A close-up look at YMCA Camp Ernst,s favorite wacky large group game
By Stuart MacKenzie
At YMCA Camp Ernst, seeing campers screaming and laughing as they smear ice cream all over their counselors, cover them with flour and water and roll them down a hill while “singing in the rain” can mean only one thing—“Chaos!”
Chaos is a wacky large group game we play during our evening program time. The game is big and messy and represents the type of fun you only find at summer camp.
There are many variations of this game (you may already play it under another name). Hopefully, our version will give you some new ideas.
Let’s start with the basics. The game takes about 45 minutes. To make things easy, let’s assume we have 72 kids playing. This means we will need about 15 staff (approximately one staff member per five players seems to work fine). In this scenario, we would divide the game into six stations with campers traveling to each station in cabin groups.
But, instead of letting campers choose which station they go to or simply rotating from one station to the next, we’ve added a twist—the giant “die of destiny” with the numbers on the die corresponding to the different stations. Between each station, campers return to a central location and roll the die. If they’ve already been to a station twice and roll that number a third time, they have the option to “challenge” out of it. This just means the “die master” gives the campers a task such as playing leapfrog or singing “I’m a little tea pot.” If they pass the challenge they can roll again. The first cabin to complete all six stations and return to the die of destiny wins!
That’s it—that’s the game. Sounds simple, right? Well that is where the fun starts.
Adding Fun and Wacky Elements
Here at YMCA Camp Ernst, we try to do camp things—activities kids will only experience at camp and not in school or sports.
In our minds, this means wacky and fun—the wackier the better. Our goal is to have a variety of stations, some designed to exercise a camper’s physical side, some to challenge their mental side and some to tickle their silly bone.
Some of our popular silly stations include Human Sundae (campers turn their counselor into a sundae by covering him/her with ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce), Mummify Your Counselor (cover them with toilet paper), Paint Your Counselor, and Singing in the Rain (campers sing a song under a hose).
Some of our most popular physically and mentally challenging stations include Wet & Wild Obstacle Course (let your imagination run wild on this one—we did), Human Knot, Extreme Poetry (campers write poems using random words drawn from a bucket), and Speed Pictionary.
Themes & Fun Endings
To keep the game fresh for the counselors and to make it more fun for the campers, we will often write a little story telling why the campers must complete all the stations. The story is based around a theme such as pirates, aliens, cowboys or Christmas in July and the names of the stations correspond to the theme. For example, if the theme were Christmas in July the stations would go from being called Pie in the Face to Wearing Santa’s Beard and Singing in the Rain might become Christmas Caroling.
To keep the ending fun and lively, we sometimes hold a prize auction. We read a list of prizes and have the cabin groups bid on them based on what place they finished. All the prizes have funny names—which do not correspond to the actual prize. For example, when the campers open up the prize bag titled Mangy Moose’s Nose Hair Collection they actually find a note informing them they have won a Popsicle party or breakfast in bed!
How to Handle Large Groups
The great thing about Chaos is it can be played by groups of all sizes. At YMCA Camp Ernst, we play with 180 campers, 25 staff and 12 stations. To accommodate this many players, half of our cabins play six “blue” stations and the other half play six “red” stations. Essentially, it’s two different games going on at the same time. We’ve found doubling the number of stations cuts down on campers waiting in line and gives you more freedom to try new stations.
The more kids you have, the more stations you can add (make sure to have one die per game). The game can be as short or as long as you want, depending on how you set it up. If you want the game to last longer, make the stations more difficult and spread them farther out. To make the game shorter, make the stations easier and place them closer together. You can also add more stations and play with two dice.
Drawbacks & Benefits
Our rule is only one child at a time can roll the die. Sometimes this means one or two kids in a group don’t get a chance to roll. If this is happens, we usually let those kids deliver the pie to the face.
And, sometimes one group will just luck out, roll the right combination of numbers and finish very early. If this happens, we usually have a big space for the campers to watch the rest of the cabins finish and give them a place to wait and talk about the fun they just had. If we are running two sets of stations (red and blue), we may challenge the team who finished early to complete the second set as well.
Also, keep in mind your counselors will get very, very messy. So they need to wear old clothes and they will need to shower off after the game, so make sure you have counselors available to cover their cabins for a while.
Of course all of this is a small price to pay to play a game that really wears out the kids before bed and is so much fun for both campers and staff. Enjoy!
Stuart Mackenzie is a Program Coordinator at YMCA Camp Ernst in Burlington, KY. He has been on Camp Ernst’s summer staff since 1999 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fun & Wacky Station Examples
• Campers have their counselors stand in a garbage bag and cover them in water then flour and roll them down a hill
• Materials: Garbage bags, water cooler and cups, and flour
Singing in the Rain
• Campers and counselors sing a song while being sprayed with a hose
• Materials: Hose, list of songs
Paint Your Counselor
• Campers turn their counselors into an abstract piece of art
• Materials: At least three colors of paint, paint trays and enough brushes for all the kids in your largest cabin group
• Campers put ice cream and topping on their counselors
• Materials: The big cheap two-gallon buckets of ice cream work best, spoons, sprinkles and whipped cream
• Campers and counselors have to whistle a popular tune with two whole crackers in their mouth
• Materials: Saltine crackers, trash bag for wrappers
Mummify Your Counselor
• Campers must cover every inch of their counselor in toilet paper
• Materials: Four rolls of toilet paper, trash bag
Wet n Wild Obstacle Course
• Campers and counselors navigate an obstacle course while being sprayed with water
• Materials: Hose, water guns, cones, and hula hoops
• Campers choose four words from a bucket, write a four-lined poem, and scream it all together
• Materials: Big bucket of words, paper, markers and trash bags