I worked at a summer camp in Austin for nine weeks during my student years. I can honestly say they were some of the best weeks of my life. I got involved in all the activities, got to know the kids, and made some friends for life.
One of my favorite parts of working at the summer camp was participating in and coming up with new games for everyone to play while at camp. Some of them involved pairs, and some were for large and small groups.
So, if you’re planning on putting yourself forward for a stint at a summer camp, then coming up with some entertainment to put forward would be beneficial.
I have put together this guide of tried and tested games for small groups at summer camp that is proven to be balls.
I have included games that can be inclusive for everyone and will get everyone interacting with each other, which is vital, especially at the start of summer camp.
So, here are some great summer games you can play with small groups.
1. Camping Bingo
If you’re feeling a bit creative, you can make your own bingo cards at home. You can play Camping Bingo with large groups if you prefer, but it definitely works just as well with small groups. However, I recommend heading to Amazon and buying some camping bingo cards.
The game’s rules are the same as standard bingo; you select someone to be the bingo caller, and they will call out the items on the cards individually. Each time one of the items called out matches one of the pictures on your card, you mark it off or cover it with something.
Once you have all the items on your card marked off, you call out bingo, and the first person to do this is the winner. You can also introduce prizes into the game if you want and extra levels. For example, just like in the usual bingo, you could say the first person to get an entire row wins second prize, and the first person to get the whole card comes first.
2. Bean Bag Bucket Basketball
This is similar to real basketball in that the aim of the game is to get a bean bag to land in a bucket, bowl, or can (whichever you have to hand.)
All you will need to play with is some bean bags and something for them to land in. The buckets need to be placed a few feet apart from each other.
To make the game trickier, whoever throws the bean bag is not allowed to move or walk with it. They must throw instead from the spot they are on. However, if they can’t reach the bucket, they can toss it to another player.
A point is given to the other team if a player drops the bean bags or misses the bucket at any point in the game. The other team then gets to take the bean bag for another turn.
Players can try and block the opposing team’s bean bags, but you are not permitted to touch any other players, and you can’t snatch.
3. Ballon Charades
This is tons of fun, and the kids love it because to play the game, they have to pop the balloons, and what kids don’t love is an excuse to pop a balloon.
The game’s idea has the same concept as classic charades, but the start is slightly more exciting to keep the kids interested.
First, write down random words on small pieces of paper or post-it notes. These can be names of famous people, places, or items. Then, fold them all up, place them inside the mouth of a balloon, and blow the balloon up.
Once all the balloons are inflated, it’s time to start popping. Each player selects a balloon to burst and must act out whatever is on the piece of paper. Whoever guesses the action first gets to pop the next balloon.
4. Indy Five Hundred
This game is excellent fun, burns energy, and gets everyone super excited. However, this does get the kids giddy, so I wouldn’t recommend this as a perfect evening game.
To start with, have the players stand in a circle and give them each a number from one to four. Then provide each number the name of a car, such as Audi, Mercedes, Mini, Porsche, etc.
Next, call out the names of the cars, and whoever has been assigned that car/number must run around the circle and back into their place. Whoever makes it back to their place first is the winner.
The fun part of this game, especially if you’re the game leader like I was, is that you can occasionally shout out things like Flat Tire! This means they have to hop on one leg or a Petrol Leak! Which means they have to trek slowly. You can get creative with these and make up your own. They add another element of fun to the game.
5 Ladder Ball
The aim of the game is to throw the bolas (balls attached by a rope) onto the rungs on a ladder.
It’s straightforward to understand and teach.
The game is played in two teams, and whoever is the first to reach 21 points wins.
You can use sneaky tactics in this game, such as distracting your opponents from scoring by shouting or performing silly actions. You can find a more in-depth version of the rule with our Ladder Toss guide.
6. Murder in the Dark
I love this game. It could be one of my all-time favorites.
To play, everyone is given a piece of paper. One has an “M” on it, and another has a “D” on it. This stands for murderer and detective. The rest of the papers will be blank.
Whoever is the murderer must then kill off the other players by winking at them without other players catching them. If you get winked at, you can fall down in a silly way, and be overly dramatic about it, which always makes everyone laugh.
The detective has to discover who the murderer is before everyone has been taken out.
If you like this game, you might enjoy playing the Mafia card game which has similar aspects but is a little more complex.
7. Noah’s Ark
This is an excellent game for younger children, especially after dinner when they’re getting ready to wind down for the night before bed.
All it entails is calling out the name of an animal that begins with a specific letter and working your way through the alphabet. However, if at any point someone is hesitant with their answer, you’re out of the game.
8. 1-2-3 Look
Another great game that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy is 1-2-3 Look! You also don’t need any special equipment to play it, so it’s accessible no matter where you are.
To start with, everyone shuts their eyes and puts their heads down. Whoever is the game leader then shouts, “1-2-3 Look!” After that, everyone must look up simultaneously while staring at one specific person. If that person is staring back at them, they both point and are out. If they are not, head back down and play again.
You can play another version of this where players scream while looking at each other. This is the original version called Scream Machine, but if you want to keep things on the quiet side, go for this one.
9. Cotton Ball Hockey
This game isn’t just great fun for summer camp but in any situation where you want a good laugh, and it has nothing to do with any hockey you’re probably thinking of. It’s a joke, so it can only be played once and when you’re playing with people who have never heard of it.
All you need is some cotton balls and some gloves.
Have two players sit opposite each other across a table, and ask them to put the gloves on, then empty a bag of cotton balls in the middle, scattered over both sides. Next, blindfold all players, and tell them that to win the game, they must sweep as many balls off the table as possible to get more than their opponent.
However, before they begin sweeping, remove all the cotton balls from the table so they will be frantically swiping away at an empty table when you shout, “Go!“. This is hilarious to watch, and I suggest you have a phone ready to film the whole thing.
You are probably already familiar with the game sardines, and although it’s an old classic, it remains one of the best games to play at camp.
One person must go and find a perfect hiding place, and then the rest of the kids are released to go and hunt them down separately. When someone finds the hider, they must join them in their hiding place.
One-by-one, all the players should end up squashed in the same hiding place, hence the name sardines.
Whoever is the last person still looking for the hiders is the first hider of the next game.
Twister is another classic game that never gets dull no matter how many times you’ve played, and it’s a great game to get everyone tangled up together at camp.
You will need to invest in a Twister set to play the game.
The idea of the game is to spin the wheel, and whatever it lands on, the player whose turn it is must put a body part on that color, for example, right foot, yellow, or left leg blue. Then, when your next turn comes around, you must leave the other body parts where they are while you try to reach the next position. Anyone who collapses into a heap, or allows their body part to leave a color, is out of the game.
12. Five in Ten
Five in Ten is a nice easy game that you can play indoors and another good to play before winding down for the evening. To play this, players must name five objects from a particular category. Such as five things you see at the farm or five things you get in a kitchen.
You can make up your own rules with this, but when we played it, we had a timer that gave the kids a certain amount of time to share their answers, and if they failed, they were out. Don’t be fooled. This game is a lot tougher than it might sound.
To Round Things Up
There are so many games enjoyed while at summer camp that the kids love, but these are my Top 11, which went down really well when I worked at one in my student years.
Whether you run your own summer camp or are planning to volunteer at one during your next summer break, hopefully, this guide has given you some inspiration for games to keep the kids entertained. Of course, if you want more ideas, you could check out my other guides, such as How to Play Horseshoes and How to Play Bocce Ball.