Encouraging interaction at camp, especially during those first few days when the newness makes even the most outgoing person a bit reticent, can be daunting.
One way to ease nervousness and build community is through icebreakers. Convincing people to interact is much simpler with the use of games and activities, especially when each person has a role or behavioral expectation.
It’s far less intimidating to be involved when everyone around you is doing something as silly as you are!
Here are six icebreakers you may want to try with any size and makeup of group. Do you have a favorite icebreaker? Are there icebreakers that work well for your groups? Share them in the comment section!
Oldest To Youngest
Assemble a group of 10-20 members. Instruct the members that the game is played in COMPLETE silence. The objective of the game is to have the group realign themselves in a single-file line from the oldest member to the youngest member using their dates of birth. They are free to use their hands to show numbers of months, days and years, but they are not allowed to talk at any point.
For variations, challenge two or more small groups to do this simultaneously, then check each date of birth for proper order individually down the line. The most correct line wins. Variations: youngest to oldest, number of years at camp, number of camps attended, or years camping.
Two Truths and a Lie
Assemble groups of 10-20 members. Give each person an index card and a pen, and instruct them to write two facts and one lie about themselves on the card. They can write these in any order, and they want to create a lie that sounds believable. For example, they are the oldest sibling (truth), they have four dogs (lie–they have two dogs) and they love chocolate chips (truth).
When everyone has finished writing, have group members mingle and share their two truths and a lie with each other while asking the new person which detail they think is the lie and which are the truths. If their lie tricks someone (meaning the new person chooses their lie as a truth, or a truth as a lie), the person who guessed incorrectly must sign their name on the back of the other’s card. When the game is ended (when most of the group members have met each other), the “winner” is the person who has collected the most signatures on their card.
Joanna With Jelly Beans
Assemble groups of 10-20 members in a circle, either sitting or standing. Choose a person (or volunteer) to go first. Have that person state their name to the group and mention something they brought to camp (either real or imaginary) that starts with the same letter as their name.
For example, the title of this game–Hi, I’m Joanna and I brought jellybeans. The second person then does the same for herself, then refers to the person before her (Hi, I’m Dru and I brought dinosaurs, and this is Joanna and she brought jellybeans). The third person continues by adding himself and referring to the two people before him, and so on, so that the last person in the group must do their best to remember every person in their circle.
Near the end, you will have many people silently trying to recall all the names in their group and willing to help each other out–and camp will be a much smaller place.
This game is played with any number of people, but it must be an even number, and the game requires a bit of preparation. Before playing, determine the number of people you will have playing and get an equal number of index cards. Create pairs of cards.
On one card of each pair, write an item, person, or thing that has a commonly known match (or opposite, in some cases), and on the other card, write the match to that pair. For example, one card could have Cinderella and the match could be wicked stepsister.
When all your pairs are complete, you’ll need duct tape, masking tape or safety pins for the icebreaker itself–enough for each person. Instruct your group members to make a single-file line. Instruct each person that they are to take a card and pin or tape it to the back of the person in front of them. They are NOT to see the card or be told what is on the card on their back.
When everyone is pinned or taped with a card, have players mingle around the room and try to help pairs come together by giving hints to each other about the name or thing on their back. For example, for a person with peanut butter, you could say “a food made by grinding up nuts” but don’t tell them “peanut butter.”
As people get more clues as to the name or item on their card, they will be able to figure out their own card and seek to find their match. When individuals find their match, have them sit together in pairs. When everyone is paired, invite conversation between the new matches, such as questions about where they are from, their favorite activities, etc.
Some suggested pairs to get you started:
• Peanut butter and jelly
• Apples and oranges
• Fred and Barney
• Bart and Lisa
• Cream and Sugar
• Salt and Pepper
• Eggs and Bacon
• Toast and Jam
• Pebbles and Bam-Bam
• Snow White and 7 Dwarves
• Laverne and Shirley
• Richie and Fonzie
• Hammer and nails
• Summer and Winter
• Dog and Cat
• Arm and Leg
• Wilbur and Orville
• Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle
• Angel and Devil
• Tall and Short
• Andy and Barney
(Can you come up with more pairs? Add them to the comments below!)
Invite groups to create a standing, single-file complete circle. On the count of three, everyone squats and sits back to rest on the knees of the person behind them. You must hold the group circle for at least five seconds without using hands.
Variations: As your group becomes proficient, have them hold the circle for longer periods of time: 20 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, three minutes, etc. Challenge other groups to hold their circle for the same amount of time or longer. Add or subtract group members to increase the challenge. See how far a ball or balloon can be passed around the circle, either to the side or over the heads of the members, before the circle collapses.
I Love You, Honey, But I Just Can’t Smile
Assemble a large group into a circle. Have one person be “it” in the middle. The goal of the person in the middle is to swap places with any person on the outside circle who they can get to smile. The rules are that the person in the middle approaches any person on the outside circle by standing no more than a foot from them and reciting, “Honey, do you love me?” in any way they would like, but they are NOT allowed to touch the person in the circle.
Once the person in the circle has been asked, they must reply to the middle person with, “Honey, I love you but I just can’t smile” three times. If at any point the person on the outside circle smiles or laughs, they trade places with the person in the middle.
Being part of a new group or new camping session can be unsettling for new or even experienced campers who know few of their fellow members. Use any of these icebreakers to generate conversation and interaction, and you may be creating the first step in what might become a beautiful friendship.
Beth Morrow is an educator and co-program director for Senior Week at Camp Hamwi, a week-long residential camp that specializes in teens with diabetes who come as individuals but leave as family. You can reach her at email@example.com.