I asked a group of summer camp professionals what they would do if their camp was gifted $500 to $1500. Here are their answers.
If my camp was gifted $500 – $1500 I would…
- Install a rock climbing wall.
- Have someone come and help us “create” or start to “create” a rope or obstacle course in the woods. We would have a tree fort, ropes to walk on, hollow out logs to climb through. We would have the children draw what they think should be in an obstacle course, then look at the materials needed, was this practical, the cost of materials and labor to build it, and the maintenance of the equipment. This is exciting to me because it is always interesting to see how creative the children are in their design.
- Purchase some tree climbing sets like these. We do not have a climbing wall and ever since I saw this type of thing at a camp conference, I have thought it would be a great addition to camp. It would get kids in nature and also, how cool is it to climb a tree like that!
- Get an inflatable gaga pit and an inflatable slip-n-slide.
- Get a better archery set up.
- Spend it on iconic Canadian game/sport equipment like a set of lacrosse sticks, a set of snowshoes (can be used on the grass in obstacle races), and a bunch of crokinole boards.
- Purchase a Jungle Jump-a-roo and get the sprinkler attachment. Or buy 3 for $1500 and add this to an activity area with archery or other area where there might be waiting or choices.
- Go out and purchase a set of Archery Tag bows, arrows, helmets and blow up bags. Someone rented a local company to come in and provide this service/game at our camp last week and I think it could be one of the faster growing team sport games coming our way. Ideally, I would see two teams of 6 each with a full archery tag set up and then teach them strategy, cooperation, communication and creative thinking. You can see this game at Archerytag.com.
- Purchase Nerf Lazer Tag guns. The guns come in two-packs in two different colors, so buying 10 or so sets for $500 allows for two teams of 10 to play laser tag against each other. They work well and are easy to use and set up, and we’ve found them to be big hits with our campers. We use them in all sorts of environments, making use of room setups as obstacles for the course itself, making it an easy activity that leads to lots of fun!
- Get some Bubble Balls.
- Buy a giant 3-foot Connect Four game to take our patio games to the next level.
- Get a pinball machine to add to our game room. I would love to give the kids something new to do and probably something they haven’t even had an opportunity to play…ever.
- Buy a new inflatable blow-up slide for our lake. The kids LOVE playing on these in the lake. They make general swim a blast!
- Build a carpetball table. These seem to be another big thing and I’d love to build one at our camp. Here’s a link I found for a good design.
- Build a Gaga Pit. This is by far one of the most used items at our day camp. You can find do it yourself construction instructions on YouTube along with several videos that show you the action of Gaga. My recommendation is this, and a part of the reason it is $1,200 and not $750.00. Place the pit on a solid surface and put a rubberized floor under it. Trying to put it on grass is tough because of a number of problems. You completely kill the grass for about 7 square yards and then when it rains it becomes mud and unplayable unless you get 10 people to move the entire structure. Then kill the grass in that area. For the amount of time this structure is played in, it is COMPLETELY worth the $500 flooring you will have to purchase every two years.
- Build a balancing maze table. 8 feet square. Uses golf balls or pool balls. Builds cooperation and teamwork.
- Buy as many paddleboards and paddles as we could. One for our lifeguard in the lake and the others for the campers.
- Purchase mini kayaks for the young campers (5 to 8 yo). I’d watch for the spring boat sales and pick up 6 of those. We did that two years ago for about $500 and our youngest kids LOVE them!
- Buy a number of REALLY cool prizes and a HUGE grand prize for our “Let’s Make a Deal” game-show session. We would build up to it the whole summer and have every game lead to this grand prize. This method would take an amazing game that lasts all summer long and make it so much greater by creating a hype leading to the grand prize!
- Rent a helicopter for Color War breakout.
- Use the money to improve our pond. We have a camp pond and kids LOVE it. Unfortunately, we don’t have the beach space to hold our full group of campers. I would use the money to expand the beach and provide more room for campers to play who aren’t interested in being in the water.
- Put in scoreboards for each sports activity.
- Overhaul one of our current trailers into a portable camp classroom. This trailer would have tables, Wi-Fi, a smart board and other educational tools. It would come fully equipped with an outdoor education expert who would drive the vehicle. The trailer would bop around from park to park around town and offer no-charge, educational opportunities to the public. These educational opportunities would change weekly, but would revolve around the nature, wildlife, or recreational opportunities that residents of that particular nature would see or do on a regular basis.
- Build a Giant Muskoka chair for photo ops, a hangout spot and because I want one.
- Spend it on a sound system for camp. I’m talking about sound on the fields, in the gym etc. Every good or (even mediocre) activity is made better with great music!
- Build a Swing-ebo (campfire swing circle). I would use part of this money to buy professionally made wooden swings and a campfire circle made the correct way, with retaining wall blocks, or cemented rocks, not just rocks piled in a circle. I like these swing circles for the community they encourage, and their uniqueness.
- Send select “long-haul” (or potential “long-haul”) staff to a conference and ask them to present their AH-HA! moments and key take-aways with the rest of the staff during orientation.
- Spend the money on our staff. We would use the money for relieving staff stress and for team camaraderie. Programs such as boxing, yoga, rowing and spinning would be offered weekly for our counselors. The programs would take place after camp ends in the afternoon and would be recreation staff only classes. At various points throughout the summer, all employees will deal with some kind of stress. By offering these classes we hope our staff uses it as a way to relax and decompress after a long day at work. It is also a great way to get staff to work together and build team chemistry for camp.
- Get some awesome camp swag for my staff. We all know that camp swag is a hot commodity, and if my staff knew they had the potential to get a camp sweatshirt, long sleeve, hat, etc. I guarantee they’d go the extra mile. I know I would!
- Spend the money on my staff. Appreciation, encouragement, ways to make them feel valued and part of the team. Goodies at staff meetings, gift cards, nights out, etc. It seems like when the staff feel valued, they end up investing in the camp on a long-term basis.
- Start a referee academy. We are always in need of qualified referees in our municipal programs. It would be great to use the extra money to pay a few instructors to train officials.
- Buy costumes for staff to be used in daily events or just for randomness.
- Treat my overworked and underpaid counselors to an Appreciation BBQ. I would pick a midweek evening midway through the summer. I would close our outdoor pool to members, find a DJ and have a catered Appreciation BBQ Cookout/Pool Party. Each counselor could invite a guest for an evening of fun, food and friends.
- Hire a person just for pumping up the campers.
- Invite guest speakers from our Inuit community to come and show the campers different games like Knuckle Hop, Double Ball, Snowsnake, One Foot High Kick, Stick Pull, etc.
- Buy a Canva membership. Canva.com is an awesome online platform that helps you to create professional looking documents & social media images. They have awesome templates (for free and for paid members) that make me feel like a pro!
- Purchase a few GoPro cameras to record the “day in a life of a camper”. Great for year-end party, possible clips for promos.
- Start a fund for staff to spend on campers (knick-knacks, dining table decoration, bunk decoration).
- Buy a good wheel of fortune wheel.
- Purchase a LARGE amount of Craft Supplies (markers, crayons, paints, paper).
- Purchase larger storage pieces for my supplies and sports equipment (replace hockey sticks, Gatorskin dodgeballs, football flags & pinnies).
- Develop “camp lunches” with my local food bank. Summer sack lunches which included a craft kit, continuing story, card game, etc. for kids who couldn’t make it to a day camp. Bringing a little summer day camp to them.
- Use some of the funds for scholarships. I know the amount of money would not benefit many but maybe we could get fund matching.
- Gather supplies is STEAM and team building/sports activities. Some children are afraid of science, and math is rarely enjoyed. However, there are LOTS of supplies that would be beneficial in enhancing the lives of children.
- Start a Compass Awards program.
- Use the money for basic science equipment for the camp. The lessons include electricity, magnetism, water, and aerodynamics. These lessons only need a few basic and simple items such as magnets, LED lights of various sizes, miniature solar panels, a radiometer, and various sizes of batteries.
- Purchase a popcorn machine. Who doesn’t like popcorn?
I raised $500 on a GoFundMe page in three days! The money went to purchase books for my summer day camp for urban youth. I was able to get the books for free but just had to pay the shipping/handling fee which saved me lots of money.
I used FirstBook.org. First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books, learning materials, and other essentials to children in need. Since our founding in 1992, First Book has distributed more than 160 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families. First Book supports the largest and fastest growing network of educators and program leaders serving children in need. In partnership with these heroic educators and other organizations, First Book transforms lives by improving access to equal, quality education for all kids.
A few years ago, I had a donation made to camp. We decided to install a hammock village. We chose a hammock village because we wanted to encourage socializing and building relationships. It seems that kids like to congregate and hang out if there is a designated place to do so.We have a total of 16 hammocks (12 standard hammocks and 4 chair hammocks) that are secured from poles surrounding a center pole. The volunteer that completed the project for us built the poles from recycled metal, but a wood structure could be utilized effectively and keep costs low.
Our first covering was a cheap parachute, but it did not last long in the wind. We eventually had a donor step forward and purchase a custom-made vinyl covering, but that exceeded the $1500 limit. If I was building again, I would consider building it under some trees to make it more woodsy.
Portable Sound Systems/Music – DO IT!
Purchasing a few Android phones and Battery Power PA systems has really taken a lot of our activities to the next level.
One thing that can ruin any campfire is when a camper or staff member has something to share, you’re running a program or skit and people CAN’T HEAR. A simple investment with a rechargeable PA system can change the game and take your campfire to the next level. I’m not advocating for pumping music, just use it as a simple PA. Your campers will thank you!
One way to make any activity better is to infuse some bumping tunes, epic movie themes or ambient music. Instead of hauling a generator or relying on a tiny Bluetooth speaker, have a block rocker at your disposal, capable of 20 hours of music on one single charge.
Android Phones – (cheaper than Apple)
Buy Spotify premium family for the summer, load up a few different playlists and instantly have music available at any location – pool, basketball court, etc. You can even download the music for offline listening.
I would buy 2 or 3 Rechargeable Portable Sound Systems and 2 or 3 Android Phones.
Portable Sound Systems:
Both have Bluetooth and can take a microphone
$270 500 Watt Ion Audio Road Warrior – Big Sound but much shorter battery
$99 Ion Block Rocker (50 Watt) – Battery lasts forever!
$164 Ion Block Rocker (100Watt) – haven’t used it, but should be great
Samsung J3 Emerge: 49.99 from Boost Mobile
Spotify Family Premium: 14.99 month