Summer camp has an unusual rhythm. Even though it can last anywhere from a week to eight weeks, it often feels much longer. The start of camp is fun and exciting. Everyone is getting to know one another, and lots of fun activities are going on. After some time spent at camp, however, campers and counselors can start to fatigue. Then things usually pick up towards the end. As a result, the last couple of weeks are fast and fun with lots of summer camp activities coming to a close.
So, what do you do when you notice things start to feel like they are dragging on and campers need a boost? Below are five go-to summer camp games that engage campers and never go out of style. The games are a combination of others that my campers could never get enough of when I was a summer camp counselor and that my students would constantly ask to play in my physical education classes.
This game is simple and fun. You will need a court-sized playing area. A basketball court is preferable.
- Cones (to make a dividing middle line)
- Several balls that roll such as soccer balls, volleyballs, Gator Skin balls, or kickballs
- Split your group up into two teams.
- Divide the playing area in half with cones.
- Each team goes to one side of the court.
- The team starts by making three passes to three separate players. Decide which team goes first by flipping a coin or some other fair method.
- After the team makes three passes, the third player must roll the ball off the other side’s back line. The back line can be something you establish with cones or the existing painted line on a basketball court.
- If one team gets a ball past the back line of the opposing team, they get a point. Keep playing for 5-10 minutes. Whoever has the most points at that time wins the round.
- Play several rounds.
Variations: Players may block the ball from going out of bounds. If the ball goes out on the side, no point is earned. You can add variations to the game by adding more balls and eliminating a passing rule. In that case, whoever gets the ball when it is stopped rolls it right back.
A Pot of Gold
This game is a fun way to keep players moving and thinking on their feet. It can be played safely on any sized playing area.
- Place one hula hoop in the center of the playing area, and fill it with all of the beanbags.
- This center hoop will be designated as the “pot o’ gold.”
- Place the remaining four hoops in each corner of the area. These hoops will be the collection spots for the beanbags after they are picked up from the pot o’ gold.
- Pick three players to be the “leprechauns,” or taggers, and have them wear pinnies.
- Divide the players into four different groups, with one group per hoop.
- Each group will try and steal as much gold from the pot as possible. The players should take only one beanbag at a time.
- If a player is tagged, they must bring the beanbag back to the pot o’ gold and return to their hula hoop and start over.
- Players will begin running when the whistle is blown and stop when all the gold has run out.
- Play for 1-2 minutes, and then stop to change “leprechauns.”
Variations: You can add variations to this game by having players get a beanbag to each hoop instead of an assigned one. You can also change how they move (e.g., skipping, hopping, leaping, etc.)
This game gets its name from Israel and it stands for “Hit, hit ball.” It’s a fun and fast-paced game that can be played in most places with some creativity. Many camps have dedicated Ga-Ga ball courses and equipment. This was my favorite game as a camper. I waited with bated anticipation for a rainy, hot, or special day when we could play this game. My camp went as far as building a special court to play it on! The chant “Ga-ga” still rings through my head today as the summer rolls around.
NOTE: This game is at the counselors discretion and you may want to seek permission from supervisors to play it. You can use soft balls and campers can sit out who don’t care to play.
- The game begins when the ball is thrown against the side of the playing area or up in the air. When the ball bounces once, it is considered “live” and the play begins.
- Players hit the ball at the other players. Players use their hands to block. If a player is hit or touched by the ball, they are out.
- If a player “double hits” the ball, they are out. The ball may be hit twice by the same player but only if it bounces off the wall between the two hits. Just touching the ball counts as a hit.
- Players removed from the game stand still on the sides or in the corners of the play area. They are now walls for balls to bounce off of.
- Continue removing eliminated players until only two players remain. These two players have a showdown to see who wins the game. Holding the ball is still not allowed; however, the final two players may touch the ball three times in a row.
- Players not playing shall chant, “Ga-ga.”
This game is meant for large groups, but it can be played with smaller groups as well. With older players, you can have them consider strategies to form alliances and help each other win. You can add variations to this game by having outs occur if a player catches a hit ball. You can also have players be out only if the ball hits them below the waist. Check out our Ga-Ga Ball blog for more details.
Cookie Monster Tag
This is a fun tag game that keeps players running non-stop. It involves little equipment and as much space as you can provide.
- Set up two end lines 20 yards apart using the cones.
- Have the players line up at one end line side by side.
- Designate one player to be the “cookie monster”, and the other players will be the “cookies.” The cookie monster holds a fluff ball and wears a pinny while standing in the middle of the area facing the cookies.
- The cookies start the game by asking, “Cookie monster, cookie monster, are you hungry?”
- The monster either says, “Yes, I’m hungry!” or “No, I’m not hungry.”
- If the monster says, “No, I’m not hungry,” the cookies need to ask again.
- When the cookie monster says, “Yes, I’m hungry!” all the cookies must try and get to the other side without being “eaten” or tagged.
- Tagging is done with two fingers between the shoulders and waist.
- The cookie monster must move the same way as the cookies: fast walking.
- If players make it to the other side, they must wait for the signal to begin again.
- If tagged, players become cookie monster helpers. Helpers must also put on a pinny and hold a fluff ball. Continue the game until there are no more cookies left, and then start again.
Variations: After a few trials, change the locomotor skill and tempo (e.g., side to side, gallop, skip, etc.) Eventually let the players chase and flee, moving quickly and as safely as possible.
Derivatives of The Same Game:
Octopus Tag begins with three octopuses, or taggers. The rest of the players are fish. The head octopus shouts, “Swim, fish!” and the fish try to safely cross the ocean without being tagged.
Zoo Animals – Select one player to be the first zookeeper; this person stands in the middle. Divide the rest into three groups: lions, tigers, and bears. They stand on the sideline. The object is for the animals to cross the area without being captured (tagged) by the zookeeper. When the zookeeper calls an animal group, they move across the area and avoid getting tagged. If tagged, that person becomes a zookeeper helper.
Messy Backyard (Clean Your Room)
This fun game is close to dodgeball, which is exciting for players since dodgeball is an understandably banned game by the governing body of physical education. At summer camp, players can enjoy the thrill of the competition.
- Split the class into two teams, with each team defending one half of the playing area.
- Divide the space in half with half dome cones as a center line.
- Have as many yarn balls as you can on the floor.
- There should be an equal amount of balls on each side.
- On the instructor’s signal, players will throw the balls on their side over to the opponent’s side.
- The team with the least amount of balls on their side when the instructor stops the game wins.
- Players cannot cross the middle line.
- If players throw the ball after the stop signal is given, their side loses the round.
- Play 3-5 minute rounds.
- Stress safety. Any player that hits another player with a ball will sit out for a time specified by the instructor.
Variations: The side with the fewest of a certain color ball wins the round; add different kinds of balls into play; the side with a special ball at the end of the round wins; have players kick the ball instead of throw; have players throw with their non-dominant hand.
These five games will get campers excited and active. The games will break the feeling that summer camp can be a drag, and the campers will ask to play them over and over again!
About the Author:
Charles Silberman has worked as a counselor and camp PE teacher for over 25 years and is currently a PE teacher at an Elementary School. He has become a leader and advocate for incoming physical educators by running workshops on teaching in limited space at staff in-services and conferences, assisting with new teacher orientations, and other initiatives. Charles has also created a niche as a physical education specialist who fuses technology and primary instructional subjects into physical education lessons.
View all of his Professional Development courses at the S&S Worldwide online school.