Top 10 Things NOT to Buy through S&S

This is the much-anticipated sequel to my “Top 10 Items For Your S&S Order This Year” entry. Or at least, I’ve been anticipating it.  Truth be told, I decided to write this entry mostly because I had a rant in my head about how much I dislike craft kits!  I’ve tucked those items away at #2 on the list in a practice of self-restraint and courtesy, because, overall, I really do like S&S!  Just not craft kits.

Anyway, as I have mentioned in the past, there are some critical items to order before the start of your summer from your favorite vendor.  My rule is to order quality items that support creativity and not direct it.  In my opinion, the best supplies for your camp purposes are plentiful rolls of tinfoil, unlimited duct and masking tape, hand-me-down drama clothes and loads of facepaint.  Back to the basics, people!

So, here we go: The top ten things to avoid when placing your supplies order for this summer.

1. Tie Dye Kits: Buy Rit Dye Instead!

Tie Dye kits are not good.  Well, maybe there are some that are.  But what is really good, and really, really cheap, is Rit Dye.  It comes in tons of colors and can usually be found in the laundry aisle at your local superstore.

rit dye

2. Craft Kits...help!

I have several problems with craft kits.  They are expensive but, beyond that fact, they are wholly uncreative and boring.  There are exponential things that kids can create at Arts & Crafts or Woodshop, so please focus on not premade kits but a wide variety of supplies that can be turned into anything.  Your recycling bin at camp is a great place to start.  Once we got a lady who donated more than one hundred various baskets to camp and we got so many miles out of those.  Scrap wood…a collection of old National Geographic Magazines…collected leaves from camp…I could go on and on!  The world is so big beyond craft kits.

Jack and Laura from Camping Coast to Coast and Go Camp Pro (among other endeavors) did a presentation at Mid-States about the Makerspace concept.  It made my heart sing!  I will step off my soap box to implore you to PLEASE read Laura’s blog article about this concept.

Here are three of the most hilarious and non-recommended craft kits from a craft kit despiser like me: 

"Bobblehead Terrier Dog"

"Bobblehead Terrier Dog"

"Shoe Key Ring Craft Kit"

"Shoe Key Ring Craft Kit"

"Craft Stick Barrel Bank"

"Craft Stick Barrel Bank"

3. Blindfold set

What?  Make your own blindfolds.  Even a backwards hoodie or the ol' honor system will do!


4. Dress Up Clothes...support your local thrift store instead

After being at YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian for nine years, the dress-up clothes on camp started to invoke amazing memories.  The dress that both Peter and Elissa have worn (on separate occasions) for Wild Wild West Night…the shirt that Jordan Lacy liked to wear as pants…the gorilla suits that have served so many purposes beyond being a gorilla.  Durable and fun, the dress up clothes that camps have collected throughout the years tell the unique stories of your camps.  Enjoy creating and maintaining these collections, and your local Gold Mine will also benefit from any purchase made!

5. Inflatable mouse and cheese toss game

Please only purchase this if you are going to use it on the waterfront…really, in all my experiences, this would pop immediately even if it is of durable construction, or turn into a raft.  That being said, a toss game with a regular raft (the ones with the holes built in already that cost about $2.99 at your local box store) would be a great DIY inflatable mouse and cheese toss game!

6. Knock down cans...you already own a lot of these

Another solid example of the treasures that you can find in your own recycling center.  Beware of sharp edges when reusing cans and other bits of recycling, but there is absolutely no need to buy replicas of items you are already discarding!

7. Blaster balloon launcher...ouch

My parents had certain rules for my sister and I growing up.  Rollerblading?  Wear a helmet.  Biking?  Wear a helmet.  Trampoline time at the neighbor's house?  Only one bouncer at a time.  (This was especially difficult because we were the ONLY ones with this rule but yes, I understand now, this is an important rule!).  For the 1990s version of me, these rules could be at best tedious and at worst very embarrassing.  Nowadays, I credit my risk-conscious parents for creating me as a risk-management expert.  My eye for potential disasters was conditioned as soon as I left the womb.  That being said, enter the blaster balloon launcher.  This was one of those big Kurtz family no-nos.  When the lifeguards at our local park went to launch water balloons and other various ammo out of one of these, we had to stay clear.  Sure, with proper operation and conscientiousness, these things can be fun.  However, they’re not really worth it.  All it takes is one slightly reckless counselor or one split-second decision to put a potato in that baby instead of a soft, pleasant water balloon to have a disaster on your hands.  There are plenty of additional ways to have fun, so I’d just skip this guy.  Maybe your woodshop class could create a catapult instead.

balloon launcher.jpg

8. Mini donut maker????

Really confused about this one…looks like a wedding registry gone bad.  Go play outside.

9. Gaga balls...go to the store instead

The best gaga balls are the ones that are between $1-$4 at Walmart or your other box store of choice.  They tend to run out toward the end of the season, so I stock up in June and July.  Please pull the balls out through the side instead of what this girl did:

10. “Nature Crafts” & Exhibit A: Seashell Sand Art

I think one of the reasons I really don’t like craft kits is because they are impersonal and just generate more trash down the road.  (Yes, I am reading a book with the subtitle "The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing", so these strike an extra-special chord.  There will be a blog article about that book in the future.)  What I'm trying to say is...please teach campers about being good stewards of the environment..about reuse, using materials wisely, and enjoying ACTUAL nature!

Stay strong, stay focused, and happy purchasing!! 

Top 10 Items for Your S&S Order This Year

Many camp professionals use S&S Worldwide (www.ssww.com) for ordering camp supplies this time of year.  There are a few great things about S&S: First off, they have generous coupons on a regular basis.  Before placing your order, Google “S&S Coupon” and see what you can find.  If there isn’t a current promotion running, call your S&S representative and see if there is one coming up.  You should never be placing an order through S&S without at least a 30% or 40% off coupon.

1. Button Maker: http://www.ssww.com/item/heavy-duty-hand-operated-button-maker-AC598/

button maker

This is a slightly more expensive investment, but it will pay off majorly in the long run.  Julia Roberts of Camp Michigania said in my staff appreciation presentation at ACA Mid-States this week that they have one at Michigania that they allow staff to use at any point.  Each button produced (and be sure to order the button pieces as well) costs less than 9 cents, and it’s a great way to allow staff to make gifts for each other for birthdays, activities and more.  We have one at Camp Al-Gon-Quian, and one of the funniest pranks someone played on me was creating a button of Monica Lewinsky’s face and pinning it to my dog’s collar.

Button makers are also great for the following ideas: creating a custom set of visitor passes, quick alumni gifts made with camp photos, quick-fix arts and crafts and awards.

2. Masking tape.  Lots of masking tape: http://www.ssww.com/item/masking-tape-AS125/

masking tape.jpg

When I became a camp director, I thought back to what some of the most frustrating things were for me when I was a counselor.  One of these things was the fact that we were constantly running out of tape!  On each year’s S&S order, I would go ahead and order at least 30 rolls of masking tape.  It’s a lot cheaper through S&S (especially with a coupon) and there’s no reason that we should not have a ton of tape on site.  I’d apply the same concept to cheap scissors, construction paper, glue, paintbrushes…you can always use these in additional years, so they won’t go to waste if you get too many!  Additional pro tip: Only have a few rolls of tape and other supplies out at a time.  Hide the surplus in secret stashes that you release on an as-needed and secret basis.  

3. Indoor/Outdoor Basketballs: http://www.ssww.com/item/spalding-indooroutdoor-composite-basketball-W10586/


Basketball can be very, very serious business at camp.  My friend Marshall gave me a tip my first year as a camp director, which was to purchase Indoor/Outdoor basketballs.  Marshall got into every single law school he applied to, so it is always wise to listen to Marsh. Our basketballs at camp stay outdoor all the time, so I thought I would just go ahead and buy some outdoor basketballs.  Marshall stopped me.  He said the indoor/outdoor are of better quality and will last longer than the plain old outdoor ones.  He was right.  

4. Whistles for your Lifeguards: http://www.ssww.com/item/arbiter-pealess-whistle-and-lanyard-W10511/


Stock up now.  Get every lifeguard a whistle and have a crafty staff member puff-paint them to customize for each individual.  This pack of 12 is listed at $19.99.  Add a coupon to that and your whistles will be just over $1 a piece.  These create pride in the waterfront staff and help prevent additional spit-swapping among your lifeguards.

5. Clipboards: http://www.ssww.com/item/letter-size-clipboard-OC1037/

Clipboards I bought from S&S in the summer of 2014 and decorated with Sharpies for each of our activity area specialists that summer.

Clipboards I bought from S&S in the summer of 2014 and decorated with Sharpies for each of our activity area specialists that summer.

Staff stay more organized when they have a clipboard.  They can store rosters, schedules, activity plans and more.  I have found that when staff, especially activity staff, are given a clipboard at the start of staff training, it helps direct their organization.  You are setting the tone that there are things they need to attend to.  These plain clipboards are $1.49 each before any discount, so they’re another inexpensive way to get your staff some gear and keep them professional.  Again, a crafty staff member can decorate to make some personalized gifts.  Order about 10 more for the office for things like check-in rosters, inspections and more.  A stack of papers will look much more organized (and won’t blow away in the wind) when attached to a clipboard.

6. Playing cards: http://www.ssww.com/item/playing-cards-SL1254/


I’d order a bunch of 12-packs. And remember that you will end up paying less than half what you would end up paying at Walmart. The secret stash of office supplies rule also applies here so your kids in week 9 still have some cards!

7. "Super Jumbo" Playing Cards: http://www.ssww.com/item/super-jumbo-playing-cards-W9355/

Think of all the game possibilites with these!!!  Look at how happy that kid is!! I’d say this is $12.99 well spent, even if you don’t have a coupon. 

8. Pickleball Set: http://www.ssww.com/item/diller-pickle-ball-set-W5589/


OK, it has a silly name and the picture isn't that great.  But guys, I am OBSESSED with Pickleball!  NBC Nightly News even called it the fastest growing sport in America.  Pickleball is a racquet sport that crosses tennis, ping pong and badminton.  You can set up 2 pickleball sets on a tennis court, meaning 8 people can play on one court instead of just 4.  It's really easy to learn and a great equalizer.  People of all ages can play together.  I can go on and on about this!  I especially recommend this sport for camps that are no longer doing tennis for some reason, and for family camps.  The nets are portable and removable, too!

9. Sidewalk Chalk: http://www.ssww.com/item/color-splash-giant-box-sidewalk-chalk-SC877/

Sidewalk chalk is the ultimate team art activity.  Kids love to get a big box of chalk and just go wild drawing, creating, making games, etc.  What a classic!  These boxes are huge, the chalk is of a fine quality, and it's much less expensive than the name-brand stuff at Walmart.  It's also an amazing activity tool as you can do great things such as turn your tennis courts into a life-size game board. 

10. Giant Embroidery Floss Pack: http://www.ssww.com/item/giant-embroidery-floss-pack-ST2479/

With as many as 105 skeins in a pack, ordering your embroidery floss early from S&S is a great plan.  There have been many times when this gets sold out, in my experience, so place your order soon.  I would estimate how many packs of floss you go through in a week at your camp, and then multiply to place your order.  Our Arts & Crafts director would ration these out by week.  It's important that the kids in your last session have more than brown thread to work with, so don't get stuck at Michael's on the last week of camp searching high and low for more-expensive floss packs that you're not going to find.  Stock up now!

Note: Friendship bracelet making tends to be crazy-popular.  Once I had a camper suggest to me that we sell embroidery floss in our camp store.  Has anyone ever done that?  She was quite the young entrepreneur.