When we think of kids at camp, we picture them walking arm-in-arm, huddling around a campfire, or participating in camp-wide events like color wars and sing-alongs. It’s a picture we don’t want to let go of, but one we need to adjust this summer. Camps that have made the decision to proceed with in-person activities in 2020 are going to have to stick to the COVID-19 guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control, as well as regulations from their state, city, or county leaders. Among the many parameters to conform to, campers will be limited to small groups and to activities that require no physical contact.
These measures are a challenge when it comes to icebreakers and activities, but there are still ways to create that camp magic, even when kids are spread apart. We surveyed the summer camp alumni on our staff and put together this list of activities that can work in large spaces and with extra distance between campers.
Activity #1: Bring Your Name to Life
There’s nothing like a good name game, especially one that gives campers a chance to get moving, get creative, or be silly.
Step 1: Get your campers to stand in a large spread out circle.
Step 2: The first person begins by saying their name. Then they either do a little action that goes along with their name (like a fist pump), or say an adjective or animal that starts with the first letter of their name (such as Super Sarah or Turtle Travis).
Step 3: The next camper starts by saying their name and adding their own action, adjective, or animal. Then they also repeat what the previous camper said or did. This continues around the circle, where each person has to share their name and then repeat all the ones that came before. The camper who went first ends the game by repeating each person’s name and action. If a camper can’t remember one, any other camper in the circle can help them out.
This may seem like a standard name game, but a really fun way to build on this activity is to continue to refer to the campers by their adjectives, animals, or actions all summer long. Who knows, one of them might even come away with a camp nickname that will stick around for years to come.
Activity #2: Play ‘Stand Up, Sit Down’
‘Stand Up Sit Down’ is a perfect way to accommodate the CDC guidelines while still giving campers inroads to get to know each other. It’s a simple way to give campers an opportunity to see what they do and don’t have in common with each other. The hope is that the similarities can bring campers closer, and that the differences can create opportunities for exploration.
Step 1: Find a safe and open space for your group of campers and create a list of statements beforehand that relate to experiences, characteristics, and common likes or dislikes.
Some examples of statements that you can use for this game include:
- I am left handed
- I have more than 2 siblings
- I have lived at more than 3 addresses
- I have traveled to 4 or more states
- I hate broccoli
- This is my first summer at camp
Step 2: Select a counselor to read the list one by one.
Step 3: Explain to the campers that after each statement is read, they should stand up if they agree. When the next statement is read, campers who still agree remain standing while those who do not sit down. Give campers a few seconds between each to look around and see who they’re in sync with.
If you have campers who don’t have the physical ability to stand and sit you can do this with pieces of paper that they hold up. You can also go around the group and have campers say yes or no as another way to accommodate different abilities.
This can go on with as many questions as you want, usually ending with, “stand up if you love camp.” Presumably everyone will stand up as a way to show your campers that despite their differences this is something they all have in common
Activity #3: Guess the Art or Artist
Arts and crafts are a huge part of many summer camps, and this activity turns them into a fun game. The great thing is that you can play with as many or as few resources as you want to or have on hand.
Step 1: To set up for this activity, create a list of items that your campers have to work with. These can be previously disinfected lego blocks, everyday things like toothpicks, paper cups, and stickers, or a random assortment of things found around the camp environment, such as twigs, rocks, leaves, or flowers. All you have to do is make sure that you’re giving each camper identical items to work with. If you’re not using stackable blocks, also give each camper a roll of tape or other adhesive.
Step 2: Provide participants with a space to construct their piece of art and give them 15-20 minutes to do so. You can either give them specific instructions of what to create, such as a sculpture of a dog, or let them have total freedom to choose their inspiration.
Step 3: After they’ve completed their sculptures, have a counselor collect them and then lay them out in a line with space between each one. Now, the guessing game commences. Either the participants have to guess which sculpture belongs to which of their fellow campers, or they have to guess what object the artist was trying to depict. Then the sculptors reveal themselves or describe their actual inspiration.
This guessing game can work early or late in a session. At the start of camp it can be a fun way to learn a little about your group by seeing how their creative minds work. Later on it is a fun opportunity for campers to use what they have learned about each other to make educated guesses.
Activity #4: Play ‘Bag of Nouns’ Camp Style
You may also know this game as ‘Celebrity,’ but it can work really well for camp with a few adjustments. On the surface it seems like your average guessing game, but each round gets a little harder and likely a little funnier.
Step 1: Have a counselor write down a bunch of nouns about camp, each one on a separate piece of paper. These can be really simple things, like sleeping bag, tent, or stargazing. They can also be specific places, activities, or songs. (Typically these papers would be folded and placed into a bag for choosing, but to adhere to social distancing a counselor who will hold one piece of paper up at a time).
Step 2: Divide the campers into two smaller teams within your group. You can do this with as few as two people per team. Then select a clue-giver from each.
Step 3: The first round begins when the first team’s clue-giver is shown the first piece of paper, which they need to explain to their team in whatever way they can, as long as they don’t say any part of the word. (For example, if the word is sleeping bag, they can’t say the word sleep). The team gets a point for each word they guess correctly in one minute. Then the second team chooses their clue-giver and proceeds in the same way.
In round two, the new clue-giver has the same words shown to them, but for this round they can only say a single word to get their team to guess. This round proceeds with a minute timer for each team, again awarding them a point for each correct answer. Finally, in the third round, using the same words, the clue-giver has to act them out charades style and can’t speak at all. Points are awarded in the same fashion for each team, and the team with the most points wins.
Even though the teams are guessing the same words, you’ll be surprised at how challenging it becomes to remember the list as the rounds proceed. This is a crowd-pleaser every time.
Activity #5: Cloud Watching or Stargazing
Whether it’s midday or late at night, looking at the sky can be part of a fun activity that works with ample space between campers. As with all these activities, there are a few approaches you can take.
Step 1: If you’re playing in daylight, give each camper paper and markers and have them lay down and look at the clouds.
Step 2: Direct them to find one that they think looks like a real-life object or animal, and outline it on their paper while laying down.
Step 3: Sitting in a spread out circle, each camper displays their cloud sketch and the other participants can shout out what they think it looks like. Then the camper reveals what they actually saw when they sketched their cloud.
If you’re looking for a nighttime activity, you can take a similar approach. In this case, instead of sketching a cloud, campers can create their own constellations. They can map a series of stars using a flashlight to light their papers. When they are finished, counselors can lead them in a similar guessing game, or have each camper give their constellation a name and present it to the group. Either option provides a creative outlet for campers, connects them to their surroundings, and helps their peers get to know them a little better.
Activity #6: Create Personal Camp Time Capsules
Creating time capsules is great for small groups we think it’s the perfect way to close a session. It gives campers a chance to revisit their favorite things, places, and memories, and has a built-in way to reconnect them to camp during the rest of the year.
Step 1: Start by giving each camper a small stack of little pieces of paper and a pen, pencil, or marker. Sticky notes will also work.
Step 2: Ask them to think about their favorite camp activities, memories, or places from the session that is ending. Give them 10 minutes or so to write each separate memory onto its own piece of paper.
Step 3: Sit in a spread out circle and have each camper talk about what they’ve written down. Depending on group size and time available you can have each camper talk about one thing, or read their entire list. Or you can leave it up to each camper regarding how much or how little they are comfortable sharing.
After the drawing and sharing, give each camper an envelope and tape to seal it. You can send the campers home with their envelopes with instructions to reopen them in six months. Another option is to carefully collect the envelopes and mail them out later in the year as a way to keep camp on kids’ minds even when it isn’t summer. This is a fun way to help campers wrap up their session, and to connect them to what they love about camp when they’re back home.
Make Safe Connections
We’re all facing the reality that camp is going to feel different this summer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring campers close to each other, even from a safe distance. It is a challenge, but it’s one that employs the creativity that comes with being on staff at camp. While you will have to abandon some of the activities your campers have come to know and love, you can introduce them to new ones that can be just as much fun.
These six ideas can help you get started, but we would love to see more suggestions for activities your campers can safely do while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Let us know your ideas in the comments section below.