Camp Nicolet

What is this “Free-Choice Program” I Keep Hearing About??

Hi Everyone!

So let’s talk about this Free-Choice Program. I know there are many questions about what we’re doing at camp and why these changes are being made. Our alumni are probably wondering why we would mess with a formula that has worked for years and what’s going to happen to the traditions at camp. Our current campers are most likely anxious to see what’s in store for next year. Our parents may be wondering if their kiddos will still receive the same bang for their bucks. Well, let me provide some of those answers.

The Free-Choice Program was implemented in 2015 following a couple years of research and planning designed to bring our camp program up-to-date with the youth of today. To make sure that we are relevant. That we are at the forefront of providing the type of experience each summer that helps to prepare our campers for their futures…and have a little fun along the way. A few blogs back, I talked about the benefits of camp: connection to nature, digital detox, a sense of personal control and ownership, healthy risk-taking, resiliency, a judgement-free zone, and sense of family. These benefits are no different than those that camp has always offered, but the way in which we achieve those goals has had to change. Kids have become more accustomed to instant gratification, trophies for everyone, and others stepping in to tell them what to do and troubleshoot their problems. Between school, sports, jobs, internships, volunteering, and whatever else they may have on their plates, kids are stressed and overwhelmed by all the demands on their time. Camp has had to become (or rather, remain) a place where they can push that all aside and get back to the work of being a kid. Of learning through play and experience. Of focusing on the progress and the present, rather than the outcome and the future. The Free-Choice Program allows them to do all of these things in a safe, supportive environment focused on each camper’s own personal autonomy.

Here is how it’s designed:

  • All of our level activities (waterski, horseback riding, swimming, and tennis) are still available to everyone. The campers are able to work toward achieving goals in each area and earning patches, but those who have no interest in each activity are able to opt out and take something in which they find joy and excitement.
  • The exception to this is swimming, which is required for all campers through the completion of Level 4. New campers will automatically be enrolled in Level 1 and are able to test through levels if they are more advanced.
  • Traditional activities like sports, small craft, and arts & crafts have been broken down into more specific categories such as field games, court sports, sailing, paddle to the tail, pottery, and collage. This is done so that the campers can really focus on the activities they enjoy. When they sign up for sailing, they sail (weather permitting, of course!); they’re not going to end up out in kayaks instead.
  • In addition to the level and traditional activities, we draw from the talents of our staff group each year to design additional classes, such as knitting, mad scientist, adventure hour, and fishing. Using the talents of our staff and relying on them to develop content for their lessons provides them with a sense of ownership in their daily schedule and promotes increased enthusiasm and engagement with the campers.
  • Activities like book club and camp traditions (yep, bracelet-making included!) have been incorporated into the schedule to allow for structured down time. Time to hang out with friends, let loose, and just enjoy a moment of being completely in the moment and stress-free. Remember: “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – Bertrand Russell J
  • After feedback from campers and parents last summer, we’ve added a “Cabin Activity Hour” for 2016. This is an opportunity for campers and their counselors to spend time together every day in a selected activity area. The cabins will be provided with a list of open areas/activities that they can utilize and are then allowed to choose their area based on the order in which they show up for flag. That’s what I call a win-win situation…cabins get to choose an activity to do together AND get to flag on time because they don’t want to be the last to choose. HA!
  • We still offer double ski, double riding, wakeboarding, and competitive ski for an additional fee.
  • Showers and Canteen (camp store) are still scheduled by cabin, allowing the girls this time together every other day.
  • All-Camp Activities are still held on Sunday. The whole camp is split up and participates in a game or challenge designed by our Program Director and Weekend/Rainy Day Committee. On the schedule this year: NICOLET OLYMPICS!!
  • Other special events such as campfire, Vespers, dining hall nights, and cookouts remain the same.

This is what the Monday through Saturday daily schedule looks like:














Activity 1


Activity 2






Rest Hour


Activity 3


Activity 4


Cabin Activity








Evening Activity


East End Taps


West End Taps

 *Wednesday evening activity (Outpost Cookouts) begins following Activity 4; Sunday is a special All-Camp Activity schedule.

Now some Q&A:

Q: How do the campers choose their activities?

A: Once you are enrolled for camp, there is an “Activity Preference” form that will appear in the “Forms and Documents” section of your account. Make sure you put your activities in order from most preferred to least and get this form in as soon as possible because schedules for the first week of each session will be determined based on the order they’re received!

Q: How do we know what level our camper is in so that she can choose activities correctly on the preference form?

A: Your camper most likely knows this and should have patches for the levels that she has completed. If you still aren’t sure, please send me an e-mail and I can let you know.

Q: When will my camper know her schedule?

A: Schedules for the first week of each session will be printed and distributed the first day of camp. The schedules for subsequent weeks will be distributed on Sunday evenings.

Q: What if my camper doesn’t get an activity she wants?

A: Most of the time, this is because an activity is full. In the event that it is a level activity (ski, swim, tennis, riding), we will work with her to rearrange her schedule to get her into the appropriate level. Campers with this issue should come to the office on the first day of camp to get their schedule revised. For all other activities, they will need to try again the following week. This is part of life and the building of resiliency. To help alleviate this, make sure your camper submits their activity preferences early.

Q: What if we’ve purchased additional paid activities?

A: These activities will be pre-scheduled for each camper that has enrolled. Once that process is complete, the rest of the schedule will be auto-generated.

Q: What if my camper gets multiple hours of the same activity?

A: She should see the program director on the first day of her camp session to see if it’s possible to alter the schedule. To help avoid this, please make sure that the camper selects multiple activities on the preference form. It is possible to take a total of eight different activities per week (4 hours on each of either Green or Buff days) so be sure to list AT LEAST that many on your form.

I hope that this information is helpful. Please shoot me an e-mail if you have any additional questions. If I get quite a few, I’ll follow-up with another blog post in the future. Based on the feedback from last year, the Free-Choice Program went over very well with both campers and staff and I’m excited to see how the tweaks we’ve made will make it even better. Only 187 days until the first day of Session I!!!

Wishing you all the best this holiday season. I’ll be in touch again in 2016!!


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