25 Programming Ideas for 2002

2. At Mountain Camp in Pollock Pines, Calif., they put a new twist on a program they recently dropped, riflery. Instead of shooting rifles, they’re using slingshots. Katie Walker says that, at least in their area, parents were increasingly jittery about kids shooting rifles, given the recent events at Columbine and other schools across the U.S. The slingshot replacement also allows campers to travel a course through the woods where targets (inexpensive toys from Costco) are set up beforehand.

3. Camp Robin Hood has three climbing walls of various heights, which they utilize for team-building activities. The highest wall (30 feet) builds teamwork as the belayer is an active participant with the climber, while the rest of the team’s job is to cheer the climber and belayer to their goal.

4. Climbing walls are fun, in and of themselves, but add a story line and a goal, and watch the campers’ positive reaction. At Camp Robin Hood’s low wall (seven feet) teamwork is an essential element — the whole group has to get over the wall as quickly as possible.

“We do a little story at the beginning — we’re running through the forest and tigers and lions are chasing us. We’re scientists, and all of us are required on the other side to finish our masterful experiment to save the world,” explains Camp Robin Hood’s Birenbaum. “So how are we all going to get over the wall? I’ll give you a minute to communicate. Then they discuss as a group how they can get over the wall. The wall is about seven feet tall, so it’s a little too tall for any one person to do it on their own.”

The campers discuss the options… Perhaps one person is strong enough to get over the wall and help pull the rest over. Or, two or three people can work at boosting everyone else over the wall and can then get help from the teammates they helped over in the first place.

“Then we can adapt it so that they have to do it without speaking, or pretend a member of the team has an injury and cannot use any of their arms or legs,” says Birenbaum. “You can imagine how those adaptations effect the strength of the group.”

5. With Camp Robin Hood’s medium-sized wall (about 18 feet high) they’ll evaluate the success of the group differently. As Birenbaum explains, “It may be getting one person over the wall, because there’s a button that needs to be pushed on the other side to save the world from destruction.”

6. Hawk Mountain publishes its camp newsletter from the computer lab. Here, campers write, edit and produce, giving those with a journalistic or artistic bent an additional outlet.

7. Astronomy is a popular program and YMCA Camp Grady Spruce in Graford, Texas, rotates campers in a two-hour session in four different programs, says Kevin Spaeth, director of outdoor education.

One group works with a portable planetarium called StarLab. Another group works outside with telescopes. A third group creates their own constellations as they look at the night sky and dream up the legends that surround them in a creative writing exercise.

The fourth group does an activity called Starry Night, a computer program that came with one of the telescopes. It’s projected on a big screen and allows the facilitator to set up the sky as it is in that time and place. Then the four groups rotate every half-hour.

8. Crestwood Country Day School in Mellville, N.Y., brings in a circus troop to do clinics with the campers in trapeze, high wire and juggling, among others.

“It’s something kids like and we wanted to do it,” says summer program director Mark Hemmerdinger. “We wanted to make it a wow activity, rather than just bringing in someone to teach juggling.”

9. Hawk Mountain’s ecology center teaches subjects like landscape architecture and conservation. Its ecology center is state-of-the art with three rooms, an open pavilion, and it’s built in the shape of an arrow. This is obviously beyond the budgetary means of many camps, but teaching ecology through working on and building nature trails and simple earth science experiments on the grounds of the camp are inexpensive ways to make ecological education fun. A weather station is another good idea related to ecology, and can be as simple as tracking barometric pressure, or as high-tech as setting up computer stations with local radar and climate data.

10. Katie Walker of Mountain Camp says that international staff has allowed the camp to expand its programming. If you have international counselors, ask them about the sports and activities unique to their homeland that they could teach. Who knows? It may be a summer experiment, or it could be an activity you keep for years.

11. A cooperative and competitive activity at Camp Robin Hood is Team Skis.

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