Let's Get Twisted

By Silvana Clark

Every camp has its never-fail programs and traditions that campers enjoy every year. Yet what about those so-so activities we keep doing because we have the supplies and can do the planning in our sleep? Sometimes all programs need is twisted thinking. (Are any twisted-thinking camp staff members reading this?) Simply take a look at your programs and ask, “What can we do to add a “twist” to this activity or program?


The following are a few examples of ways to add new life to tired programs:

Dig Deep
A camp planning a groundbreaking ceremony for new cabins decided to do away with the traditional “men in suits with one foot on a shovel” picture. Instead, the area where the cabins were to be built was plowed up, and the children in the community were invited to dig in the dirt with their Tonka trucks and toys. The result--150 families, lots of dirty kids and a great human-interest story in the newspaper.

A Memorable Woofstock
A day camp always held a “Visit Our Camp” day for perspective families in the spring. Attendance was so-so. One year the decision was made to try twisted thinking and sponsor “Woofstock.” Families were encouraged to bring their dogs to camp and participate in child-dog look-alike contests and competitions for the largest dog, longest tail, most spots, etc. Camp staff led dogs and their owners on the hiking trails around camp, pointing out features, such as the pool and ropes course. Later, everyone gathered around the campfire to sing songs, accompanied by dogs howling and barking. Attendance at this event doubled, resulting in increased camper registration.

Expand The Storytelling Circle
Stories around the campfire are a camp tradition. Give your staff a break and invite local Toastmasters to share stories. Toastmaster groups are located in thousands of communities across the country. Members join to improve their public speaking skills. Many clubs participate in the “Tall Tales” contest where members practice funny and outlandish stories. Your camp is a perfect place for Toastmasters to practice their material. Your campers, in return, hear stories from talented community members.

Hog Heaven
Many camps look to community groups as a resource. 4-H clubs might set up a petting zoo, or a kite-flying club can demonstrate various types of kites. Great ideas but not twisted enough! How about inviting a local Harley Riders club to roar into your camp? Kids love looking at the shiny bikes and hearing the distinctive sound of a Harley. Many campers are surprised to find how many Harley clubs are involved in charity work. Hey! A nursing home told me that the local Harley Club visited its facility, brought T-shirts for all the residents, and even took residents for rides! (That’s twisted thinking beyond playing BINGO.)

Have A Hair-Off
As I travel around the country giving workshops, many camp personnel tell me they are offering special-interest camps to young girls along the themes of dress-up or “Princess-Power.” Naturally this includes time for the girls to put on fancy clothes and add sparkly clips to their hair. Here’s a twisted way to make these types of camps memorable: contact your local beauty college to see if the students are participating in any “Extreme Hair Styling” Contests. These contests require beauticians to create outlandish and extreme hairstyles on models. This includes having themes, such as Christmas, complete with dozens of candy canes and tinsel intertwined in the model’s hair.

Twist The Theme
How about offering some weeks of camp with “twisted” themes? It’s easy to find camps offering crafts, drama and sports. Sometimes parents and kids want something different. This can range from a Job Shadow week where campers shadow professionals in various careers to a camp to learn Mandarin. A forensic camp drew a large enrollment when it was announced campers would dissect real brains. Looking for more twisted ideas? The New York Times recently ran a half-page story about an “Explosives Camp” run by a university. Campers begin by blowing up watermelons and advance to blowing away 20 tons of rock on a hillside. (There’s a shortage of explosives engineers, so the camp hopes to attract students to its explosives engineering program.)

Dancing Decorations
Looking for a way to add interest to your programs and activities? Is your decorating budget on the cheap side? Then go back to school! Throughout the year, keep in contact with high school students in your area. When they plan their proms or homecoming dances, ask for their decorations. The decorating committee usually spends hundreds of dollars on decorations to tie in with the theme of the dance. Afterwards, the cleanup committee wants to get going, so it rips down everything and tosses the banners, streamers and blow-up palm trees. Make sure the committee saves the decorations for you. You’ll have plenty of supplies to add new interest to your programs.

Sing Like A Rock Star
Use twisted thinking the next time you take campers on a field trip. Ahead of time, number the seats on the bus like an airplane, with 1A, 2B, etc. Throughout the bus ride, have raffles where you draw a seat number and announce, “I have a prize for the person sitting in seat 4C!” Attach an extra-long cord to the bus driver’s microphone so it can be passed from person to person. Pop in a Karaoke tape and let campers sing away … keeping their bottoms on the seat for safety, of course.

Card Contest
Most people give cards on Valentine’s Day or Christmas, but what about the Fourth of July? Doesn’t that holiday deserve some Hallmark moments? Sponsor a camp card-making contest between cabins. Instead of paper and markers, give each cabin a 4-foot by 8-foot piece of plywood to decorate. You can use the plywood for other projects, while campers have a twisted time decorating their giant card.

Toilet Bowling
Never forget that twisted thinking also involves toilets. One camp had replaced all the toilets before the summer started. Instead of immediately discarding the old toilets, the camp director saved them to start a new camp tradition … toilet bowling! He set up several bowling “lanes” with toilets at the end. Cabins got bowling bowls and rolled them towards the toilets, hoping to crack them to pieces.

Now that’s twisted thinking!

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at silvanac@msn.com