Why we play big games at summer camp

Every night of summer camp ends in basically the same way: we gather as a community for a “big event.” Typically this is an immersive all-camp game, and on the last night of the camp session we’ll get together for a closing camp fire.

What exactly does this look like, and why exactly do we dedicate each night of our summer camp sessions to these big events? Let’s dive in.

What are the night activities like?

Our night time activities can take many different shapes, but they often involve the creation of a brand new world for our summer campers to inhabit. We’ve taken campers to ancient seas ridden with sea monsters, kingdoms where knights and warlocks duel for supremacy, whimsical lands inhabited by their favorite movie characters, and more. Some games involve a lot of running around, others are more focused on problem solving, and most involve all sorts of little ways for campers of all ages and interests to interact in ways that appeal to them.

Part of one camper’s group might be off finding pieces of a code to create a serum to cure a zombie-creating disease – hiding from zombies and avoiding catching the plague themselves – while the others are back at the laboratory deciphering that code. Some campers might lure a raging sea-monster into a net while others try and outwit a ragtag band of pirates to learn the secrets of their buried treasure.

Games involve cooperation, imagination, getting a little exercise, and usually have some sort of climactic ending. They’re totally optional if they don’t suit the fancy of any particular camper, but typically become a thing to look forward to each day for many of our campers.

Now it might seem obvious as to why we’d play these sorts of games every night, but we’ve found more benefits from them than we even expected when beginning to roll them out several years ago. In no particular order, here are the top 5 reasons we play big games at camp every night.

1)      Ending each day with a shared experience.

Our campers decide how they spend pretty much every moment of their days, and while this helps each camper get the personalized experience they are looking for, it can be nice to come together for some pure fun each night. Even campers that opt out of our night time activity will often spend that time hanging out and connecting with one another since there isn’t a whole lot else going on. After each game we come together for a brief time where we’ll circle up for our night-time “It’s good to be together” ritual , and we find it’s just a great way to put an exclamation point on the day.

2)      We love the mixed-age interaction.

As I mentioned earlier, each of our games is designed to appeal to kids of various interests and ages – this means we can have 17 year olds and 6 year olds working together collaboratively to accomplish a goal. We’ve worked hard to create our community based on the latest in cutting-edge child-development research, and all indicators are that the benefits from having a mixed-age community are profound. Throughout the day kids of all ages tend to interact, but these games give campers of all ages a common purpose and even greater incentive to work together. We’ve seen so many beautiful interactions between our oldest and youngest campers during these activities, and these alone would make the night time games worth it even if they offered no other benefits.

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3)      Night time activities give campers a chance to do something they’ve definitely never done before.

Each of our games is custom-made by our camp staff with the express intent of giving campers the authentic feeling that they’re having a unique experience. While we recognize that coming to camp alone is very different than anything else a camper will do throughout the year, breaking out the costumes, make-up, and game sets drives home the one-of-a-kind nature of the moment that our campers are inhabiting. We find this leads to a sense of flow and purpose that kids these days don’t often get a chance to experience. Which leads me to the next point, which is…

4)      A glimpse at exploring the possibilities the world has to offer

This might seem a little grandiose, but follow me for a second. We’re told from the moment we can understand language that the world is hard, life isn’t fair, and so on – but what about all the beauty the world has to offer? By transforming our camp from a traditional looking sleep-away camp into a brand new world, we hope to help campers see that they don’t have to settle for what the world appears to be.

5)      A chance to wrestle with big ideas

Buried inside many of our games are little opportunities for kids to make decisions they might not get a chance to make. They might have to choose between cooperating or competing, helping a man in distress or pursuing untold wealth, questioning an unfair authority or currying favor with them. And after the game is over, we help kids process their experiences by talking about them. While the primary purpose of these games is to have fun and come together as a community, we like to have these little philosophical nuggets for the kids who enjoy thinking about such things. And as always, we find that deeper fulfillment comes from a more intentional look at the world around us – and these shared night-time experiences offer the perfect environment to do just that.

I’ll tell you what, talking about our night time games has me itching for summer camp season. I can’t wait to see the smiles, the wonder, and the genuine community building that comes from getting young people of all ages together with the express purpose of learning to see the world through each other’s eyes. If you (or your child) want to inhabit our little world for a week, we’d love to help you explore more of what is possible this summer.

If you want to discuss any of these things further don’t hesitate to reach out to Laura, our Camp Director, at 585-489-8880

JAMES DAVIS
CO-FOUNDER/BOARD MEMBER