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This is a guest post by Peter Lemon.
As anyone who has run a summer camp session for kids already knows, a lot of hard work goes into all the fun and games! Read on for our top tips on making your game a success:
PLANNING MAKES PERFECT
On my first attempt at a new game, I’ll invariably spend more time planning the game than actually playing it. This illustrates just how much work there is to do on the part of the camp leader to make sure that all eventualities are covered and that everyone will be having a good time.
First, gather up the information that you have about the campers and the setting, and then use that information to choose the best possible game for the occasion. Here’s a simple checklist to ask yourself:
- How many children will be there, and how old will they be?
- How many adults will be there to supervise? What’re the adults to child ratio?
- How long does the game need to run for? What activities are the children doing before or afterward?
- What abilities will the children have? What do they like to do? Is it an active and confident group, or are they shy and reserved?
- What equipment will I have access to, or what’s my budget for buying equipment?
- What is the setting like? Is it indoors or outdoors, big or small, clear or littered with objects?
- How long will it take to set up, explain and demonstrate the game to the kids? Are there kids who have played before that could help me demo?
- Are there any special educational or learning needs to consider? Sessions should be all-inclusive.
- Double-check that the activity falls inside normal health and safety rules and doesn’t require any additional parental consent.
As you can see, there are lots of different variables that you need to consider! But by answering these questions, you can start to narrow down which games will be appropriate for your group, and which ones may not work.
For example, some games work better with smaller groups, some fantastic games are only possible with equipment that you don’t have access to, and some games will work with one set of campers but not another due to the personalities or skill sets involved.
Once you’ve answered those basic questions, it’s time to start brainstorming different game ideas. There are plenty of books and websites that have a million great games inside, such as the widely known Ultimate Camp Resource site, but by far the best resource will be other more experienced staff at your camp.
Make sure you set aside some time to talk to the experienced people around you and ask them about their favorite games.
LEADING THE GAME
In this section, we’ll cover some basic guidelines that will help you to lead a game successfully every time.
The first rule, which applies to almost every type of teaching, is don’t forget to K.I.S.S: keep it simple, stupid! While planning a game may be complicated, the game itself should be as simple as possible to run, especially if you are a first time camp leader or you have plenty of first time campers with you. This is because while you may have plenty of ideas for awesome rules in your head, rules generally lead to confusion, complications, squabbles and boredom.
Each child should know exactly what they are trying to do at the beginning of the game, and they shouldn’t be worrying about remembering too many difficult pieces of information. As time passes, you can build up to more complicated games, but only if you, and your campers, are ready to do so.
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
With younger children one of the most important things to remember is that they will completely mirror your opinions and enthusiasm, then times it by about ten. If you appear nervous and unhappy, they’ll be in floods of tears. If you walk out there with a smile on your face, they’ll be jumping up and down with excitement.
Crucially, children aren’t very good at spotting ‘pretend’ enthusiasm, so if you’re feeling nervous but can still summon a smile to your face, you can very often get away with it. This also means that you are going to have to lead from the front, rather than the sidelines. Campers will have a lot more fun when you are excited and taking part in the game, but don’t use this moment as an excuse to be the star-player that you always dreamt you were in high school! Either grade your ability level, or find another way to handicap yourself, so that other players have a chance to win.
This is an important point which extends to sportsmanship too. As well as reminding the children about the need for good sportsmanship and clearly but fairly policing infringements such as name-calling, you need to be demonstrating good sportsmanship at all times in your own actions. Children will take note when you stand-up for the kid that is being picked last – and you can make it less likely to happen again by picking him or her first if you ever end up acting as captain. A simple reward system can be used to encourage good behavior.
GIVE KIDS THE CREDIT THEY DESERVE
The majority of kids spend every playtime organizing games amongst themselves with minimal adult supervision, so remember that you have a bunch of experts on hand! You can use this to your advantage by inviting kids into the game as little leaders – who can help pick teams, explain the rules, demonstrate a skill or even act as a referee. Children love the additional responsibility and will feel just as invested as you are in making the game a success.
WHEN YOU CAN’T STICK TO A PLAN, HAVE A BACKUP PLAN!
Remember Murphy’s law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. This means if your game has an element that is remotely dangerous, it’ll be just your luck and you’ll end up with a camper in a cast. Take as many potential problems out of the game as you can identify before you start to play.
Common problems that I’ve experienced are heavy rain making an outdoor game impossible, or camp equipment being unavailable or inappropriate at the last possible moment, ruining that intense parachute game you had planned. It’s at moments like these that you’ll thank me, because you’ll have a backup game planned.
Your backup game should be different from your original game in order to prevent the same problems ruining two of your plans – for example, an outdoor game and an indoor game, or a competitive game and a cooperative game.
GET THE TIMING RIGHT
I’ve said this before and I’ve said it again: good timing can make all the difference between a successful game and a complete disaster. If your explanation is too long, the kids will run out of enthusiasm before the game even starts, and if it’s too short, they’ll start the game without understanding all of the rules and get frustrated with the whole concept.
As a separate note, it’s almost always better to end a game too soon rather than too late. If you call a game to an end right as the kids are having a great time, they’ll beg you to play for longer or play another time – allowing you to use the same game on a different day. But if you let a game drag on past the point where the kids are having fun, they’ll simply remember feeling frustrated and won’t be keen when you mention the game again, or when they talk about the game with their parents.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE INTROVERTS
It seems to be a fact of life that whatever the crowd and whatever the situation, extroverts get more attention than introverts. As a camp leader, it is really important that you take a couple of moments to think about every kid in the group and evaluate whether or not they have had enough quality time yet. Has Chloe been captain just as many times as everyone else? Has Ethan also had a turn with the Frisbee?
It can help to make a mental checklist of every child in the group and make sure that every child is ticked off for doing something. This is an important skill that is often overlooked and takes plenty of practice to make perfect.
PUT A SMILE ON THEIR FACES
It’s crucial to keep the aim of the game in mind at all times – and that should be the happiness, health and safety of your kids. While there is a time and a place for competitive sports, it is rarely summer camp, where you will likely have kids of different ages, abilities and backgrounds. With this in mind, I encourage you to chuck many of the usual elements of games out of the window.
Don’t keep score, have a flexible approach to balancing the teams and change the rules as and when you need to, if you feel it will make the kids happier.
So there you have MY ‘top tips’ for planning and leading a super successful summer camp game. Whether you are a first-timer or an old-hand looking for new tricks, I hope that you found something useful in this article. Remember, that in all things, as well as summer camp, practice makes perfect, and if you’re taking the time to read this article then you are stepping in the right direction for summer camp success.
About the Author:
Peter Lemon is a fitness instructor with extensive experience working with children. He is also the founder of The Academy of Fitness Professionals – a specialist training academy offering certified, industry-recognized fitness courses in the UK. Peter’s fitness advice has been featured in the Daily Mirror, Women’s Running and BBC2.