Red Tricycle article: An Unbelievably Cool Summer Camp Comes to Chicago
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.
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.
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.
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.
Variety magazine article: Free-Form Camp Fires Up Young Minds
Steve and Kate’s Camp didn’t set out to cater to the children of folks at Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic and the like, but given their philosophy, it’s no surprise so many attend.
“We have a fundamentally different approach to how we program, which I think has attracted a certain type of person,” says Steve Susskind, co-founder of the Bay Area-based camp that for the first time this year will offer sessions in the LA area, from roughly mid-June to mid-August, depending on the location. “We’ve created an environment where kids are able to choose all day exactly what they want to do, for as long as they like.”
Though the camp has numerous programs that have nothing to do with entertainment, several do fall under that umbrella.
“If someone is (interested) in filmmaking, they can do it all day,” Susskind says. “It’s not about structured vs unstructured, it’s about what type of structure. That sort of open-ended approach has been attractive to people from a lot of the creative and tech industries.”
Pixar mainstay Andrew Stanton sent his children through the camp and has been effusive about it, writing that the campers “blossom and discover a freedom of identity that, in a way, no other institution I’ve experienced has ever managed.”
Deirdre Warin, the mother of Susskind’s wife and camp co-founder Kate Susskind, was one of Pixar’s earliest employees, but Steve Susskind says she didn’t try to recruit anyone to the camp. Pixar families, like others in the area, found it on their own. Over time, the popularity of the camp has enabled it to expand to nearly 40 locations in California, Washington and Illinois.
The camp has an innovative fee structure. Families can buy camp credits rather than registering in advance for sessions. As a result, campers can attend, or not, on any day they like, without notice–and get a refund at the end of the summer for any unused days.
It’s simple in concept if complicated in execution–though one could argue that refunds are not a huge issue in an atmosphere where campers have so much creative freedom.
“It’s not our job to dictate what the story should be,” Susskind says. “It’s our job to help them tell their stories.”
– Jon Weisman
Steve & Kate’s Camp Voted Best Of Bay 2012 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian
Steve and Kate’s Camp was picked by the readers of the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2012 as the “Best Camp For Kids”. Here’s the link to the list on the SFBG website.
Steve & Kate’s Camp Voted Best Of Marin
Steve and Kate Susskind must know what they’re doing – they’ve been running Steve and Kate’s Camp for 30 years in Marin – although it all sounds as chaotic as a Wonderland tea party. Their philosophy: Let kids decide. Happy campers, age 4 to 12, are given a choice of activities that include things such as high-def filmmaking, electric car racing, sewing, knitting, sculpture, bungee jumping, soccer, etc. – and the kid decides which activity and how long to do it. A camper can do whatever for as long as he or she likes. “It’s structure,” Steve says, “just a different structure.” “We want to make sure we’re doing what the kids want.” Kate says. “We conform to them, not the other way around.” Food at the camp is heavy on the organic, fresh and locally grown, and is served family-style with the cafe open all day. Again, kids choose. Parents can choose, too – when and how often to bring their children – from one day to an entire summer. Unused days are automatically refunded. And somehow it just all works.
Steve & Kate’s Camp Voted Best In Contra Costa County
The readers of Parents Press voted Steve & Kate’s Camp best summer camp for 2011 in Contra Costa county.
Children can channel their creativity in this summer camp that offers campers, age 4–12, activities in filmmaking, electric car racing, sewing, knitting, sculpture, bungee jumping and soccer. Food at the camp is organic, fresh and locally grown and is served family-style with the cafe open all day. Flexibility is emphasized so campers can attend for a day, a week or an entire summer, and they can attend activities at different locations. With a wide range of activities, young campers are encouraged to pursue their own individual interests and passions so they create their own unique camp experience.
Steve & Kate’s Camp Featured In IJ Camp Guide
In 2008, the Marin Independent Journal camp guide featured an article about our “excellent culinary adventure” and how we have “taken camp food a long way from bug juice, bologna sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly smeared on white bread so gluey you can bounce it off a redwood.” Read the article here.
For the first time since the day camp was founded 28 years ago, the cooking’s going gourmet as well as organic.
Steve & Kate’s Camp In The San Francisco Chronicle
Leah Garchik mentions Steve and Kate’s in her Thursday column. Read the column here.
Thanks to Nanook of the North Bay for the brochure for Steve and Kate’s Camp, a Marin County day camp that refers to staff members who help kids choose their activities and make friends as Camp Concierges. The camp’s list of activities includes “Limo Rides,” and the arts and crafts program includes knitting “using real wood and bamboo needles.” Furthermore, lunch comes from Whole Foods and “drink service includes milk, 100 percent juice and bottled water.
Steve & Kate’s Camp In Apple’s Hot News
Steve and Kate’s uses computers throughout the camp. They increase efficiency and security for our staff. For campers, they open up the worlds of digital photography, filmmaking, music recording, and podcasting. Apple found out about us and wrote an article on our use of their technology for the “Hot News” section of their web site. Read the article.
If kids ruled the world, it might look something like Steve and Kate’s Camp in Mill Valley, California.
Steve & Kate’s Camp On The Morning Show at KPFA
Steve and Kate joined Andrea and Opal on The Morning Show at KPFA to talk about Steve and Kate’s Camp. If you would like to listen to them online, click on the link below and drag the slider on the quicktime player to the last quarter of the grey bar. Listen here.
Steve & Kate’s Camp On local television show
Steve and Kate’s Camp was featured on a local television show, The View from the Bay, in 2008.