Top Programming Ideas

Every year, we invite readers to share their favorite programming ideas. While some involve arts and crafts and other involve the entire camp, we guarantee that all of them involve fun.

Grass Heads


·        Old nylon stockings
·        Grass seeds
·        Potting mix
·        Medium yogurt cup
·        Decorations (googly eyes and fabric straps)
·        Water-proof glue


1.      Cut off an 8-inch section of stocking that includes the toe. (You could also use a “tube section” that doesn’t include the toe. You just have to tie a knot in one end to close it, and then turn it inside-out to hide the knot.) 

2.      Stretch the stocking over a large cup or mug, and spoon in about 2 teaspoons of grass seeds. 

3.      Pack in some potting soil. Aim for the head to be roughly tennis-ball sized. 

4.      Tie a knot to close the end. No need to cut off the dangly bit. 

5.      You can make a bulbous nose or ears by grabbing a bit of stocking and twisting. Fasten base of the nose with some thread or a small rubber band. 

6.      Decorate!

Kristen Clatos Riggins, MA, CTRS
Therapeutic Recreation Summer Day Camp
Cincinnati, Ohio


Animal Adventures
Each year, more than 1,200 CRC day camp children learn about the outdoors at CAMP CRC Day at Parky’s Farm in Cincinnati. It is an opportunity for the kids—many of them from the inner-city—to experience fishing, farm animals, gardening, and more.

Twice during the summer, hundreds of kids learn to fish and discover nature through hands-on outdoor educational experiences and up-close encounters with the farm animals. Some even get to milk the goats!

Although the CAMP CRC Day’s primary activity is fishing and learning everything there is about the sport, there are other outdoor activities such as a petting zoo, wagon and pony rides, and a play barn.

The entire experience is free for the children through the generosity of an Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant.

Lisa Kruse
Communication Specialist
Cincinnati Recreation Commission


The Vibe Game
The most valuable lessons kids learn at camp are not just about art, science, coding, film or technology. It’s what they learn about themselves in the process. We’ve designed a 21st Century life skills game, The EDMO Vibe Game, to reinforce and measure the intangible skills campers develop each day.

Why do we play? It’s science. The latest research proves that character skills like curiosity, generosity and grit are even more indicative of a child’s future success than their IQ. The 21st Century requires kids to develop not just one, but four types of intelligence: intellectual, social, emotional, and physical. The EDMO Vibe Game promotes the character traits that ensure kids become happy and successful adults in any life path they choose!

How To Play

When kids rock “The EDMO Vibe” of curiosity, courage, kindness, creativity, leadership, or collaboration through special actions, our staff recognizes their efforts with a specific magnetic EDMO Vibe Card. The more cards they collect, the more levels they move up in the game. That’s why we say, “The way you play, is the way you live.”

Learn more about The EDMO Vibe Game at

Margot Segal
Marketing Director


Workshops To Learn And Make Friends
In accordance with the philosophy that boys build confidence by learning new skills, making new friends, and having fun, campers are given a surfeit of great experiential options, including 15 daytime activities and 10+ evening workshops.

Campers participate in six activities during the day and a workshop after dinner. Workshops are based on a combination of counselor passion and camper interest. At the workshop, participants meet boys from other cabins who share their interest—creating a fertile ground for new friendships.

Below are some of the most popular workshops:

·        Magic the gathering
·        Basketball
·        Rocketry
·        Magic tricks
·        Guitar/music
·        Fishing
·        Trap shooting
·        Fencing
·        Photography
·        Frisbee/team sports
·        Martial arts

As you can see there’s something for every type of camper, including artists (photography and music), athletes (team sports and basketball), the inquisitive (rocketry, magic), outdoorsmen (fishing and trap shooting), and warriors (fencing and martial arts). 

Workshops last about 2 weeks.  Based on feedback from campers and staff members, new activities may be added or eliminated in future sessions to keep things fresh.

Wish so many great choices, it’s no wonder the campers return home with some great stories a big ‘ole dollop of self-assurance.

Bill Gonio
Towering Pines
Eagle River, Wis.


Medieval Tournament
During our medieval-themed week this summer on the last full day, our program team took the day off from the pool, archery, music and crafts to prepare for the afternoon medieval tournament. After each cabin created flags, chants and face paint to reflect their “realm” in our kingdom, they spent time “training” in various areas; for instance, they conducted science experiments in sorcery/potion training, practiced jousting with pool noodles, and made armor and swords all sorts of things.

In the afternoon, they selected one counselor and trained them as their knight, creating their (ridiculous) armor for the tournament, which was meant to be like the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament show that some of our staff members had been to in the Chicago area. The tournament was held at our rec field where we had benches all the way around for seating by realm. Our staff built a 50-foot wide, 13-foot tall castle out of mostly painted cardboard and lined the pathway with flags. The knights competed in a tournament-style bracket, and once defeated were pulled out on bed sheets by our dressed-up nursing staff members. Our final knight also had to battle a Chinese dragon built by our staff that held four volunteers under lots of cardboard, painted bed sheets, and hula-hoops. Lastly the “Dark Knight,” who had been our villain throughout the week, appeared and all the tournament knights came back to defeat her.

To end the day, our kitchen staff prepared a medieval feast of chicken legs, corn on the cob, rolls, etc., and we had a ball (dance). It really was a fantastic day and our campers loved it. This full-day program was something we had not tried before and definitely plan on doing again! Our motto for the day was, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” It took a lot of creativity from our Program Director Jessica Wolff and her team as well as saving about 3 weeks’ worth of cardboard but it was worth it to see how much fun our campers of all ages had.

To view a video of the day, visit

Mark Sigel
Camp Director
Wonderland Camp
Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.


Two people start by alternately saying 1, 2, 3 and repeating the numbers sequentially for a few rounds at increasingly rapid speeds.

After they get it, substitute clapping hands for the number 2, so it would go “1, clap hands, 3” and alternating numbers.

If they succeed, substitute stamping the foot for the number 3. No one has made it past that.

This is a very good ice-breaker or game to play while waiting in line. It also always creates a smile from someone who had been previously moping.

Philip Lilienthal
Global Camps Africa


Quiet Hour
The first hour of every day is designated “quiet hour” and time and space are created for campers to find a beautiful spot outdoors and to spend time thinking, reflecting, and enjoying the beauty of nature.

It seems counter-intuitive that the campers would enjoy themselves but year after year, this “quiet hour” is voted among the favorites. Perhaps the fact that children today are often rushed, overscheduled, and exposed to much input, the opportunity to sit quietly and think is appreciated.

The campers are given a journal or notebook and instructions as to how to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature and are invited to express their thoughts and feelings about what they are learning in camp in writing or drawing. If the camp is religious, they are taught how to read the Bible or an inspirational book.

This time provides the one hour a day during which they're not being talked to, or directed, or supervised. The first day or so requires more instruction, but little by little we have discovered over the years with evaluations that they appreciate the opportunity to be quiet, think, and enjoy nature.

Often as a follow-up, during breakfast the counselor has the opportunity to sit with his or her campers to inquire how their quiet hour went and may ask whether they have questions, doubts or a desire to share their thoughts and reflections.

Lisa Anderson-Umana
Director of Leadership Development
Christian Camping International, Latin America
Tegucigalpa, Honduras


Night Hike
One of the much-anticipated activities each year is the night hike. The first-year campers are given the challenge of walking alone on a path through a certain segment of the property in complete darkness, without a lamp. The goal is for them to be at peace with themselves and nature (God’s creation since it’s a Christian camp) and to get acquainted with the sounds, smells, and sights of nature at night.

Second-year campers are ready for a longer segment of walking and in a part of forest is particularly dark.

The third-year campers are given the challenge of walking twice as far again in the darkness, again alone and with no flashlight.

Preparation: “Face your fears”

Just the excitement of rising to the challenge and being able to have an increased perception of risk in their mind (no real risk) brings to the surface their fears.

Younger campers need preparation before the hike in order to name and face some of the fears. Many times fears are grounded in their minds by stories they have heard in the news, images from movies, video games, or just the general fears darkness, the unknown, etc.

So, each child is given the opportunity to talk about their fears and given the Christian setting of our camps, we guide them to pray about their fears and substitute their fears for a biblical truth or some principle that would give them the sense of security, comfort, assurance of God’s ultimate presence in their lives.

If the camp is nonreligious in nature, the child's fears can be handled in a rational manner where they can name the fears, consider the source, and be guided to overcome these fears throughout the activity itself. We have found that many children come back prepared for a bigger challenge, and have commented that during the year, they have learned the pattern of naming their fears, facing their fears, and even discussing their fears with someone who is older and wiser and more experienced.

The counselors and campers are instructed not to scare anyone and to show respect and not make fun of the fears of others. At strategic, but invisible, parts of the pathway we have stationed counselors just in case the need arises to intervene and help a camper.

Lisa Anderson-Umana
Director of Leadership Development
Christian Camping International, Latin America
Tegucigalpa, Honduras


Free Play
There is a considerable amount of information about the power of unstructured play and camp lends itself to creating times/spaces where the campers are given natural material and the opportunities to build some sort of play house, fort, or refuge. However, given the lack of familiarity that many children have with free, unstructured play, due to their rigid schedules, sports classes and other enrichment activities many of them need some coaching and guidance as to how to creatively engage in free play (which in some ways seems to be a contradiction of the concept).

We discovered that we would give them the structure of a water balloon battle with a thousand balloons and then give them “Legos” made out pieces of wood. We gave them time to create their own fort, create a background story to their creation and after that brief contest, supply them all the water balloons and water pistols that they needed to have a fun water battle.

We found that this was a very attractive activity for all the ages from 8 to 18, each played in separate age groups. The fact that many of them had never played with stumps, slabs of wood, and needed to ask one another's help plus create their own configuration, also lend itself to teamwork, as well as some frustrating moments of coordinating efforts. The pieces of wood were small and large, needing the cooperation of two or three people. We did this during three consecutive camps for the three age groups and found that on their camper evaluations it was one of the highlights of the camp.

Again given their lack of familiarity with outdoor materials, and free unstructured play, we had discovered we needed to supply a certain level of guidance, clarifying the general objective to protect themselves from an onslaught of water balloons. It made for an exciting 1 ½ hours of activity. We also needed to prepare the counselors to not provide leadership to the children, but rather act as members of the group and facilitate the emergence of camper’s leadership. The campers had an opportunity to watch their counselors at play, learn sportsmanlike behavior, and cooperate with others.

Lisa Anderson-Umana
Director of Leadership Development
Christian Camping International, Latin America
Tegucigalpa, Honduras


Creating Captivating Environments
Our programs operate as after-school programs during the school year, then camp during summer and school breaks. One way we separate school time from camp time is to give campers the opportunity to recreate the inside of their classroom based on any theme of their choice. Some of our programs begin the transformation process as early as spring break camp, while others utilize the first week of camp for campers and camp leaders to come together to create their own special space at camp. Empowering both campers and camp leaders to have ownership of the classroom environment has produced some amazing results.

Heather Slimp
Program Implementation Manager
Camp: CDI/CDC Monster Camps
Locations: Greater Sacramento & Bay Area


The Red Shirt Crew
An integral part of our horse-riding philosophy is that riding is a partnership between the rider and the horse. Campers who prove their cowboy mettle over the course of several summers may be invited to become a member of the prestigious Red Shirt barn crew, the pinnacle of cowboy brotherhood at Towering Pines.

Red Shirts are responsible for waking themselves up at 6 a.m. to care for the horses, including cleaning out stalls, brushing the horses’ coats, combing out manes, putting on bridles and saddles, feeding and watering the horses, and of course—learning how to fork manure!

Red Shirts are also expected to devote one hour each day to help younger campers.  Basically, the Red Shirts sign up for a riding class not to ride, but rather, to learn the enjoyment that comes from serving others. It’s a foundation of the Red Shirt ethos.

Yes—just to be clear—the same boys who fight with their siblings at home and won’t put their socks in the hamper go to camp and compete to wake up before the sun, help younger campers, and rake out horse dung.

At the end of the summer, one single outstanding camper is recognized as the “All-Around Cowboy.” Earning the title takes much more than being the best rider. In fact, riding prowess is only 25 percent of the criteria. Barn service (feeding, cleaning, helping younger riders, etc.) is another 25 percent. The biggest factor—50 percent of the award—is embodiment of “cowboy character.” This ethereal quality includes characteristics like compassion, reliability, honesty, respect, etc. Basically, you have to be the classic cowboy gentleman to even be considered for the award. Notably, the campers have to exemplify this cowboy character around the entire camp—not just at the barn.  

Lee Biear
Communications Director
Towering Pines
Eagle River, Wis.


Backwards Day
For a zesty programming option, one cannot go wrong with a backwards day. There is a myriad of ways to successfully perform a backwards day. Here is the process Camp Frontier uses:

Choose The Day

Try to pick a day where there are no off-property trips. Additionally, make sure that this event will not negatively affect any other programs or activities that are being offered.

Speak To The Kitchen

Working with the kitchen is a crucial component. Give the kitchen staff as much notice as possible. The food orders and work schedules may need to be amended to accommodate a menu change. Here is a sample menu:

·        Lunch for breakfast—hot dogs and beans make for an interesting morning

·        Dinner for lunch—something with pasta works well

·        Breakfast for dinner—pancakes are always a camper favorite

Create a special, event-only schedule where everything is backwards—activity order, meal order, activity titles, and even staff initials.

If an activity or daily chore can be safely performed backwards, then do so:

·        Wear clothing backwards (must still be appropriate and comply with camp dress guidelines)

·        Walk backwards to activities

·        Take the flag down in the morning and put it up in the evening

·        Award the cabin inspection winner to the dirtiest cabin

·        Play games backwards (e.g., soccer—instead of going for the highest score, the new object of the game is to have the lowest score)

·        Announce Camper of the Day in the morning instead of the evening.

Here are a few phrases to help with the planning:

Let imagination be the inspiration

Create a day full of whimsical wonder and energetic excitement

Make it memorable

Make it fun. 

Eric S. Norton
Program Director
Camp Frontier
Riverview, Fla.