You’ve scheduled a family fun afternoon at the local park. Staff encourages participants to play softball. Bor-r-ring.
It’s time for the first “real” game for the pee-wee soccer camp. Parents and siblings wait 45 minutes for the games to start. Bor-r-r-ing.
Fifteen children register for the Kid’s Kraft class. The first project involves coloring a page from a coloring book. Bor-r-r-ing.
Learning is Fun
Adults and children have numerous opportunities for sports and recreational fun — personal fitness trainers, swim lessons at the Country Club and private sports leagues all compete with overnight and day camp programs.
In order to attract participants, programs need to add that elusive WOW! to ordinary activities. You may not have the fanciest swimming pool in the county, but you can still offer some extra bells and whistles that have people gladly giving you positive word of mouth publicity.
A parks and recreation department offered a casual Family Fun Time at a local park; 25 families showed up, with children ranging in age from 3-8.
An alert staff member knew a regular game of softball would be too complicated for the large number of pre-schoolers. Instead, the group enjoyed a spirited game of Wizard of Oz Softball. The first base person wore a straw hat to look like the scarecrow. On second base, the person wore a fuzzy vest to represent the cowardly lion. On third base stood the Tin Man, wearing a batting helmet covered in tin foil. When a young batter came up to bat, they were told, “Hit the ball, then run to the scarecrow.”
How often have you told a five year old “run to first”? They don’t know what “first” means. Wizard of Oz Softball taught the skills of softball while letting young children participate fully.
As a batter hit the ball, their entire team would shout, “Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh my!” If a runner on third base (standing next to the Tin Man, of course) ran home, their team shouted, “There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!”
Parents commented over and over about staff creativity in developing such an innovative game. All it took was some very cheap costumes and some ingenuity to create the WOW! experience.
In planning recreation programs, take a few minutes to see how you can embellish or “twist” traditional programs. What can you do that’s just a bit different from the usual game or activity?
Most sports programs are pretty cut and dried in their approach. One soccer coach of first graders asked players to arrive 35 minutes before each game for warm-ups. This meant parents and siblings had to wait aimlessly for the game to start.
The coach began bringing balloons, crepe paper, plastic surveyors’ tape and other decorating supplies. Brothers and sisters of the first grade players got to decorate the goal posts, weaving crepe paper streamers between the net and putting up balloons.
Obviously, decorated goal posts wouldn’t be appropriate for a high school soccer championship, but it certainly made these team parents happy. The point is the coach did something different. Parents went home and told their neighbors, “That coach is amazing. Do you know he lets kids decorate the soccer goal posts?” That’s positive word of mouth advertising.
Look through the supply closet and find new uses for ordinary items. Have any rubber chickens hanging around? Try a game of flag football using the floppy chicken instead of regular pigskin. Call it a game of Fowl Ball.
Going to play parachute games? Give kids permanent markers and let them sign their name on the parachute. Instead of making paper bag puppets out of lunch sacks, use a large grocery sack. Same idea, but definitely more WOW!
Use the Unusual
If the budget allows, look for some unusual items to use. Nasco, for instance, offers anatomically correct rubber fish for fish printing. Children and adults can make beautiful fish prints on paper or T-shirts using the rubber fish.
How about getting some Almost Golf golf balls? These are great new practice golf balls that are perfect for recreation programs and fields. They weigh about 1/3 the weight of a traditional ball and are made of foam. They are heavy enough to give the feel of a real golf ball, will hook and slice just like the real thing if miss-hit, so they work great for teaching and practicing. Since they are lightweight they won’t break car or building windows!
You probably have the long plastic noodles for pool fun. Try using them for a variety of land activities also. The book, 50 Ways to Use Your Noodle by Chris Cavert, gives plenty of fun ways to use noodles while staying dry.
When it comes to crafts, most projects fall into the category of Cute and Adorable. Put a twist on normal craft projects with ideas from the book, Make Something Ugly For A Change. Kids will delight in making some of the grotesque paper mache projects from the book.
Most programs (along with many other community groups) plan special events on holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Stand out from the crowd by planning programs on untraditional holidays such as National Bubble Wrap day or Creative Flavor Ice Cream Day.
Play broom hockey with frozen Twinkies on National Twinkies day. Not only will the media cover your event, but participants will be amazed at your creativity to celebrate wacky holidays.
The book, Every Day A Holiday by Silvana Clark (yes, that’s me!) gives activities and crafts to go along with 320 different holidays. Heck. You’re at camp, so make up your own camp-specific holidays!
Anyone can have kids color a picture or play softball. Creative, well thought out programs do what they can to have participants leaving the programs saying WOW!
Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. (She thinks the dried paint under her fingernails might start a new beauty trend.) A frequent speaker at camp and recreation conferences, Silvana is also a spokesperson for S&S Worldwide.