Other knowings and experiencing otherness:
Children’s perspectives of playing a hunting
game in a nature reserve
Dylan Adams* and Gary Beauchamp
Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, Wales
*Corresponding author. E-mail: email@example.com
(Received 13 January 2021; revised 03 June 2021; accepted 11 June 2021)
This research study explored the experiences of children (aged 9–10 years), from four different primary
schools, playing a hunting game in a nature reserve. Previous research shows that children’s play in green
spaces can provide a number of benefits to children. However, there is a lack of research into children’s
experiences of playing in bio-diverse environments. This study sought to find out how children (aged 9–10
years) “playing”the role of animals in a nature reserve could enable them to experience different ways of
being and different ways of understanding their relationship with the world around them. The study
employed a qualitative phenomenological design that aimed to interpret the first-person lived experiences
of the children playing in the nature reserve. Four classes from four different primary schools took part in
the study. Six children from each class were interviewed and analysis of their responses generated a number
of different themes. The results suggest that playing the hunting game in a biodiverse environment does
offer states of being and knowings that are not as accessible in schools. Playing the role of an animal had
afforded the children with an accentuated, embodied experience, offering insight into the otherness of the
Keywords: experience; children; embodiment; ontology; biodiversity; community; outdoor education
There are a growing number of voices who argue that children need to be engaged in activities that
are non-anthropocentric in nature. For example, Jickling Blenkinsop, Timmerman, and Sitka-Sage
(2018) call for “wild pedagogies”that disrupt anthropocentric dominance and “seek to challenge a
human-centred, and human exclusive, understanding”(p. 34) replacing it with approaches that
“honour the voice and presence of nature and more-than-beings”(p. 34). Furthermore,
Ärlemalm-Hagser and Sandberg (2017) challenge educators to facilitate learning within non-
anthropocentric ethics, that involve different “intrinsic values of the human and the natural
world”(p. 219). As Jardine says, we need to contemplate “how we might understand ourselves,
not as an exception to this interweaving indebtedness and inter-relatedness to the Earth, but as an
instance of it”(2016, p. 14). There is also an increasing body of research that demonstrates child-
ren’s play in green spaces can provide beneficial health impacts (Hiscock & Mitchell, 2011;
Vanaken & Danckaerts, 2018; Ward, Duncan, Jarden, & Stewart, 2016). Despite this, there is a
lack of research into children’s play in bio-diverse environments. This research study investigates
children’s experiences of playing a hunting game in a biodiverse environment. It draws on a
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative
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Australian Journal of Environmental Education (2021), 1–16
number of underpinning key concepts to provide a grounding that links to the experiences of the
children. These include Huizinga’s(1949) theory of play, the existential philosophies of Shepard,
(1998; 1973), Turner (1979; 1974), and Buber (1970), and Bone’s(2010) exploration of metamor-
phosis in children’s play. These are positioned alongside the pedagogical stances of Blenkinsop
and Beeman (2010), and Derby (2015), who argue that if we are to counter the gross ecological
abuse and neglect that we continue to inflict on the natural word, Western education needs to
reaffirm the importance of other ways of knowing in education.
In Wales, in the United Kingdom (UK), where this research took place, both outdoor expe-
riences and play are statutory parts of the curriculum for primary aged children (Welsh
Government, 2015). Nevertheless, there are a multitude of voices warning of the decline in child-
ren’s experiences of playing in nature places (Dowdell, Gray, & Malone, 2011; Gray, 2011;
O’Connor, 2017; Waller et al.,2017). Research shows that children’s screen-time is increasing
(Šmahel & Blinka, 2012) and that this is potentially negatively impacting on children’s physical
and mental health (Kardefelt-Winther, 2017; Saunders & Vallance, 2017). Robertson (2015)
argues that “technology and always-on connectivity to social-media help remove the material
world from the conscious mind”(p. 7) and that this diminishes the opportunity for sensory expe-
riences of nature places. Sibthorp and Richmond (2015) note that even “activities that were once
an escape from technology are becoming just another place where modern technology is present”
(p. 212). Abram (2010a) states that due to our increasing presence indoors in front of flat screens,
we have traded “the world’s visceral ambiguity for a flat representation”(p. 13). All of these factors
potentially contribute to children spending less time playing outdoors in nature places (Bento &
Dias, 2017). Bragg, Wood, Barton and Pretty (2013) assert that this situation is not only damaging
for children’s health, but “catastrophic”for the environment as children who are estranged from
nature when they are young “are less likely to see the importance of taking care of it when they are
older”(Bragg et al.,2013, p. 5).
To help counter this estrangement, Louv (2011) warns that we should facilitate immersive
experiences in nature for children, as they currently live in the “era of algorithms”(Louv,
2019, p. 20), where the quantitative is prioritised over the qualitative. Indeed, Abram (2010b)
claims we are “increasingly blind, increasingly deaf –increasingly impervious to the sensuous
world –the technological mind progressively lays waste to the animate Earth”(p. 287). Such
developments are particularly corrosive if maintained in nature places, as we sever ourselves from
the wonder of sensory experience and deny our essential reciprocity, as if “cutting the earthly vocal
chords”(Evernden, 1999, p. 100). The reduction in opportunities for today’s children to experi-
ence in their play, risk taking and play outdoors in nature places (Lynch, Pike, & Beckett, 2017)is
also brought into sharp focus by O’Connor (2017) who suggests that adults’most memorable
learning experiences “are often those that have occurred outside of the classroom within play sit-
uations”(O’Connor 2017, p. 94). In contrast, children today are being denied impactful learning
experiences and are inculcated into an anthropocentric view of the world (Bonnett, 2017; Louv,
2019). This, in turn, leads to future behaviours that are not only damaging to the planet, but also
perpetuate a culture that lacks an understanding of community with the natural world “in which
our being is ultimately embedded”(Bonnett, 2017, p. 80).
Shepard (1998) argues that the modern urban lives that most children in the West experience
impact negatively on their relationship with nature and the development of their psyche. Even
childhoods in rural communities are tainted by agricultural cultures that view animals as posses-
sions and nature as resource (Shepard, 1998). Shepard analyses what happens when childhoods
are deprived of encountering biodiverse environments, “in a world in which that Other has mostly
disappeared”(Shepard, 1998, p. 35). He highlights how this has detrimental and lasting psycho-
logical implications as children grow up away from the essential nourishment and nurturing that
is given by a childhood in contact with the diversity and otherness of the natural world (Shepard,
1998). It is claimed that the developing child needs non-human otherness, rather than the
2 Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp
inhuman “urban civilization”and “mechanization of life”that is imposed on children in modern
Western societies (Shepard, 1998, p. 104). Living in sterile urban confinement, children are
deprived of understanding “the plurality of the self”(Shepard, 1998, p. 126). However, not all
is lost as the right attentive engagement with the more-than-human world can “yield its own heal-
ing metaphysics”(Shepard, 1998, p. 130). Shepard states that experiencing “the archetypal role of
nature”, that is “found most complete in wilderness”, matures the self “for it embodies the poetic
expression of ways of being and relating to others”(1998, p. 108).
This view is supported by Macy (2016) who calls for a “spiritual practice”that “holds life
sacred”and “encourages joyful communion”with all our “fellow beings”(p. 153). She refers
to this as “the greening of the self”that entails “generating a sense of profound interconnectedness
with all life”(2016, p. 152). Macy claims there are reasons to believe that this reality is being expe-
rienced by increasing numbers of people, as “the conventional notion of the self with which we
have been raised and to which we have been conditioned by mainstream culture is being under-
mined”(2016, p. 151). Cajete (2015) also feels that “Western science has given rise to a mindset
that acts blind to our interrelatedness”(p. 168). In contrast, Cajete (2015) shows that indigenous
approaches consider the implications of all actions and act on “the truth that we are all related”
(p. 197). This includes all of the more-than-human world, “from the cosmos to what we eat and
breathe”(Cajete, 2015, p. 197).
Macy and Brown warn that a shift in understanding is needed in occidental cultures as, though
there is “much promise to unfold”, we could “lose it all as the web of living systems unravels”
(2014, p. 3). Seed concurs and explains that the change required is “not some new resistance
to radiation, but a change in consciousness”(1988, p. 38). He argues that if we are truly empathetic
and tune in with the other-than-human world, we begin to realise our “humanness”is “merely the
most recent stage”of our existence (Seed, 1988, p. 36). What is described here is not just intellec-
tual knowledge, but involves our ontological reality. One’s sense of self and relationship with
nature changes from feeling as though one is protecting the rainforest to “I am part of the rain-
forest protecting myself”(Seed, 1988, p. 36). This change is “a spiritual one”as “years of imagined
separation”end and “we begin to recall our true nature”(Seed, 1988, p. 36).
Embodiment and Play
Changes such as those outlined above are vital as it is through the “vulnerability of bodily exis-
tence”that we are able to experience “the deepest wellsprings of joy”(Abram, 2010a, p. 7). Abram
points out that the body is nourished by the natural world and consequently “the boundaries of a
living body are open and indeterminate; more like membranes than barriers, they define a surface
of metamorphosis and exchange”(Abram, 1996, p. 46). Rather than standing apart from the nat-
ural world through acts of cognition and sedentary indoor practices, when we pay attention, whilst
being in the outdoor environment, we notice ourselves as a part of and “utterly inside the physical
world”(Abram, 2010b, p. 19). Humberstone (2015) similarly proclaims the value of embodied
learnings that challenge the traditional “sporting narratives of body/mind separation”(p. 63) that
tend to dominate education in the West. She calls for more attention on the non-cognitive, affec-
tive knowings that outdoor experiences grant to learners (Humberstone, 2015). Blades (2015) con-
curs, positioning the body as a place for meaning-making that can “reveal dialogue”with the
natural world and “invites a level of intimacy and mutual engagement”(p. 16). Evernden
(1999) highlights that children intuitively understand this. He argues that children see the world
“like themselves, alive and sensate”and that “only age and education can correct their view”
(Evernden, 1999, p. 14). This is perhaps most powerfully expressed through children’s play in
nature places. Fasting (2017) describes children’s outdoor “magical play”as a world where chil-
dren ‘protect’themselves “against rationality”and “explore for the sake of adventure to feel the
bodily and magical play”(Fasting, 2017, p. 642). Children’s play has long been proclaimed as far
Australian Journal of Environmental Education 3
more important than just an escape from reality, instead involving entering into a superior reality
(Gadamer, 2004; Huizinga, 1949). It enables “transformation back into true being”as the “being of
all play is always self-realization, sheer fulfillment, energeia which has its telos within itself”
(Gadamer, 2004, pp. 116–117).
The idea of reaching “sheer fulfillment”has resonance with Turner’s(1974) theory of liminal-
ity. Turner recognised this, describing play or “ludic”expressions as the “essence of liminality,
liminality par excellence”(Turner, 1974, p. 61). Turner’s(1979) liminality occurs when people
are freed from normal modes of behaviour, “a time of enchantment when anything might, even
should, happen”(p. 465). Turner argues that play enacts higher states of being that involve “intui-
tive perceptions of a non-transactional order”(Turner, 1974, p. 46). This is supported by Beckett
who asserts that in play “relations are formed through moments of playing in the inbetween”and
during these moments the players are “free of the demands of social exchange”(Beckett 2017,
p. 32). Drawing on Winnicott’s(2005) theory of play as occurring in an “intermediate area”
between our inner and outer reality, Beckett (2017, p. 33) calls this “playing in the third zone”,
where the inner and outer world combine.
Metamorphosis in play
In this research study, children aged 9–10 years were encouraged to play in this third zone by
imagining and acting as if they were animals during a hunting game. The playing of animals
by humans is an ancient practice and is described as being theriomorphic, that is the ascription
of animal characteristics to humans or gods, often found in mythology and religion. Huizinga
(1949) suggests that the “theriomorphic factor”can be best understood through play.
Huizinga (1949), like Turner (1974), uses the practices of tribal cultures to uncover the seriousness
of play. He argues that when we truly play, the division between belief and make-believe breaks
down and play “merges quite naturally with that of holiness”(Huizinga, 1949, p. 25). Huizinga
claims that when tribal peoples dance in animal roles, they are not merely performing, but have
“become the other”as there is a “mystic unity”(1949, p. 25). This resonates with Bone’s(2010)
conceptualisation of play as metamorphosis, suggesting that “change and instability are inherent
in play”(p. 405). Bone (2010) explores play that challenges “human/non-human animal binaries”
and argues that these enactments involve “unfixedness and infolding: both features of the spiri-
tual”(p. 402). Bone (2010) further contends that the metamorphosis enacted in children’s“animal
becomings”allows them to experience and become something more than their ordinary selves.
Turner (1982) similarly states that, despite the importance of play being an autotelic act, that is
playing for the sake of play, its significance is that “we have something to learn in being disorderly”
(p. 28). It is when there is a sense of becoming and “the mood of ‘maybe’,‘might be’,‘could be’and
‘as if’” that “play, in the full ambiguity of the term, may reign”(Turner, 1982, p. 149).
Nevertheless, Deleuze and Parnet (2002, p. 2) explain “to become is never to imitate, nor to ‘do
like’, nor to conform to a model”. The player has not suddenly been transformed into the animal
they are playing, as what “he is becoming changes as much as he does himself”(Deleuze & Parnet
2002). Bone (2010) supports this in her analysis of animal-becomings, claiming that children
become “spiritually with the Other”(p. 408). She explains that this is a “spiritual merging”as
the “differentiation between child and animal does not suddenly disappear”, but is part of the
complexity as the “difference ‘holds’in this process”(Bone, 2010, p. 411). This resonates with
Buber’s(1970) existential “I-Thou”philosophy that argues for dialogue with the “Other”as
the route to authentic existential understanding. Buber (1970) declares that only when people
acknowledge the inter-subjective nature of an experience with another living being are they able
to enter into an I and Thou relationship. However, his dialogic philosophy does not advocate the
4 Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp
loss of self, otherwise the I and Thou dialogue “perishes in the feeling of a unity that does not and
cannot exist”(1970, p. 69). Blenkinsop and Beeman (2010) draw on Buber’s philosophy of dia-
logue to analyse how attending to encounters with other-than-human alterity can teach us about
reciprocity and the fundamental nature of relation. They state that rather than viewing the “other-
than-human-world as backdrop”, educators need to embrace the other-than-human as “a co-
teacher”(Blenkinsop & Beeman, 2010, p. 27). To do this, we need to be in a state of “attentive
receptivity”so that we may “hear the perspectives of our co- teacher”and “feel the possibility of
real difference”(Blenkinsop & Beeman, 2010, p. 28).
Other ways of knowing
Blenkinsop and Beeman (2010) suggest that in this state of being we can make meaning that
“appears to be co-created with an active, present and ‘intending’other”(Blenkinsop &
Beeman, 2010, p. 33). This involves ways of knowing that are more intuitive in contrast to the
logical, rational modes of thinking that dominate educational discourse (Beeman &
Blenkinsop, 2008). Derby (2015) concurs, and calls for new ways of knowing that can counter
the dominant narratives that view the other-than-human as “natural resource”. He declares that
“educating for an ecological imagination”involves prioritising connection to the natural world
“via narrative, place-based activities and learning opportunities that engage bodies, emotions
and imaginative possibilities”(Derby, 2015, p. 46). This could include providing opportunities
for children to “become”other-than-human life and “play with interspecies mimesis”(Derby,
2015, p. 52). Children becoming animals during play involves allowing “metaphor’s capacity
to elicit ontological attention”(Derby, 2015, p. 52) as it provides a way of being that accentuates
an existential awareness (Turner, 1970). Furthermore, this state of being provides an epistemology
that contrasts with “logico-mathematical ways of thinking”(Derby, 2015, p. 31) and knowing. It is
argued that thinking metaphorically and imaginatively has “pedagogical significance”as it evokes
“ontological sensitivity to particularity”or otherness (Derby, 2015, p. 53).
Playing in this way allows children to think and act differently (Wood, 2014). In addition, Brown
(2009) reminds us that “playing is a state of mind rather than an activity”and that when children
play, they are in “the emotional state of play”(p. 60).
This led to the research question:
How could children (aged 9–10) ‘playing’the role of animals, during a hunting game in a
nature reserve, enable them to experience different ways of being and different ways of
understanding their relationship with the world around them?
Despite a lack of research into the impact of children’s play in bio-diverse environments, White
and Stoecklin advocate natural bio-diverse places as play environments for children due to “their
unending diversity; the fact that they are not created by adults; and their feeling of timelessness –
the landscapes, trees, rivers described in fairy tales and myths still exist today”(1998, p. 28).
Shepard (1998) warns of the homogeneity and lack of wilderness in modern play environments
where “everything in sight belongs to me”as even “the buildings, streets, and cultivated fields are
all continuous with my voluntary nervous system, my tamed, controlled self”(Shepard, 1998,
p. 35). As part of the remedy, he proposes that children experience “more strenuous excursions
into the wild world”where they may, “in a limited way, confront the non-human”(Shepard, 1973,
Australian Journal of Environmental Education 5
The playing of a hunting game could arguably be seen to potentially steer children towards a
less caring attitude towards nature due to the roles of “hunter”and “prey”as viewed through
Western-centric optics. However, Shepard (1973) emphasises that for hunter gatherer societies,
all animals are seen as beings of reverence and the “prey”is “universally cherished both for itself
and as a thing of beauty”(p. 153). Cajete (1994) also elucidates how for indigenous cultures “hunt-
ing involves coming to terms with elemental relationships at the physical, social, and spiritual
levels”(Cajete, 1994, p. 58). For all people the nature of “journeying towards completeness”is
revealed in the metaphoric ideal of “the hunter of good heart”(Cajete, 1994, p. 58). This embraces
the firm belief in the interrelatedness of all life as “the hunter represents the community to the
world of animals and spirits; therefore, the community as well as the hunter is judged through his
behaviour”(Cajete, 1994, p. 59). Shepard (1998) also highlights how hunting involves an acute
attentiveness as the hunter does not know what is going to happen and, therefore, “needs to pre-
pare an attention which does not consist in riveting itself on the presumed but consists precisely in
not presuming anything and avoiding inattentiveness”(p. 22).
This study examines children’s lived experiences of a hunting game, where the children imag-
ined that they were animals. The hunting game took place during a visit to a local nature reserve
and some of the children were interviewed when back in school in order to collect data about their
The study employed a qualitative phenomenological design that aimed to interpret the first-
person lived experiences (Dall’Alba, 2010) of children playing a hunting game at a local nature
reserve. Following the game, the data collection involved unstructured interviews with small
groups of children as the intent was “to understand the phenomena in their own terms —to
provide a description of human experience as it is experienced by the person herself”(Bentz
& Shapiro, 1998, p. 96). In this case, the children were purposively chosen as “key informants”
(Nowell & Albrecht, 2019, p. 353) about the phenomenon of interest. The questions during the
interviews were therefore open-ended and led by the children’s responses aiming to “bring out the
originary personal experience”(Patočka, 1998, p. 172).
The hunting game was facilitated by one of the researcher team as part of a series of mindful
activities at a local nature reserve. It consisted of the children of each class being split into
two groups. One group was identified as hyenas (the hunters) and the other group were deer
The following rules of the game aimed to ensure that the game enabled mindful attentiveness,
rather than being played in the spirit of aggressive and loud competition. The deer went and hid
somewhere within a designated area (approximately 150 m by 100 m) of the nature reserve. The
hyena group faced the teacher, closed their eyes and counted to 100 whilst the deer group hid. The
hyenas were not allowed to touch any of the deer and the deer were not allowed to touch any of the
hyenas. Neither group was allowed to communicate using vocal sounds. The aim of the game for
the hyenas was to find the deer. Once they had found any of the deer, they were to close their eyes,
so that the deer could “escape”and hide to allow the game to continue. The aim of the game for the
deer was to stay hidden from the hyena. After all the deer had been found at least once, the two
groups swapped roles to ensure all children had experienced both aspects of the hunt experience to
reflect on later. During this game, the children therefore experienced both being the hunter
(including being active, listening, looking, being aware of their surroundings) and the hunted
(including being still, listening, looking, being aware of their surroundings).
6 Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp
One of the researcher team attended each trip and facilitated each hunting game. Before play-
ing the game, the children were told that hyena and giant deer used to live in the area, but had
become extinct. They were told that archaeologists had found evidence that nearby caves were
once inhabited by hyenas. The children were also told that giant deer lived at the same time
and would have been hunted and eaten by the hyena. The children were told this information,
so that the roles of hyena and deer were understood as being appropriate for their hunting game.
One of the research team also introduced the rules of the game to the children and then, with their
class teachers, monitored their activities to ensure that none of the rules were broken. It is impor-
tant to stress that the children had complete autonomy within the ‘rules’and they could decide
where to go and how to get there. The role presence of one the research team was deliberate to
ensure consistency, but, more importantly, to begin to build a relationship with the children for
The nature reserve location that the children visited is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI)
because of its rare plant life and diversity of floristic and insect communities. The combination
of sand dunes, grasslands and trees meant that there were natural areas ideally suited for the hunt-
ing game as they provided various hiding places.
After gaining informed ethical consent under university protocols, four different classes from four
different primary schools (A, B, C and D) in South Wales took part in the research. The schools
were selected through an opportunity sample of schools who had worked with the research team
on previous projects. In total, 104 children took part in the activities. They were all in school year
5, aged between 9 and 10 years. After the activities, two mixed-gender groups of three children
from each school –a total of 24 children –and each class teacher took part in semi-structured
interviews. This study reports on the interviews from the children only. Each interview was
recorded and transcribed for later analysis.
This analysis involved a rigorous thematic analysis, which aimed to “transform lived experiences
into a textual expression of its essence”(Beck, 2019, p. 75). As such, phenomenological research
“carries a moral force”(van Manen, 1997, p. 12) as it seeks meaning embedded in everyday life.
These meanings “are not always apparent to the participants but can be gleaned from the narra-
tives produced by them”(Lopez & Willis, 2004, p. 728). It is acknowledged, however, that the
“experiential accounts or lived-experience descriptions are never truly identical to the prereflective
lived experiences themselves”as they are inevitably interpretations or “transformations”(van
Manen, 2016, p. 313). It was also accepted that as researchers we come to this analysis with “forest-
ructures of understanding”shaped by our experience (Wojnar & Swanson, 2007, p. 175).
Therefore, it is hard to totally free ourselves of “theoretical and epistemological commitments,
and data are not coded in an epistemological vacuum”(Braun-Clarke, 2006, p. 12). Therefore,
to ensure rigour the inductive analysis followed a process of reflexive thematic analysis. As there
are many different approaches to thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2019), our analysis followed
Nowell et al.’s(2017) approach to ensuring trustworthiness. As such, we began with no pre-
conceived ideas or pre-existing coding frame. Themes were generated (Braun & Clarke, 2019)
through the development of initial codes. This initial generating of codes, facilitated though anal-
ysis software, has been called “eclectic coding”and is described as an “open process”(Salda˜na
2015, p. 5). Some of the responses from the children included descriptions that were not about
Australian Journal of Environmental Education 7
the hunting game and so these were discarded. Only the descriptions that related to the hunting
game were analysed. During this process, we were conscious that that “coding is not a precise
science; it is primarily an interpretive act (Saldana, 2015, p. 5). Searching for links between
the codes enabled the codes to be grouped under larger umbrella headings, or “themes”. The
researchers transferred the codes from the data analysis software onto sheets of paper in order
to be able to visually compare and view the codes and themes more easily. This involved writing
the “name of each code (and a brief description) on a separate piece of paper”enabling the
researcher to “play around with organising them into theme-piles”(Braun & Clarke, 2006,
p. 19). This analysis was an iterative hermeneutic cycle as an act of ‘dwelling’with the minutiae
of data, as “when we stop and linger with something, it secretes its sense and its full significance
becomes ::: amplified”(Wertz, 1985, p. 174). In the next stage, the themes were reviewed. This
included discarding themes if there was not enough data to support them, or the data were too
diverse. Some themes were also grouped together or “collapsed into each other”(Braun & Clarke,
2006, p. 20) as further analysis highlighted close links between them.
To organise the generated themes we used what van Manen (1997) calls “lifeworld existentials”
or “essential themes”, as they are what makes the phenomenon what it is. Put simply, without
those essential themes the phenomenon would not exist (van Manen, 1997). It was important
that this organisation took place after the establishing of the themes to maintain an inductive
Results and analysis
The analysis generated various related themes which are reported under the following headings
based on van Manen (1997):
The results and analysis are presented together, so that the themes’relationships with the rele-
vant theory can be explicitly explored.
All of these themes reflect what van Manen (2016) describes as “body-knowledge, a noncognitive
knowing”(p. 48). This noncognitive knowing is understood and enacted in and through the body
(van Manen, 2016).
One of the main themes expressed consistently in the children’s responses was that the hunt game
was an embodied, multisensory experience. The data show that the children’s experience of play-
ing the hunting game involved a heightened sensory awareness. For example, Pupil 2 (P2) from
School D (D) [P2D] said: “You could hear more stuff :::and you could feel more stuff :::I used
my hearing, because I was hearing D go into the woods, yeah, and he was like in the woods looking
through, and then I heard him stepping on loads of sticks, and then he was breaking them”.
Similarly, P1D said: “when you were outside :::you could feel all the stuff under your feet, it’s
one of your senses, where you don’t know what it is and you don’t what you’re feeling and
it’s just so weird to actually feel what is under your feet”. This is further supported by P6C said:
“When we was (sic) like doing the deer game, basically when me and my friend was like hiding we
8 Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp
hid like in this little trail thing and we was looking at all like the leaves and that. And then
The children were asked if they felt the same sensory experiences would have been felt if they
had played the game in the school grounds. In response, all of the children stated that playing the
game in the school grounds would not have produced the same experience. All of the children
interviewed felt that the hunting game at the nature reserve had enhanced their sensory experi-
ences. For example, P3D said: “It was kind of the sound world. No, it wasn’t the same ::: it was a
different world, because you felt like you’re human but then you feel like, when I was playing the
hunting game, you actually felt like a hyena or deer and you could hear all the sounds around you”.
The sense of an amplified embodied experience, which allows for a greater feeling of relation with
other-than-human life, is what Abram (1996, p. 47) describes when he describes the body as
“a creative shape-shifting entity”, that is the “very means of entering into relation with all things”.
When we are attentive to our “ongoing, animal experience in the midst of this world, then the
flatness dissolves, and the enigmatic depth of the world becomes apparent”(Abram, 2014,
p. 125). This idea of experiencing the enigmatic depth of the world when playing the game at
the nature reserve came through consistently in the children’s responses. For example, P1B com-
pared playing the hunting game in the nature reserve to playing on the school playground but said:
“It was different because we wasn’t even on a flat surface, so we was on bumps and stuff, and I like
being out in the world and in nature”.
Analysis of the children’s responses also revealed that the children had experienced a height-
ened sense of excitement during the hunting game, exemplified by this interview extract:
P3C: “Yeah, I never knew what was going to happen, maybe an animal could jump
out at me or maybe something just amazing was going to happen, like –
Interviewer: Was that a bad thing, then?
P3C: “No, it’s just thrilling, never knowing what is coming next, but if you always
know what is coming next it’s just going to be boring, like a video game; you
play the level all over again, you know what is going to happen, but in nature
you don’t know what is going to happen, like every time is different”.
This unpredictability of the play realm reflects the liminal nature of play (Huizinga, 1949;
Turner, 1974; Wood, 2014). In addition, P4C said: “Well I felt really ::: well I felt terrified –well,
kind of terrified but like scared. And then like happy at the same time because like I don’t want to
get caught because I’m really determined to like, yeah, just not get caught. But then really happy at
the same time because I was just really enjoying it”. Such feelings can be linked to Wood’s(2014)
assertion, as discussed above, that children’s play is able to pivot between feelings of risk and
safety. She contends play safely explores exaggerated “emotional states such as fear, bravery, sor-
row, excitement, happiness”and children enjoy what she calls “emotional hyperventilation”
(Wood, 2014, p27).
Joy and happiness
The children consistently reported that their multisensory experiences had been accompanied by
feelings of joy. For example, P5A said: “I think it feels great, because in school, when you play
football, say if you wanted to slide tackle, you can’t because you’d get muddy and then you’re
not really meant to be muddy, you can’t go down the grass here like there.”Likewise, P3B said:
“So I felt like :::happy, yeah, but because it was all, like, energetic. So :::and I like to use my
energy :::so it was just fun”.
This resonates with Abram’s(1996) assertions, as discussed above, that we “insulate ourselves
from the deepest wellsprings of joy”(p. 58) by shielding ourselves from our corporeal knowings.
When we allow affective bodily experiences in education “all that is rigid and certain melts away”
Australian Journal of Environmental Education 9
and what we are left with is “wonder”(Derby, 2015, p. 4). Derby (2015, p. 30) suggests that “when
teaching remediates the kinship between knowing and life as it is lived and attunes to the polyph-
ony of being, we experience learning and the world as resonant”.
All of these themes reflect how space impacts on the experience of the children whilst playing the
hunting game. This includes how they experience outside space differently from “interiorities”
(van Manen, 2016, p. 304).
Another theme consistently reported was that being away from school and playing the hunting
game had induced an enhanced sense of freedom for the children. For example, P4A said:
“When we were playing the animal game and when we got into the habit of pretending to be
animals, I felt free from being in the school, because in the school, there’s lots of rules and we
can’t do as much stuff. When we went out into there, it felt as if we were just free. We weren’t
in an enclosed space; we could go anywhere.”
This is supported by P5C: “I also felt :::we were free to roam, roam wherever I’d like”.
Likewise, P1B said: I think it’s more free, because there’s more space with not everyone, like,
annoying you.”This sense of ludic freedom instead of “having to do certain things with rules”
relates clearly to Turner’s(1974) claim that the liminal nature of play activities means they
are imbued with liberation. This is because they exist “in a place that is not a place and a time
that is not a time”(Turner, 1974, p. 239). It also concurs with Huizinga’s(1949) analysis of play as
being a “free activity”as it is “consciously outside ordinary life”(p. 13).
This is clearly expressed in this response from P1C who asserted that “I felt like I could do
anything. Like I could jump! ::: and like I felt I could fly!”Such feelings resonate with Bone’s
(2010) assertion that metamorphosis in play engenders a feeling of freedom as normal roles
are transcended. It also coalesces with Turner (1974), who argues that freedom in play is where
the value of the liminal lies, warning against rules or limits that signify “the intrusion of normative
social structure”(Turner, 1974, p. 61).
The children’s responses show that they felt the place they were playing in and the sense of free-
dom allowed for an absorption in the activity of their play. When asked if they felt that the same
sense of freedom could have been achieved by playing the game in the school grounds the children
all agreed that it would not have been the same. For example, P1D said:
“I wasn’t thinking about anything just the game. ::: When you are like in a building or like
you are given hiding spots by people that have put the stuff there, it is just a game of hide and
seek. But when you go out into nature and nature gives you it, you are playing a hunt-
This idea that the absorption in their play had meant that there was an authentic sense of play-
ing is a theme that repeatedly emerges throughout the children’s responses. For example, P2C
said: “So when we were there, it felt like we were actually the animals within ::: if we were
in the classroom, we would just feel like people because we were in a classroom :::but it felt like
::: you are an animal and just you can explore and you can go anywhere, pretty much ::: I really
felt in nature ::: I just feel like I am free and I don’t care about anything anymore.”
10 Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp
This feeling of complete immersion in the seriousness of play supports Huizinga’s declaration
that children’s play proceeds “with the utmost seriousness, with an absorption, a devotion that
passes into rapture’(1949, p. 9). This absorption is as a result of the liminal freedom of play
and also in turn provides further freedom to the one who plays. When asked if the same experi-
ence could have been achieved by playing the game in the school grounds, the children again
consistently reported that it would not have been the same. For example, P2C said: “It feels like
a different world because :::it feels like you have just stepped into a new dimension where all
there is grass, sand and everything natural”.
All of the themes reflect how the children experienced “time”whilst playing the hunting game.
This includes how they experience subjective or “lived time”in comparison to “clock time”(van
Manen, 2016, p. 305).
The children reported that they had felt liberated because of a feeling of timelessness. For example,
“It feels kind of odd because on the daily basis I look at my watch quite a lot because I have a
lot of clubs and stuff, so I have to know when I have to go ::: but when we were trying to
track down the girls, I didn’t really care about time because I had nothing to go anywhere or
Similarly, P1D believed that:
“I wasn’t thinking about the time at all, because it felt like time didn’t matter at all, because
here, pupil two is right, outside, we only have a certain amount of time, so we’re like, hurry
this game of football, hurry doing that. But there, we could just play for as long as we needed,
so I don’t feel like there was any time.”
Links can be made here with Turner’s(1974) liminality and Buber’s“I-Thou”philosophies,
which are positioned as moments “in and out of time”(Turner, 2008, p. 96). The children con-
sistently reported that this sense of timelessness was an enjoyable experience. For example, P1C
said: “It just felt like time froze and it was nothing mattered anymore and you didn’t need any-
thing it just felt ::: it just made me happy, just looking over everything and everyone.”The chil-
dren appeared to have transcended time when playing because their total absorption in the game
and in the present moment. As Buber (2002) explains “the pure present knows no specific con-
sciousness of time”(p. 167).
There was also a consistent response from the children that described them feeling weird and
different in comparison to school for the duration of the game. For example, P3D said:
“When I was playing the hunting game you actually felt like a hyena or a deer, but then when
I came back home, I didn’t feel like that anymore”. Similarly, P3C said: “when I was playing
the game, I felt ::: like I ::: and like I hadn’t come on a trip and I had come with nobody else,
as if I was back in the past and actually living there, way, way back in the past and actually living
there”. When asked if this weirdness was a good or bad experience the children all stated that it
was a good experience. For example, P3B said: “It felt weird :::a good weird”.
Australian Journal of Environmental Education 11
All of these themes reflect how the children experienced “self and others”whilst playing the hunt-
ing game. This includes whether the “other”is experienced as object or as “otherness”(van
Manen, 2016, p. 303).
One of the consistent responses that emerged from the analysis of the data was a sense of togeth-
erness and unity with everyone who was playing the game. For example, P4A:
“Well, when you’re in the school, we just fall out over anything. It’s like people are looking for
a chance to get angry with someone else, but out there, it feels different and you’re not, it
doesn’t, you’re not like ::: it doesn’t matter, whether you trip up, you trip over someone else
or they trip over you, because you’re in nature and something is going to happen, but when
you’re enjoying yourself, it doesn’t really matter.”
The children explained that they felt more together because they felt different during the hunt-
ing game. For example, P4A said: “Because when you’re in school you feel like you just, with
everyone else you don’t feel close and then when you’re out there, you feel different to everyone,
you know that this is like a good thing to do, because you don’t feel the same way as you do in
school, by being ::: you’re a different person”.
This feeling of being ‘other’was also echoed by P1C who said that the whole class was a lot calmer
and that this was because “When we were there, it felt like we were actually the animals within”.
This feeling of difference due to experiencing a sense of “otherness”is also expressed in this inter-
P2D said: “I felt I was the animal; it was because that:::when I’ve said, when I saw the
prey, the deer, yeah, when I saw the prey and the deer, I didn’t, I just kept stalk-
ing it, it was getting ready and getting closer, and closer, and closer, but they
didn’t see me”.
Interviewer: How does that feel?
Pupil 2: It feels like I was a hyena and then I was catching prey, ready.
Pupil 3School D: It felt like you had a different life, so it felt like you weren’t human, you were like
an animal because you’ve had one life and now, you’re in another life
This is view is similarly expressed by Pupil 1 from School C: “Yeah, so when I was there, I just
felt like I was an animal, I didn’t feel like I was a human anymore, I just felt like I was an animal”.
This experience of existential change during the hunting game was repeated throughout the
children’s responses. We can draw parallels here with Buber’s(2002) I-Thou existential philoso-
phy, as examined above, that involves an augmented sense of being leading to an improved or
spiritual sense of relation with others. Buber (2002, p. 37) describes this as “a dynamic facing
of the other, a flowing from Ito Thou”that leads to an enhanced feeling of “community”.
Community with nature
There was a significant pattern in the responses that showed the children had experienced a sense
of community with nature whilst playing. For example, P6B said: So I felt like I was like :::close to
nature, so when I was hiding, yeah, I felt like I was an actual part of nature. Likewise, P5C said:
12 Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp
“well, I did feel like I was part of nature because like it felt like I blended in with like the trees and
the grass and the hills and all the plants”This was echoed by P4A who stated that
“When we were playing the game, it felt like we were part of nature, it wasn’t just like being in
the school and playing a game, it actually felt like we were nature :::and it’s so calm and
peaceful out there that you feel really relaxed.”
This was further explained by P1C said: “Because when you are there, you have like :::
you ::: everything is calm because ::: because you just ::: you are there and you are like bond-
ing with nature.”
This sense of being “in nature”relates clearly to Abram’s contention that when we feel the
sensate depth of the natural environment, we experience ourselves “within the animate landscape”
(2010b, p. 9). It also resonates with Buber & Friedman, 1964) philosophy as he declares that dur-
ing an authentic I-Thou experience one “realizes the unity of the world in the unity of his soul”
(p. 141). The children’s responses suggest a sense of relation or community that can be realised
from a meeting with nature where one can be lifted out of the ‘physical’world and experience “the
spiritual form of natural solidarity of connexion”(Buber, 2010, p. 51).
We can also draw links here with Blenkinsop and Beeman (2010) and Derby (2015) who accen-
tuate “metaphor’s capacity to elicit ontological attention”(Derby, 2015, p. 52). If teaching can be
readjusted to make room for activities that facilitate other states of being, involving metaphorical
and embodied ways of knowing the more-than-human world, then the “other-than-human”can
become a co-teacher and children can experience a “dynamic equilibrium”(Blenkinsop &
Beeman, 2010). Children’s play in general is metaphorical, existing in the imagination, but it does
not always involve empathic attunement with the other-than-human world. The hunting game in
this study engaged the children’s bodies, emotions and imaginations within the natural world and
also involved them in dialogue with the other-than-human. They did not see the more-than-
human world as “it”, but were “bound up in relation”and “seized by the power of exclusiveness”
(Buber, 2010, p. 14). The liminality of their play led to an expanded sense of self.
Whilst playing the hunting game, the children not only recognised the animate being of nature
but they also felt part of it. When specifically asked if playing the hunting game on the playground
in school would have been the same, the children repeatedly said that they would not have felt the
same sense of community with the other-than-human world. For example, P1C explained: “It’s
not the same feeling :::you are there and you are like bonding with nature and then on the play-
ground :::you are like playing with your friends and there is a lot of noise and you are running
around a lot”. Similarly, P4A said: “When you’re in the school there are so many people around
you, and it’s hard because you can’t hear. All you can hear is people shouting and screaming but
when we were there :::the people aren’t like in the school, they won’t disturb you :::some of the
girls aren’t really friends, but when we were playing the game, it felt like our friendships came
closer to each other, as being part of nature”.
The children were also adamant that the experience would have been different if the game had
been played on the school field or any part of the school grounds because they felt that the nature-
rich environment of the nature reserve, being free from urbanity, had allowed for a greater sense of
community with nature. For example, Pupil 1D said: “It feels different because, like, you’re actu-
ally more intact with it and you’re not more, like, fenced off of it”. This is also illustrated by Pupil
2C who revealed: “Like I’m part of it like. Like because everything I can see was nature and it felt
like I was in nature, like I could see everything for the first time”. These responses clearly support
Derby’s(2015, p. 42) assertion that “developing the capacity to think metaphorically”can be “a
means to critically distanciate from ontological presuppositions ::: to come into intimate eco-
poetic attunement with ecological form”. Moreover, this awareness had been reached due to the
metaphorical nature of the children’s play combined with the biodiverse, nature-rich location of
their playing. In addition, they support Blenkinsop and Beeman’s(2010) affirmation that when
Australian Journal of Environmental Education 13
people are allowed to interact with the other-than-human world unencumbered, then nature can
become a teacher providing ontological insight.
At the start of this paper, we posed the research question: How could children (aged 9–10 years)
‘playing’the role of animals in a nature setting enable them to experience different ways of being
and different ways of understanding their relationship with the world around them? The evidence
from the children in this study suggests that playing the hunting game had enabled the children to
experience the alterity of the non-human world. The wide-open expanse of the nature reserve the
lack of urbanity and the biodiversity of the location thathelped to augment the children’s sense of
participation with the more-than-human world. The children’s play provided them with an appar-
ent ingress into the perspective of an “other”animal. In addition, playing the role of an animal had
afforded them with an accentuated, embodied experience that engaged the children with the nat-
ural world and encompassed a sense of joy. In turn, this engagement offered an experience and
insight into the otherness of the more-than-human world through “direct egalitarian interaction”
(Blenkinsop & Beeman, 2010, p. 33).
This moved beyond using nature as a resource or to provide rational and logical understand-
ings. Instead, the epistemological knowings were felt through an ontological disruption (to their
“normal”sense of self and being) that involved an authentic sense of reciprocity and communion
with the natural world and each other. The children’s lived-experiences of playing the hunting
game had resulted in their accessing different ways of being and had apparently given them a
heightened empathic attunement with the more-than-human world. This enhanced insight into
the more-than-human world had been made accessible to the children through the multisensory,
liminal nature, and location, of their play. This provides evidence for the value of play for children
as offering knowings that can be afforded by playing in bio-diverse environments. These expanded
knowings involve feelings of joy and a sense of kinship with nature that could help the children to
cultivate healthy relationships with the other-than-human world. In turn, these healthy relationships
could help to foster healthy attitudes, and behaviours, that ameliorate the gross toxicity that often
characterises people’s current relationship with nature in the modern Western world. Moreover, it
reveals how understanding the more-than-human world as “co-teacher”(Blenkinsop & Beeman,
2010) is a fundamental part of the process, as non-anthropocentric perspectives are crucial if more
empathic attunement with the more-than-human world is to be achieved.
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Cite this article: Adams D and Beauchamp G. Other knowings and experiencing otherness: Children’s perspectives of playing
a hunting game in a nature reserve. Australian Journal of Environmental Education.https://doi.org/10.1017/aee.2021.10
16 Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp