Archive for Programs/Activities

Activity Idea: Run the Bases

This is another favorite game in our camp. Most people have played this game before, but I’ll explain it anyway.

  • You start by choosing two trees, poles, or any two objects to be the ends (bases).
  • Then choose two people (campers or counselors) to be the enders. These people stand at the two bases and throw the ball to each other. They try to get the runners out.
  • Depending on the rules, runners may run whenever they wish or there is countdown to when everyone runs at the same time.
  • You get out if an ender hits you with the ball (either by throwing the ball or tagging you with it, depending on your rules).
  • The winner is the only person to not get out.
  • You cannot get out if you’re touching one of the bases.
  • Often, the enders will trick the camper runners (and some counselor runners) by pretending to throw the ball, but really holding on to it. Then when the runners leave the base, the ender can get them out easily.
  • In return, runners often distract the enders by not touching the base. When the ender goes to get that person out, everyone else runs to the other base. This is a popular strategy for campers in our camp.

Activity Idea: GaGa

Anyone play this at their camp? At our camp it’s the most popular activity! The kids always love playing it. For those who don’t know about ga ga, here’s a summary:

  • Ga ga is played in a six-sided wooden-court with wooden walls.
  • Everyone is inside the court, along with a ball.
  • You can only hit the ball with your hand.
  • You can’t stop the ball. If you do, you’re out.
  • If the ball hits your legs you’re out.
  • If you hit the ball twice without someone else hitting it (or without it hitting a wall) you’re out. This is called a double hit.
  • Counselors have final say if a camper got out or not.
  • Often, if more than one bunk is playing, the game will turn into a bunk vs. bunk game. In our camp there are also boys vs. girls games as well as kids vs. counselors games.
  • You win by being the only person to not get out.

Activity Idea: First Day of Camp Icebreaker

On the first day of camp, we always do an icebreaker with the kids in our bunk so they learn each other’s names and our names as well. Here’s what we do:

  1. First you have to get all the kids together in a circle, all at a table, etc.
  2. Then we (the counselors) introduce ourselves and our rank in the bunk (senior counselor, junior counselor, CIT, etc.). We then go around to each of the kids and have them tell us each of our names.
  3. Now we have each of the kids say their names.
  4. After each kid has said their name, we have each kid say everyone else’s names. If they get one wrong we have the kid whose name they had to say repeat their name. Then they continue saying the rest of the kids’ names.
  5. Once everyone knows everyone else’s names, we have each of the kids tell us their favorite activity at camp (the counselors do this too). If this is a camper’s first summer at camp, we ask them what their favorite thing to do is.
  6. If you really want to challenge your campers, you can repeat step 4, but this time have the campers say everyone else’s name and their favorite activity. Consider offering a prize to anyone who can get everyone’s names and favorite activities correct!
  7. Finally, we tell the kids to be sure to talk with everyone else in the bunk.

That’s the method we use during the first day of camp to get the kids to know each other a bit better.

Activity Idea: Color Wars

Many longer session camps and some shorter session ones, sleepaway or day, have a version of color war or olympics…and some of you might want to try to start a color war for your camp. Ours has so much tradition and spirit in it. It’s really emotional when a PC chief gets up on a chair to make a goodbye speech to the camp at the end of the war, thanking everyone who made the war special for her and her friends, or when a counselor chief gets up on the chair and talks about making her dream of the team she’s been dreaming of since she was in the youngest age group as a camper a reality. Another special thing is seeing a girl in the youngest age group wearing a blue or grey shirt that she wrote “let’s go blue/grey!” on and cheering at an activity using her counselor chief’s megaphone. Not to mention seeing the teams at sing on the last night, singing the songs so passionately that they’ve worked so hard to learn for 4 days. Nothing compares, in my opinion. Here’s how color war at my camp works, hopefully you can follow it:

AUGUST 1ST CHEERING- Color war is spoken about all summer at my camp, and the color war songs from previous years are sung in the mess hall all summer, but the official buildup for the war begins on August 1st. That is when the oldest girls at camp (the PC’s) start the camp in cheering for the war at a meal.(1,2,3,4, we want color war, 5,6,7,8, we don’t wanna wait, plus other cheers that our camp specifically has). To the rest of the camp it is a secret surprise as to how and at which meal the PC’s will cheer. The cheering on the 1st is only for 1 meal, to get the idea of the war in everyone’s heads. After that, it is stopped for a few days until the war gets closer.

TAPPING- Also around August 1st is when the counselors that are going to be “in” the war as counselor chiefs, assistant chiefs, keymen, and artists for the scenery are “tapped,” or told in secret by the director of their position in the war. The campers do not know that this is happening. After those counselors have all been tapped (1 chief, 1 asst., 3 keymen, and 1 artist for each team) there is a meeting for them with the director after lights out that night, where the chiefs reveal the themes they have chosen for their teams to the other counselors in the war, (example Blue Nickelodeon and Grey Toy Story, Blue Under the Sea and Grey Explorers, or Blue Africa and Grey Wonderland). It is then the job of the artists to begin planning the scenery to go along with the theme to decorate the walls of the mess hall and social hall. It is the job of the chiefs to order their team t-shirts for themselves, the assts, keymen, artists, camper chiefs, etc.

MUSIC- After the tapping meeting, each counselor chief meets w/our piano director to discuss the songs they will write their color war songs to for sing on the last night of the war. Alumni who have been counselor chiefs before also talk to the chiefs and help them pick and write songs. Each chief has to write a march, new alma mater, and cheer, plus choose an old alma mater from a previous color war.

SCENERY PAINTING- To make the scenery process less difficult for the artists, each night after taps until the war the counselor chiefs, assts., and keymen go to the paint shack under the mess hall to help the artists paint the scenery. The campers don’t know about this, it’s another secret…obviously, since they don’t know who the involved counselors are! The people “in” the war have to make sure to talk to their co-counselors and their groupheads to get someone to cover for them. the campers usually think they’re just on a night out. They usually don’t get back until like 3 AM or later.

CHOOSING THE PC CHIEFS- Sometime in the beginning of August, before the war, a lot of thought by the director with help from the PC grouphead and counselors goes into choosing which PC’s will be the camper chiefs of each team. The PC chiefs are chosen based on leadership, kindness, and behavior throughout the summer and the ones before that. The PC chiefs do not find out they are chief until the war breaks. Each team has 1 chief and 2 asst. chiefs. It is a huge deal and a huge honor to be chosen to be chief or assistant, and girls get so nervous about it!

MAKING THE COLOR WAR SHEETS- Once it has been decided who the camper chiefs are, the director must make the color war sheets, the list of who (including every counselor) is on each team to “appear” when the war breaks. Each grouphead is in charge of making their teams, balancing athleticism and strong personalities. Once each grouphead has made their teams, they get together to switch people around so that all sisters are on the same team. On the PC list, the chiefs and assts. are the 1st names. It’s harder than it sounds! A lot of thought goes into it, it takes a few days to get it straight.

CHEERING- The cheering a few days after August 1st is the “real” color war cheering, cheering, starting the same way including many of the same cheers. The difference is that it continues at every meal until the war breaks.

THE BREAK- This is the start of the war. It can be as simple as placing the color war sheets on each camper’s bed while they are at a meal so when they get back they just see them, or as complicated as hiring a celebrity to throw out the sheets or having them dropped from an airplane. Be creative with this, it can be almost anything. The most important part is the 3 booms from a small cannon that make it official. When the war breaks, everyone finds out what team they are on, the themes, and who are the counselors and PC’s in charge of their teams. There is a lot of hugging and crying, especially the PC’s, those who are chief and those who aren’t, because PC color war is just so special to them and they’ve waited for it forever.

OPENING CEREMONIES- Where the director officially begins the war by introducing the people in charge to the camp and reminding everyone that although we will be divided into Blue and Grey for the next 4 days, we are still a family, and we respect and help each other, regardless of teams, just like always.

MESS HALL SCENERY HANGING- All of the counselors in charge of the teams meet after taps to hang the new scenery up and decorate the mess hall.

THE 4 DAYS OF THE WAR- In the mornings during color war, each age group is separately playing their own color war activities, which are the sports, 2 activities per morning. You can pretty much pick any sports for the kids to play. An official color war judge is at each activity and reports scores once the morning is over. After the morning activities each team meets for a song rehearsal where they learn and practice the songs that the chiefs have written for sing. After lunch, there is a whole camp color war activity. For example a track meet one day and a swim meet another day. After that, there is another song rehearsal. after dinner each night, the PC’s play some of their color war games in front of the whole camp, one night is basketball, another is volleyball, etc. The last afternoon of the war is spent entirely with song rehearsal for both teams.

SILENT MEALS AND INSPECTION- During color war, the campers don’t eat with their bunks as usual; they eat at assigned tables within their teams, made once the color war sheets are made. Each table has a couple of kids from the team in each age group and 1 or 2 counselors. The counselor and PC chiefs, assistants, and keymen on each team eat together, 1 table for each team, at the front of the room. Meals are silent, talking results in the judges deducting points from the talking team. The only speaking is at the end of the meal when one of the people in charge from each team gets up to make a speech. At the beginning of the war they’re pump-up speeches, and at the end they’re sentimental, thanking everyone for a great war and talking about how much color war means to them. After the speeches there is lots of cheering, and then the scores from the morning/afternoon/evening are read, followed by the dismissal of each team separately. Also, during the war, bunk inspections are for points. 1 team cleans the inside and 1 cleans the porch and grounds (it switches off every inspection) and the judges come around and deduct points from the team that didn’t do their jobs.

SING- Finally, after all of the planning and practicing it’s time for sing on the 4th night of color war. Each team performs their 4 songs and are judged on them. The marches are first and they are sung twice: once in a formation in the middle of the social hall and once w/the teams on the benches. Songs are “led,” (which basically means conducted w/hand movements), as follows: march-PC chief, new alma mater- one of the PC assts, old alma mater-counselor chief, cheer-other PC asst. At the end of sing the sing scores and final scores for the war are read, and everyone runs into the center of the social hall hugging and crying, it’s a really emotional and bittersweet night, because when the war is over camp ends 2 days later.

There are many other little traditions in our war too. I want to hear about everyone else’s color war! If you have an explanation similar to mine (but probably shorter) share it with us! Also if you have any great color war stories. I do but I’ll wait to share them.

The Camp Lover’s Guide to Perfect Programming

So you’re having some problems planning a successful program? Well you’ve come to the right place. Here is a complete guide to planning and facilitating programs. Included are the eight major phases to planning the perfect program, some random tips, and a list of some great activities. if you follow the phases step by step you shouldn’t have too many problems. Remember that some programs require more planning than others so you might be able to skip steps for some programs. The longer you use this 8 phase method the more natural it will come. You will find yourself avoiding the unexpected by planning ahead. Best of luck and feel free to leave questions or comments below.

Phase 1: The Brainstorm

Wait, what? You don’t have an idea? That’s alright, it’s not that hard. Review previous calendars and schedules, think about what programs have been successful in the past and if you’d like to repeat them, speak to program directors, friends, even ask the campers what activities they like. If you’re looking to make up a program that’s never been done before try opening up the yellow pages or the dictionary- take a few businesses or words, mush them together and create something new. Just remember, phase 1 is all about brainstorming! You might think of some truly amazing things or some terrible things, but write it all down because brainstorming is not about getting it right the first time, it’s about getting the process started.

Phase 2: The Vision

Once you are past brainstorming you may think you have an incredible idea, but you have a few things to consider. First of all, what you see in your mind, is not always what comes out of your mouth. Write down a rough idea of how you would like the event to go. After you read what you wrote you might realize something is missing, if that happens consider going back to Phase 1.

Another important thing to consider is who is your target audience? You may be planning an incredible program, but if it is geared toward teens and your campers are seven, you are probably headed in the wrong direction. Along the same lines it is so important to consider what is appropriate. This means on movie night, don’t show a Barney video to 16 year olds and don’t show a gory action film to nine year old girls. The main thing to focus on in phase 2 is getting your idea on paper and making a rough schedule of the activity.

Phase 3: The Approval

Unless you get nervous around authority (which is a possibility, and ok – so maybe that’s something you might want to work on!) this is a fairly painless step. If your camp requires you to get approval for programs take your plan to the appropriate person and make sure that you are able to explain it clearly. If they think changes should be made, don’t be disappointed because 9 times out of 10 they are usually right. Make sure to be professional; if they are impressed by your presentation and demeanor, you might find yourself getting rewarded with more opportunities to plan or facilitate programs!

Phase 4: The Schedule

This phase is small but important. Chances are if you are a counselor planning a program someone higher up has already given you the date and time of your activity. If you are in a program director or unit leader position, you have a few things to consider in terms of scheduling.

Some things to think about might include: Is this a water event right after a water event? Is this a land event right after a land event? Is this a highly active event right after a meal? Do you need to include time for the campers to prepare? Will you have your full staff or partial staff that day? Is this program coed, will that make a difference in the outcome? Is this an activity that can be facilitated at any time of day, or on a rainy day? These questions obviously do not apply to everyone or every event; however the time of day/week you place your event can make a difference in the outcome.

Phase 5: The Planning

This is 7.5 on the treadmill after a slow walk around the track. It is time to literally sweat out the details. This phase is divided into 5 subgroups. They are all equally important so make sure you consider each of them.

    1. Play-by-play – Make a tentative schedule. Example:

      7:00 – Campers arrive, allow time for noise, it will happen.
      7:05 – Explain activity.
      7:10 – Divide into groups. Ashley leads group 1, Daniel leads group 2, Tiffany leads group 3, Michael leads group 4.

7:15 – Begin activity
And so on…
  1. Timing- This subgroup goes hand in hand with phase 4. The big thing about this is making sure you have enough time to do everything you want to do. If you don’t the only option is to cut parts of the program down. Remember quality over quantity. You may have 5 events planned for a 1 hour activity period but if they all suck because it is so rushed no one is going to be happy. If you switch from 5 events to 3 and really focus on those to make them fun you might find your program more successful. And remember what you don’t do now, you can probably do another time.
  2. Location/transportation – If you are going to be on camp, make sure you block out the location for your event. You wouldn’t want to get there and find that someone else is already playing red rover when you had a really cool obstacle course planned. Think about if that space will be big enough for everyone and if you are splitting up where everyone will go.

    Just important as the actual activity is the before and after. Do you need to prepare the space before the campers get there? If so make sure you have time to do this before the kids get there. You wouldn’t want them waiting outside while you are hiding clues for a scavenger hunt. And even more important than before is obviously after. You can have a flawless activity and all the campers love it but if you don’t clean up your mess chances are someone will get onto you. Leave the location cleaner than when you got there; it will make you look good too!

    If this activity is off your camp property make sure the place you are going knows you’re coming. Purchase tickets ahead of time. Allow extra time for travel. Be kind to your host location if you plan to return someday. If you need a bus make sure you have that lined up. And so so important- make sure you have all your kids.. but you knew that!

  3. Supplies/budget – You should consider making a list of things you need to purchase or bring. You might want to put what everything you need is for just so you don’t forget. Don’t write it on a napkin- you might accidentally throw it away with your frappachino. A higher-up might want to see your list of supplies; if you are responsible for turning it in, make sure you get it to them on time so your supplies will be available on time. Also consider that some items may need to be purchased. Check to find out if your camp will pay you back for your purchases. If they will, keep your receipts and don’t go over their set budget. Don’t buy things you already have and if it belongs to a different area of camp or another counselor, make sure you ask before you take!
  4. Assistance – If you need assistance leading, make sure you know who is helping you lead the event and it is always nice to tell them ahead of time- they’ll thank you for it. Make sure you can be articulate in explaining to those helping you their specific responsibilities. If you are obsessive compulsive, then make them a checklist. Also if you want to invite any visitors your program such as the camp director, please remember they have busy schedules so invite them far enough in advance that they can easily work it into their schedule.

Phase 6: The Hype

Surprisingly, at summer camps the staff frequently forgets to market their program once the kids get there! Getting everyone there is only half the job. You don’t need a full-on advertising campaign for every evening program but sometimes it is nice to have your staff participate in a skit or to announce the activity instead of just saying “Hey yall, today we’re uh, um, going to do Clue, so see you at 3:00 in the reck hall, or something.”

For activities that are really special think about sending out themed invitations, or keep your kids guessing. Start announcing Friday’s activity on Monday by giving clues to what it might be. Let the kids guess but never tell them if they are right. Let the hype getting bigger everyday until it actually happens. Something I have noticed over and over is that if you are positive the kids will be positive, if you are negative the kids will be negative. Even if you’re worried that your program blows, look happy and excited and have your counselors tell the kids the activity is going to be awesome. After it’s over if it really did bomb make sure your staff says to your campers “I had a lot of fun at that program, my favorite part was ___. What was yours?” If the kids didn’t like the activity at least it will give them a chance to think “wow, maybe it really wasn’t that bad” or “hey that was so funny when ___.”

Phase 7: The Prep

If you have preparations you need to make for the actual event make sure to get there ahead of time. If there are things you need to bring, make sure you have them so you don’t have to run back to your cabin on the other side of camp at the last minute. Have everything set up before your kids arrive; don’t keep them waiting because they can get restless at any age.

Phase 8: The Execution

What left is there to say? You’ve made it! You planned an excellent program; now carry it out! If you feel prepared and confident, your campers will have fun! Don’t forget to breathe. And when it’s over be sure to take note whether they liked it or not. If they did-,put it on the schedule for next session. It will save you some planning time!

Other Tips

  • If food is involved, make sure you turn in your camp’s request forms on time (if they have them). Also consider if the food is appropriate. You wouldn’t want to use pork chops during a program at a kosher camp. Remember, some kids might have allergies so don’t smear peanut butter all over a kids face unless you are totally sure they aren’t allergic. There is also the social issue of wasting food involved when you include food. If you are eating that is ok, but think about if you have a moral problem with wasting that food. If you don’t, someone else might.
  • You don’t have to plan this alone. A good sign of a leader is the ability to use appropriate delegation.
  • Don’t forget: This is not school! The kids are there to have fun. Sure, activities can be educational. But if the kids are sitting and listening while a guest speaking talks about different kinds of rocks, they are probably not going to be so happy when it’s over.
  • If a child is having a behavior problem during the activity and acting out — every camp has their own procedures for this — don’t let those children ruin the activity for you or the campers. If they are truly a distraction, don’t be afraid to take action.
  • Keep calm and don’t forget to breathe!
  • It’s a good idea to plan your events 1 to 2 weeks ahead of time to allow for problems to pop up.
  • If this program is not rainy day appropriate, make sure to have a back up plan. You don’t want your children sitting in the cabins listening to their iPods the period after rest hour because it’s raining and the pool party got rained out.
  • Decide ahead of time if you want to do an ice breaker or not. If you do, make sure you plan for it as needed.
  • When breaking campers up into groups, think ahead. Do you want them by cabin? Can they choose their own groups? Who does and does not get along? Are you trying to get your campers to meet new people?
  • Plan for the worst: expect problems. If you run a completely flawless program once or twice in a session you are above average! Just remember anything can happen and sometimes what your people will take from your program won’t even cross their mind. Don’t be disappointed, just learn from it.
  • Remember that if you’re not planning/facilitating the program to be respectful of the person that is — they might be nervous.

Activities Ideas

  • Campfires with song sessions and banana boats
  • Bahama Mama
  • Sumo Wrestling
  • Messy Scavenger Hunt
  • Luau/Pool Party
  • Pictionary
  • Improv Games
  • Sardines (group hide and seek)
  • Movie Night
  • Jeopardy
  • Songfest
  • Gold Rush
  • Paint Tag
  • Slip N Slide
  • Clue
  • Tie Dying
  • Themed Socials
  • How well do you know your counselor?
  • Camp trivia games
  • 80s Airband
  • Double Dare
  • Capture the Flag
  • Carnival
  • Apache Relay
  • Messy Twister
  • Obstacle Course
  • Kangaroo Court
  • Dutch Auction
  • Casino Night
  • Messy Counselor
  • Counselor Hunt
  • Coffee House/Talent Show
  • Haunted House
  • Special out of camp trips (depends on your camp’s location)