Freedom to explore is what summer camp is all about. For most kids, this can be life changing. At Camp Anokijig, an overnight summer camp in nearby southeastern Wisconsin, kids ages 7-16 can actually direct their own camp experiences, gaining skills, building memories and making friends along the way.
Unlike traditional overnight summer camps where kids are placed in groups and simply follow along from swimming to crafts to hiking, campers at Camp Anokijig can plan their own days according to their individual interests.
And that’s what keeps campers coming back year after year, says Heidi Mabie, Program Director at Camp Anokijig. “We like to say that at Camp Anokijig, kids get to choose their own adventure every day,” she says.
But, says Mabie, this unique experience fills up lightning fast. “We always recommend registering early and our post-July 4th spots fill to capacity first,” she says. Don’t wait until spring is in full bloom to register.
There are many reasons why a “choose your own adventure” experience will be right for your child. Mabie shares some of the more subtle reasons why Camp Anokijig is so special.
A customizable camp experience
What really sets Camp Anokijig apart from typical summer camps is your child’s freedom to explore within a structured environment. What this means is that campers start each day by attending two one-hour sessions where they can focus on skills that are based entirely on their personal preferences.
“They sign up for these on the day they arrive. They are more instructional in delivery but kids learn content through games,” Mabie explains. If they’re focusing on archery, for example, they may work on increasing accuracy at greater distances.
“Then, for an hour after, and for three hours in the afternoon and also after dinner, they have directed free period time,” she says. This means your child can spend more time in archery or they can do crafts, woodworking, yoga, gaga ball or many other fun activities — including paddle boarding on the lake or trail riding on horseback.
“They don’t have to sign up in advance for these or have chosen them as their skill. They can just drop in and dabble. They can spend 10 minutes there or all afternoon,” she says.
During these free periods, kids can really dig into something brand new, with no commitment or bell to wait for before they can rotate to something else.
“Our style of independent-choice programming mirrors the transition from elementary school to middle school and all of a sudden campers have electives to try. They can make choices like choir instead of tech ed. Free period time at Camp Anokijig is often where kids figure out what they really like,” Mabie says, adding that counselors are highly skilled at breathing excitement into every activity.
“Even in an activity like digital photography, campers learn new and creative ways to capture photos through scavenger hunts, daily challenges, and mystery games,” she says. “It’s never just about memorizing the parts of a camera.”
Expert help if kids have trouble deciding
Not every child knows exactly what they want to try first. For some kids, Camp Anokijig offers their first opportunity to make their own choices. If you’re worried that your child will be overwhelmed by choice, don’t be. There’s always help at hand.
“Some kids just need a little push to get started,” Mabie says. For some kids, just talking through the options or selecting their top three choices with the help of a counselor is all it takes. “They plan and create a checklist and then the counselor will ask the camper at dinner to tell them about what they did, so there’s some accountability there, too.”
But it doesn’t stop there because the counselor will keep the conversation going by setting small goals, then tweaking if necessary.
“If a camper doesn’t have a lot of practice in making their own choices, a counselor will break down the day to make the window smaller and help the camper to fine tune their interests. They might select archery and swimming. Counselors will pair up campers with similar interests so they can walk together to the activities,” Mabie explains. And that’s an added chance to make a new friend.
Mabie says a week at Camp Anokijig gives children a safe environment to practice living as part of a larger community. Kids learn how to navigate uncertainty, celebrate successes and build resilience when things don’t go quite right. They learn to work as a team and even deal with conflict — skills that are beneficial in school and, eventually, in the work world.
“In real life, that’s how we support each other and check in and break down the overwhelming,” she says, adding that in a large camp setting, everyone builds the skills to navigate together and enjoy themselves to make experiences valuable and worth their time.
Where your child can learn how capable they are
Overnight summer camp can be a nerve-racking experience for parents. We want peace of mind knowing that our child can bunk with a friend or a sibling where it makes sense.
While the camp honors requests within reason, “there are definitely kids who don’t know anyone when they come,” and that’s OK, Mabie says.
At Camp Anokijig, camp counselors are specially selected — then carefully trained — to connect kids and help them build friendships with peers. And these are friendships that can be deeply meaningful because they grow through shared experiences. And, they can even last a lifetime.
Most of all, Camp Anokijig is a place where kids can be whoever they want to be. And, after a couple of pandemic-disrupted years, kids are making up for lost time socially.
“When you come to camp, everyone is just at camp. The majority of the kids you don’t know, so you get a fresh start to be who you want to be. You have the freedom to explore among peers who don’t have a pre-set impression of you,” Mabie says.
For kids who are super competitive and just want a break — or for those who want to really excel at something new and different that they can’t try in their own backyard — Camp Anokijig is the perfect summer place.
“Kids come here and just be themselves without peer pressure. As kids are navigating a larger social structure now, we offer a space for them to learn and explore and dabble and try out new things in a safe, protected area that is free of judgment,” Mabie says.