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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality

Summer Brings New Community-Building Opportunities

Summertime is upon us.

Summer brings many changes for OST programs. Many afterschool programs turn into full-day programs. The mix of children is dramatically altered – new children register for the summer program that did not attend the program during the school year. Some older kids depart and a new batch of kindergartners arrives.

The curriculum and routine of the afterschool program transform into a very different summer program. The staff makeup of the program may change if new staff are hired or school-year programs are combined to form fewer full-day programs. These changes significantly transform the sense of community in school-age child care programs.


As the “groupness” of the community is altered and then reforms, it goes through distinct stages. In summer programs we can use this knowledge as a tool to plan games and activities that facilitate the progression through these stages. Games create a sense of belonging that make it easier for community-building and teamwork to happen.


In the first few weeks of the summer program/camp the group goes through the FORMING stage. This is the getting-to-know-you stage. Children and staff are typically polite and well-mannered in this stage where they are getting to know who everyone is and how the program works. They are trying to understand the “culture” of the program – how things work around here. In this stage, it is important to make the staff and kids feel physically and emotionally safe and to help everyone feel welcome and fit into the program.

During this phase, we like to play “Name Games.” Here are some of our favorites.

Action Names
Get team into a circle. Have each kid say his/her name and give an action that represents them. After each kid, have the entire team repeat the name and the action. You can use sports, foods, hobbies, or anything else as the basis for the action.

Bumpity Bump Bump
With a team in a circle, choose someone to be IT. IT goes up so someone in the circle and says, “left,” “right,” or “yours.” That person must say the name of the person to the right, left or their own respectively before the IT says, “bumpity bump bump.” If the person in the circle fails to say the correct name, they are the new IT.

Mime a Name
Mime a Name is another variation of Action Names. Participants stand in a circle, arms distance apart. Ask each person to think of a verb and action which starts with the same letter as the person’s first name e.g., “Jumping James”. The person does the action. Everyone then guesses the action and then shouts the action and the action-name. This requires pretty high level of instructor energy and drama, people are pretty shy to start with. Really encourage everyone to join in and say the name and action of everyone else. To really drill names home, go around again, it should be faster and really get the blood moving.

Name Tag
The group first forms a loose circle, standing with hands out and palms-up. Go around the circle and ask each person to say his or her name loudly. Ask for a volunteer to begin in the center of the circle, otherwise known as the hot-spot. The center person is trying to get out of the hot-spot while the rest of the team is playing a version of keep away using each other’s names. Play begins when one person shouts the name of someone else standing in the circle. The person in the hot-spot has to locate the named person and give him or her a “low ten” before that named person can shout someone else’s name. At no time may palms be pulled out of the way of the tag. Names bounce from person to person until the center person successfully lands his or her hands down on the correct outstretched palms before another name is called. Participants then switch places and start again.

Surprise a Name
Once your team knows most of the names of each other, this is fun. Divide the team in half, and have each sub team go to opposite sides of the room. Two people hold up a sheet between two chairs facing each other in the center of the room. While the sheet is raised, have two people volunteer to sit in the facing chairs. When the sheet is lowered, the people in the chairs try to be first to shout out the name of the other person. The winning team captures the other and brings him to their team.

After we all know each other’s names, we like to play more getting-to-know-you games. Here are a few of our favorites used to form a sense of safety and acceptance. The more your staff and kids get to know each other the easier they will be able to navigate the next stages and progress towards solid teamwork.

More, Nuther, Done!
Have your group members partner up. Explain that one person will be sharing a fact about himself or herself in a single sentence. The other partner will direct the conversation. For example: Scott may say, “I have two crazy dogs at home.” His partner Marc may respond, “more,””nuther,” or “done.” “More” means he wants to hear more about the two dogs. “Nuther” means he wants ANOTHER new fact. “Done” means he is satisfied with the sharing on that topic. The sharing person may also say “done” at any time. When one of the partners calls “done,” they switch roles. After both partners have shared, have them find new partners.

See Ya!
Spread one raccoon circle for every 4-5 players around the room. Players choose a circle to stand in, introduce themselves, and listen for the question. The leader asks something like “Who has the longest hair?” The groups discuss the question, decide who is the correct player for each group. They dismiss that person to find a new group by saying, “See YA!” Then all players try to recruit a new player from all those dismissed from their groups by shouting “OVER HERE!” and motioning for new player to join their group. Then another question and another round of play. Here are some questions to start you off with:

  • Who has watches the most movies this month?
  • Who has the most books in their personal collection?
  • Who is the youngest?
  • Who has the most living family members?
  • Who has the most letters in their last name?
  • Who has the most experience working with kids?
  • Who is wearing the cleanest shoes?
  • Who is tallest?

Toilet Paper Game
Take a roll of toilet paper and ask a person how many squares they want, but don’t tell them why. Set a Limit From 5 to 50. Count out the squares, Rip after the last square and give all of the squares to the camper. Repeat until all the campers have desired amount. Then go around and have each person say stuff about themselves for each square until they are finished. The first square has to be their name.

Two Truths & A Lie
Each person thinks of two things that are true (and interesting or funny) about themselves and one thing that is not true (but might also be interesting or funny if it was)! Then each person tells their list to the others as if they are all true. The team tries to guess which one is a lie.


The next stage is the Attempting-Storming stage. In this stage, the children and staff may be attempting to be both independent and interdependent. They are trying out their new roles in the program and attempting to figure out how to work with and communicate with each other. This results in conflict. Conflict is expected in this stage. Do not be afraid of it. Dig into it and process it. In this stage we play games that are low-stress and provide the opportunities to develop communication skills in a low-risk, low-threat, low stress environment. These are some of our favorite games that are fun, silly, and perfect for the attempting-storming stage.

What are You Doing?
Players form a long line. Player starts miming an activity. Player 2 asks “What are you doing?” The first player answers something that does NOT resemble what he’s actually doing. E.g. if player 1 is cutting someone’s hair, when asked what he’s doing he might say “I’m reading the newspaper.” First player moves away, and the second player starts miming the activity stated by the previous player. A third player comes up to player 2, asks what he is doing, and so on. Play until everyone has mimed something, and has answered the question. Variation: You can also play this at super high speed, with 2 players. We mean super-super high speed. As soon as one of the players says ummm, hesitates, or uses an offer that was used before in that session, that player is replaced. Great for warm-up and energy!

This is a fun game that can be played with an unlimited number of players. Everyone begins their life in this game as an egg. They roam around the room with their arms raised above their heads in an egg-shaped loop to signify that they are an egg. They find someone to play ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS with. Almost everyone knows how to play this game, but a quick review and consensus on the rules might be in order before beginning. The winner of this game becomes a chicken and the looser remains an egg. The chickens put their hands under their armpits to make chicken wings and chicken walk around the room to find another chicken or egg to play another game of ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS with. Any winning chickens evolve into dinosaurs, signified by holding their tiny T-Rex arms out in front of them, making dinosaur sounds and walking around the room like a dinosaur. Any loosing chickens devolve back into eggs. More roaming and another round of ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS…this time winning dinosaurs evolve into superheros (arm out and flying around the room like superman). Once someone evolves into a superhero, they cannot devolve – once a superhero, always a superhero. Everyone else evolves and devolves based on the ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS outcome. Stop the game when it is still fun!

Happy Handful Relay
Form two teams of 10 players each. Collect 10 items, 2 of each items. Make items as novel as possible. Some ideas are: balls, orange cones, books, dice, hats, toys, etc. Stack one of each item into two stacks on two chairs on one side of the room. Line teams up “relay style” on the other side of the room. On “GO” the first person in each team runs and grabs one item from the chair, brings it back and hands it to the next person in line. That person takes the item and runs and grabs an additional item from the chair, brings both items back to the next person in line. This continues as each person must carry an additional item. If a player drops an item(s), he must place the item(s) back on the chair. Game continues until all items are carried back to the team by one person.

Match Face
Ask participants to pick a partner and to stand next to him or her. After participants are in pairs, you may want to explore quickly why they chose each other. Then, ask individuals to choose another partner, this time picking someone they don’t know (or don’t know well). Partners must match three crazy faces. We used our favorites: the monkey, the scream, and the down-block. You can certainly invent your own, so don’t let our examples limit you from your own whacky creations. Have partners stand back to back. On the count of three, partners spin simultaneously around to face each other and perform (or show) one of three designated faces. If they match, they play again trying to match the two remaining faces on your list. For example, if they both performed the monkey face, they would not have to do that face again. If they don’t match, they simply get back to back and try again. Partners continue on their own until they have successfully matched all three faces. The rules are simple. Partners mustn’t tell each other what face to perform or what face they will show. Individuals cannot suddenly change their face during mid-turn (when they are turning to face the other person) merely to match their partners. Once a pair has matched all three faces, they encourage other groups still working on matching all three faces. Be sure all comments and actions are positive and supportive.

Speed Rabbit
Get in a circle choose an IT in the middle. That person goes to a person in the circle and says either rabbit, model, or elephant. If rabbit is said, the person that it is said to puts up rabbit ears on his/her head and the people on either side thumps one of their feet. If model is said, the person that it is said to strikes a pose, while the people on either side takes imaginary photographs. If elephant is said, the person it is said to raises his/her arm-trunk and trumpets, while the people on either side make big elephant ears with their arms. If the person in the middle or the people on either side mess up – that person is the next IT. Variations: Moose – middle makes a nose and sides make antlers; Shark – middle makes jaws and sides show fear; Flight attendant – middle puts on oxygen mask and sides point to exits; Ostrich – sides hold hands to make sand and middle puts head in sand; Cow – middle holds hands with thumbs pointing down and sides pull thumbs to ‘milk’ the cow; Jello – sides hold hands around middle person and middle shakes saying Wobble, wobble, wobble; Roller Coaster – middle holds face back with hands (as if in heavy Gforces) and sides make roller coaster motions with hands; Palm Tree – middle holds out arms like palm fronds and sides make coconuts.


The next stage is the Transforming stage. In this stage, the children and staff are truly developing a sense of belonging, a sense of community – true teamwork. Now it is time to play some community-building challenges – activities that require an amount of trust and communication skills for children and staff to feel truly successful. Here are some of our favorites that we use in the last few weeks of the summer program.

Blind Trust Drive
Participants are asked to choose a partner for this activity that is approximately the same height. This activity should be conducted in a flat open space with no obstacles. One person stands in front, arms extended like they are holding onto the steering wheel of a car (the driver). Their partner stands behind them, with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front (the backseat driver). The ‘blind’ driver now closes their eyes, while the sighted ‘backseat’ driver safely steers them around the playing area. Remember, this is not a demolition derby or bumper cars, and a facilitator may act as the local law enforcement officer if necessary! Halfway through the activity, partners switch roles, and continue. At the completion of the activity, partners can provide feedback to their backseat drivers, and tell them what they liked about working with their partner, or what they would change about the guidance offered during the activity.

Use rubber dots, carpet squares, chalk drawings, or even rags as islands in a shark infested ocean. Members can swim, boat, jet ski or snorkel in the water until the leader yells “SHARK!” The object is for everyone to be touching an island with no part of their body in the water. Safe to swim again, but now Global Warming! The ice caps are melting and the ocean is rising – Each round take away an island. Repeat “SHARK!” The object is for everyone to get onto the platform and off the water while they count to 15 or sing a song like Happy Birthday.

Magic Carpet
Needed: One 9′ X 6′ Tarp. Lay the tarp out on the ground. All participants stand on the tarp. The challenge is for them to flip the tarp over so that the side facing the ground becomes the side on which they stand. No one may step off of the tarp.

Petri Dishes
Use rubber bands or yarn to connect everyone’s feet together – one person’s left foot to another person’s right foot. The challenge is for the whole amoeba to travel from one Petri dish (hula hoop) to another touching only the insides of the Petri dishes.

The purpose of this game is to integrate group members and build trust and communication. Have each player take a blindfold and spread out on the floor. Ask those who feel comfortable to put their blindfolds on. Explain that you will tap someone on the shoulder; that person will be the “Prui” and will take off his/her blindfold. (None of the other players will know who the Prui is. Everyone will mingle around slowly (with bumpers up). Each time a player bumps into someone, they should shake his/her hand and ask, “Prui?” If the person says “Prui,” they are NOT the Prui. If the person does not answer you back, they ARE the Prui. Once a player finds the Prui, he/she should join hands with him/her and take off his/her blindfold. That person is now part of the Prui, so if someone bumps into him/her, they should NOT respond, so that person knows to join the Prui as well. Everyone will continue mingling around until they find the Prui chain. When everyone is part of the chain, the game is over.

The stages presented here are based on Bruce Tuckman’s Developmental Sequence in Small Groups (1965).

We hope that you have a truly memorable and enjoyable summer! Good luck!

I only had a large glass of iced-coffee for breakfast because summer fun camp starts today and I’m so excited to get to work that I don’t have time to eat.

Author Profile: @mikeashcraft

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