In your little buddy’s dream world, Mickey Mouse lives next door, the mailman delivers comic books, and lollipops are a food group.

Until this fantasy becomes reality, introduce your kid to the next-best thing: Steve & Kate’s Camp. A mainstay in the Bay Area since 1980, the trailblazer is about to open five locations in Chicago and the North Shore, just in time for summer fun. Its unique formula — allowing kids the freedom to independently choose their own adventures every day, with group powwows along the way — has given it a cult following like nothing else we’ve seen.

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What’s in a day?
It’s all up to the kids. Steve & Kate’s Camp revolves around the idea that campers should have their choice of activity in order to build confidence and stay engaged. To that end, there aren’t strict schedules that lock groups into set periods of craft, sports or science time. Instead, kids can spend the days doing any of the available activities they like — for as long as they like.

There are several regular offerings, as well as lots of surprises. Every day, from 7:30 am – 6:00 pm, kids can explore six themed “studios,” which are like exploration areas staffed with trained counselors. Studios include style (sewing, knitting, crafting), cooking, dancing, building, music recording, and stop-motion animation. Along with that, each week brings special amusements, which can range from rock-climbing walls to zip lines to huge water slides to parachute “rockets.”

To give this whole utopic world some structure — and provide campers with time to interact on a more personal level with their friends and counselors — each day includes designated small-group time. It’s spent playing games, coming together for huddles and chatting about how things are going.

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How ’bout live entertainment?
Once a week, campers are treated to live shows featuring Chicago entertainers. And not just any entertainers. This summer, kids will be wowed by Peter Nestler, the Guinness Book of World Records holder for Most Consecutive Jumps on a Unicycle in One Minute. They’ll also bring in Scales and Tails, an animal presenter that comes equipped with a Burmese python by the name of “Julius Squeezer.” Local magicians and musicians will also make the rounds.

Any snacks or food?
There are snacks throughout the day, as well as a full lunch, and it’s all included in the tuition. Food comes from local vendors and purveyors whenever possible. In fact, Steve & Kate’s has an arrangement with Door to Door Organics, a CSA that will use the five camp locations as drop-off points. The ingredients will be used in snacks and lunches, as well as in studio cooking lessons.

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What ages is the camp for?
Any child that’s entering kindergarten through 7th grade can participate. All activities are mixed-age. Counselors understand that the younger ones might need a little extra help or encouragement. So through a concept called Kindercamp, guides are available to be at smaller children’s sides, helping with more technical projects (like stop-motion animation and building), as well as the essential everyday stuff, like washing hands and putting on sunscreen.

This sounds fab. How much?
There are a few options when it comes to money. Day passes are less expensive if you buy them in bulk. Buy one or more at once for $80 per day, buy five or more at once for $76 per day, and buy 20 or more at once for $64 per day. If you don’t use all of your days, you get a full, automatic refund for the days you missed.

If you’re in for the summer-long haul, the best bet is to buy a membership at $2,240 per child. Again, if you don’t use all the days, you get a full, automatic refund for the days you missed.

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When and where is the action?
Camps are held Monday through Friday, from 7:30 am-6:00 pm, at the following locations:

Chicago-Lakeview – St. Andrew School: Jun 10 – Aug 9
Chicago-Lincoln Park – St. Josaphat School: Jun 17 – Aug 16
Lake Forest – Lake Forest Country Day School: Jun 10 – Aug 16
Northbrook – Solomon Schechter Day School: Jun 10 – Aug 16
Wilmette – St. Joseph School: Jun 10 – Aug 16

Once a child is enrolled in Steve & Kate’s Camp, he or she can bounce between the five Chicago-area locations, without providing prior notice.

Registration has begun. Sign up online at steveandkatescamp.com.

We think it all adds to a fun, easy-breezy summer. And that’s a parent’s dream come true.

What activity would your kid love to do at Steve & Kate’s Camp? Let us know in the Comments section below.

— Kelly Aiglon

Photos: Courtesy of Steve & Kate’s Camp