From Pop Culture To Camp Culture

By Georgianna Schrader Starz

Where else but at camp can one dress up as a favorite character and become part of an amazing event or story in a caring and safe environment? These types of activities and the use of one’s imagination are important parts of childhood, critical to development, which may often become lost in the hustle of modern times.

The contemporary world is immersed in screens of all types: iPods, laptops, tablets, computers, TVs, phones, and even cinema. One bonus of attending camp is being “unplugged,” leaving the world of mass media behind for a while ... a rarity these days. Most staff members try to accomplish this unplugged version of life in programs that encourage campers to form face-to-face relationships with their cabinmates and counselors. Many parents still look for a camp environment that introduces their son or daughter to the natural world, and a place where they can develop self-confidence, awareness, and honest friendships.

But since technology has become such an important part of pop culture, it should not be ignored entirely. In fact, incorporating some pop-culture themes (near and dear to the hearts of camp-age youngsters) into programming offers the potential to create positive, intentional outcomes. Our staff’s weekend committee—spearheaded by the program director—designs and implements several Sunday afternoon all-camp activities based on popular reality-TV series and movies. Not only are these special activities fun, exciting, and extremely successful, but they reinforce skills that kids will use in the future at home, in high school and college, and in the working world.

Among the benefits:

  • Support each other to accomplish a goal or challenge.
  • Develop problem-solving skills.
  • Exert a willingness to take a controlled risk.
  • Emerge as a leader among peers.

Incorporating popular themes into programming can grab campers’ attention.

Harry Potter
Bring Harry Potter and all of the characters in J.K. Rowling’s popular books and movies to life, complete with the Sorting Hat, which assigns campers to individual houses/teams for a special day. Decorate the dining hall with white Christmas lights similar to the candles and stars of the Great Hall, and encourage campers and staff members to dress up as their favorite characters. Entertain campers by disguising counselors as Hogwart’s faculty and wizards. Include field games such as broom races, the invisible cloak race, and the camp version of Quidditch.

When reality-television shows became popular, the Eco-Challenge entertained viewers from 1995 to 2002. The multi-day, expedition-length adventure race had teams competing to reach a specific destination. Take this concept and mold it into a Sunday-afternoon special event that involves small teams of campers led by counselors-in-training. Make use of various camping skills while engaging teams in challenges such as trust walks, tent pitching, wall climbing, fire building, canoeing, and portaging. This encourages leadership among peers and develops problem-solving skills by campers working together toward a goal.

Amazing Race
Create teams of campers with leadership-program personnel as captains. Give clues to each team that will lead them to a country/destination on the camp property. Once the destination is reached, give campers information on an activity related to that country that must be completed as a team. Challenges may include a Wimbledon tennis relay, a Scottish wellie boot toss or a Scottish dance, a Tour de France bike race, South African necklace beading, an Australian kangaroo gunny-sack relay, a Mexican World Cup soccer relay, or a Jamaican drumming limbo, to name a few. It is wonderful to be able to involve international staffers while sharing information and activities about their countries. Lastly, have each team participate in the World Flag Challenge, in which they must correctly identify the flags from each country before they hold hands and cross the finish line together as a team. This activity is educational, active, and fun—all rolled into one!

Summer Olympics
Many camps hold mini-Olympic Games to acknowledge this inspiring global competition held every four years. If the camp Olympics can coincide with the actual Summer Games so much the better. Spirit, sportsmanship, creativity, teamwork, and giving one’s best effort are at the heart of these three days of high energy. Start by interviewing several staff members that campers would wish to become the torchbearer. During the opening ceremonies, teams representing continents parade across the athletic field. A hush falls as the opening notes of the official Olympic anthem resound and the person chosen to light the Flame enters with the torch. After reading the Olympic Creed, sing songs, make speeches, and begin the games. Hold team and individual events over a two-day period, before presenting medals (everyone gets a team medal) with the closing ceremonies on the third day.

Provide campers an opportunity to represent their continent in swimming races, equestrian events, gymnastics, field events, paddle sports, sailing, cycling, and other sports. Encourage campers to indulge their creativity by helping with original team cheers, songs, and banners. Pair a new staff member with a returning one to co-captain each team, as these enthusiastic role models for the campers as well as impart cultures and traditions from the various represented continents—North and South America, Australia, Asia, and Europe.

Hunger Games
This year’s popular Hunger Games series has caught the imagination of youth and adults. Careful thought and planning put a positive spin on this day, which begins with the pageantry so present in the story. Staff members can dress up as the main characters and lead camper districts/teams on scavenger hunts throughout the grounds, while “eliminating” tributes with water balloons. The participants (following “elimination”) give interviews (as in the films), showcasing poise and sportsmanship, which earns their teams more points. Decorate the athletic field with a giant cardboard cornucopia that serves as a backdrop for a fun day that involves a great deal of teamwork and imagination.

Pirates Of The Caribbean
Last but not least, Pirates of the Caribbean is a swashbuckling focus for a special evening in the camp dining hall! As the camp gathers for the traditional flag-lowering ceremony, a plywood galleon ship (fashioned over a rowboat) can row Captain Jack Sparrow and his mighty crew to shore. Use sword fighting and kidnapping of fair maidens throughout the meal to bring fantasy “Adventure Land” to camp.

When pop culture complements camp culture, children experience the benefits of play and imagination in a safe and stimulating environment. Communication, self-confidence, trust, and a feeling of belonging are benefits of intentional activities that are fun, exciting, and interesting for all ages.

Georgianna Schrader Starz is the owner and CEO of Camp Nicolet, Inc in Eagle River, Wis. Reach her at .