The Icebreaker I Use to Start Every Week of Summer Camp

The best version of 52 Card Pick-Up, Ever.

Note: I first learned a variation of this activity at the ACA TriState conference many years ago, and I regret to say that I don't remember who the presenter was. After googling around a little, I haven't found any clarity, but I did find this resource from the brilliant Michelle Cummings which might very well contain something similar.

2nd Note: Thanks to Seth Houser from the Summer Camp Professionals Group for pointing me to this link, which sells a soup-to-nuts version of the activity described below as well!

3rd Note: Seth Houser comes through again, with another free version of this activity from High 5 Adventure!

If you're looking for an activity to get people laughing and talking with one another, and one that sets the tone that your camp is a truly different place than the rest of the world, look no further.

Like the title of this article says, I've run this activity on the first day of every camp session (give or take) for several years. I've run it with the very same kids who have done it before, and I've never noticed it getting old. If anything, summer campers seem to want to do it more than we're willing to offer it.

Full disclosure - this activity is LOUD. As loud as humanly possible. We like it that way, and hope you do, too :)

Materials & Set up: You’ll need at least as many playing cards as you have participants, and it often can’t hurt to have more.

On these cards, paste or tape a bunch of tasks ranging from the regular (find someone and find three things you have in common with them) to the insane (get four people together and have a crab-walk race across the room - one of you is the coach, who yells like a drill sergeant while cheering the contestants on). We'll actually send you a document with a bunch of sample questions that are ready to print if you send over your email at the bottom of this post - feel free to add to them, modify them, and use them at your camp! If you're already on our newsletter list, don't worry - we've emailed out a copy of the document today!

The Activity: Hold the cards up before the group, and let them know that that when you're done with the explanation, you'll "Distribute" the cards to everyone.

Each player can only hold one card at a time (unless a card tells them explicitly otherwise).

Tell them that when they get a card, they can either do the task on the card, or gently place it on the ground for someone else to find. If they decide to do the task, though, they bring you the card upon completion).

I’ve run this in two different ways – the “just for fun” version, where kids seem to want to come up and just re-doing other tasks that have already been completed because they’re super into it, and the goal-oriented way, where the group tries to complete all of the tasks as quickly as possible (or within a certain period of time, or really any parameters you’d like).

When you’ve explained this, yell “GO!” and throw the cards all over the room (theoretically distributing them equally throughout the room).

Pro tip:The level of fun goes way up as your tasks become more absurd. Silly tasks let the kids who already know what your camp is about show the new folks that this is a safe place to “let their hair down”!