Praise Circle

It’s nice to feel wanted, loved, respected, admired and get a bunch of positive feedback heaped on you from a group of people, even if they are just acting. Here’s a way to make everyone in your circle feel special. Try using it as a game early on in your camp so that campers feel comfortable giving praise freely to others. This will work well in a group of 8 – 14 but it can get interesting in a large group of 50 or more. 


Object: To make someone feel special.

Materials: None.

Number of Participants: 8 – 14. Try larger groups too!

Area: Half-volleyball court

Set-up: Arrange campers in a circle, with one chosen person in the middle.

How to Play: On “go”, all campers in the circle say something nice about the person standing in the middle. The statements don’t have to be true but they do have to be positive. Examples are “You’re awesome!”, “Everyone likes you”, “I like your shirt”, “Your shoes are cool”, “I want to be just like you”, “Great job”, “Woo-hoo!”, “Way to go!”, etc.   Heap on the praise for about 10 – 20 seconds then have the person in the middle choose another camper to be in the middle. Of course, they need to choose someone who hasn’t been in the middle yet.

Variation: Use this frequently in camp for a special reward such as a replacement for prizes when someone wins a game.




I’m sure this game already exists in some way and it is called something different but I dreamed this one up the other night when I realized I have a parachute and don’t really use it that much at camp.


Object: Get rid of all the bedbugs so you can go to sleep!

Materials: Parachute or large blanket/sheet. About 10 – 20 balls of different sizes.

Area: Half-volleyball court

Number of Participants: 10-16

Set-up: Choose two “bedbug masters” whose job it is to make sure the bedbugs stay on the bed. Everyone else is holding the parachute at equal distances around the edges, stretched out. Place all the balls (bedbugs) on the parachute.

How To Play: On “go”, the campers holding the parachute must shake all the balls (i.e. the bedbugs) off the parachute while the players not holding the parachute (bedbug masters) throw the balls back on it. When the parachute team has successfully shaken all the balls off, they call out “Get In Bed!” and they quickly  go under the parachute before any more bedbugs can be thrown on top of it. Play continues by rotating teams so that each camper gets a chance to be a bedbug master.



Here’s a game for campers who like to act silly, say silly things and still have to get to know each other better. Try using this at the beginning of camp so your campers can see how crazy every other camper in their group can be. This game will help campers come out of their shy-shells and start to participate.


Object: To get shy campers communicating.

Materials: None.

Area: smaller than half-volleyball court

Number of Participants: 4 – 20

Set-up: Get participants in a circle, facing inward

How To Play: One person starts by saying in a rhythmic manner: “I ate a ______” (fill in the blank). The person to their left picks up the rhythm by saying “Yummy-Yum, I ate a ________” (fill in the blank, not repeating what anybody else has eaten). Play passes until the rhythm gets dropped or someone repeats what another has eaten. The participant that messes up will suffer a consequence (e.g. sit out of game, mush pot, start new rhythm). See explanations below for consequences. Basically, when you get a good rhythm going and everyone in the circle is prepared, it goes something like this: “I ate a rock”, “Yummy-Yum, I ate a pig”, “Yummy-Yum, I ate a toad”, “Yummy-Yum, I ate a chair”, “Yummy Yum, I ate a …..” etc. Play can continue until everyone gets bored or, if it is an elimination game, when one person is left.

Consequences: I don’t like games where people get “out” but there are times when it is called for. If the consequence is “sitting out” you might want to make it fun. For example, when a person gets out, maybe they can be dismissed to wash their hands for lunch/snack. If the consequence is “mush pot” the person stands in the middle of the circle while everyone else says “Mush! Mush! Mush!” while they make a squashing motion with their hands. After the person is “air-mushed” they are allowed back to the game. The consequence I like best is to let the person who messes up, start the new rhythm. Maybe after they’ve gone to the mush pot, they can come back to the circle and start the game up again.

Magic Wish Bean Bag Toss

This is a simple game for the very young elementary school age camper. It’s a basic bean bag toss with rules that make it a creative exercise more than a physically challenging test of skill. If you don’t have the equipment, substitute trash for the bean bags and other targets for the hoops and buckets.

This game helps campers who might have a hard time listening to instructions. It also can help staff identify those campers early on.


Equipment: Beanbags (if you don’t have beanbags, a crumpled up piece of paper will do fine), hula hoops, buckets.

Area: Basketball court or an area long enough to accommodate all the kids in the group standing on one line. For 20 kids, you might need 50 feet.

Number of Participants: Any

Set-up: Arrange hoops and buckets or any other targets on one side of the line about 10 feet away. If campers are 8 or older, you can make this farther away. If they are under age 6, targets should be closer. Hand out one bean bag to each camper. Whatever beanbag they get is the one they get because what makes the bean bag magic is that “the magic bean bag chooses the camper”. This way, you don’t have fights over someone not getting the pretty blue beanbag that they wanted so badly.

How To Play: Line up campers on a line. Campers hold their beanbags and toss them all at the same time, on the count of 3. If a camper makes it in the target area, they get a magic wish. The magic wish only comes true if all the  following conditions are met:  a) campers all throw their beanbags at the same time,  2) no camper crosses the line to retrieve their magic beanbag until the “all clear” whistle is blown,  3) each camper retrieves their own magic bean bag, nobody else’s, and gets back behind the line. Campers keep track of the number of magic wishes they get. Downplay the role of “who got the most” wishes. Point out anybody who has not crossed the line before the whistle was blown or who threw their beanbag right on time. Let campers know you will try and trick them to crossing the line so they learn to listen.

Variation: Try this game in a big circle with one target in the middle. Instead of tallying wishes individually, make it a group effort.





When kids have very little equipment to play with and lots of play time, they get pretty creative. Here’s a game I watched evolve over the course of the last three months at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City, CA.  It’s active, fun and addictive. Give it a try if you’re looking to add a new active game to your repertoire.


Materials: One picnic table, one playground ball (a handball works best)

Area: A picnic table that is unobstructed on the long ends by about 30 feet.

Number of Participants: Two teams of 2 – 3 players each.

Set-up: None

How To Play: Teams stand opposite each other at the long ends of a picnic table (“long end” means the part you don’t sit at). One team starts by bouncing the ball off the table top towards the other team. If the other team doesn’t catch the ball before it hits the ground on their side, the throwing team gets one point.  If the ball doesn’t hit the table top first, the receiving team gets the point. Players may throw the ball as hard or as soft as they want. Play continues until one team reaches 15 points.

I’ve seen kids throw the ball as hard as humanly possible without injury. I’ve also seen spectators sitting at the table on the bench part without incident. Once a team wins, the next challenging team may step in to play against the the winners.

Earth Day Relay

I played this with some younger P.E. classes one day, Kindergarten through 2nd grade, and it kept them enthusiastically engaged for a good 15 minutes each round. It happened to be Earth Day week so I stuck in the theme. Really, it is appropriate to play this anytime you need to keep a large group of campers busy. Special thanks to Coach Fletes at Farragut Elementary in Culver City for showing me this one.


Objective: Get more beanbags in your hoop than the other teams.

Area: half soccer field

Number of Participants: 20-50

Materials: 5-6 different color hula hoops; about 100 -150 plam-of-your-hand-sized beanbags

Set-up: Lay out hula hoops in a row on the ground with about 5 feet between each. Scatter bean bags in open field (farther away for older children). Divide participants as evenly as possible with at least 3 standing in a row behind each hula hoop.

How To Play: On “GO”, participants run out into the field one at a time from each team and pick up only one bean bag and bring it back, dropping it into their hula hoop. Once they have delivered a bean bag to the hula hoop, the next person in line goes out and does the same thing. Play continues in relay fashion until all bean bags are picked up. A winning team is decided by who has the most bean bags in their hula hoop.

Variation: If you have bean bags that match the color of the hula hoops, you can make the rule that each bean bag matching the color of the hula hoop is worth 2 points while all other bean bags are worth 1 point.

Clean Up Your Room

Working with the youngest groups of school-age children (pre-school, transitional Kindergarten and Kindergarten) means you will need to play much simpler games. These games may seem like there is almost nothing to them but the children participating in these games really enjoy them, given their attention span and motor skill ability level. 

I came across this game while substitute teaching at Linwood Howe Elementary School in Culver City. 


Object: Get as many objects off of your side of the field and onto your opponent’s side.

Materials: Yarn balls or light beanbags (basically, objects that are soft enough to hit someone in the face but heavy enough to throw without rolling too far away). As a guideline, you will need about one object for every participant. Pylons or boundary markers.

Area: volleyball court or basketball court, delineated by boundary markers.

Number of participants: 10 – 50

How To Play: Divide up group into two teams as evenly as possible. “Litter” both sides with all of the playing objects. On the go signal (one long whistle) teams throw objects onto their opponents’ side, trying to clear all objects off of their own side. Balls should be thrown high in the air, not directly at opponents. Balls should be thrown in bounds, not past the opponents’ back-line. One ball per person at a time (no gathering an armful of balls). Give teams about one minute of play and then blow three short whistle blasts to end the round. If anyone throws a ball after the last whistle blast, the other team automatically wins the round. Ask players to hold up all objects nice and high to make it easy to count. Whoever has the least amount of objects on their side at the end of the round is declared the winner of that round. Start up the next round immediately after without re-adjusting the number of balls on each side.