As most people are already aware, there are numerous ways to pepper campers with elements of wonder and surprise.

Auction unique camp experiences. Photos Courtesy Of Camp Augusta

Since children are often observers or mildly engaged in activities that have a pre-determined path, it is important to provide experiences that have numerous outcomes and avenues.

One avenue to incorporate elements of wish, wonder, and surprise is via a staff-led auction. Essentially, campers obtain tokens individually or by cabin/group during a game, and then use those tokens to buy a dynamic experience offered by staff members.

Although carnival games are a common way to earn the tokens, there are other possibilities, such as quests and problem-solving activities.

After the game, the campers gather and bid on the selections; the experience that they win does not have to occur on the same day, rather only sometime during their stay.

The following information and logistics will hopefully guide and inspire you to create an auction for your campers.  Please note that camp programs are diverse enough that what works well at one camp might not fly at another. So while the framework for the program is provided, feel free to modify it to meet your camp’s needs.

What works well:

  • Have double the number of auction prizes available than there are bidders for the initial interest test the day before or morning of the auction, and one-third more prizes at the time of the auction (see preambles for ideas). This allows everyone to get something they want.

  • Have the auction at the beginning of the campers’ time in the program so there is an opportunity to spread out the experiences.

  • Don’t offer prizes that revolve around food. Food is extremely popular and will sell if offered (sometimes solely based on the food being offered and not the experience); food is an experience the campers can have outside of camp easily enough. Also, food as a reward can verge on rat psychology that is already omnipresent in children’s lives. Indeed, the majority of commercials for children are food-based, and child obesity is a real problem.

  • Adjust the tokens won at each station by age, so older campers don’t have an advantage. It also works well to have different criteria in the game, depending on camper age.

  • Offer experiences in which campers don’t know quite what to expect. They love the … well, surprise!

  • Auction prizes with perceived risk. Most children lead incredibly safe lives, which is wonderful, but the desire for experiences with risk is also innately human. Campers often have an opportunity to experience “safe” risk by doing activities such as high ropes or horseback riding. Auctions are another opportunity to offer some unusual risk. Such prizes are always among the most sought-after at auctions.

  • Use a clear, concise name that gives campers an idea of what to expect in the experience. This also helps an auction item sell; generally, more than seven to 10 words in the name of the prize turns campers off.

  • The higher the level of adventure–the better! Campers love experiences that promise a journey or a dynamic, engaging experience. Rest assured that the quiet ones also sell, but generally, the higher adventure experiences are more popular.

The following represents a pattern of selections that work:

Scary (15 percent) — Something that gets the blood moving.

Chill Out (8 percent) — Relax and enjoy.

Clinic With A Twist (11 percent) A normal camp activity that isn’t normal anymore.

Random (10 percent) Everything-else bucket category.

Adventure (22 percent) Together we shall peresvere and succeed.

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