More Numbers.

Did you know that "Baby Shark" has had over 10,000 views?

Did you know that combined, my videos have been seen over 100,000 times on Google Video?

Unbelievable (and wonderful)!

I think that perhaps Bryan and I could plan some sort of East Coast tour about making better decisions... Something like "Pete and Bryan: brought to you by Good Decisions" and do a mock television show with multimedia interactive goodness. Of course we'd sing a ton and do some really goofy bits throughout the day...

In brief we'd arrive at the school around 9 AM and visit some class rooms for some team building activities. The afternoon would be highlighted with an all-school assembly to promote better decision making, although the kids won't know that... they'll be too busy laughing and singing and participating.

The follow-through would be activity sheets for the following weeks as well as an up-to-date web presence that's safe for kids (and adults)! Then we'd do the whole thing at another school the next day... 100 schools in 100 days... or more? That would be pretty exciting!

Bryan thinks that we could get a company to sponsor this venture... I think that it would have to be a combination of sponsorship and a small fee from the school's programming budget. Of course, I'm not an expert when it comes to these types of numbers :-/

Do you think this is possible? Is there a call for it? Would a company sponsor us?

100,000 hits and growing... someone is taking notice...



What is your optimal camp size?

Honestly, I think the bigger the better. Space, of course, is a huge consideration when fielding this question, but many camps misuse or abuse space all over the place!

So how exactly do you know? Well, there are the legal / ACA guidelines. They are a good starting block, but should not be a stumbling block. If you need 4 more toilets, then install 4 more toilets! If you need another set of bunks, then put them in. The advantages of more campers far outweigh the hassle / cost of accommodating them.

In a worst-case-scenario, how many kids can you fit into thunderstorm safe areas for an entire day? Keep in mind that they need to be busy and your staff sane! This is a good starting place to figure the perfect number. I think most camps hover around the 200 mark when they could be hitting 400 a session. That's twice as much for you English majors!

But Pete, it's not that simple. We need food, bunks and staff for each of these extra campers, not to mention programming.

Yes, this is all true. First of all, food is always scalable. A kitchen that supports 200 can, in many cases, be reorganized to support 4 shifts of 100 each. Oversimplifying the situation would suggest that the more food bought, the better price per camper per meal... meaning that your bottom line is increased.

Every year you should be adding or redoing bunks. That should be built into the budget. Face it, every camp has that building that time forgot - and it's time to forget it! ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE AN OLDER TRADITIONAL CAMP, you should be rewiring your bunks for the future. If you're not prepared to offer the benefits of the information age to kids who already take it for granted, you'll miss out in the long run.

Staff is the greatest challenge when expanding beyond your imagination. There are millions of potentially good staff members out there, but finding them and recruiting them has always been the tough part. To scale up, you'll want to revisit your staff hierarchy. Is there a way to redistribute power? More staff means there needs to be more eyes watching those staff... I would suggest beefing up some of the lesser director positions to include some managerial responsibilities to ensure that everyone is getting the support and supervision that they need.

Programming is a part of this puzzle that I find the most fun. First, figure out places that cannot be scaled. For instance, if you only have one pool, a larger number may take away from the total average pool time. The same goes for a ropes course or a shooting range. The good thing about these activities, though, is that some campers have a love/hate relationship with them. Is it possible to allow for custom scheduling? In fact, when was the last time you rehauled the way that campers spend their day? I found that at several areas we weren't giving the kids enough time - such as Arts and Crafts. I would rather they finished a bigger project one day instead of having 3 small rushed projects over the week. In addition, the teens never enjoyed Nature. I understand the importance of a well-rounded program, but I'm not going to consistently fight the majority opinion if I can't prove it wrong. Instead, there should be Environmentalism or Tribal Construction (a type of in-house improvement).

One of the major program changes I made was taking teens away from all program activities. This meant that I freed up a lot of space for the other groups to pass through while limiting the *traditional* activities that the teens only really needed to do once during the week. The afternoons were spent on service projects and large activities - both of which were more preferred by all. Of course, this requires a great deal of additional work by your teen staff, but you've been overpaying them for years anyway...


I can be completely guilty of oversimplifying this, but I do believe that bigger is better. There's nothing like an all camp event that roars loud enough to aggravate the neighbors... who live on the other side of the mountain... :-)


New Site! [ex-SITE-ing!!!]

It may not seem like a huge task, but I completely rewrote the Ghoulie Games website. As always, there is more to add and more to do, but for this exact second I'm fairly satisfied with my update. Let me know what you think!


A conundrum.

Video games and camp generally do not mix... BUT...

Here's a shot from one of my all-time favorite camp movies, "Wet Hot American Summer" (which is completely inappropriate for campers or people who are easily offended). The joke is that the kids are taking a hike, although they are preoccupied with state of the art (ha!) gaming machines.

Up until the last couple of years, hand held gaming was not a huge issue at camps. This had to do with both the devices and the nature of camp. Every place that I visited had a fairly strict policy against all electronics - Gameboys being no exception. Of course, the Gameboy was not a social device (no matter what way you cut it). From Tetris to Pokemon, the Gameboy and it's younger brother, the GBA, were single service and therefore incredibly easy to ban. In addition, there were at least half a dozen of them somewhere in the bottom of the pond...

Times are changing. The Nintendo DS and the PSP are both wireless. This equates to camp gold - a large gathering of like kids outside of the school setting who I can play against. The logic is not just "camp is boring so I'm going to plug in"... instead campers are thinking about networking, sharing and essentially socializing.

Of course, the responsible adults that run camps (me included), still enforce the archaic ban without hesitation. YOU DON'T COME TO CAMP TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES!!!


...you do come to camp to interact with new people... to break the ice and participate... to do things that you've never done before.

What are positive camp memories? I learned a ton of great card games at camp... and I remember them all because it was as much a social phenomenon as a programming one. In fact, at my camp card-playing was outlawed... perhaps that's why it stuck so long?

Sometimes *banning* something that is popular is not the best solution. If kids are going to bring their iPods and DS's and PSPs to camp despite our best wishes, we need to find a solution that's fair to everyone. Instead of just assuming that technology is negative, we should evaluate the potential of using technology in specialty areas.

The Seatle Mariners (half owned by Nintendo) have downloadable content (such as stats and replays) as well as the ability to order from your seat using the DS. That's incredible! Can we repurpose the same program for problem solving initiatives? Perhaps the days schedule will automatically upload to your DS every morning. Maybe we can include some slideshows for parents?

The possibilities are endless. REALLY.

Welcome to Camp 2.0 - it's a new world; about time we caught up.

What I've been working on...

Hey all! I've been off for a couple days because I've been revamping the main site...

Here's a sneak peak of what will be out shortly:


The Red Rascal

During a visit to an overnight camp, I asked the future director to tell me the camp stories. He pondered this for a moment and then gave me the impression that he didn't understand. Again, I asked about the fable, lore, legends - where is the camp magic?

He did not have an answer. There were no characters that everyone knew. There was no traditional telling of an age-old tale.

How can this be? One of the greatest parts of camp is the tradition - the stories - the secret life that distinguishes this place from any other place!

One of the characters from my past is the Red Rascal, here tormenting other members of her family during an annual birthday celebration... for her nephew... the Green Ghoulie.


Sharks and Barracudas

Sharks and Barracudas

Players: 8+ (I've played 4 on 4, but can imagine up to 10 on 10... or more!)
Space: A Medium Gymnasium (can be adapted to 1/2 a soccer field)
Supplies: 1 ball for every player (various sizes and types are a big plus)

Everyone loves "Capture the Flag." When I was really young, "Capture the Flag" meant running through the woods non-stop (sometimes late at night) with a basically unachievable goal. Sounds dangerous? Then it was revised as I got older to playing on a field - which worked much better as a game. Gyms have normally presented a challenge when adapting "Capture the Flag" mostly because of the size. This game combines two successful games ("Capture the Flag" and "Sharks and Minnows") in order to make a very entertaining and challenging gym experience for those of any age.

Game Play and Setup

The group needs to split into two *basically even* teams. The space is split in half and each team claims their side (the "Shark" side and the "Barracuda" side). At the back of each side, there is a safety zone from the foul line to the wall. Place one (1) ball in this safety zone for each player on the opposite team (for instance, if there are nine (9) Barracudas, then there should be nine (9) balls in the safety area behind the Sharks).

The goal of the game is to either: (1) Have all of the balls in the game on a single side; or (2) Capture all of the opposing players.

The rules are fairly simple. The center line represents the "tag" line. If a Barracuda steps onto the Shark side, then they can be tagged and consequently go to jail. Conversely, the same happens if a Shark crosses over to the Barracuda's side. If a player is tagged without a ball, they must go to the safety zone behind their opponent (the jail) - Sharks end up behind Barracudas and vice versa. If a player is tagged while holding a ball, they must return the ball and return to their side before resuming play.

If a player is in the jail, they must stay in the safety zone until one of their teammates who is *not* in jail successfully swipes a ball.

Players who are trying to take balls may only take them from the opposing side's safety zone. Players in the safety zone CANNOT be tagged! Players can only hold one ball at a time and may not pass / kick / throw the ball at any time. If a ball is dropped, that ball must be returned to the safety area from which it was taken.

Once a ball successfully crosses the halfway line, the player must bring it into their safety zone!

The basic idea is that some of the players will try to steal the balls while others play defense. The jobs will change significantly as some are captured or as the loot dwindles.


I love introducing new games to a group of kids - especially amid yells of "Wall ball" and "Dodgeball" or other such standard games that are probably played too often by lazy instructors. When I first taught this game to a group of middle schoolers, their reaction was an expected hesitation. They left saying that it was the greatest game ever. Of course, I'll probably never play it again with them - I am fairly strict about my no-repeat attitude with groups I scarcely see - but the effectiveness with all players of varied skill levels was wonderful. In addition, the processing that the team work and strategies provide is excellent for educational facilitating.


Field Trips

I issued a challenge: no boring field trips.

This may sound like an obvious one, but I have a completely different definition for a *boring* field trip. For instance, AMUSEMENT PARKS are boring(!)

I know, you're shocked. I should take a moment to let that sink in...
OK. Again, amusement parks are boring.

Of course, I'm really meaning ordinary / everyday / *traditional*. Now for a tangent:
When I was in middle school, the big trip for the 8th graders was to Riverside Park (which is now called "Six Flags New England"). This was a highly anticipated and coveted event. Everyone who was anyone would go - especially since everyone (for the most part) was invited and it was during the school day. Yes, it was very exciting being at a theme park with my closest buddies... BUT, now I'm an adult and I can barely remember that trip. I've been to amusement parks my entire life - one trip with my entire 8th grade class does not make the experience wholly unique. In fact, because there was such a diverse group walking together (along with chaperons / etc) I didn't get to do nearly the amount of things that was the norm for my family...

Now, reflect: Have any of your trips to the amusement park with your large camp group been outstanding? Or, rather, have they been a pain? The kids seem to appreciate it, but how many of them have already been to an amusement park before, or that particular amusement park?

I am willing to bet that most campers have a great deal more fun with their family or friends when visiting by themselves as opposed to a large group...
But, I digress.

You can put the pieces together and figure out that amusement parks are not the greatest trip to take a large group of campers. In fact, I would make the argument that doing so is the easy / lazy way out. Why would I ever say this? Another tangent:
I was in Tiger Cubs right when it started back in '86. Instead of having a single leader for the whole group of 10 six-year-old boys, the mom's ran the program, having a different trip each month. Three of the trips stand out in my mind perfectly because they were unique and interesting and I'm sure that I can name all of them if I really concentrated. The three that I immediately remember are a trip to the Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, CT; a trip to a large Little Caesar's Pizzeria where we all made our own pies; and a trip to a rock collector's store where we searched a cave for rare rocks (as well as learning about many different kinds of rocks). That was over 20 years ago and I can remember all three trips in great detail, as opposed to the many trips to amusement parks that have occurred through various organizations.

Camp is about creating positive memories. Every director's dream is to fill a camper's head full of great experiences that they will take with them for the rest of their lives. Why not take advantage of the field trips to make this happen? There are some incredibly creative trips out there for those willing to find them!

How do you go about booking creative trips? First of all, you ask around... Factory tours can be quite interesting if you can find the right factory. Are there any special events that are taking place in the area? If there's a regional theater, perhaps you can get a backstage tour and meet some of the actors. Businesses love giving demonstrations - especially if the kids are the target audience. I would bet there are tons of professional dance programs or martial arts dojos that would love to have a group for a day (and these opportunities are not only fun, but generally cheap!) Call everywhere you find in the phone book. Sometimes a business will go out of their way to design a custom program for your campers... The Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts has an excellent group program that entices participation and interest in even the oldest of campers (I was very surprised and pleased). Basically, the memories are out there waiting to be made - you just need to defy laziness and convention. Just because we did it last year does not mean we have to do it every year!!!


Training your counselors for everything...

I remember hearing a presentation once where the main argument was that there's no such thing as a "safe camp." I absolutely agree with this. Despite the best efforts of the greatest leadership in the world, factors exist on this unpredictable planet that will shake the foundation of every safe-guard placed on the campers. Small hazards, such as loose limbs or hidden rocks on the path, are unavoidable... and big hazards... well, we don't like to think of those :-/ BUT YOU MUST!!!

Every leader must always be evaluating risk and making the camp's experience as safe as humanly possible. Every day. Every second.

No one thought of preparing this school bus full of campers or the leaders / counselors for a bridge collapse... I can only hope and wish they made it out safely. ...


The Potato Canon

I love special events. In fact, special events are one of my specialties.

Sure, every camp has the Talent Show and the Olympics (or variations thereof), but we'd go out of our way to make some fairly "original" programming. Such events included the Dance Party, the Music Festival, the Penny Carnival and Wacky Races . My little brother came up with Bead Day which is a very popular event at that particular camp...

Anyway, sometimes we need filler material for one reason or another... One of the solutions was included briefly in a previous post ("When We Was Campers") and here is another: The Potato Canon.

Although it sounds dangerous, using the correct precautions and a trained staff, a canon that fires potatoes straight into the air (eventually to land in the pond with a small splash) is very exciting and entertaining. In fact, I had only read about potato launchers and the like before I worked at camp and was very impressed when my science specialist put on a demonstration.

The factors that really work when using a potato canon are: the loud BOOM, the height that the potato reaches and the anticipation of it hitting the water. We put targets in the pond and named each potato for a different large group of campers... they turned the event into some sort of contest among themselves, rooting for their particular potato. It can be quite an amazing sight.