Icebreakers are the classic summer camp way to foster camp camaraderie from day one, but even these need a little refresher. These 11 suggestions are summer camp icebreakers that help you avoid the cliché “getting to know you” activities while helping your campers create new connections.
We all know that on the first day of camp, nerves, shy giggles, and awkward body language are in no short supply. That’s why we’ve come up with some fresh new icebreakers to turn awkward into ease for counselors and summer campers alike.
#1: Silent Movies
There are many camp activities that require extensive planning and supplies, but the hustle of the first day of camp often requires something simple. Silent Movies is a great simple activity to have in your back pocket without needing any supplies. Simply break campers into pairs, ideally, with another camper they don’t know well. They start by sharing their names, and after that, they need to communicate without speaking. The goal is for the campers to learn a few things about their partner. They can use hand gestures, make little scenes with objects around them, or act out charade style.
Make sure each camper has a turn to teach their partner before having everyone come back into the large group. Then, go around the circle and have each camper talk about what they learned about their partner.
#2: Board Game Speed Rotation
For this activity, you need a bunch of two-player board games laid out on tables set up in a circle. Half of your campers sit in chairs on the outside of the circle, and the other half inside. They should be set up so each pair of campers faces each other with a board game between them.
When the game begins, announce a question they need to answer with each other. After they get this quick get-to-know-you task completed, they begin to play their respective board games against each other. Every five minutes have players rotate, pose a new question, and let them play for five minutes.
Good games to use: Chess, Yahtzee, Checkers, Scrabble, Go Fish, Battleship, Connect4, Shoots and Ladders, Uno, Backgammon, etc. If the pair isn’t sure how to play the game, just let them make up their own rules.
#3: Judge a Book By Its Cover
Use this icebreaker for a quick and simple method to introduce counselors and campers. Campers will work together in small teams to learn all about their counselors.
Divide the kids into small groups of two or three. All you’ll need is a section of wall, a whiteboard, or even just a picnic table for each group to work with. For each counselor, you’ll need to come up with a list of ten interesting facts. The crazier the facts, the more fun (and surprising!) the game. So, let’s say you’ve got three counselors; for this game, you’d have ten facts each for a total of 30. Then, you’d make the same stack of 30 facts for however many teams you’ve got competing. It’s important that all teams have the same amount of facts.
Jumble the fact cards so that each team has no idea which facts are associated with which counselor. On the wall, whiteboard, or table, write the counselors’ names and provide space for the teams to divvy up the facts and place ten each under the counselor’s name that they think fits best. Keep the kids moving quickly by timing the game (5 minutes max) and whoever has the most facts paired with the correct counselor wins!
#4: Turn the Tarp
For this summer camp icebreaker, you’ll need to get a few tarps, one for each equally sized group. The object of this game is to challenge each group of campers to stand on the tarp simultaneously and flip the tarp over. But here’s the challenge: no one can step off of the tarp (not even one toe) at any time. This is a hilarious game that requires everyone to work together toward a common goal. The first group to flip their tarp completely over without stepping off wins!
Some practical notes: On a 5’x7’ tarp, you can fit about 6-10 kids depending on whether your camp is for little ones or teens. The tarp should not have a lot of empty space available or the game will be too easy. Use your own judgment to decide how many campers to put on each tarp.
#5: Be Square
This icebreaker only involves the use of some blindfolds and a simple rope for each group. Separate campers into groups of 4 or 8 and give them each a blindfold. They should not know the object of this game until they have their blindfolds securely in place and are completely silent.
Once all of your groups are ready, explain the rules. Tell them that once you say “go,” each member of the group will need to introduce themself to the rest of the group so that they can communicate. Then, their goal is to use all members of the group to make the rope into a perfect square. All members have to be touching the rope at all times and they must communicate to make it happen.
Wondering how they’ll figure it out without being able to see what they’re doing? Watch and see!
#6: RUOY EMAN
This icebreaker gets everyone working together toward a common goal. They’ll think that goal is a treat, but you’ll know that the goal is simply getting to know each other’s names. First, line all of the campers up. Depending on how many kids you’ve got, determine a fair time cap for the campers to complete this game. Tell them that if they can get it done in, say, two minutes (or much more if you’ve got lots of campers), then they’ll get candy, ice cream, or whatever sweet treat you think will get them excited.
The object of the game is for the first camper in line to spell his or her first name backward, and for the second camper in line to scream it out once he or she figures it out. So, if the first camper’s name is “John,” he’ll say “My name is N-H-O-J.” Then, Camper #2 will do some quick computing and scream out “JOHN!” Now, it’s Camper #2’s turn. The game continues until every camper has been named. And if they make it in under the time allotted, they win! But if they don’t, give them the treat anyway.
#7: Would You Rather?
All kids love to talk about gross things. So, what better way to break the ice than to choose between licking a tire and eating a bug in a hypothetical game of “Would You Rather”?
You’re probably already familiar with the concept, but for a fun way to get the campers up and moving, mark spots outside or in a large indoor space as “Option 1” or “Option 2.” After you pose the question, campers must go to the correctly labeled area, where you can give them a minute or two to discuss. Then, each group makes its case to the other and campers can choose to stay put, or defect to the other side.
No doubt, the kids will be laughing, and you’ll probably be surprised at what gross choices others end up making. Who knows? You may end up finding more about them than you really wanted to.
#8: Stringing Along
All you need to set up this activity is a ball of yarn and a pair of scissors. Cut the yarn in varying lengths of string but make sure that you do so in pairs so that each piece has a pair of identical lengths. Mix them up and toss them in a bag, and have campers choose a piece.
When the game begins, have campers move around the room and find the other camper who has the piece of yarn that matches theirs in length. Once they find that person, encourage them to learn three things about their partner. Collect the yarn, mix it back up, and redistribute it so campers are matched with a few of their peers over the course of the activity.
#9: Size Me Up
This icebreaker will allow the campers and counselors to learn the valuable lesson that things aren’t always as they seem. For this icebreaker, you’ll only need to do a little bit of prep work. Using green and red construction paper, make a rectangle about the size of an index card, green on one side and red on the other. You can even laminate them for future use if you’d like.
Find a room or outdoor area where you can label “corners” with common interests like music, sports, drama, art, video games, or cooking. You may even want to make a corner that says “None” or “Still Looking” for the kids who haven’t found their passion yet. Indicate each “corner” with a sign. For example, for the music “corner,” you could hang up a poster with a music note. Be sure to explain the meaning of these signs before you start the game.
How it works…
Now, the object of the game is for each camper to end up in the proper corner (a corner that represents their interests in life), but not by their own choosing. The rest of the campers will attempt to match each camper with its proper corner. The game ends when all are placed correctly with their corner of interest.
Hand out the cards and have students deliberately stand in a corner that would NOT be considered their “favorite.” Once they’re all in place, tell all campers to hold up the red side of their cards. They are to keep this red side showing until they end up in the corner that represents their interest.
Start sizing each other up
Now, starting with whomever you choose, have one camper point out any other camper and move him out of his current corner and into another corner (let’s say from “music” to “art”) based on what type they think the camper seems to be. Once the camper moves, and if he has not been placed in his area of interest, he should continue to hold up his red card. If this move is actually correct, he should hold up his green card and sit. Then, call on the next person to move a camper of his or her choosing to another corner. Each camper gets only one guess before play moves to another camper.
Play should continue until everyone is in their “true” corner, sitting and holding their green card facing out. Added fun: play this game silently to see how quickly they can communicate and finish the game.
Note: it might take several turns before each camper is in his or her proper corner. You could shorten the game by choosing a small group of students who will just be “guessers” instead of playing and guessing at the same time.
A lesson learned
This is a great time to talk about judging people before we get to know them. You can use a couple of willing students as examples by pointing out where others thought they should go versus where they actually ended up.
#10: Get Your Life in Order
We know that summer camp is hectic. You might already be in the swing of major preparations even as you read this blog! That’s why we’ve created this super simple activity to help you break the ice with virtually no prep. We call this one “Get Your Life in Order” because it involves groups of campers lining themselves “in order” based on the instructions you give them. You can do groups of any equal amount, but we suggest at least 4 per group. Simple as that! When you say “go,” the first team to get in the correct order wins. Keep going until the kids become friends!
Tell the groups of campers to get in order based on:
- Birthdays (earliest to latest in the year)
- State or town in which they were born (northernmost to southernmost)
- Height (tallest to shortest)
- Pets (most to fewest)
- Hair length (shortest to longest)
- Longest toes (shortest to longest)
- Countries visited (most to fewest)
As you can see, you can do some easy rounds, like the birthday round, or some weird and silly rounds, like toe length. Either way, the summer campers will know each other by the end!
#11: Heads Up
Here’s yet another summer camp icebreaker that takes no prep at all. The object of this game is to gather all campers together and put them in a circle facing one another. For each round, the campers will simply look down at their laps until you scream out “Heads Up!” When the campers lift up their heads, they will look at another camper from across the circle. If they “meet eyes” with that camper, then both have to scream as loud and as long as they can. Whoever holds the scream the longest wins and the losing camper exits the circle.
As the circle contains fewer and fewer contestants, bring the campers in closer to one another. Keep going until there are only two contestants who, naturally, must look at each other when you yell “Heads Up!” As always, the longest scream wins the game!
If you like this post, check out our other list of 27 Summer Camp Activities to Spice Up the Summer Camp Atmosphere!