A few years ago, I had decided to stop running our annual Harry Potter Day Camp. I figured, since all the books had been published and all the movies were on DVD, the popularity of it all would just go away. After speaking with some of the parents of campers who attended that particular summer, I decided to continue. What started as a one week day camp for 12-15 kids 7 or 8 years ago, is now a three week day camp with 40 kids each week and a waitlist. Due to staff and facility limitations 40 is the max. As kids get older and parents read the books to them, Pottermania continues – for a new generation.
A while back I wrote a 3 part series on running a Harry Potter Camp. Since then my specialty camp partner-in-crime, Tina Morales, and I have tried a lot of different things. This post is a list of what worked and how we changed/improved our Harry Potter Camp. To view the original posts click on the headings of each section below.
We still use the same acceptance letter that is found on the original post. The change we made was how it was delivered. When I first started this camp I drove to each camper’s house and placed the letter by the front door late at night, as if an owl had dropped it there. As the camp grew and we started to get kids from outside our area, I knew this wasn’t going to be feasible.
We still print out the letter on parchment style paper and place it in a sealed envelope with the camper’s name on it. However, now we place that letter in a large manilla envelope along with a welcome letter for the parent explaining everything they need to know about camp, and a sheet instructing them to place the Acceptance Letter outside in a place that their child will find it the next morning. I explain on the sheet how we want to make it look like an owl had delivered it.
Parent’s love the idea and almost always play along. By doing this, the magic of camp starts before campers actually arrive at our facility.
As you can imagine, our decorations have grown and became more elaborate, from trees made out of brown butcher paper to floating candles hung from the ceiling. One thing we like to do is make the rooms dark, because inside of Hogwarts is dark. So we have a lot of battery powered candles everywhere, as well as house lamps. Using the overhead lights kills the ambiance.
Here are some neat tutorials that may help with decorating for a Harry Potter camp.
Whether you want to create a Forbidden Forest feel or make a small scale Whomping Willow you can start with the link below for ideas. It’s for a classroom, but the same principles apply.
Hanging candles from the ceiling can really help set the mood for camp.
There are many other things you can do (and many more we do). For more ideas on decorating, and more HP ideas in general, check out my Harry Potter Pinterest page.
The way we do points has not changed, but because our day camp grew, we went from 2 houses to 4 houses. We started with Embredor and Firesong. Later we added Paladorn and Grizelstorm. (Notice how they all have 3 syllables in their names like the houses at Hogwarts, which was deliberately done by JK Rowling.) Here is what the template looks like for our staff and camper’s name tags. There are two for each because we cut them out, place theme back to back and laminate them before adding the lanyard. That way if they flip around it will still show their name.
As for the sorting, we assign each camper a house ahead of time. On our online registration form there is a place where parents can request their child be in the same house as a friend, which we always honor, but we ask parents to let their child know that their request will be passed on to the Sorting Hat.
We have a sound system in the ceiling of our facility which we plug a mic and laptop into. The speakers are inside the room where the sorting takes place. The laptop, microphone and one of the staff are in an adjacent hallway. A recording of the Sorting Hat song that we wrote and sang has been uploaded to the laptop. Here is how the sorting looks…
- All the campers are seated in the main room.
- First year campers stand off to the side.
- Return campers have already been sorted during previous summers so they sit with their houses.
- The Sorting Hat sits on a chair at the front of the room.
- The headmaster/mistress makes a short speech and begins the sorting by introducing the Sorting Hat and placing a non-working microphone in front of it.
- The staff person in the hallway plays the Sorting Hat song which comes out the speakers.
- After the song, the first camper on the list is called up to sit in the chair. The staff person in the hallway has the same list so he/she know who’s going to be called and what house they are in.
- A staff person places the hat on the camper’s head. Well, not exactly on their head, mostly above their head so it doesn’t mess up their hair and helps to avoid the possibility of lice exchange.
- The staff person in the hallway uses a high “Sorting Hat voice” and calls out the house in their microphone so it can be heard out the speakers.
- The return campers of that house cheer loudly, while the first year camper goes and sits with them.
This continues until all the campers have been placed in a house. It makes it much more enjoyable if the person playing the Sorting Hat has fun with it. When I play the Sorting Hat (which I love to do), I make is sound like the movie, “You could do well in Paladorn, but I think maybe…FIRESONG!”
Instead of trying to make a sorting hat or using a “regular” wizard’s hat, I just spent the $30 to get one that looks like the movie version on Amazon.
WHY WE USE DIFFERENT HOUSES
Our camp is not supposed to be THE Hogwarts. We bill ourselves as a satellite location of Hogwarts Americana. You won’t find Professor Flitwick here. We have our own professors. The sorting hat here is a cousin of the sorting hat in England. The benefits of constructing camp around this story are many…
- We don’t have to play the characters from the books.
- Campers won’t test us on our knowledge of our characters.
- We don’t have to try and dress like those characters.
- Each staff person can have their own wizarding style.
- Campers don’t get upset when they are sorted into Slytherin or Hufflepuff (though, personally, I’m all about Hufflepuff).
- We don’t have to try and decorate like it’s Hogwarts in England.
- Our activities are our own. If we do a Tri-Wizard tournament it can be different than the books version because we are a different school.
- If, by the off chance, Warner Bros. or Scholastic decided to send us a cease and desist letter for copyright infringement, we can easily drop the Harry Potter name and call our camp ‘Wizard Camp’ since we already have different houses and characters. This has never happened to any camp that I know of running a Harry Potter theme, but it has happened to a few organizations running ‘Jedi Camps’ (thanks Lucasfilm), so I am always on guard about it.
One of the things we ask staff to do is create a character. While all staff use their real last name (Professor Jackson), staff characters are unique. The staff are given character sheets with the following questions:
- What is your occupation?
- What are your hobbies?
- What is your social status?
- What kind of wizarding fashion style do you have?
- Describe your background.
- What was your childhood like?
- How is your health?
- Describe your current home life.
- What are your goals?
- Who is someone you admire?
- What is something you can’t stand?
- What is your favorite phrase?
- What is the best thing about you?
- What is the worst thing about you?
By answering these questions, staff really know their character and can play their part more effectively. This is done during staff training.
SCARVES AND OWLS
We still usually give out scarves and plush owls, but the cost of scarves has gone up and certain colors are hard to find anymore, so it’s being phased out. The owls will always be a part of HP camp since the kids like them so much.
We have tried a number of different ways to make wands. I have two favorites.
Chopsticks are cheap and can be found online, at some 99 cent stores or at local Chinese restaurants. Here is a good tutorial for making wands this way – http://boxycolonial.com/diy-harry-potter-wands/.
- Easier to personalize
- Uses hot glue which, of course, needs to be done by staff
- Can get really messy
- Takes a lot of craft time
I found an Etsy store where wands are sold in bulk. They are wood, come in different versions and look great. I get the unfinished ones for campers and the finished ones for staff. The unfinished ones are around $6-$8 each, and the finished ones are around $10-$12 each for the basic ones. They have wands that go up to $40. So it’s an investment for sure, but since we are phasing out the scarves (which are roughly the same cost) it works for us. The Etsy store is OrchardWorks. If you are buying a bunch of wands, send them an email asking for a price.
- Fun to have the campers choose a wand (or have the wand choose them)
We continue to do all the same activities that I listed in Part 2. We have also added a few including the study of Ancient Runes and Divination.
The most anticipated class is always Potions, but the campers favorite activity has always been Dueling (to my never-ending surprise).
With Potions there are so many science experiments online that you can use. Look around and find ones that work for you. Steve Spangler’s site is a great place to start.
Remembering spells, especially ones that can be used for Dueling, is always difficult. I have placed placards with spells on them all over the rooms and have written them on a whiteboard, but the poster I created seems to be the favorite way for campers to remind themselves. I print up a few on a plotter (a large printer that makes poster sized prints) and hang them around the room. If we didn’t have a plotter I would just have them printed at a local print shop or Kinkos.
Here is what the poster looks like.
We still play the same group games that I wrote about in Part 3. We have tried others, some worked and some didn’t. However, there is one that became really popular.
In this game the “Whomping Willow” (WW) is played by a staff member. The bigger the person, the better.
- The WW holds two pool noodles, one in each hand. These are its limbs.
- An item is placed just in front of the WW. I like to use a stuffed character of Hermione.
- The campers try and rescue Hermione without getting hit by the WWs limbs.
- If a camper is hit with a pool noodle they are out for that round.
- If a camper successfully rescues Hermione they are awarded points for their house.
As the WW you are constantly turning, looking behind you and all around, as all the campers rush forward. It takes a few staff to referee this game, but it is so much fun. It’s also easy to set-up and that is always a plus, especially in a camp where there is a lot of set-up for a lot of different activities.
The way I described running our version of Quidditch in Part 3 is the same way we do it today. However, the construction of the Qudditch hoops has gone through many variations. I still haven’t found the perfect solution. If I ever figure out the ideal set-up, I will let you all know. If you think you have found it please write it in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
We still don’t use brooms, but if you insist on having them, I suggest you use pool noodles as brooms. Get some yellow ones and tape strips of yellow material to the end. Safe and cheap.
We still do all the things I wrote about in Part 3 (with the exception of the Muggle magic). It all works, and the return campers continue to enjoy it. We do, of course, change things up a little to keep it fresh, but overall the program works extremely well.
One big thing we did add was a visit to Honeyduke’s on the last day of camp. During the week we have a couple of treasure hunts and challenges where houses earn gold (plastic) coins. We make it so that all the campers have the same amount. The first year we did this each camper had a different amount of gold coins. Campers were upset that their friends had more to spend then they did, there were arguments and hurt feelings and that’s not the way we want camp to end. So, we decided it would be best if everyone had the same amount to spend.
The house with the most points gets to visit Honeydukes first, giving them the pick of the litter. Inside this room there are a lot of treats. We go to a party store and purchase all sorts of candy that can pass for things like Acid Pops, Chocoballs, Fizzing Whizzbees, Jelly Slugs, etc. Then we make labels to put on jars and vases that we get from the dollar store. If you need some labels and ideas check out this site.
It wasn’t all sweets, though. We also had dollar store toys, stickers, magic items, and I printed off a few spell posters.
The last thing I want to tell you about is the “Common Room”. Ideally, we would have separate rooms for each of the houses, but due to limited space, that isn’t possible. So, I take PVC pipe and build two connecting walls that, when pushed up against the corner of a room, make a small room. We cover it with black plastic sheeting and some colorful fabric and make a slit for an entrance. Then we add a couple of bean bags, chairs, card table, decorations, etc.
- You can have the house with the most points for that day use it.
- Each house gets it for one day.
- Each day there is a challenge between the houses. The winner gets use of the common room that day.
If you can make more than one common room, do it. The campers LOVE it…much more than I thought they would. It is like their secret hideaway. Even though the staff are essentially in the same room, we rarely enter their common room space, so it is a real treat to be able to use it.
All-in-all, the original camp structure hasn’t changed much. However, the culture of the camp and the environment in general has gotten better as staff lock into their characters, decorations keep improving, class projects get better and more streamlined, houses are formed more strategically, we make cuts to things that don’t work and ramp up things that do, we get better at awarding points, better at parent communication, etc. It all comes form experience. These posts should help you bypass all the early mistakes we made.
While the decorations helps create the ambiance and classes and games excite the campers, the key is your staff. The more the staff gets into it, the more the kids enjoy it. It’s not easy to find the right staff for specialty camps, but when you do, it makes all the difference.
If you run a Harry Potter camp, let me know in the comments section what the campers like best and what neat things you do. If you email me some pictures and details about your specialty camp, I may feature you in a future post.