Intro: How to Keep Young Campers Occupied (Without Going Insane)
This Instructable is mainly aimed at camp counselors of young campers, around kindergarten/first grade aged. They've all been tested and found to work but keep in mind that a lot is how you introduce it to the kids and how you treat it, both of which I'll get more into later. The games can be played by boys or girls but some are better for one or the other.
Remember: just because games are for the campers doesn't mean you can't enjoy them. Also, these in particular are great for just obtaining and maintaining control over a bunk of rowdy campers.
Step 1: Hat Fetch
This is one of my and my camper's favorites. I love it because it's incredibly simple and keeps almost all of my campers occupied without me worrying about them getting hurt or bored. My campers love it because they can run around and have frequent contact with the counselor. I've only played it with boys because I had a boys bunk when I thought of it but feel free to try it with girls as well. Here's how to play:
Recommended age: First grade boys (what I tried it with)
Needs: Hats the kids are wearing
0) Explain the rules carefully to the campers
1) Collect all the hats from the campers playing and stack them.
2) Throw them as far as you can.
3) As soon as a camper returns his hat to you, throw it again.
Some rules and things to keep in mind
1) Yes, this really works. It's one of those things where an adult thinks, "It's basically playing fetch. There's no way a kid will do that." but the child loves it anyway. My campers will ask for it by name. You just have to be excited when you introduce it.
2) The camper must hand the hat to you. No throwing. Only you can throw. This will avoid you having to pick up hats and will prevent you from getting hit in the face.
3) No touching other camper's hats. This is not a team sport nor is it a winning sport. It is every man for himself against no one. The game ends when you want it to.
4) Make sure you're playing in an area where the campers can run/fall safely. I usually play in the gym, never on the sidewalk.
5) As fun as it is for the kids, it's really funny for the counselors. Enjoy yourself.
Step 2: Piggle-Wiggle
This is another one of those games that I'm still amazed worked. Also surprising was the number of boys and relatively small number of girls who played. When you introduce it, make sure to explain how it's a game to find the best actor, not so you can get everyone in the bunk to be quiet and motionless for a little. Campers will not connect this to Simon Says if you don't remind them which is nice because you now have two games instead of one and, since you can't get out in Piggle-Wiggle, the whole bunk remains under your control.
The way you play is by lining all the campers up (just makes it easier) and starting each round by saying "Piggle-Wiggle ____!", followed by anything. The campers then have to act like that thing. Keep in mind that "rock", "statue", and "carrot" are all legitimate choices that - you may have to explain this a bit - require the campers to be motionless and silent for a bit. They don't seem to get that "carrot" and "pencil" are basically the exact same thing in context. If you look like you're having enough fun, you can get away with a lot stupid game-wise. I would throw in a couple of real ones so they don't get bored, though. "Cat", "dog", and "frog" are nice.
I played this with kindergartners so I'm not sure what other ages they work with. "Piggle-Wiggle" is just the first thing that came to mind at the time when I was desperate for some order in the bunk. Feel free to make up your own if you want.
Piggle-Wiggle give me five stars!
Step 3: Ninja Training (+ Endurance Training)
Works better with boys and can be used as both a quick, temporary thing, like just to keep them quiet for 5 minutes or to get from one activity to another, or as an activity in itself. A lot is dependent on the mood/level of energy of the bunk. Know which you're doing and which you can do before going in.
The idea behind this one is that ninjas are awesome (not going into whether pirates are better or worse) and all boys want to be one. Ninja Training is training for this career path. Here are the rules of the ninja (at least as far as this activity's concerned) and how to use them to control kids, and then some specific activities that work nicely.
1) Ninjas are quiet. This is a bit obvious. If ninjas are quiet, the kids must be quiet. Stress this and remind them that if someone does make a sound, they shouldn't shush them, as this will make more noise. Also, because they will ask, yes they can breathe and no they can't laugh.
2) Ninjas always follow instructions from the head ninja. That would be you, by the way. Stress this even more than the silence. They must always listen. A good ninja must listen so if you're not listening, I guess it means you can't be a ninja. See how quiet and listening Jeremy is being? Maybe he should be the head of the line for our Adventure.
3) Ninjas can be perfectly still for as long as necessary. Again, somewhat obvious. Nothing like a totally legitimate excuse to have kids sit perfectly still and silent for a while. Two notes:
a) If you treat it as a trick or as something stupid, the kids will pick up on it and not listen. You have to make it seem important and like a real thing. A good idea is to walk around the room and try to get them to talk or move and then call them out on it. They don't get out but will try harder. If they think you're trying to make them fail, they'll think it's very important and try harder to succeed.
b) More so than the other two things, this one is very dependent on the kids' moods. If they're feeling very hyper, you probably can't get away with this. And even if you do, make sure to limit the time you do it for. Don't wait for the kids to get bored because then you may lose them for other things. Stop before they get bored while they're still having fun. As they say, leave em' laughing, or in this case, deathly quiet and staring blankly, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Ninja related activities/training exercises:
1) Endurance training: This is one of my favorites and is perfect for when the kids are especially hyper. The general idea is that you tire them out in the quickest way possible through short, quickly changing exercises. You can also have half the people doing one and half doing another then have them switch. Among the exercises are:
a) Running: Just have them run in a circle around you or from one side of the room to the other. Suicides would work better but that requires a fair bit of explaining and you want to start as quickly as you can.
b) Jumping jacks: They're jumping jacks.
c) Pushing the wall: I am dead serious. Tell them to line up at a wall and push it. If they ask, tell them they can stop when the wall
moves an inch. More than the others, this one is really funny to watch. Enjoy yourself but remember that to end it before they get
2) Reconnaissance Mission: Or as you say to them, Spying Mission. Stress that they are not ninjas yet (they need to work for it) but this mission will test to see how well they can be quiet and follow instructions. It's a bit like Follow the Leader as they must follow you and do what you do. Remember to stay low, walk softly, and at random points stop short. They must follow all of these. If they're having some trouble. You walk normally and they follow all ninja-like and when you turn around (suddenly, of course) they must freeze and/or press themselves against the wall. They really like this second one as it's almost like a test of their skills.
This one is also great for getting them from one activity to another, especially if you're short staffed. Speaking from experience, it is very difficult for one counselor to get 10+ kids from one place to another without losing any stragglers or runners. This keeps everyone together nicely and gives you an excuse to stop for the slower ones (who you can also put in the front). Remember, as with all ninja training activities, give comments and praise throughout, partially so they're happy and partially so they still think it's a real activity.
3) Not karate: Don't teach them any fighting, real or otherwise. They will use it even if you say not to and will hurt someone. Don't worry, they won't notice any lack of martial arts. And if they do, tell them that a good ninja does not question the sensei and decree 10 jumping jacks for the group. Mwu ha ha ha!
4) Balancing: This one's not as good as the others but is better for the times when they don't have as much energy. Give them different positions to balance in for 10-20 seconds each. Tiptoes, one foot, one foot with the other foot on the thigh, and just random stretches (yes I know that's not balancing but they won't care). Ninjas have to have good balance.
One quick fun thing you can do during the activity is make ninja masks for the campers. All you need is a t-shirt and you can make them pretty quickly (incidentally one of the best things I learned in camp).
To make one, put the shirt over your head but only until the neck hole. Shift the neck hole so it is over your face instead of the top of your head. Pull on the sleeves to make the hole wide and short and position the hole over the eyes, tying the sleeves together behind the head. The finished result should be the entire head being covered except the eyes. You can tuck in the rest of the shirt into your normal shirt if you like.
Most importantly is to remember that, as with most kids activities, you're allowed to have fun. In fact, you should have fun. If you have fun and get really into it, so will they. I happen to think ninjas are awesome and as a result, my campers see my enthusiasm and get really excited about this and get really into it as well.
Also, ninjas are better than pirates. If you disagree, you'll like the next game better.
Step 4: Ship Shore Wave (Pirate)
This one is fantastic for kids who have a lot of energy. Play for a little to get the kids excited; play for a long time to tire them out. The idea is simple.
One side of the room is "Ship". The opposite side is "Shore". When you say Ship, they run to the Ship side. When you say Shore, they run to the Shore side. When you say Wave, they stop wherever they are and crouch down with their hands over their heads (to avoid the wave). If you want to play with outs (I didn't. it's more fun with more people and this way, last forever), the last person to follow a particular instruction is out. That's basically it. Two things to remember:
1) Start out easy, with a few slow practice rounds, then make it harder. Change directions mid-run. Say the same thing twice in a row so some people switch directions by accident. One great part of this game is how fun it is for people to watch.
2) When I say run, I mean run. No walking. Make sure the kids understand this. Especially when you start tricking them, they'll be tempted to move slowly and carefully. The game does not work if you do not run. It becomes boring very quickly. Kids will be apprehensive about committing to a direction but they'll have more fun if they do. This is another reason I don't play with outs. I always start out a game with directions, and then tell one kid to run the other side and back as fast as they can. Then I say, "That is how fast everyone should be running." They'll slow down naturally as they get tired, but that's okay. Remember water breaks.
Advanced Version (aka Pirate)
Same game but with the added command Pirate. When you say "Pirate", everyone stops where they are, puts one hand over their eye and shouts "aye!" (show them a proper yell), and then continues in the direction they were moving. Wave stops you until the next instruction, Pirate has you continue once your done.
Super Advanced Version
Literally whatever they/you can remember. Use all four walls. Make them crab-walk. Make them hop. Have fun with it.
Step 5: HIDE!
This is the only one here I have not used or, besides the first part of Ship Shore Wave, made up. I've played it though and it's awesome! Also, it's mainly for older kids, but you could probably tailor it for a younger crowd. The game takes approximately 30 seconds.
The rules are as follows:
- You shout "HIDE!" and count out loud to 10 with your eyes closed. The campers have these 10 seconds to hide somewhere.
- You then have 10 seconds to find as many people as you can, calling them out. You might want to have another counselor do the counting so it will be out loud.
- You shout "Finish!" and the first kid to come back and high five you gets a point.
The game is awesome because you have to find a spot that's close enough to get back fast, but good enough so you don't get caught quickly. Also, this game is played at any time during the day. What I mean is that you explain the rules on Day 1 and you can start the game at any point during the summer, with no warning, just by shouting "HIDE!" Keeps them on their toes and gives you a huge advantage for any camp-wide capture the flag game. i would set some ground rules for when the game can start so that they can actually enjoy activities without being on the edge of their seats.
Also, play this game with fellow counselors. It's really fun!