the photographic example above and my selection of number shapes referenced in the linked blog at the start of this section, I might come up with some bacon (my number one) sizzling on the fallen tree. I would try to smell the bacon, hear the sizzling as well as just visualising the bacon sitting on it. For many people, though, it's actually better to start with the peg and add the new item to it, so you might prefer to imagine the bacon sizzling in a pan, with the fallen log you've chosen frying in the pan beside it.

  • If I'd gone for a number rhyme (say I'd chosen 'bun' for 'one') then I could imagine a bun sitting on the fallen tree. I'd think about what flavour it was, the colour of the bun paper and/or the sprinkles etc.). Or you might have the 'fallen tree' sticking out of the buttercream like a flake. Remember, these techniques should be personalised for what works for the learner.

  • Once the child(ren) can remember 10 items easily, they could go on to use a memory palace technique. The relative sizes of the hook in their palace and the item in the wood don't matter as they could grow or shrink according to what suits the visualisation. What matters is creating a strong link between them so that remembering the palace hooks in order will automatically conjure up that item in the game.

  • Before you start the next round of the game, it's a really good idea to share some of the visualisations you've used for the items in that round. Funny or silly visualisations can be incredibly entertaining for everyone - we can all do with a good laugh! - and has the added benefit of helping those who are struggling with visualisation by giving them practical examples.

This fun activity increases vocabulary, observation skills (including being able to report on what they've seen and where) and memory. It's something that you all do together, while enjoying the world around you. What's not to like?

Do let us know how you get on with it.