Whether you work in a big camp or small camp, junior camp or teen camp, day camp or overnight camp, family camp or children’s camp, everyone knows one of the keys to success is great youth camp activities. Activities make camp exciting; they are the focus of the competitive spirit. If you want your campers to leave camp already craving their next camp experience, you need to be sure to put some effort into creating and playing great activities.
If you have ever spent any time at a camp than you have probably witnessed some great activities and the positive way that a great activity can change the whole tempo of the camp; on the flip side you have probably also witnessed weak activities that frustrate campers and staff alike. The question is how do we get every activity to be a good activity? I hope to answer that question for you. This article will not be able to take an in-depth look at specific camp activities but it will provide some basic principles that when applied to your youth camp activities will have the power to turn weak or average activities into great activities!
Ah… yes, every Camp Director’s favorite topic! The truth is that safety is vital to the success of an activity. If people get seriously injured than the activity is working against the goal of your camp as a whole. I’ll never forget one of the first summers I spent working on the program side of camp when I saw a girl junior camper accidentally run into a metal pole and break her jaw. The rest of her week of camp she had a wire holding her mouth closed. This was obviously not a great experience for her and it really affected her time at camp, as well as her cabin mates and counselors. So safety is a key factor in having a great activity. Every activity you plan should have a safety plan. For some activities it might be as simple as planning to have a member of your health center staff in attendance and for other activities you may need to have special equipment, elaborate practice or training meetings. Your safety plan should take into account every possible consideration and you should make sure that your equipment is up to snuff. It may have been fine the last time you used it but usage creates wear and tear and before each use it should be checked. I recently had a camper who had to go to the Emergency room and get some stitches because a piece of protective padding had fallen off and had left some metal exposed. So double check your equipment and have a safety plan.
Depending on your personality or the personality of your program leader, organization will either be the strongest part of your youth camp activities or its weakest part. If your goal is to have great activities than organization needs to be your strongest part. Nobody enjoys being a part of a poorly organized event or activity. You can have the best idea in the world for an activity, but if it is poorly organized and people don’t know the rules, or are confused about what they are supposed to do, then it will not be a great activity. Take the time to write the rules down; run them by some of your other staff and get their opinion on whether or not they make sense. Make sure that you have an environment that allows for your campers to clearly understand your voice when you’re explaining the activity. Another thing that will help in this area is to instruct your counselors or staff a head of time on the rules and expectations. That way, even if your vocal instructions at the time of the activity are hard to understand, your counselors or staff can help fill in the missing pieces. Another very important aspect in organization is to always have a plan B. If a piece of equipment breaks, or a giant rain storm suddenly erupts, you should have a prearranged back-up plan that has been previously communicated to your staff as this will cut down on the confusion in such an event.
Duh, right. This one goes without saying, but before you skip this paragraph, hear me out. A camp activity shouldn’t be something that can be played in gym class or recreated in someone’s backyard. I am constantly reminding my staff of this point. At one point this past summer I decided to check on an activity and much to my surprise, I found the campers playing a regular old game of dodge ball. In talking with my team after the activity was over, I found their original activity had started to die down so they filled in the remaining time by playing dodge ball. I am sure that when I started in with one of my favorite speeches about how dodge ball is common game that is played at church, school or gym they had the speech memorized. I reminded them that at camp we play ‘camp’ games and they are always bigger and better then games campers play at home. Now, I exaggerate a little but the point is that I want campers to think “Where in the world did they come up with this?” not “Oh yeah, I know this game.” It’s not bad to start with a familiar game like dodge ball or volleyball and then create something more creative from there, just don’t be content to leave it at that beginning level.
This one can be the most difficult, but it is equally important in running great activities. Remember that not all your campers are cut from the same cloth, some come from athletic backgrounds, some come from intellectual backgrounds, and some are not sure what background they are from, but regardless it is important when planning your camp activities to diversify, in order to try and get as many campers involved as possible. There are a couple of great ways to do this. First, play different style games throughout the week. For example on Monday you can plan to play a game with lots of athletic activity, and on Tuesday you can plan a game that involves more strategy and creativity, and on Friday play a game that relies heavily on teamwork. In designing your schedule this way you will meet the needs of everyone at your camp. While they might not enjoy every activity to the same degree, they will really enjoy at least one, and that will leave them wanting more. This next strategy is even better but it is more difficult to implement. This strategy is to create your activities in a way that inside of each activity there are different roles that meet different needs. One part of the activity might require your athletic kids to participate, while another part will really rely on the creative strategy oriented kids. Perhaps some of the team will get wet, or muddy, while others can stay dry and clean. Regardless, I think you get the point; you want to create activities that will reach more than just one type of kid. The hard part for me, coming from an athletic background, is to create a game that includes the non-athletic kids that is why I like to bring in as many different types of people as I can to help me design a new activity, this ensures that I have thought through as many angles as possible.
I hope you have found these four keys helpful, and I wish you the best of luck in creating and playing your youth camp activities. If you have any questions or would like more specific examples feel free to email me at [email protected]