Spice Up Programming

Editor's Note: 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!


Ahoy, Maties!

Special event days add a lot of zest to our two-week program and keep campers engaged. Every two-week session, we have one day that is totally different from the rest of camp. Each session it’s different and a secret from the campers until the day arrives. This summer the favorite was Pirate Day and included pirates overtaking camp from across the lake at breakfast and kidnapping the senior staff and forcing us to walk the plank!

Rhiannon Baker

Wildwood Program Coordinator

Mass Audubon

Lincoln, Mass.

Camp Treasure Hunt

Throughout their time at camp, campers have to find clues leading them to the “Treasure of Jasper Springs.”

We decorated an old cabin using small boxes that were made to look antique and hollow books in which to hide things (both found at a local craft/hobby store.) We printed old pictures, framed them, and placed them in the cabin. We also wrote letters with hidden clues and “antiqued” them using coffee. All of the cabin décor had the potential to hide a clue. We even had an old clock set at a certain time, which became the combination for a lock on a treasure chest.

After a workshop on invisible ink, we showed campers an invisible message that appeared on one of Jasper's letters. We held a separate workshop on codes and another on orienteering. The campers used their new-found skills to find coded messages that Jasper left behind.

The campers eventually put all their clues together to find a box that contained a set of maps. Each group got a map to a specific location. The campers found the treasure, a mason jar full of geodes (found on Oriental Trading Company Web site), and each camper got to take home a geode “treasure.” Two of the locations had an additional treasure of a large “diamond” (glass paper weight, cut to look like a large diamond--also found at hobby/craft store). I've never seen the campers so excited! Finding clues throughout the camp session really kept the momentum and excitement going. And, it had some great teambuilding results.

Shannon Caldwell

4-H Camping Coordinator

Little Rock, Ark.

Technology-Enhanced Treasure Hunt

One of the newer, less traditional activities we added to our programming is a version of geocaching. We have several courses where GPS units are preloaded with coordinates and campers search for their destination. For instance, one course uses traditional caches (or hidden treasure boxes) and another takes campers to interpretive signs at different habitats where they have to answer questions for a scavenger hunt type worksheet as they go. It is a great way to combine technology with exploring the outdoors. Campers like the adventure and it promotes a healthy activity (hiking) while learning about the natural environment.

Paul Denowski

Executive Director

YMCA Camp Wapsie

Coggon, Iowa

Teaching Healthy Choices

Grow Smart Summer Camp is for youngsters 7 to 12 years old who have been diagnosed overweight or obese. Participants are referred by healthcare professionals. The camp runs three days a week for six weeks.

The focus of the camp is to emphasize exercise and nutrition as well as build self-esteem in a fun, positive, nurturing environment. The goal is to provide at-risk youngsters and their families with the necessary tools and information to make healthy choices aimed at reducing the risk of long-term health problems. Grow Smart Summer Camp is not a “fat camp” with weigh-ins or weight loss as its primary goal. Instead, the camp provides education and the tools necessary for parents and their children to make critical lifestyle choices and changes.

The components of Grow Smart Summer Camp are:

• Answer the questions--What are calories? Why do I need to care about sugar, salt and carbohydrates? Why do they matter?

• Tummy Diaries--What are kids eating? Tracking what goes through the lips and over the gums.

• Fitness Fun in activities known and new.

• Just Talkin’--Sessions with trained professionals to identify negative image messages and open up a dialogue about food, eating and the role they play in our lives--the good, the bad and the yummy.

• All Hands In the Kitchen!--Hands-on cooking demonstrations using healthy alternatives.

• Hi-Hygiene--Exercises in good hygiene and how it contributes to self-esteem

• Artful Play--Expressing concepts of food and nutrition through art and theatre improvisations

• Out of the Frying Pan--Straight talk and education for moms, dads and the entire family.

Bert Elizabeth Ijams

City of Yuma Parks and Recreation Department

Yuma, Ariz.

Sign-Language Dinner

During sign-language dinner, nobody is allowed to speak. Everyone must use sign language.

Before the meal begins teach some basic sign language outside before the campers go into the dining hall. Also, place laminated cards on each table, or at each table setting, that shows campers and staff how to sign the alphabet as well as some helpful signs for dining like please, pass, fork, spoon, knife, napkin, yummy, drink, more, etc.

You do not have to have someone on staff that knows sign language. Simply look on the internet or get a sign language book to find the words to add to the dining list.

Curt Jackson

Recreation Pros


Stepping Stones

As a relatively young camp (we are entering our tenth summer), creating traditions is a big part of developing a sense of ownership and belonging in our camp. One of the coolest and most unique traditions is our Stepping Stones project.

Campers are asked to send in small recyclable plastic or glass scraps like bottle tops, broken toys, random beads or marbles, broken tiles, unusable electronic equipment—just about anything. Campers then sketch a design for their bunk and lay out the scraps that they will use to create their design. Utilizing one side of a large pizza box placed in a wooden frame for support, cement mix is poured, and while it is fresh, the campers transfer their unique bunk creation. Images typically reflect back to the bunk’s name, and an identification tile with the bunk and year are added upon completion.

Once the cement is completely dry, a shallow hole is excavated, leveling sand is placed in the hole, and then the fresh stepping stone is added, creating a unique and memorable path that campers travel throughout the summer. In the ensuing summers, it is common to see campers searching for their bunk’s stepping stone, reminiscing about their role in the project and what a great summer they had experienced.

Scott Lantzman


Gesher Summer Camp

Livingston, NJ

Art In Nature

Walk around camp and you’ll see that nature provides a number of materials you can use to create art--rocks, leaves, pine cones, pine needles, snow and more. There is a wonderful artist named Andy Goldsworthy who is an “environmental sculptor.” He uses the natural surroundings to create art pieces. His projects are determined by the season and what nature provides for him.

During this program kids create their own art by using natural materials they find in the surrounding areas. It’s a wonderful program that’s easy to run, especially if you are located in the mountains.

Sample Program Outline

Use the pictures from one of Andy Goldsworthy’s books. His book is the only item you will need for this program, which makes this program very affordable to run. So why not get a couple of his books. Cut out your favorite pictures and laminate them.

Sit the kids in a circle and take out the photos. Talk about the beauty of nature and the materials it provides for us to make our own creations. Then talk about Andy Goldsworthy as you pass his pictures around. Let the group know that the group will be walking to a special area where they will get to create their own environmental art. During the walk nobody should be talking. They should only be thinking about what their project is going to be.

Once the group is in the location you have selected ahead of time, break them into groups of 2 or 3 participants. Give them 15 minutes to create. When 15 minutes have passed have each group present their art projects to the others.

Additional Suggestions

Take photos of the art projects. You can use them to inspire future groups or post them on a board for everyone to admire.

Materials Required

Andy Goldsworthy book(s)

A digital camera (optional)

Curt Jackson

Recreation Pros

Pet Rocks

The three-part program includes:

1. Finding a pet rock.

2. Decorating it.

3. Presenting a sales pitch.

Sample Program Outline

Part 1: Adoption

First take your group on a hike to find the perfect pet rock. This is an important process for the owner of a pet rock. The kids won’t want to adopt just any rock. If you feel this will take too long then collect a few buckets of rocks ahead of time.

Part 2: Decoration

At the crafts area let the kids draw, paint and glue. Campers will want to paint faces and glue eyes onto their pet rocks. If time permits, consider letting the kids build houses or yards for their pet rocks using Popsicle sticks or whatever else the imagination can come up with.

Part 3: The Pitch

The older camper will have fun with this part of the program. Make it part of an evening program.

Let each of them come up with a 15- to 30-second sales pitch to present in front of the rest of the group. Tell the kids to pretend they’re at a pet auction and the audience is there to adopt. Their job is to convince them to adopt their pet rock. The things the campers come up with are very funny. You can also break them into teams of three or four. The team chooses one of their pets and presents a sales pitch as a group.

At the end of the program the campers take the pets home and “care” for them.

Curt Jackson

Recreation Pros

Sewing For Small Hands

Invite campers to participate in knitting, crocheting, kumi-himo (japanese braiding) or finger knitting. These activities are for bringing a group together or to settle them down and encourage them talk to one another as they craft. If you are too intimidated to try it on your own, bring in a specialist or partner with other camps for the a day, a week or the entire summer. Among the benefits:

• Better eye-hand coordination

• The non-competitive nature of the activity

• Open communication among the group

• Self-confidence and pride.

If you don't have a budget to buy all the supplies necessary to bring a full-blown needle-arts program to your camp, a few skeins of yarn are enough to keep a group entertained for hours with finger knitting or braiding. Do a Google search for any of those terms to find demonstration videos that your counselors can watch, learn and then teach. We also have a website www.MyHandworkStudio.com that has "how to videos" and project ideas for your campers.

Laura Kelly

Owner, The Handwork Studio, LLC.

Narberth, Penn.

Curly Caterpillar


• Empty oatmeal box (cylinder shaped)

• Glue

• Pre-cut strips of colorful strips of felt (adults do this in advance as only really good sewing scissors work on the felt)

• Pre-cut shapes of two eyes and a mouth

• Pipe cleaners

How To Make It

1. Glue the strips of felt around the oatmeal box so that it is completely covered

2. Glue the eyes and mouth to the bottom of the oatmeal box

3. Use a pencil or other sharp object to punch two holes in the "top" of the oatmeal box (when it is vertical) just behind the eyes that were glued to the bottom of the box (young children will need help with this step)

4. Insert a pipe cleaner into the punched holes to make antennae for this caterpillar

5. Wind the pipe cleaners (which are now sticking out from the box) around a pencil so that they curl

Carolyn Darch

Carolyn Darch Ministries, Inc.


Gaga Ball

Gaga is a form of dodge ball played on a six-sided court (2 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches) with boards approximately 24 inches high. Played with a softball-size playground ball (or one of any size for that matter), participants hit the ball with an open hand (like a volleyball-type hit). If the ball strikes anyone from the knee down, the person hit with the ball is out. If someone hits it out of the court, that person is out.

It has replaced Four Square as “the game” at camp. It is fast-moving, has a quick turnover, and campers don’t have to be super athletes to play.

An inside version of it can be played by using six tables for the “walls” in a gym or even a dining hall. When you hear about it or look at pictures of it, you think it can’t be that great, but just let your kids try it once you will have trouble getting them to stop--I guarantee it.

Ken Keener

Director of Recruitment

Camp Conquest

A Variation Of Human Foosball

We put a new twist on Human Foosball that was much cheaper and easier to set up. We used two different colors of sidewalk chalk and drew lines across the basketball court. Each cabin group picked a line and stood on it. They held hands and could not let go or leave the line to get the ball. We put orange cones below the basketball hoops for goals. To score, they had to get the Nerf soccer ball between the cones and under the basketball hoop. We had them switch lines every so often to give players a chance at another part of the game.

To do this:

Start with one color in front of the hoop and then make every other line a different color (be sure to end in front of the other hoop with the opposite color). Draw as many lines as you have cabins or teams. As the game continues add another ball or two for more fun. It’s a great hit!

David E. Lewis

Acting Camp Director

Cedine Bible Camp

Spring City, Tenn.

Spice Up The Zip Line

Does your camp have a zip line? Are return campers getting bored with it?

Take a Hula-hoop and place it on the ground, under the zip line about midway, or closer to the end.

Tell campers/participants that anyone who tosses/drops the Hacky Sack into the Hula-hoop while zipping down wins a camp store buck (or bragging rights). The Hacky Sack, however, must stay in the hoop and not roll out.

To take it a step further, (during team or cabin competitions), get a tarp and some spray paint and make a huge target on the tarp. Each ring of the target is worth more points the closer it gets to the bull’s-eye. Then have the participants toss/drop the Hacky Sack on the target.

Curt Jackson

Recreation Pros


Sifting Through Owl Pellets

The kids in our Outdoor Adventures camp love to dissect owl pellets and find out whose owl had the most to eat based on skull count. You can purchase the pellets online and even get kits to help you through the activity if you are new to using owl pellets. This activity is educational, but fun and works great with the 8-and-up age groups. Campers think it's "gross, but pretty cool" and often want to take the bones home to show their parents and siblings.

Denice Neal

Outdoor Adventures Camp

Coppell, Texas

Lost-And-Found Fashion Show

Do you collect so many lost-and-found items that the camp could open up its own thrift store? At the end of each camp session, host a lost-and-found fashion show. The staff models the lost goods down the runway as music blares from the sound system. Campers are more likely to claim their items after they were featured in the fashion show than they would if their only option was to dig through piles of other rejects. Plus, it’s a fun way to end camp!

Jessica Lippe

Central Point, Ore.

Random Acts Of Kindness

Over the past several years, one of the programs we’ve developed to help campers expand their own vision of themselves and their role in the world is Random Acts of Kindness (RAK). The intention is to have campers work together as a team to brainstorm, create, and execute an activity that expresses appreciation to another group of people at camp.

RAK takes an endless variety of forms:

• Serenading the kitchen crew as thanks for delicious food

• A spontaneous dance party that travels through camp to get everyone up and celebrating the day

• Delivering handmade thank-you cards to the medical team for providing outstanding care

• Festively decorating other campers cabins around camp

• Making a road sign for camp so families know exactly where to turn off for The Painted Turtle

• Setting all dining hall tables at mealtime for the entire camp.

While technically not “random” by nature –every cabin is assigned a RAK period on the camp schedule--the objective of this program is to set aside time for campers to carry out selfless ways to brighten someone’s day. Camp counselors are well-versed on the resources around camp and to empower campers to actualize their ideas. In addition to good cheer, the program instills one of the most powerful aspects of camp--a community of friendship, care, and fun--and encourages them to remember what a difference one small act of kindness can make in another person’s day.

Blake Maher

Executive Camp Director

The Painted Turtle

Lake Hughes, Calif.


Let’s Make A Deal

Game shows make great evening activities. Setting up a game show like “Let’s Make a Deal” doesn’t require a big set with huge prizes and kids dressing up in banana suits, but it does take some planning.

Here’s what to do:

1. A few days before, go to the Dollar Store and get 10 to 20 prizes. You can get some pretty neat toys and stuffed animals for $1 each.

2. Go to a party store and get some small party prizes that are around 20 cents each. You may have some party favors left over from your last Oriental Trading order.

3. Put together different sizes and types of containers:

- Decorated shoe boxes

- Decorated shipping boxes

- A cash box

- A sombrero to hide a prize underneath

- A cylinder container

- Envelopes

- A large manila envelope

4. Write out which boxes and prizes to use for each round (i.e., green shoebox with stuffed animal vs. cash box that is empty). This way you’ll know where the prizes are and are not.

5. Before the game show begins, set up two tables--one as a working table that will hold the containers until you’re ready to use them the other as the show table where contestants will choose a container. If possible put a fun, colorful table cloth on it.

6. Wear funny hats or wigs (campers always get a kick out of silly camp staff).

7. Have all the campers sit down (they’ll be standing with excitement once things get started).

8. Explain the rules and how it all works.

9. Begin with one staff member calling out for an item (Who can show me a red pen?). The first to come up with a red pen will get one of the small party prizes. After a few of these are given out, a contestant should be chosen in the same manner (Who can show me a Nike shoe?).

10. Once the contestant is selected, have another staff member take over.

11. Find out the student’s name (Jack) and have the crowd say “Hello, Jack!”

12. Now give the contestant a chance to win a prize. “Jack, I have here a green box. Now in this green box, there is either a prize for you or nothing at all. Here I have a cash box. The same holds true for this box, either there is a prize for you or nothing at all. Which box would you like?” After Jack chooses a box, the host tries to buy the box back by offering the contestant a couple of the little 20-cent prizes. Not too many kids will go for that. If someone chooses the empty box, give him or her one of the small prizes as a consolation gift.

13. After the contestant is finished, have the other staff member go back to asking the crowd for items and giving out the small prizes.

14. While this is happening, get the next containers on the show table.

15. Continue until you are out of prizes or time runs out.

Curt Jackson

Recreation Pros