Kids will make memories at camp – new adventures, friends, laughter, and hearing the Gospel in ways meant just for the hearts of middle schoolers. We’re so intentional about these elements of camp, but have you thought about how to be intentional on the bus ride? We asked some WyldLife experts to share how they’ve made the most out of their bus rides to WyldLife camp.
BEFORE THE BUS RIDE
Come prepared, especially for longer bus rides. Bring games to play (Uno or Anomia), string to make bracelets, or trivia questions to ask. Be ready to play Simon Says or Name That Tune and give future snack shop treats for winners. What are other things that you can do with active middle school kids on a bus ride.
Confirm what kids need ON the bus at check-in. Include a checklist for medication, lunch money and anything else they might need during the bus ride. Middle schoolers are notorious for leaving their money under the bus – you don’t want to dig through all those bags when you stop for a meal.
WHO SITS WHERE
Be intentional with leaders. Send leaders on the bus first to choose their seats. The trip leader should be in the front row to give directions and be accessible for emergencies. Levi Brown, WyldLife staff in Oregon, thinks strategically about where other leaders sit. He asks a responsible but easy-going leader to sit in the back to hang out where the wild ones often sit. “Leaders who can play endless rounds of 20 Questions or Quiplash will thrive in the middle of the bus,” adds Levi. Quieter kids or those who don’t know others often sit at the front of the bus, so leaders there should be prepared to engage in conversations with them.
Significant others shouldn’t sit together. Before kids board, tell them that their bus buddy can’t be that special someone. It’s okay to set clear rules for middle school kids, even if they initially complain.
ON THE BUS
Hang out with kids. Ask about summer, their families, and why they’re excited about camp. Move around to different groups. Get kids who don’t know anyone involved in the conversations. “The more relational work you can do on the bus, the easier your first night at camp will feel,” says Tracey Thomas, WyldLife staff in South Carolina. You don’t have to spend the entire ride with kids – give kids time to laugh and with their friends, too.
Think intentionally about movies. Consider saving any movies until the bus ride home. Create space instead for kids to talk to leaders and each other. If your drive is 5+ hours, show a movie for the last two hours.
Communicate with parents throughout the trip. If you’re the trip leader, set up a Remind 101 so parents know when you’ve left, how the ride is going, and when you’ve arrived safely at camp. This will save you (and camp staff) dozens of calls and texts. Send the code in the parent email and confirm parents are signed up when their kids check in at the bus.
Spend time with Jesus. It may not be a quiet coffee shop, but you can still spend a few minutes writing down prayers for kids in your cabin, reading the story of the cross, or being still as you watch God’s creation through the windows. Practice sensing the Lord’s presence in the craziness of a bus ride, and you’ll be more aware of Him in the craziness of camp.
ON THE BUS: MUSIC
Bring one or two good Bluetooth speakers (with a microphone.) You never know what kind of sound system the bus will have, so it’s best to be prepared for announcements… and impromptu dance parties.
Impromptu dance parties are necessary. When the question “Are we there yet?” feels incessant and unescapable, it’s time for bus karaoke/dance parties. Take requests, find clean versions of those questionable but frequently requested songs, throw in some Disney tunes, and have fun.
Create a playlist. One leader takes requests from kids on the bus and compiles a playlist. Kids start the ride doing something together, hearing and sharing ideas with each other. Once the playlist is complete, start playing it. Kids get excited when their songs are played. (Note: You’ll have to tell kids to keep it clean!)
Order food for pick-up. “Ordering Chick-Fil-A catering boxes to pick up was a game changer,” says Cailey Bills, WyldLife staff in Texas. Ask parents to pay an additional $10, then choose nuggets or a sandwich in a Google form. Pick up the food and have a picnic in a nearby park. It gets kids off the bus, but doesn’t overwhelm a small-town fast food restaurant. Buy water bottles in bulk for kids to drink with their meals.
Give kids a heads-up before stopping. Ten or fifteen minutes before a stop, make an announcement, telling kids to put on their shoes and get their money. Make another announcement five minutes out. Be sure a leader walks through the aisles to tell kids who might be sleeping.
Be kind to your bus driver. Imagine if you were the one driving 55 middle schoolers to camp and were left with the mess they make. (And they will make a mess!) Bring large trash bags and do periodic sweeps so you’ll have less to clean up once you arrive at your destination.
ON THE WAY HOME
It’s okay for kids to not have charged electronics on the ride home. Don’t spend time the last day of camp charging phones for kids, just let them be. Consider not returning electronics the moment kids step on the bus but extending the “unplugged” time a bit longer.
Start camp follow-up. “If it’s a long drive home, do a Campaigners lesson on the bus with kids,” says Jessika Mendoza, WyldLife staff in California. Prepare leaders to read a passage in small groups and then ask “cabin time” questions to the kids around them.
Make returning electronics a game. Play trivia on the ride home. The prize? Their electronics! “My favorite is asking trivia questions about the leaders they just spent time with, “says Taylor Aurigema, WyldLife staff in New York. “I give back one item at a time. Starting with headphones before phones always gets a good groan and laugh from everyone.”
Special thanks to Taylor Aurigema, Cailey Bills, Levi Brown, Jessika Mendoza and Tracey Thomas for sharing their wisdom, experience and ideas. We’d ride to camp with them anytime!
FOR EVEN MORE BUS RIDE IDEAS, CHECK OUT: