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(The Other) Pete's Five Essential Props

happy boy working at computer smiling

Field games are my passion. I love teaching and running outdoor experience for large groups and finding new ways for people to participate in unique gatherings that encourage positive social interactions.I share this love with our staff at iD Tech Camps by maintaining the Activity Curriculum (the AC), an evolving collection of ideas for creating such aforementioned happenings. Sometimes props are not necessary – many of the games and events take a little bit of organization and preparation, but no items beyond understanding and communication. Many times, however, the right set of props can help create the perfect environment for fun, play and experimentation.

I believe that every serious facilitator needs a prop bag – and here are the top five essential props for running outdoor experiences.

There are hundreds of possibilities, so simply identifying five is quite the task. I had to make some concessions – such as cones or other forms of boundary markers. Backpacks, shoes, and other similar already available items are quite useful to the resourceful facilitator. Another major omission you will notice is a whistle. I do not believe in whistles – well, I mean, I know they exist. I just think that there are better ways to grab the attention of a group, much better ways that do not treat the group members like trained animals (just sayin’).

The final consideration is cost. You’ll notice that I include a bit about the relative cost of each prop below and some pointers on how to get the most bang for your prop budget. Ok. Enough preface… here’s the list:

1. Trashballs
Imagine a ball about the size of a softball. Now imagine that you can throw this at another player without hurting them at all. Now imagine that this ball is relatively free. Do I have your attention?

Trashballs are an amazing way to recycle all of the plastic bags you have accumulated from your local retail or food outlet over the years. If you don’t have any of these bags because you have moved onto reusables, have no fear – simply ask around! Someone always has a cache of plastic bags that they’re looking to get rid of in a safe and eco-conscious way.

These balls are light, cheap and relatively safe in the grand scheme of things. And the greatest part is that you can make dozens of them without breaking the bank. Dozens. Or *hundreds*! That means experiences that are very unique, as many of your campers (or students or whatever) are unlikely to have dozens of balls to play games with dozens of people.

How do I make these fantastic wonderful items? Just check out this video that Bryan and I made!

And here are some videos of games you can play with your new Trashball collection:
Trashball
Tank
Trash Dodgeball
Up Chuck
Asteroids
Guard That Treasure!

2. Noodles

Noodles are just fun. Whenever I pull noodles out of my prop bag, all of the eyes in the group get big and the excitement begins. They are generally safe (which is always an important consideration) but also add the element of danger as the first impulse most players have is to whack one another – which actually can be quite an entertaining activity! We like to organize that process a bit, by restricting the whacks to ankles, but that’s enough to keep everyone entertained and aggression-free for an afternoon.

A group favorite is Asteroids & Ankle Biters, but noodles are a prop with endless random uses. Try to incorporate them into relays, improvisation and, when in doubt, just see how far you can throw them – that’s always a hoot!

You should be able to get pool noodles at your 99¢ store for about $3 (no kidding!). Each noodle can be cut in half, which means you only need to spend $12 – $15 total for a full set.

3. Hula Hoops

Hula Hoops are a great old toy that can be used for relay races and one of my favorite games, the Hula Hoop Ring Race (as well as Star Wars). One of the popular games last summer was Human Ring Toss – which is played exactly as you imagine!

Hula Hoops can be found at the 99¢ store or online for a good price – DO NOT go to a major toy retailer looking for hoops, unless you want to spend over $10 a pop!

4. Rope

I mainly use rope for the Group Jump / Group Avoid Rope Challenge, but it’s totally worth it! Those intiatives, plus just having the ability to host a large-scale jump rope is a great time for all groups – especially those with over 50 participant.

I use a retired climbing rope, which is essentially free. If you know of any adventure facilities that have a climbing wall, it’s likely they have a couple of retired ropes every year or two that they need to trash. Ask around!

5. Rubber Chicken

There’s this old IT legend that a friend once told me. An IT guy was called to a Fortune 500 company to fix the CEO’s computer. Since the client was so high profile, the IT guy was accompanied by his boss, who assured the CEO that said IT guy was the best in the business. While the bosses were talking, the tech noticed that the computer was unplugged, and that was the cause of all this fuss. He calmly (and secretly) plugged the computer back in and then reached into his toolbox to produce a rubber chicken. His boss stared daggers as the IT guy took the chicken and danced around the computer, shaking it while singing. He then reached down and Viola!, the computer worked.

Everyone needs at least one Rubber Chicken, if not a Rubber Pig and a Rubber Cow as well! Give Me That Bird (and the group variation) are always a big hit – and you can’t really make a proper Minefield without a couple chickens.