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Play Ecosystem Jenga to learn how everything is connected

Ecosystem Jenga

By Public and Youth Programs Coordinator Lindsey DeLorey

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, teens in the Museum Apprentice Program at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis created activities for families to do at home. This activity demonstrates how removing one piece of an ecosystem can cause a ripple effect and then the ecosystem could collapse.

First, we need to know what an ecosystem is. An ecosystem is a diverse environment in which living and nonliving things interact with one another. This includes all of the plants, animals, and other living things that make up the communities of life in an area. An ecosystem also includes nonliving materials—for example, water, rocks, soil, and sand. In an ecosystem, each part has its own role to play.

Let’s play!

Ecosystem Jenga for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day thanks to Museum at Home with The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

What you will need:

  • Jenga Blocks
  • Tape
  • Marker
  • Playing Cards—these can be printed or handwritten

Instructions:

Setup 

  1. Using a piece of tape and marker, write each part of an ecosystem on a Jenga block (see "Blocks" below).
  2. Brainstorm some native/local plants, herbivores, omnivores and carnivores and add those to the blocks.
  3. Print out the playing cards (see "Playing Cards" below). You can also write them out on your own note cards.
  4. Set up the jenga tower. The original Jenga tower will represent a healthy ecosystem. The order of the blocks should represent a food web. For example, producers such as sunlight, plants, etc. should go near the bottom since they are the source that feeds every other animal. Then smaller animals that feed on those plants should be stacked next. Finally, larger animals that feed on the smaller animals and plants should be near the top.

Play

  1. The first player picks a card, reads it aloud, and follows the instructions written on the card. Only the block being removed may be touched. Player is not allowed to hold the rest of the stack together while removing the block(s).
  2. Take turns reading a card and remove that piece from the ecosystem. They can continue to play until the ecosystem collapses. Do not add the piece to the top of the tower.
  3. Now that we learned our actions can have impacts, we can see how good actions however small have positive impacts on an ecosystem. Brainstorm ways to try and rebuild the ecosystem and reintroduce some of the blocks back into the ecosystem.

This game is a representation of how human-caused changes can potentially impact the stability of a whole ecosystem. All parts of an ecosystem are connected and function as a whole. Each factor relies on others for shelter, food, water, etc. When one part of an ecosystem is removed, the other parts have trouble surviving and are eventually removed too.

Labels

Blocks 

  • Category 1: Environment
    • Rain
    • Sun
    • Soil
    • Land 
  • Category 2: Plants
    • Grass
    • Mushrooms
    • Trees
    • Shrubs/Berries
    • Flowers
  • Category 3: Herbivores
    • Birds
    • Deer
    • Pollinators
    • Worms
    • Mice
    • Fish
  • Category 4: Carnivores/Omnivores
    • Coyote
    • Raccoons
    • Bears
    • Bats
    • Foxes

Playing Cards

  1. A drought has hit the ecosystem. Remove the rain piece from the ecosystem. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  2. It has been a rough winter. Remove the sun piece from the ecosystem. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  3. Heavy rain has eroded so much soil into the river. Remove the soil and worms pieces from the ecosystem. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  4. The nearby city is expanding and shrinking the ecosystem. Remove the land piece from the ecosystem. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  5. The bee population has been in decline! Remove the pollinators and flowers pieces from the ecosystem. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  6. As the climate changes, seasonal changes in temperatures also change. The seasons have been all out of whack and local birds have migrated south too early in the season. Remove the birds piece from the ecosystem. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  7. There has been some illegal poaching in the ecosystem. Remove the deer and bears pieces. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  8. A new neighborhood is under construction, causing deforestation. Remove the trees piece from the ecosystem. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  9. Air and water pollution can poison waterways and fruit. Remove the shrubs/berries piece. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  10. Truffle products are in high demand so there is overharvesting. Remove the mushrooms piece. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  11. When people use too much fertilizer on their lawns, this enters the watershed that leads to other waterways. Fertilizer entering the waters can be harmful for wildlife. Remove the coyote piece. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?
  12. Not cleaning up after your pet outside causes nutrients and bacteria to run off into the watershed after rainstorms. This creates algal blooms that kill off some species of fish. Remove the fish piece. What other pieces of the ecosystem would be affected?

Share your Earth Day activities with us by using the hashtag #TCMatHome on social media!

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