Tips Of The Trade

As we were coming down the mountain, we were informed we could get off in Grindlewald and walk to the bottom of the valley where another train would take us back to our hotel. The three-hour downhill hike killed my knees, but certainly left me with a positive impression of our Jungfrauhoch experience. We expected a trip to the top of a mountain. Instead, we received a number of surprise experiences.

What element of surprise can you add to programs? Are you offering a basketball camp? Can you surprise campers with a visit from a professional basketball player? (Hey, it’s possible you have some connections to Kobe Bryant.) Even a high-school basketball player would be impressive to a group of third graders.

How about serving refreshments when people don’t expect them? Can you offer a surprise take-home item? Maybe parents could receive suggested games to play on a rainy day when they pick up kids from an after-school activity. Have children take home a craft project their parents don’t expect. A small surprise provides that word-of-mouth marketing that can’t be beat.

Add An Element Of Fun

Closer to home, my husband and I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the Minnesota Zoo, which is home to more than 2,400 animals and 388 species from around the world, including Amur tigers, Chinese takin, wolverines, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, sharks and fish, Mexican wolves, sun bears, gibbons, a variety of birds, domestic farm animals and many rare and endangered species.

What made the zoo noteworthy was the element of fun sprinkled into the experience. For instance, we rounded one corner and discovered we could actually hand-feed special crackers to a giraffe. Grade-appropriate scavenger hunts were available to keep children actively involved in learning about various animals. Throughout the park, fun signs gave information such as, “A baby giraffe begins life with a six-foot drop to the ground.”

Then Woodland Adventure Playground screamed “fun!” It included:

· Various-sized turtle shells to climb in, around and over

· A giant eagle’s nest, complete with over-sized eggs

· A ranger tower with a 6-foot slide

· A bear den to crawl through and explore

· A large tree house that is ADA-accessible, but also features rope bridges and a giant oriole nestswing—big enough for two

· A giant mosquito sculpture to climb and explore (minus the bites)

· A large rope spider web.

The zoo also offers special events, such as an adults-only evening called “Brew at the Zoo.” (For more ideas, check out

Fun doesn’t only apply to commercial playgrounds.

On a budget-friendly level, we saw fun in action at the Natural Bridge KOA Campground in Virginia. Pulling into the entrance, it was obvious it was Pirate Week. Aye, matey! A tableau of a pirate scene stood at the entrance, with inflatable pirates, a ship and mannequins. The activity sheet described many other pirate games and crafts.

So often, I’ve seen programs with themes such as “Sports Spectacular” without adding the fun concept of staff wearing referee shirts, or even serving cupcakes decorated to look like baseballs. KOA is known for its recreation programs (as well as clean restrooms). Even if you don’t own a tent or RV, spend the weekend at a KOA campground in one of the cabins ( You’ll see fun in action!

Of course, anyone in the recreation field specializes in good times, but some programs are so structured we forget to add fun and laughter. How about having parents use streamers and balloons to decorate soccer goals for a tournament of younger players? One coach asked parents to come up with an actual cheer that involved hand jives and a few dance moves during a sporting event.

Or, in the middle of swim lessons, play a game of Sink-or-Swim. Before you drop a few items into the pool, ask the kids if they will float or sink to the bottom. Are you planning a teen event? Find a way to add a few minutes of fun with a staff skit or a silly trivia contest with prizes.

So the next time you go on vacation, forget about checking in with the office. Believe me — the department will not fall to pieces without you. Instead, enjoy the free time and pick up an idea or two that will make your recreation programs even better than they were before you went on vacation.

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at

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  2. Special Event Planning Tips
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  5. Turkey Trot Tips

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