I have attended and worked at summer camps my entire working life. From the age of 14 through the past couple of years, I have seen friendships formed, memories made, and special light-bulb moments where a camper and counselor recognize their ability or worth at camp.
Summer camp can be a wonderful and exciting time. Whether it is a camper or a counselor’s first time at camp or they have tons of experience, the start of camp is always the hardest because everything is new. The one thing that seems to make all the initial anxiety and newness melt away the fastest is icebreakers.
Even as a physical education teacher, the first thing I do each year is icebreakers. I have seen the positive effects it has on a student’s interpersonal skills, character, and self-efficacy as they work through their initial discomfort level. Here, I am going to discuss six icebreakers that are timeless, because they always accomplish the goal of making the campers and counselors feel more comfortable and a part of something bigger than themselves.
1. Mighty Nice to Meet Ya!
Purpose: To help participants learn the names of others in the group, decrease inhibitions, break the ice, and enjoy the company of others.
Beginning Formation: All participants stand in a group.
- The instructor will ask everyone to get ready to move.
- All folks in the group are tasked with meeting as many people as they can, BUT they must do the following:
- Wave to each person they meet
- Look that person right in the eye and say, “My name is _________. Mighty nice to meet ya!” – usually a huge smile helps during this introduction.
- After greeting one person, find another person and repeat the process.
Debrief by discussing how the simple idea of introducing yourself can help you make new friends and how it really is not as scary as it seems.
Variation: Create a handshake with each person you meet! The instructor can have the pairs show the group their handshake.
2. Memory Circle
Purpose: To help participants get to know each other’s names in the group, and learn a fun personal fact about them.
Beginning Formation: All participants sit in a circle.
- Choose one person to start.
- The first person states their name and favorite animal (or any other fun topic you’d like to use, such as favorite food or favorite hobby).
- The person to the right of them has to state the previous person’s name and favorite animal, plus their own.
- Then next person has to state the name and favorite animal of the first two people, plus their own.
- Repeat this clockwise down the circle.
Debrief by talking about how learning a fun fact about your fellow campers can help you relate to one other.
This is one of my favorites, as I remember learning the power humor can have in a new situation. The later in the circle you were, the more names and animals you had to recall. I was near last because my last name starts with an “S” and we were in alphabetical order. So when it got to me, I could not recall much. I made light of this by handling each person as I came to him or her with humor. It was quite the revelation and a real fun time.
3. Find Your Partner
Purpose: Build Trust
Equipment Needed: One blindfold for every two people
Safety Considerations: Blindfolded people should have their hands up at all times. Only walking is allowed. The sighted partner is the spotter and must keep his or her blindfolded partner safe.
Beginning Formation: Partners are scattered on the playing field or half a basketball court.
- Have each person pair up with a partner with one blindfold for every pair.
- One person puts the blindfold on while his or her partner becomes the spotter/guide.
- Choose three to four pairs to be “it”. Those who are “it” are to chase (walking only) those who are “not it” (regular tag rules). If you are tagged, your pair is “it”.
- The beauty, of course, is in the expertise and safe guidance of the blindfolded person away from those who are “it”. They can do this using verbal cues or by putting their hands on their partner’s shoulder to guide them around. NOTE: All tagging must be made by the blindfolded people only.
- Switch roles so that everyone gets a chance to be a spotter and a blindfolded person.
Debrief by discussing the elements of trust involved and the change in communication and directions that took place, as well as how they kept their partner safe.
4. Hog Call
Purpose: Build Trust
Equipment: One blindfold per person
Safety Considerations: Blindfolded people should have their hands up at all times.
Beginning Formation: Campers are scattered throughout the playing area. A grassy area is preferable in case someone falls.
- Pair campers up.
- Give each person a blindfold.
- Tell them the story of how a little girl names Sally lost her pet pig one day on a farm. The only way she could find her pig was by making pig noises until it came back to her. This is known as a hog call. Each pair will have their own hog call. It can be some type of noise or a word.
- Have the pairs spread out and put their blindfolds on.
- Let them make hog calls until they find each other.
- Have them pair up with new partners and repeat.
Debrief by discussing what it took to find their partner (i.e. communication, trust, overcoming uncertainty, etc.) and how the humor of the activity helped break the ice.
5. Hoop Relay
Equipment: One hula hoop per person
Safety Considerations: Ensure that hands stay linked and that no one pulls someone else down in a harmful way.
Beginning Formation: Line up teams of five or six people in “relay fashion”. A pile of five hoops should be placed at the head of the line.
- Team members should link up by holding hands, either side by side or “elephant” style (for Covid safety you can use batons or other supplies they can hold onto, so they are not in contact with each other).
- On GO, the first person sends the hoop down one at a time toward the back of the line.
- When the last person in line collects all five hoops, he or she runs to the front of the line with all of the hoops and assumes the #1 position, reconnecting the important hand link.
- The process is repeated until the very first person resumes their starting position. The team then sits down.
- The first team to sit down is the winner. Repeat two or three times and vary the link up!
Debrief by discussing how the team had to work together to win (i.e. play their role, be ready, be encouraging, be alert, etc.)
6. Rock, Paper, Scissors
Purpose: To learn about sportsmanship through winning and losing several times.
Beginning Formation: Two teams line up with 30 yard lines marked off in either direction from the center line.
- Remember, ROCK (clenched fist) beats SCISSORS (index and middle finger in scissor-like fashion); SCISSORS cuts PAPER (flat hand); and PAPER covers ROCK.
- Each team huddles up and chooses one symbol plus two backup symbols (in case of a tie). The teams break and line up at the center line one foot away from the line.
- On the instructor’s cue (GO, SHOOT, etc.), all players on each team simultaneously reveal their chosen signal. NOTE: All members of a team must shoot the same sign. If the team chooses ROCK, all members of that team must shoot ROCK.
- Whichever team shoots the more powerful sign is the team that begins to chase and tag any and all members of the other team as soon as possible.
- The members of the losing team will sprint as fast as they can across the 30-yard expanse with the hope of reaching the safety zone before being tagged. The safety zone is the zone right past the 30-yard mark.
- If tagged before reaching the safety zone, that person becomes a member of the winning team for the next round.
- The object of the game is for one team to get all the players on its side, thus eliminating the competition and claiming the title of “Grand Champs”.
Debrief by talking about how everyone wins and loses, yet it is how you respond with good sportsmanship (have the participants define this) that counts.
These are just six examples of games that you can use as icebreakers. As you can see, these games can be powerful in breaking inhibitions and creating trust, communication, and goodwill in a new group of campers or counselors. When you step into your role this summer, try a handful of icebreakers to cool down the anxiety of uncertainty that may exist in your group. You might just learn something about yourself along the way too.
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.