It’s Hammer Time

Don’t build those new picnic tables in May; just cut the pieces out and wait until summer when you can offer it as an activity. For one hour a day, spend time with a group of kids. Is there anything more valuable you could be doing? Let’s look at some examples.

I chose picnic tables first because every camp needs more–more places for kids to slow down and sit and talk about what they’ve been doing, to “set” the memories while creating friendships. We need to eat outside more often, facing each other more often, hanging out outside the cabin instead of inside, imagining a fort or a boat or a carnival booth, climbing on and jumping off. This project entails big hunks of wood, and you can use hammers and screw guns and socket wrenches to put them together. Kids learn how to measure, use a square, and work together. And when it’s done, they can use it and show it off to everyone (including Mom and Dad). Many of them will grow up to build one with their own kids someday. Talk about your long-term effects of camp!

And those campers’ moms and dads will be more impressed that their kids are showing off “their” picnic table than they ever would have been seeing that table on opening day. I guarantee it.

More Stuff That “Needs Building”

You want to leave something meaningful behind, right? Kids want that too, but seldom get to do it in a positive way. Kids who never learn how to fix and build things have much less respect for the work of others, feel more helpless, and are more likely to be “creative” in destructive ways. Camp staff that can fix, build, cook, sell or even deliver mail can help kids grow in ways that will far outlast any game of Capture the Flag. Here are some examples to help start the list of projects for this summer:

Benches

Like picnic tables, no camp has enough benches. They are needed for campfires or gathering spots, for watching or waiting, and, most importantly, for talking. Solid, long-lasting benches can be as simple as a 2-inch by 10-foot board stretched across a couple of 6-inch by 6-inch boards. But something with a back on it is so much more satisfying (to sit in, and to build).

One of my favorite designs is by Aldo Leopold, the famous author of A Sand County Almanac. He designed a simple bench so people could sit and watch birds and beautiful views. I like it because it’s clever, and can be used almost anywhere from cabin porches to archery ranges. And kids love to bolt them together (see photo). The plans are available online by Googling “Leopold Bench.” I alter them slightly by using 2-inch by 6-footers for the legs and 5-foot long 2-inch by 10-inch boards for the seats (wide enough for two people). And if you use two 5/4 by 6-inch deck boards for the seat back, it looks even more comfortable.

Miniature Golf Course

This is another example of something that’s fun to have and play, but far more useful in child development if kids and counselors help build it.

Frame them with 2-foot by 6-foot sides and 2-foot x 2-foot nailing ledgers under the plywood “floors.” Everything is glued and screwed, so it will hold up being assembled and disassembled a lot. Handholds are cut into the sides to make them easier to lift and carry. The sections are all 3 feet wide (4 feet would be nicer, but much heavier and harder to store.) Each piece is not more than 6 feet long, so none are too heavy to carry, and can fit easily in a mini-van for promotional events, like school fairs. (Combined, some holes are up to12 feet long. Some are “dog-legs” left and right, and some are just off-set to create a jog.) Pieces join with standard door hinges, with bent 18D nails as pins (easier to pull out).

The carpet is standard indoor-outdoor green olefin, glued down. “Water” traps are merely blue carpet recessed 1/2 inch. “Sand” bunkers are plywood, beveled at the edges, painted with tan paint, and sprinkled with sand while wet. The obstacles can be as simple as blocks of wood or removable camp “landmarks,” like logs, rocks, drain pipe or small “cabins” with an in-door and out-door. Arts-and-crafts classes can work on some of these, too.

Swim Dock

One of my son’s favorite projects as a 10-year-old was helping the “construction crew” class, led by our property manager, to build a floating platform. The dock floats came from the local lumberyard, and the rest was just pressure-treated wood. When it was finished, the names of all the “workers” were routed into a side-board for posterity. Ten years later, those kids still talk about building it.

Playground

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