Breaking the ice. I had not really thought about this phrase until I sat down to write this article. It makes sense…
Ice is cold and hard to break, much like the tension and awkward feeling in a room with many strangers who do not know each other.
As a camp counselor or director, it is important to know how to break the ice and get things started. There are the traditional games that help us do this, commonly called icebreakers.
One of my favorite icebreakers is the game called "Switch with me if…" because it allows each person to introduce themselves and have a good time doing so.
This game is played in a big circle (with chairs or some other type of spot marker). One person stands in the center, introduces him or herself and then completes the sentence, "Switch with me if…"
For example, one might say, "Hi, my name is Jeremiah and switch with me… if you've ever been to England."
All those people who have been to England need to get up from their spot and find a new spot (including Jeremiah). The person without a spot or seat is the next person to say their name and complete the phrase.
One of the reasons I enjoy this game is it gives everyone in the group a chance to get to know each other in an informal way. They are playing a game but also learning something about the others in the group. It also gives campers something to start a conversation with.
For example, I could go up to a camper after the game and ask if he or she really had gone to England and what they saw. It is a great way to break the ice!
Another good way to get to know each other in a group is to play the name game. There are various ways to play this game. Each camper has an opportunity to say their name and another word that starts with the same letter of their first name.
For instance, the game could be the "picnic name game". Each person should tell what their name is and what they would bring to the picnic. So, Julie might say that she is bringing Jelly Beans to the picnic.
Or you could even do the "animal name game" with the same directions expect each camper says what animal they are, like Mosquito Mike.
Sometimes, with smaller groups (like cabin groups), you can even have the campers recite the names of the campers before them. For younger crowds, it is often helpful to have a "magic talking stick" to help keep the side conversations to a minimum. The camper or counselor who has the magic talking stick is the only one who is allowed to talk. This helps to teach the campers to have respect for the person who is talking.
In smaller and older groups of campers, introductions are also fun. An extra question can always be attached to introduction.
One camper this past summer came up with a great question, "Describe your day in terms of weather?"
Another question could be, "If you were an animal, what would you be and why?" This question, though, might be more appropriate for younger audiences.
Activities like this allow each person to get to know the others in the group who they will be spending plenty of time with during their camp session.
Producer & Director
For tougher crowds, some suggestions are to assess the age of the crowd. If the campers are younger, work with that age group. Play some fun, off-the-wall games that they will allow them to be silly but still get to know each other.
For older campers, I would suggest just doing introductions and ask some questions. Also, another suggestion would be to give the campers some choices about what they want to do. Tell them they can make a choice between two or three games. This way, the campers will be involved in how their time is spent.
If about half of the people want to play one game and half want to play the other, make a compromise and play both. This leads into the next point -- try not to play one game for too long. Often times, games can get worn out because they are played too often or for too long.
Limit the amount of time playing one game, because the campers might get bored. One last suggestion would be to have a few games/activities prepared just in case the game goes by faster than expected.
Here are some other tips when breaking the ice and getting things started. Try not to ask too many questions if you are doing a simple introduction. Possibly just ask for their name and to answer one other question.
Counselors or directors should try and go first to ease into the discussion. This way, the counselor is setting an example of how the game or introduction should go.
Allow some campers to pass, if they cannot think of an answer, but make sure that you come back to those campers. It really should be important that every camper answer the questions so they do not feel left out and so that the rest of the group has a chance to get to know them.
Since respect is a pillar at many camps, make sure that respect is given to each member of the group. It is a good camp lesson for the campers to learn right away and it's a good life lesson. And last but not least, laughing always helps break the ice!
Usually with campers and children, silly games and activities seem to break the ice best! Good luck!
Christie Enders worked at Camp Al-Gon-Quian on Burt Lake, Mich., this past summer and at Camp Pendalouan in the summer of 2000. She is a junior at Michigan State University, majoring in community relations.