A Few Of My Favorite Things

By Roz and Jed Buck

To hear is to forget. To see is to remember. To do is to learn. As we travel around the country speaking at conferences and training camp staff, we embrace this adaptation of a famous statement from Confucius. Here are a few of our favorite activities that you can use to inspire learning and make training meaningful. Please remember that for all of these activities—and staff-training activities in general—the most important part is the debrief, or reflection.

We learned this fun, simple opening activity from Mark Snow at the ACA’s Training 2017 Conference.

Here’s how it works:

Ask everyone to write down a three-digit number.

The number should have no zeroes and not repeat any digits.

For our example, we will use 791.

Next, reverse that number, so 791 is then 197.

Next, subtract the smaller three-digit number from the larger three-digit number to obtain a new three-digit number. So 791-197 = 594. (Note: If you end up with a two-digit answer, like 746-647 = 99, add a 0 before it to get 099.)

Finally, reverse the previous answer and add the last two three-digit numbers together. Using our example, 594+495 and 594+495 = 1089. Not coincidently, in our other example, 099+990 also equals 1089. In fact, no matter what three-digit number you start with, as long as you follow these directions carefully, you will end up with 1089!

In this activity, everyone started with a different number but ended with 1089 as the answer. The start of staff orientation at camps works the same way. Everyone is starting from his/her own place. Some are returning staff members while others are former campers who are now staff members. Some have worked at other camps before, but this is their first time at this camp, or they may be returning to camp but in a new role. It may even be the first time ever that they are at a camp! Despite everyone starting in different places, just like starting with different three-digit numbers, the goal is to get everyone to the same place, or 1089, which is to create a great summer for campers!

We found this activity many years ago, so many that we can’t remember who gets the credit for inspiring us to modify it and use it frequently. 

Here’s how it works:

Show a list of eight “famous” people that everyone probably knows. Ideally, we like to use two athletes, two performers, two current staff members, and two former staff members. The athletes and performers should be very accomplished, but at least some should not be well-known. We often use Taylor Swift, Mark Ronson, Bart Starr, and Larisa Latynina. The camp members should be some of your most famous and well-known camp “personalities.”

Provide plenty of squares of paper to participants, who are asked to write down as many facts as they can about any of the people. Each fact should be on a SEPARATE piece of paper. For example, they can write five facts about the same person, three facts each about two different people, or one fact each about four different people. Each fact should be on its own piece of paper and include the famous person’s name, but not the participant’s name. Papers should not be folded and are collected and deposited into a clear fishbowl.

Note: Write the eight names on an easel pad while waiting.


When time is up, pull each “fact” out of the bowl and read it aloud. Keep track on the easel pad of how many facts are read about each of the eight “famous” people. Read as many as time permits.

At the end, talk about who has the most and who has the least. Look at how many the truly famous people received. Now consider how many of the famous people at camp have. Generally, the camp people receive more than the truly famous people. While showing the fishbowl filled with the papers, explain “that’s because all famous people live in a fishbowl. Their every move is watched and reported by the public.”

At our camps, for better or worse, we are all camp famous. We are “famous” here AND when we go out in public, especially in staff shirts. When we are at restaurants, in stores, and on Facebook, we are famous!

In public everyone is watching your every move. You are representing yourself AND the camp. Your reputation is the most valuable thing you have. Make sure to protect it carefully.

In camp, campers are watching your every move. Always remember that campers want to be like you. They think you’re cool, and they want to be cool like you. They emulate you more than you think. YOU don’t want to be the reason a child starts speaking or acting in a negative way, for example, swearing. YOU want to set a great example for the campers. YOU want to make sure what they see in the fishbowl is a positive role model and mentor. Always be aware that you are being watched and make smart decisions based on that.

We are all rock stars in our little world of camp, and we are all in the fishbowl. We are always being watched and our every move is magnified, just like the fish in the fishbowl (hold up the bowl).

Six Lettters
This is a popular word challenge that can be used as a quick and easy activity to reinforce perceptions and perspectives.

Here’s how it works:

Ask each person to write these letters down in order.


Now provide these simple directions at least two times: “Please cross out six letters so that the remaining letters, without changing their sequence, spell a word that we are all familiar with.”  

Once enough time has passed, reveal that the answer is BANANAS, and show that you get there by crossing out the words “six letters”:


Explain that this activity is all about perception. Different people perceive things differently. Most perceive these instructions as crossing out six individual letters, but others might have seen the answer right away by crossing out the words “six letters.” Everyone has their own personal way of what they perceive and what they see and hear. To each individual, perception is reality. It is important to recognize this when speaking with campers, parents, and other staff members. We must be sensitive to how people perceive what we say. This is particularly true with respect to sarcasm and campers. Generally, campers do not yet understand sarcasm. When members use sarcastic humor, campers often perceive that as being mean or that the staff member doesn’t like them.

You Catch More Flies With Honey
This is a quick and easy activity we learned from the book 101 Games for Trainers by Bob Pike.

Here’s how it works:

Ask everyone to stand and pair with a partner. For each pair, decide who is partner #1 and who is #2. Ask #1 to make a tight fist and hold it. Now ask #2 to open the other person’s fist as fast as possible. Only give about 10 seconds to accomplish this.

Debrief this exercise by asking who was able to get their partner to open their fist and how. Discuss what happened with those who just pulled. Generally speaking, the harder you pull, the more resistance you get. See if anyone just nicely asked “please open your fist,” and what happened when they did?

This is a good exercise to demonstrate the importance of teamwork, communication, and respect. It is also good to get everyone on the same side, and not competing. Explain that, by working together and communicating respectfully, you accomplish much more than pulling and creating resistance.

Roz and Jed Buck worked together from 2004- 2016 as the Owners/Directors of Meadowbrook Day Camp in New Jersey.  After retiring from camp ownership, they launched Roz and Jed Training & Consulting to help other camps make a difference. They have presented at many ACA, YMCA, and recreation and parks conferences, and have trained thousands of camp staff members. Their camp involvement dates back to high school when they first met while working at camp. They are still active as industry volunteers, and in 2016 they were honored as recipients of the prestigious Thelma Hurwitz Leadership Award. They can be reached at Jed@RozandJed.com, www.RozandJed.com and Facebook.com/RozandJed.