Top Programming Ideas

The possibilities are endless—but what makes your campers shout for more or ask to play “that game” one more time? We surveyed our readers and here’s what they told us makes their campers tick. If you have any ideas you would like to share, please feel free to send them to us at editor@northstarpubs.com.

Decorate Your Counselor
Our annual Decorate Your Counselor contest is a huge hit with campers. Counselors come up with a theme for the contest. Campers then work together to create a costume, create a history, assign powers, and perform any special feats. When the time comes, we all gather in the gym for the showdown. Each group presents their counselor and special powers, and act out any demonstration of those powers. The only rules are that the campers have to do all the work: design the costume, dress the counselor, perform the skit, and make the presentation to the camp. They can use any camp supplies (construction paper, glitter, foil, puff balls, etc.), or stuff they bring from home. It’s a real hoot, provides great photo opportunities, and as soon as the contest is over, the campers start talking about what they’ll do the following year.

Dawn Smith
Director, Auxiliary Programs
Lowell School
Washington, DC

Wednesday Games
One staple program area of most resident camps is “evening program” or large, all-inclusive camp games such as Gold Rush, Capture the Flag, and Clue. One way to bring these residential camp favorites to our day camp program was to create “Wednesday Games.” Every Wednesday morning, campers from all age groups are brought together to play a large-scale camp game that fits the weekly theme. Along with planning and setting up the games, we also split campers into a new group that is different from their designated unit group as an opportunity for collaboration and teamwork between all age groups. Game instructions are presented by the assistant camp director and junior camp leaders in skit format and each game is played for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the game. Wednesday Games are a camper favorite and we frequently hear every Monday morning, “What’s the Wednesday Game? I can’t wait for the Wednesday Game!”

Heather Slimp, Camp Manager
Cassandra Townsend, Assistant Camp Director
Young Set Club
El Dorado Hills, Calif.

Forts!
Bringing back a favorite from our own childhoods, this summer we introduced cardboard fort building. Each group had a designated area in our gym to build forts of their own design. Fort building was scheduled for 2 days, but our 2nd-3rd grade campers requested more time during camper choice and campers continued to work on their forts every day for 2 weeks! We then used to cardboard to create our carnival games for our end of summer carnival.

We utilized the social media site, Next door, to ask the community for cardboard donations. We had an outpouring of cardboard provided for campers, and it was a great way to spread the word about our camp.

Heather Slimp, Camp Manager
Cassandra Townsend, Assistant Camp Director
Young Set Club
El Dorado Hills, Calif.

CB0118_TopProgramming2.jpg

Take Forts Outdoors
Nature Leader Renée Lyman held the first fort-building competition in 2016, and it was so popular the campers asked to bring it back again this year! Each group of campers chooses their own spot in the woods and work together to make a fort using only tree branches. They have one week to complete their fort, and the winner selected receives a prize. It is an awesome community-building activity for the kids and their counselors, and many campers want to continue working on their forts even after the competition is over.

Megan Ball
Recreation Supervisor
Town of Dewitt, N.Y.

Brags
We strive to make every single child feel extraordinary—no matter their ability. So every day of camp we hand out “brags” when volunteers or staff members see camp participants doing something extraordinary. It could be small—holding a door for someone else, helping a friend, etc. Their brag is a brightly colored card that says, “I caught NAME doing ACTION.” It's announced when the entire camp is gathered together at the end of the day and everyone gives them a big, “Hip, hip, hooray!” This recognizes every small victory and is a staple of our camp culture.

Laura Whitaker
Executive Director
Extra Special People

Pep Rally Sing-Along
We are very passionate about how we sing camp songs. Energy from staff members and volunteers is critical to get children and young adults with special needs engaged and excited enough to join in. We simulate a pep rally environment when we sing camp songs and hold a competition to see which group/unit is the loudest or most creative in how they sing the songs. Examples include staff putting kids on their shoulders, groups making up dance moves; the more creative the better! The camp director chooses her favorite each day and that group gets to lead the first song for the camp. The friendly competition and creative exploration engages our camp participants in a unique and fun way.

Laura Whitaker
Executive Director
Extra Special People

CB0118_TopProgramming3.jpg

Hungry Hungry Hippos
Hungry Hungry Hippos turned out to be something our campers craved! It was a major event during our Tribal War. Each of the four teams had a corner of half of the basketball court; in the middle were a random selection of different-sized balls. The campers and counselors acting as “Hippos” used a scooter and a crate to gobble up as many balls as they could. The Hippo with the most balls in their corner at the end of the round gets a point. The hungriest team wins!

It was so popular that it became one of our elective activities and we began to develop more challenges and obstacles to the game. Such as, only scooting backwards, forward, or laying on your belly with someone pushing your feet. We even had a counselor round where the Hippo was blindfolded and the person pushing them was calling out directions.

Colleen Malone
Camp Louemma
Pine Brook, N.J.

Human Battleship
We had a team on either side of a huge tarp that you couldn’t see over or around. Players took a position behind the tarp (and couldn’t move) and one by one used water balloons trying to “sink” (soak) a “ship” (player) on the other team. Waiting to hear the reaction after the balloon was tossed over was so exciting. Campers didn’t mind getting out because then they could stand on the side an watch the rest of the game.

Colleen Malone
Camp Louemma
Pine Brook, N.J.