Top 10 Camp Activities (Try Some at Home!)
What makes summer camp so special? Dr. David Elkind, Tufts University child development expert and noted author, says, “The traditional summer camp recognizes that play is a powerful form of learning that contributes mightily to the child's healthy physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development."
Play at camp traditionally includes special games, songs, and activities that campers remember for days, years, and even decades to come. In camp play, children have fun, boost self-confidence, and learn important life skills like cooperation and teamwork. If your child isn’t going to camp this summer, you can capture the spirit of camp by trying these Top Ten camp activities at home.
- Long before there was Lady Gaga, the game of GaGa—also known as Israeli dodgeball—started sweeping summer camps across the northeast in the 1980s. Now played nationwide, GaGa (from the Hebrew word for “hit”) involves trying to hit opponents with a soft, rubber ball below the waist while trying not to get hit. At YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh Camp Kon-O-Kwee, an overnight camp in Fombell, Assistant Director Zach Hoffman says, “Campers not only enjoy Gaga because it’s fast-paced and calls on physical skills like agility and accuracy, but also because of the inclusive nature and versatility of the game. Even when you’re ‘out’ you still remain involved through close observation.. You can play individually or in teams and the rules accommodate an atmosphere of good-natured involvement and exercise. Summer campers, Y-Guides and Princesses…everyone seems to love GaGa.”
Dr. Douglass Mann, a Rowan University associate professor in health and exercise science and a camp counselor, says GaGa can be played for a lifetime and is great for children with all levels of athletic ability. With a little modification, even preschoolers can play GaGa.
GaGa is played in an octagonal shaped “pit” that can be easily built with lumber or temporarily assembled from some artfully arranged benches or furniture. Due to the soaring popularity of the game, plastic backyard versions can now be purchased for $300-500. Find free pit-building instructions and rules of the game at www.ctcampguys.com.
- Also played with a rubber ball, FourSquare is popular at Antiochian Village Camp, a Christian overnight camp in Bolivar. Assistant Director Marek Simon says FourSquare is simple, fun, and competitive. Create a FourSquare court with chalk or tape on a hard surface. Divide a big square into four quadrants, each 36” square. A player stands in each square and takes turns bouncing the ball into an opponent’s square; the ball can only bounce once before being hit with an open hand to another square. If it bounces twice or hits a line, that player is out.
- In Pittsburgh, boys and girls in grades pre-K through five at The Ellis School Summer Day Camp enjoy making Stop Motion Movies. Lower School Director Karen Chambers says campers create their own stories, shoot scenes frame by frame with a digital camera, and use simple software such as Stop Motionmaker® or Stop Motion Pro® to animate their still photographs—making live animation memories of their summer fun.
- Gimp—plastic lacing used to make bracelets, keychains, bookmarks, and more—is a staple of any camp’s arts and crafts cabin. Not just for girls, gimp—like beads—is most often used to make friendship bracelets. Learn how at http://www.how-to-make-jewelry.com/gimp-friendship-bracelet.html.
- When the thermometer starts climbing, camps keep kids cool with a variety of water play. Chambers says “Water Days” at The Ellis School Summer Day Camp are always a favorite, featuring water slides, Slip ‘n Slides®, and fun ways for campers to get wet. If you have a pool or lake nearby, add some silliness to a Swim Meet: have experienced swimmers put on a large men’s shirt and boxers, swim to the other side and take off the clothes, where the next team member is waiting to put them on and swim back to the next contestant.
- Frolf (Frisbee Golf) is a friendly, non-competitive cousin of Disc Golf. For disc golf, attach numbers to anything in your yard or park; players use a Frisbee to hit the numbers in order, much like miniature golf. For FROLF, forget the numbers and the rules; players make up their own game based on preferences, skill levels, number of players, and random factors. In fact, www.frolf.com says the only rule is the Spirit of the Game.
- Best with lots of players, an Apache Relay is a highlight of any camp season, often played with the entire camp split into two teams. Although no one recalls the origin of the name, generations of campers can remember passing a baton (or an egg) through various stations, where the player waiting at each station must perform a designated activity before running to pass the baton to the teammate waiting at the next station. Stations can be as serious, silly, or skill-based as you wish, and tuned to the abilities of a diverse group of players. From shooting three baskets, to eating a bowl of cereal, to reciting the alphabet, to hula hooping for 30 seconds—or anything you can imagine—an Apache Relay is a great way to involve kids, parents, friends, grandparents – there’s always something for everyone! The team that completes the stations and gets the baton to the end of the relay course first, wins.
- An Apache Relay is sometimes part of Color War, a meta-game that usually divides a camp into two teams for three to five days of fun and games. Closing ceremonies that reunite the camp on the last night of Color War, typically marked by skits and songs, are some of the most memorable nights of camp. In Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp, author Leslie Paris says, “Color wars have brought team unity and the thrill of competition to camp since the mid-1910s. Color Wars allow every camper to shine — whether it's playing sports or checkers, creating the best camp cheer or just cheering the loudest.” Create your own Color War with any combination of sports and creative endeavors. Pick team names such as Green Giants/Blue Aliens, make banners from old sheets or plaques on posterboard, rewrite the words to nursery rhymes or popular songs, play games, have a track meet. Teams earn points from judges or by winning competitions. Many camps even award Color War points for the cleanest bunks or the quietest dining room tables.
- Like Antiochian Village, almost every camp includes a day or evening Carnival among its top camp activities. Simon says that at Antiochian Village Camp’s Carnival Night, “we have several stations run by staff that campers may stop by, each one providing a unique challenge and opportunity for fun, and often a laughable and messy result, too! Stations may include activities such as a donut eating contest, shave a balloon, or a water balloon race. When campers collect 10 tickets for successfully completing stations, they can select a counselor of their choice to pie in the face.”
- What would camp be without Campfires, Songs, and S’mores? If you don’t have a campfire pit nearby, consider an inexpensive fire pit, available at many home improvement stores. After the kids collect good sticks for toasting marshmallows, sit around the fire, sing favorite songs and tell spooky stories. Sandwich your melted marshmallows between chocolate bars and graham crackers, and create some camp-like memories right in your own backyard
Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone regional office serving Pennsylvania and Delaware. Learn more at www.acacamps.org/keystone and www.campparents.org.