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Games and Festivals as a Way to Engage School Children in Environmental Education

Number 23 - December 2001

A. Andreeva






The Moscow University Botanic Garden, originally known as the Apothecary Garden, was founded in 1706 and is the country's oldest institution of its kind. The garden was first set up for raising medicinal plants and teaching plant science to doctors. Thus, from its earliest years the garden has been an important centre for education. From 1805 to date, the garden has belonged to the Moscow University and from that time onwards regular lectures and guided tours for the general public, and those curious about plants, have been organised in the garden.

Almost 300 years has passed since the foundation of the garden. The times have changed and every period of Russian and Moscow history has been followed by changes in the garden; not only in its appearance, but also in the aims and tasks, including education. Currently the garden is undergoing renovation and simultaneously its policies are being revised.

Environmental education is becoming one of the most important directions in the garden's renewed strategic development programme. A few years ago a special education programme for enhanced school curricula was elaborated in the garden under the sponsorship of BP.

Games and Festivals

In order to broaden public and schools' awareness of the garden’s education programme, involve schoolchildren in the environmental education activities, as well as enhance the garden's educational potential, garden staff organise annual cognitive games and festivals. Once a year there is an Apothecary Garden Day. The aims of this event are to:

  • encourage a wide number of schools to visit the garden
  • present the environmental education programme to schoolchildren and teachers and involve them in it
  • present the garden and its plant collections
  • promote knowledge about diversity of the plant kingdom and the economic and cultural importance of plants in our lives
  • excite children to learn more about plants and nature.

This event is rather significant in the garden's yearly calendar. The Festival takes place at the end of the school year, in spring, when the garden collections are looking their best. Hundreds of schoolchildren, many scientists, journalists, the mass media (TV and radio), as well as the sponsor representatives, are invited to the event. State and city officials, and representatives of various NGOs also participate. This results in the popularisation of the garden, its history and activities, including the environmental education programme (EEP).

The most recent of such Festivals was held in May 2000 in close cooperation with the members of the Young Ecologist Club (YEC), who work in the garden. During the Festival the invited school children were engaged in an environmental game called Robinson’s Island.

Why? Firstly, staff believe that the game is one of the best ways to involve many children in an active exploration of plants and the botanic garden. Secondly, because Robinson Crusoe is a fable that children can relate to - because most of the school children have come to the garden for the first time and they find themselves in a similar situation to that of Robinson (the hero of  Daniel Defoe’s book) on an uninhabited island, surrounded by unknown plants. The game Robinson’s Island could be set up in any botanic garden and is described below:

Robinson’s Island

The Moscow University Botanic Garden became Robinson’s Island. According to this imaginative situation the regulations, aims, terms and principles of the game were developed and described in a special leaflet called The Plan of Robinson’s Island (in fact it was the plan of the garden’s arboretum, where the garden’s botanical attractions and features, as well as ways to find them, were highlighted). Next to the plan a description of the game with its terms and regulations was included.

For the Game the Garden was Carefully Prepared. How was this done?

Members of the Young Ecologist’s Club (YEC) investigated the garden’s arboretum to locate the most interesting plants. Involvement of the club members had the added value that the Young Ecologists learnt more about these plants themselves. Their choice of plants was based on several criteria including: it must have been interesting from different points of view; be of economical or medical significance; or to be useful to Robinson’s life on the island.

The members of the YEC collected different information about trees, shrubs and perennials, growing in the garden and on the basis of this wrote the game’s ‘prompt messages’.

Two alternative itineraries were developed and clearly marked in the garden with arrows: the first route was called 'Pathfinder’s Way' and the second entitled 'The Robinson’s Way'. The ‘prompt messages’ included plant information which could help the children during the game. The messages were laminated and put discreetly beside the plants. This made the game more interesting because initially the participants had to find the labels with 'prompt messages', read them, and record on the game leaflet the information which might be useful for Robinson if he was present.

The game leaflet contained the following information:

Dear Children!
We are happy, that you have come today to our botanic garden, and we invite you to participate in the game, which is called The Robinson’s Island. We hope that you have also read the famous book about Robinson Crusoe or have heard about him and his adventures.

Please imagine, that:

  • Our botanic garden is a little island, where you may find different plants and, perhaps, many of them may be unknown to you before.
  • People have used some of these plants for ages, but maybe in the future we will know much more that is new about their properties in medicine and in other aspects of life.
  • Try to be attentive and observant and find on your way both familiar and unfamiliar trees, shrubs and perennials, which may be useful for Robinson in his life on the island.
  • Learn about the plants, using the garden’s information labels and our ‘prompt messages’, which you can find here and there.
  • During your investigations of this island, please fill in this leaflet and leave your messages for Robinson on the Island Plan. Indicate your itinerary and the sites of plants on your plan which could be used by Robinson during his life on the Island.

Attention! Please keep only your itinerary and don’t leave the tracks.
Good luck.
Meet you at the finish!

More than 500 children from Moscow schools took part in the 2000 Festival and all left the gardens with a souvenir of their visit. The botanic garden staff had prepared a school timetable (with photos taken during the Young Ecologist Club lessons), a special calendar, a neckerchief (with the logos of the botanic garden and the sponsor) and a packet of seeds for souvenirs and the children were happy to receive these.

To summarise, the necessary conditions for a successful game:

  1. The most important thing is the organisation of the garden’s space for the game.
  2. The game must have special rules and regulations.
  3. The game has to include the elements of imagination (a famous fable) and to be cognitive.
  4. Don’t forget about some nice souvenirs for the children!

This event was an effective way to advertise the garden’s developing education programmes. Thanks to the event, in the new school year many school children were involved in different environmental educational activities in the garden. It also provided publicity for the sponsor, BP, which supports the garden’s educational programmes. Another important outcome of the event was the increased understanding among the state and city officials, which is very helpful for the further development and promotion of the programme.

Des Jeux et Des Festivals Pour Impliquer les Enfants à l’Éducation à l’Environnement


Il y a quelques années, un programme pédagogique spécifique pour les classes de niveau supérieur a été élaboré au jardin botanique de l’Université de Moscou sous le patronage de British Petroleum (BP) Une partie de ce programme englobait le Festival du Jardin des Apothicaires, une manifestation d’une journée organisée chaque année au printemps à la fin de l’année scolaire. Le but de ce festival est de sensibiliser le public et les scolaires au potentiel pédagogique du jardin, de promouvoir les connaissances sur la diversité du règne végétal et d’inciter les enfants à en savoir plus sur le monde des plantes et la nature. La dernière manifestation de ce festival a eu lieu en mai 2000 et plus de 500 élèves y ont participé. L’article décrit l’un des jeux utilisé, l’île de Robinson, ainsi nommé car beaucoup d’enfants découvraient le jardin pour la première fois. Ainsi les enfants se sont retrouvés dans la situation de Robinson Crusoë (le héros du livre de Daniel Defoe) sur un île déserte entourés de plantes inconnues.

Los Juegos y los Festivales Como Metodo Para Entusiasmar a los Escolares en la Educacion Medio-ambiental


Algunos anos atras fue elaborado en el Jardin Botanico de la Universidad de Moscu bajo el patrocinio de la BP (British Petroleum) un programa educativo especial para los curriculos escolares especializados. El programa incluye el Apothecaries’ Garden Day Festival (el Dia Festivo del Jardin del Apotecario), organizado cada fin de curso en la primavera para ampliar el conocimiento (awareness) del publico y de los colegios del potencial educativo del Jardin, promover el conocimiento de la diversidad del reino de las plantas y entusiasmar a los ninos a aprender mas sobre las plantas y la naturaleza. El mas reciente de estos festivales fue en mayo del 2000, en el cual participaron mas de 500 escolares. El articulo que sigue describe uno de los juegos medio-ambientales que se jugaron durante ese dia, llamado La Isla de Robinson, nombre que fue dado porque para la mayoria de los ninos era la primera visita al Jardin. Asi que se encontraban en un a situacion semejante a la de Robinson Crusoe (el heroe del libro de Daniel Defoe) – en una isla deshabitada rodeados de plantas desconocidas.