35 Creative Programming Ideas for 2009

The results are in and the ideas are plentiful! We invited readers to submit their most creative programming ideas to find out what keeps their camp ticking. After the submissions came pouring in, we knew we had several gems to share with Camp Business readers. Take a look and see if there’s anything you can use to spice up the upcoming camp season and thanks to everyone who participated!


A Feeding Frenzy

One program that occurs each year at many camps goes by several names: Color War, Mass Program, All-Camp Extravaganza. The challenge is, “How do we make it better than last year?” An out-of-the-ordinary idea we’re using at Camp Seneca Lake in Rochester, N.Y., is the Staff Super-Special Secret Supper. Campers love it, and they remember it as one of their most exciting meals at camp! Here’s how we do it:

Long before the actual event, staff members are asked to sign up for one of six (or more) food booths. The goal is to work together (after hours or even during pre-camp) to devise a clever theme and delivery method for each of the foods served at this special dinner. Staff members use papier-mâché, chicken wire, pieces of wood, kayaks and anything useful around camp. Incidentally, the process builds staff morale, real cooperation among different levels of staff who do not usually work together, and even keeps them in camp after hours.

Please remember, bigger is better! Some of these food booths reach 10 feet or higher. And, most of all, the final product must remain a total secret and kept out of sight until the actual event. The campers don’t know what is coming, but they decide early on that it has to be exciting thanks to the huge, colorful signs each group hangs in the dining hall. Some years the food groups write songs to advertise their booths a couple of days before the big event.

Here are a few examples:

Tom, Greta, Diana, Joey and four others chose to serve corn-on-the-cob. After brainstorming, they built a covered wagon with a giant arrow (over 10 feet in length) through it. Campers would take a raw ear of corn, pin their name on it, and drop it into the tail of the arrow (of course, they had to climb halfway up a stepladder to reach it). Then they would run over to the other end of the wagon, hold out their plate at the tip of the arrow, and a cooked ear of corn came out about 10 seconds later (of course, with their name pinned to it). It was called Colonel Cobb’s Corn Contraption.

A second group chose to serve lemonade that campers milked into their cups from a giant cow. They called it Lem-Mooo-nade. A third group served hamburgers, or actually “Puff Burgers” on Puff the Magic Dragon’s tongue as it moved in and out of Puff’s head. The head was made of covered chicken wire in front of a gigantic backdrop of Puff’s body. Puff roared, and smoke spurted from his mouth (a CO2 extinguisher providing the smoke).

One of the best I remember was the Cookie Coaster Chocolate Chip Trip, in which campers actually rode in on a small homemade airplane attached to steel cables across a small lawn (zip-line style) and into the mouth of a giant Cookie Monster, where they were presented with cookies.

The ideas are endless and result from the creativity of the staff. Naturally, each group tries to make the best booth, but the overall result is so extraordinary that campers can’t believe their eyes (and tummies).

What else do we serve? We’ve served watermelon, brownies, hot dogs, nuggets (instant Gold Rush theme), pizza, bags of popcorn or peanuts, even lollipops. The emphasis at this meal is having fun more than eating healthy, as you can guess from these examples.

The only downside to this activity is that it requires a lot of craft supplies, some minor expense for special items the group cannot live without, and much tempera paint, but it is well worth the investment. Contact me for more details. The kids will love it!

--John Golden

Camp Seneca Lake

Rochester, N.Y.

jgolden@jccrochester.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

For The Campfire

S’more Tips

Camp Marengo loves campfires and all that come with them, from songs to s'mores to skits and more! Our songs involve lots of motion intended to make everyone look ridiculous. How else can you look with songs titled "Let Me See Your Funky Chicken" and "Bananas of the World, Unite"? We act like valley girls and cockroaches then jump around like giant pop corn. It is so much fun!

When it comes to s'mores, Camp Marengo is creative. When 200 campers want s'mores, we have to be efficient, so we combine the graham cracker and chocolate, and just use fudge-striped cookies. Roast the marshmallow, slap it between two fudge-striped cookies and “ta-da”--you have a delicious snack that is easier and faster to put together and at a reduced cost.

Besides being goofy and making snacks, campfires are great for sharing. As we wind down, the campers are invited to share personal testimonies, thank you’s, shout outs, or whatever is in their hearts and minds. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear about their lives, challenges and changes.

And finally, our summer staff always sends the kids off with a song. “You Gotta Keep On Shining” is a tribute to past staff, and we gather together and sing “You gotta keep on shining, though it sometimes seems in vain. You gotta keep on shining like a candle in the rain.”

--Melyssa Trussel

Camp Marengo

Marengo, Ohio

A Personal Debate

One thing we do and also my personal favorite is group discussions. We pick a serious topic involving our children or our community, and the first night after dinner around 8:00 p.m., we all sit around the campfire, and starting with the youngest all the way to the oldest, we discuss that specific topic and what we can do to better the situation.

For example, some of our past topics have been:

1. Father and son relationships and our roles

2. Leadership and what it takes to be a leader

3. Honesty--practicing to becoming completely honest

4. Leaving doors open for others, helping your fellow man.

--John A. Skinner

Mechanical Engineer

Summit Consultants, Inc.

Fort Worth, Texas

Human “Board Games”

You Sunk My Battleship!

Our Leaders in Training (LITs) create a new evening activity each year. Three summers ago, the all-camp activity was Water Balloon Battleship, and campers have loved to participate in it ever since. They hang black plastic about 6 feet high down the middle of a sports field.

Camper-sized grids are placed on the ground with string so that each camper can stand in a separate box. Five 5’ x 5’ boxes are on each side so all 10 cabins can play at the same time. The campers are lined up in battle groups of three, four or five--like the ships in the board game in their cabin grid. The idea is the same--trying to eliminate the other side’s ships/campers, but by splashing them with water balloons. The opposing sides cannot see each other’s grid so on a specific count, everyone throws their water balloon over, with the sides taking turns. One is eliminated by catching or touching a water balloon, or the balloon hitting inside a square. Everyone has to pay attention, and campers make some crazy "matrix" moves not to get hit by the balloon. Once a team is eliminated, it waits for the other teams to finish and then everyone on one side of the tarp rotates to the left, giving them the opportunity to play another round with a different opponent. We usually play three to four rounds, depending on the number of balloons and the daylight available. The LITs spend about a week prepping about 3,500 water balloons for game night.

The Rules

Every camper and cabin leader need to be inside their grid square and cannot move out of it once the game has started. One side of the tarp throws balloons, and once it is done throwing, the opposite side gets to throw. Teams take turns until one team is eliminated. When throwing the water balloon, a camper must throw from where he or she is standing in the square on the grid. A camper needs to dodge the balloon without moving from the square in the grid. Balloons are thrown on a count from the leader. After a round is over, pieces of the balloons are thrown in the trash. Another round begins.

Set-Up Requirements

30 water balloons per camper (10 water balloons per round)

10 5-gallon buckets to hold the balloons in front of cabin grids and as many containers to hold the number of balloons needed (We use clean trash cans, ice chests and anything else that can hold water and balloons.)

Plastic tarps and lots of string

12 LITs lead the activity, making sure each cabin has balloons and trash buckets nearby. (We end up using the 5-gallon water balloon buckets, and keeping everyone engaged.)


Get wet! Have fun!

--Lesa Ward, Camp Director

YMCA Camp Indian Springs

Crawfordville, Fla.



Readers likely are familiar with the board game Stratego. Imagine the same game, but with the whole camp as the “board” and 160 or so campers as the “pieces.”

Select two staff members to be the “generals,” each maintaining a “base”/flag at opposite ends of the camp. The campers are split into two teams--red and blue--and then further divided into groups of four to six. Each group is a game piece, and all are required to hold onto a Frisbee and “move” through the camp together. On the underside of the Frisbee is the piece's value (number or “spy” or “bomb”). The rules are as in Statego: When any “piece” comes in contact with an opposing team's piece, they each flip over their Frisbees, and the lower number “wins” and is allowed to proceed toward the other team's goal/flag. The higher number piece returns to the base for a replacement number/role.

Imagine groups of kids roaming the camp, holding onto a Frisbee, having “mini” battles by simply flipping over the Frisbees. We put a number of staff in the role of “referee,” and for a while the game goes smoothly, so smoothly that neither team is able to capture the other's flag. In other words, the game seems well-balanced.

Then the generals become creative. Frisbees show up with zeros, then negative numbers, then very, very large negative numbers, and finally negative infinity and even God! Thankfully, by the time this anarchy erupts, it is getting dark and time to shuffle the campers off to their cabins.

--Sherman Horton

YMCA Camp Coniston

Grantham, N.H.

Camper 1972 - 76

CIT 19'77

Staff 1979 - 85

CIT Director 1984 - 85


Build Your Own Boat

One of our most successful rainy-day activities this summer was building boats out of cardboard. Each group used one large refrigerator box, eight large garbage bags and one roll of duct tape. This was a great team-building activity, and our campers had a blast! We did this on a rainy day because we have an indoor pool, but this could easily be done in an outdoor pool or pond. Once the boats were finished, each group raced them. The races were awesome, and all of the campers were really involved in cheering their team on. We were fortunate that the boats survived and each camper was able to have a turn.

--Sara Perna

Fort Meigs YMCA Day Camp

Perrysburg, Ohio

Cross The Line

Space requirement: Enough for two lines of people

Time: five minutes

Equipment needed: none

Activity description: Divide the group in half with everyone facing a person of about the same size. The object of the game is to get the other person to cross an imaginary line between them. They can use their hands, they can use their words, but they only have ten seconds. Then they are asked how many crossed the line, and several hands will go up. Then they are asked how many pairs simply switched places, and both “win.” This is followed by a talk about how there doesn’t need to be losers to have winners and that the most successful people in the exercise used compromise to achieve their goal. They are asked to find other opportunities in working with team members in the future to have a win-win experience.

--John Beitner

Tumbleweed Day Camp

Los Angeles, Calif.

Keep Up The Good Work

Space requirement: Large

Time requirement: 20 minutes

Equipment needed: Beach ball or recycle-o-ball (a ball made from a plastic grocery bag filled with wadded-up newspaper)

Activity description: The group sets a goal of how many times it can hit the ball up, and then tries to accomplish that goal.

Special considerations for activity leader: Add a challenge by doing the activity one-handed, with the non-dominant hand, hands and feet, etc. Debrief the campers with questions about how it feels to work together, who shows leadership, etc.

--John Beitner

Tumbleweed Day Camp

Los Angeles, Calif.

Steal The Sticks

It is not new to us, but it continues to be the most popular field game by far for 10- to 15-year-olds at our church camp.


· Four, five or six teams of equal numbers and a way of clearly distinguishing team members (pinnies)

· A large Hula-Hoop per team

· 30 to 50 “sticks” per team (we have sticks that are manufactured into smooth pieces of wood, approximately 6 inches long and 1.5 inches wide)

· Lime lines or rope lines to divide the field into four, five or six equal wedges (one area per team)


To “steal” sticks from the other teams while defending (retaining) your own sticks


· Each team has an equal number of players.

· Each team begins with an equal number of sticks (housed in their Hula-Hoop) located about 30 feet from the center point of the game (where all segments touch).

· In defending the sticks, a team‘s “guards” (or defenders) must be at least 5 feet away from the hoop most of the time.

· An attacker is successful if a foot or any body part is inside the hoop before being tagged by a guard. The attacker then picks out a stick and has free passage home to his/her segment, and the stick is then dropped into his/her hoop.

· If tagged before getting to the hoop, the attacker is deemed as caught, and has to lie down in a line with afoot inside the hoop. Attackers from that team can free their teammate by tagging him/her before being caught. If caught, they join the line of caught people (each team has its own line). If successful, both teammates gain free passage home.

The game can be played to a certain time limit, until the excitement wears off, exhaustion sets in, or the recreation period ends.

A whistle blows to end the game, all players return to their segment, and sticks are counted. The team with the highest total is declared the winner.

There is a role for almost everyone in this game--more agile or faster players can be attackers, while less-aggressive players can be defenders. If a player gets tired, he/she can focus on defense for awhile, or he/she can be “caught” and get a brief rest while waiting to be rescued.

When introducing the game to “new” players, we explain it generally, play it for five minutes, and stop. During the stop phase, we reset the sticks back to equal, free all those who have been caught, and then answer questions or restate some missed or ignored rules. Then we restart the activity.

--Bob Howell

Disciples of Christ Christian Church

Nova Scotia, Canada

On The Hunt

One of my favorites was a group scavenger hunt for a large-group energizer early in a team-building program:

Divide the large group into smaller groups of four to 10.

The group decides the order of who will run scavenger hunt items to the middle.

The game leader calls out things the group has and an individual runs to the middle.

For example:

“I need three right shoes.”

“I need a belt, a jacket and something red.”

“I need some coins, a Motorola cell phone and a pen.”

Do as many rounds as time, fun and materials allow. You can add other items that are close at hand, such as an adult, a basketball, two pine cones, etc.

--Greg Friese, MS, NREMT-P, WEMT

President, Emergency Preparedness Systems LLC

Plover, Wis.


River Way Ranch Camp has a particularly favorite camp song that has been part of our closing campfire tradition for the last 30 years. Called The Tree Song (The Green Grass Grows), it was first introduced to River Way by Nancy Oken, our Vice President of Camping, who used to sing it with her Girl Scouts. Over the years the song has evolved into something rather unique.

In summer 1996, Oken suffered an asthma attack and was unable to lead. In a moment of mischief, the song leader passed the responsibility to a young British counselor who she knew to be a rather reluctant singer. In mischief of his own, the counselor decided to introduce the song by bellowing the verses from the top of his lungs. The whole camp threw their all into it and bellowed every verse back. Since then it has become tradition to sing the song as loudly as possible at every closing campfire, with even the most timid singer joining in.

Each year campers--family campers especially--come back asking for the Tree Song. They wait all week in anticipation knowing that the song usually leaves the song leader (who now whenever possible is British) with no voice for the next few days. The campers love it so much because everyone joins in and for a moment they are all one voice, all singing, and all smiling.

The Tree Song (The Green Grass Grows)

There was a tree

The prettiest tree

That you ever did see!


And the tree was in a hole

And the hole was in the ground

And the green grass grew all around, all around,

And the green grass grew all around!


And on that tree

There was a branch

The prettiest branch

That you ever did see!


And the branch was on the tree

And the tree was in the hole

And the hole was in the ground

And the green grass grew all around, all around

And the green grass grew all around! Hey!

...add on twig, nest, egg, bird, feather, flea (say Flea in a high pitch)!


Tree: arms up in the air

Branch: hold one arm out as a branch

Twig: hold up your finger

Nest: cup your hands

Egg: make a fist

Bird: thumbs interlaced, palms towards yourself, fingers acting like wings

Feather: Arms together, drawn in so that your elbows are at your stomach and your hands at your head, while standing on one leg with your other knee bent, touching your elbows

Flea: Hold your arm out straight with your little finger raised

Jerry Reid

Camp Director

River Way Ranch Camp

Sanger, Calif.

YMCA Chant

Leader: They’s A Open Door

Kids: You’re Right

Leader: Since 1844

Kids: You’re Right

Leader: The Building of our Youth

Kids: You’re Right

Leader: For Character and Truth

Kids: You’re Right

Leader: Sound off

Kids: Y … M

Leader: Once Again!

Kids: C … A

Leaders: Break it on down

Kids: Y.M.C.A … Y … M C … A!





Bo-Doe-Ska-Deeten-Daten - Wha-Daten-Chu


It-skiddly-Oaten-Doten - Bo-Doe-Ska-Deeten-Daten - Wha-Daten-Chu


Oaten-Doten-Little-Boaten - It-skiddly-Oaten-Doten - Bo-Doe-Ska-Deeten-Daten - Wha-Daten-Chu


Itten-Mitten-Little-Kitten - Oaten-Doten-Little-Boaten - It-skiddly-Oaten-Doten - Bo-Doe-Ska-Deeten-Daten - Wha-Daten-Chu


Y-M-C-A What-daten-Chu HUH


--Brandon Winecoff , Youth, Teen and Day Camp Director

Henderson County Family YMCA

Hendersonville, N.C.


Mafia (A Sit-Down Circle Game)

Everyone sits in a circle, and one person is designated to lead the game. The leader instructs everyone to put their heads down (eyes closed, no peeking). The leader then walks around the circle. If the leader taps you on the head once, then you are one of the designated mafia. Depending on the size of the group, you can choose more or fewer mafia. In a group of about 15, three mafia might be chosen. If you get two taps on the head, you are the governor (there is only one governor). Everyone else is a civilian.

The object of the game is for the civilians and the governor (the governor is on the civilians’ side) to eliminate the mafia before the mafia can eliminate the civilians.

Once the head-tapping is done, the leader will ask only the mafia to put their heads up. This allows them to see the others so that they do not eliminate their own kind.

The leader also will ask the governor only to put his/her head up to ensure there is only one governor.

After this, the leader will ask everyone to put their heads down, and then heads up. The leader then takes accusations from the group about who they think the mafia are. Anyone can make an accusation by raising his/her hand. If chosen for an accusation, he or she will say who they think are the mafia and why they believe this. Usually, three different accusations are taken from three different people. (Example: I think Julie is mafia, because when the leader said “Heads up for mafia,” I think I heard her moving around.) The mafia is also allowed to accuse people--this will make them look less suspicious.

*As the game progresses, you can take two accusations because there will be fewer people in the game.

After the three accusations have been made, the accused will have their chance to defend themselves. (Example: Julie: I’m really not mafia, I just had to shake my leg because there was a mosquito biting it--that’s really what you heard.)

After the defenses are given, the group will vote to see who will be eliminated. The person with the most votes is eliminated. That person must reveal his/her true identity (mafia, civilian or governor), and then sit and watch as the rest of the game unfolds.

The same process repeats, except this time the mafia have a chance to eliminate someone. So everyone puts their heads down. The leader calls “Only mafia heads up,” and then they will all point to someone and agree on whom to eliminate, then put their heads down.

Once the mafia put their heads down, the governor will be called upon to put his or her head up. He/she is allowed to point to someone. The leader will tell the governor if that person is or is not mafia. The governor should not reveal to the citizens that he/she is the governor because then the mafia will immediately eliminate that person. During the accusation/voting process, the governor should be very vocal if he/she knows for a fact that someone is/ is not the mafia.

Once everyone puts their heads up, the leader can make up a story about how the mafia eliminated someone. That person is out, and the accusations begin again.

The game continues this way, with the mafia eliminating someone each time, the governor taking a guess, the leader taking accusations, the accused giving their defenses, and the voting to see who is out.

--Owen Fraser, Director

Camp Centennial,

Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada


One of my personal favorites is actually not very new, but by its nature is a new activity every time--skit-in-a-bag, where eight to 12 random items are put into a bag or box, and campers are divided into small groups (six to eight works well). The rules are simple: campers are given a short time (10-15 minutes) to prepare a skit using all the items in the bag--including the bag. Items might be the same, but you get better variety if there are different props.

You can require a theme (or not). This year, we put a sticky note on a page in our camp songbook, and the skit had to include a song from the page (in our version, every group had a different page, but it could work that everyone had to use the same).

--Lorrie Loughney

Camp Lackawanna

Tunkhannock, Pa.


One camper hides, and other campers search for the hidden one. When a player finds him/her, the searcher joins in hiding from everyone else. Continue the game, packing all finders into the hiding spot like sardines until the last camper finds the hiding spot. If playing outside, two campers should hide together, and everyone should search in pairs.

--Brandon Winecoff , Youth, Teen and Day Camp Director

Henderson County Family YMCA

Hendersonville, N.C.

Commando Green

This has to be played in a fairly open area with lots of places to hide. Hiders need to be within sight distance of a focal point, so boundaries are usually used.

Two campers are the Commandos. The rest of the campers are rogues. The Commandos close their eyes and give the rogues 30 seconds to one minute to hide. After the time is up, the Commandos can only move 360 degrees in the same spot. Then they search for the rogues. If they spot a rogue, they will call him/her by name or by the color of the shirt, shoes or the location where they spot the rogue (e.g., if two rogues are hiding behind a tree near a bathroom, a Commando will call “Pink shoes behind the large tree near the bathrooms”). After they spot all they can and not everyone has been found, they will scream “COMMANDO GREEN,” and the remaining players run to the Commandos. The first two that reach “base” become Commandos for the next round.

--Brandon Winecoff , Youth, Teen and Day Camp Director

Henderson County Family YMCA

Hendersonville, N.C.

Pretty, Pretty Princess

In this game, there is a princess--usually a counselor--that is dressed in a paper hat with a scepter, and a wizard (another counselor) dressed in proper attire. The campers are dragons and knights.

On a field/gym/tennis court (wherever you have a fairly open space), spread soccer balls, basketballs, cones, Koosh balls, Gator balls, kids’ shoes, hats and whatever else ALL over the field. These objects magically become keys. One of the keys will free the princess from her cell. Also on the field are the campers, who are dragons. The dragons are trying to tag the knights to freeze them (our dragons breathe ice so no one gets hurt). The knights collect one key at a time and take it to the wizard. The wizard will tell them if the object is a key or if it is not a key. If it is a key, they have to traverse the field of dragons again and try to make it to the princess. They will then present the key to the princess if they make it without being tagged. The princess will tell them if it’s the correct key. If it is, they win. If tagged by a dragon, they are frozen and have to be tagged, or their legs must be crawled through to become unfrozen. The wizard and princess need to be on opposite sides of the field.

--Brandon Winecoff , Youth, Teen and Day Camp Director

Henderson County Family YMCA

Hendersonville, N.C.

Capture The Ball

Similar to Capture the Flag, participants take a ball over the line and score a point instead of a flag. There is a jail as well. There also is a safety zone around the ball. Once you land in the safety zone, you are safe. In Capture the Flag, we were finding that only the top athletes were able to both capture the flag and bring it back over the line. With the safety zone, more children are able to participate.

Another difference is that campers can throw the ball, and if a teammate catches or brings the ball over the line, the team scores. So many kids in the safety zone decide to throw the ball. This changes the game to one of greater teamwork as opposed to one where the fastest athletes dominate the game. It is particularly successful because younger kids participate as much as older kids.

--Lony Ruhmann

Camp Med

South Pasadena, Calif.

Capture The Counselor or Capture the Camper

This is a variation of hide-and-seek, where counselors hide, and campers find them to score points for their team. Counselors are assigned varying points depending on their number of years at the camp, or the

Bryan BuchkoComment