Summer Camps for Low-Income Families - Virtual & In-Person

Spring 2020 saw parents scrambling to make summer plans for their kids when it was unclear if there would even be any in-person summer camps.

Now, in the spring of 2021, across much of the county, parents and kids are generally in a good distance or hybrid learning groove. There is some entirely in-person schooling happening and, with more and more Americans getting the vaccine, there is hope for more schools and summer camps to fully reopen.

However, not even the American Camp Association (ACA) is sure what summer camps will look like. What camps are allowed to do, who they are allowed to serve, and how camps will be required to operate will vary widely state by state. To help camps make decisions about best practices the ACA has published an extensive field guide of recommendations on everything from cohorts to pre-attendance testing to cleaning and disinfection procedures. All ACA camps must adhere to these policies.

To help parents make decisions about summer camps for their kids the ACA has also published a resource page including a list of questions parents should ask camp directors about Covid-19 protocols. Deciding what kind of camp to send kids to is a personal decision each parent needs to make based on their needs, comfort level, and risk status. Parents who do want to send their kids to in-person camps will find hybrid, in-person day camps, and even some overnight camps taking reservations.

Since last summer there has been an increase in online summer camp options to provide kids with fun summertime activities even if they can’t attend in person. Many of these programs are available at low or no costs, and most programs that cost more have scholarship opportunities for low-income families.

For parents looking to make a plan for the summer, here is a list of outstanding low-cost online summer camps as well as programs that will be offering in-person experiences for their campers.

Getting Started: Affordable Internet Access

Low-income families who do not have access to the internet for online summer camps can apply for Internet Essentials through Comcast. Currently, they are offering two free months of service with a low monthly fee of $9.95 after that. Through this program families also have the opportunity to purchase a computer for only $149.

Spectrum offers a similar low-cost internet for low-income families, although they don’t offer low-cost computers.

While some of these programs are free, others have a fee associated with them. However, many offer promo codes, financial assistance, or scholarships. Continue reading to learn about awesome online summer camps or online course options to help low-income families make it through this summer of unknowns.

Online Summer Programs

Virtual 4-H Camp

Using the success of their online summer camps from 2020, 4-H has a virtual summer camp for pre-k all the way through 12th grade. These camps focus on crafting, cooking, STEM, and nutrition. Each subject area has a set of activities campers can complete. Activities take between 30 minutes to a couple of hours to complete, and many can be completed without adults’ assistance.

All programs are offered free of charge in collaboration with Microsoft and Utah State University Extension service. Each activity has a small list of supplies campers will need to gather in other to complete the project. There are camper kits parents can purchase online to help add to the camp experience. There is even a virtual fireside that campers can participate in and learn camp songs. Campers are encouraged to share their completed projects on social media using the hashtag #4Hcamp.

  • Type: Online courses
  • Duration: Three activities per camp that take 30 minutes to a couple of hours to complete
  • Ages: Pre-k to 12th grade
  • Cost: Free

Camp Supernow

Camp Supernow offers live drop-in online classes and activities that are engaging and fun. Kids can take classes based on their interests and have a chance to build relationships with their peers as well as the exciting cast of characters. Classes kids can participate in include game rooms, a late-night slumber party, yoga for kids, how to make a music video, and more.

In each of the classes, kids will have a bunch of fun but also learn critical social-emotional skills that will help them succeed in life. Many of the classes teach mindfulness and creativity to help kids develop tools to self-regulate. Courses are taught year-round, so if a family finds this program to be a great fit over the summer break they can continue on throughout the school year.

  • Type: Online courses
  • Duration: One hour, classes are daily year around
  • Ages: All ages
  • Cost: Free 14 day trial, $18 per month after that

Start with a Book

Parents can help their kids develop a love for reading with Start with a Book programs. There is a long list of subjects to choose from, including art, science, math, money, and superheroes, just to name a few.

Once parents choose a subject, there is a list of books to gather either from the local library, digital loan sites such as Hoopla, or they can be ordered from local booksellers or Amazon. Each subject also has fun activity suggestions parents can do with their kids or older kids can complete on their own.

  • Type: Online Camp
  • Duration: One to six days
  • Ages: Three to 12
  • Cost: Free; however, it may be necessary to buy some books or supplies

Wonderopolis

With a focus on STEM and literacy, the Wonderopolis free online camps are sure to engage any student.

Developed by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), these programs appeal to curious students and parents alike. Camp themes include music, building, space, and sports. Within each camp topics such as math, reading, science, and technology are covered in creative ways. Camps are structured as individual lessons campers can complete at their own pace.

  • Type: Online camp
  • Duration: Varies
  • Ages: Seven to fifteen
  • Cost: Free; kits are available for purchase but not required

DIY

DIY has hundreds of online courses, projects, and how-to videos for kids. Some projects are simple and can be completed quickly while other courses are multi-day endeavors.

DIY has a three-step approach of watch, do, then share. Kids can watch cool videos of either a stand-alone project or a course, and then they complete the project offline. Lastly, they can share their project in a safe moderated community allowing them to connect to other kids and get feedback. There is a small monthly fee associated with this platform but there is a free 14-day trial for parents and kids to decide if this program is for them.

  • Type: Online courses
  • Duration: Varies based on the course
  • Ages: Four to 18
  • Cost: Free 14-day trial; then $4.99

Connected Camps

Minecraft or Roblox-obsessed kids will love Connected Camps online summer camps. These camps are run as daily live classes on the Outschool platform in small groups of no more than 12 kids, allowing students to make friends while still getting individualized attention.

Connected Camps leverages students’ interest in video games to teach subjects such as history, art, business, and coding. They even offer a free kids club server where students can play in virtual worlds with their classmates. While there is a fee associated with these camps, Outschool is currently offering financial assistance to low-income families and there are promo codes available to Connected Camps.

  • Type: Online camp
  • Duration: Five days for 90 minutes each day
  • Ages: Eight to 13 years old
  • Cost: Starts at $80 per camp, but financial assistance and promo codes are available

Brain Chase

Brain Chase has taken a worldwide scavenger hunt and put it online. Kids are required to complete a minimum of three elective subjects a week such as typing, yoga or foreign languages. This then unlocks puzzles, new chapters in the ongoing storyline, and episodes to help solve the global treasure hunt.

The competition spans the globe and students can track their progress in their courses and in the scavenger hunt through online leaderboards and certificates. Depending on the program parents select, there can even be materials mailed to the student’s home. The fee associated with this program covers a whole summer’s worth of learning.

  • Type: Online summer camp
  • Duration: Five weeks
  • Ages: Five to 18
  • Cost: Starts at $99, promo codes are available

Code with Google

Whether it is a one-hour course or a multi-day program, Google offers some of the best free kid coding programs out there.

Courses are geared towards a student’s interests, including music, fashion, and art, making it more than just programming. The difficulty of the classes ranges from complete beginner to advanced courses. There are even courses designed for those in college or higher education. Students can start with simple one-hour courses to learn the basics and decide if they enjoy it before launching into courses with a multi-day eight- to 12-hour commitment.

  • Type: Online courses
  • Duration: One hour to multi-day
  • Ages: Nine to 14
  • Cost: Free

Outschool

With over 10,000 classes, there is bound to be something on Outschool for every kid. Courses are taught online or asynchronously on nearly every subject imaginable. The online teachers on the platform have devised many creative combinations to learning such as using Pokemon to teach storytelling and Fortnite to explain grammar.

Courses are offered for kids as young as three and going all the way to 18-years-old. Costs start at $5, but there are scholarships available.

  • Type: Online camps and courses
  • Duration: One hour to multi-week
  • Ages: All ages
  • Cost: $5 on up, up to $300 of financial assistance available to eligible families

Activity Hero

Activity Hero is a place for local businesses to post-summer camps, parents’ nights out, afterschool programs, workshops, and online programs. Parents can enroll their kids in a number of online programs that run all summer. Some of the classes even include physical activities such as karate or ballet—all taught online.

Courses are booked directly through the businesses advertising on Activity Hero and many of them offer financial assistance or scholarships.

  • Type: Online courses
  • Duration: One hour to multi-week
  • Ages: All ages
  • Cost: Some courses are free, others have a fee; financial assistance and scholarships are available

In-Person Summer Camp Options for Low-Income Families

Castle Rock, CO

Avid4 Adventure is a Boulder-based organization that offers up to 300 scholarships every year to low-income students so that they can attend summer camp. Castle Rock caters to children in preschool through seventh grade, providing four different types of camp experiences.

Kids in the “adventure camp,” for instance, spend their days mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking, while those enrolled in an older mentorship program nurture their teamwork and leadership skills.

  • Type: Day camp
  • Duration: 11 weeks
  • Ages: Four to 13
  • Cost: Financial assistant available for families who make less than $100,000 a year. Up to 100 percent off tuition.

River Junction, MI, and Eloy, AZ

Youth Haven offers a unique program that lets parents of disadvantaged children send their kids to sleepaway camp for the week at no cost. Children are put into teams of five to seven campers, and they will do most activities together, such as swimming, wall-climbing, archery, traveling in covered wagons, and more. Each scholarship covers all food and comfortable dorms with bunk beds. Note that Youth Haven offers additional children’s programs, including weekend camps and a special teen program.

  • Type: Sleepaway camp
  • Duration: Multiple one-week periods throughout the summer
  • Ages: Eight to 13
  • Cost: Free for qualifying families

Rockwood, PA

YMCA programs across the country frequently offer free or partially subsidized day and overnight summer camps to low-income children. Camp Soles is an example of the latter, although the program also offers weeklong and weekend programs for the whole family.

Trained and certified counselors lead teams of five to six children as they learn to zipline, fish, rock climb, canoe, and more. Each week features a new theme, such as pirates, wizards, and superheroes; other group activities such as campfires, carnivals, and beach parties are common too. All children enjoy three full meals per day, plus an evening snack.

  • Type: Overnight
  • Duration: Weekly and weekend programs throughout the summer
  • Ages: Seven to 17 years
  • Cost: Partially subsidized based on need

Randleman, NC

Victor Junction offers more than just a free summer camp: it provides a safe place for sick and disabled children to get in touch with their adventurous side. Founded in honor of NASCAR legend Adam Petty, Victory Junction features a medically safe water park, adventure course, day spa, and archery field.

The camp is also equipped with a full staff of attentive counselors trained to assist children with a wide range of health and developmental challenges, from cancer and immunological disorders to spinal bifida and diabetes. Some of the camp experiences are funded through the Charlotte Observer’s Summer Camp Fund, which sends more than 500 kids in need to 33 camps throughout the region each year.

  • Type: Overnight
  • Duration: Weekly diagnosis-specific sessions
  • Ages: Six to 16 years
  • Cost: Free

Seattle, WA

Camp Fire in central Puget Sound offers a diversity of summer camp experiences at eight different locations throughout the Seattle area, including both day and overnight programs. A few examples include Carkeet Park where kids will explore 220 acres of forests, meadows, and beach right on the Puget Sound and Blyth Park where kids spend their days along the Sammamish River. Camp Sealth also offers both themed day and overnight camp options featuring traditional camp activities, like hiking, swimming, and fishing. Camp Fire works to ensure all kids can attend camp regardless of financial need: fees are based on the Seattle Public Schools Free and Reduced Lunch sliding scale.

Note that for 2021 they are only offering day camp options due to Covid-19 restrictions in the state of Washington.

  • Type: Day and overnight options
  • Duration: Weekly sessions throughout the summer
  • Ages: Varies by location, but as young as preschool
  • Cost: Varies according to eligibility

Central Virginia

Camp Kumbayah is an excellent example of a community-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to giving children of all means a summer worth remembering. Families can apply for free or reduced attendance, based on a sliding scale. All campers are put into small groups led by at least two qualified counselors and activities range from sports activities, like archery, rope climbing, swimming, and canoeing, to more passive ones, like arts and crafts and storytime in a large central tree house. Fees include lunch prepared over an open campfire. Note that Camp Kumbayah offers special leadership and adventure programming for older students.

  • Type: Day camp
  • Duration: Weekly sessions throughout the summer
  • Ages: Five and up
  • Cost: Varies by eligibility

Boston, MA

The West End House is part of the Boys and Girls Club and offers year-round programming for low-income children for just $15 a year, which includes a full summer of day camps at no extra charge. Member students receive academic enrichment, go on field trips, participate in theater programs and explore their communities. The West End House also offers additional career development support and employment opportunities for teens.

  • Type: Day camp
  • Duration: Weekly sessions throughout the summer
  • Ages: Varies by program
  • Cost: $15 per year

Clarksville, OH

Just outside of the Cincinnati area, Camp Joy is a residential day camp created especially for children who otherwise could not afford to attend. Instead of sitting home alone, campers spend their summers scaling rope courses, swimming, making arts and crafts, and enjoying campfires. Camp Joy also offers an adventure-based leadership program for children ages 13 to 15 and two weekly police camps for children age ten and older. The final weekly session each summer is reserved for foster children.

  • Type: Day camp
  • Duration: Weekly sessions throughout the summer
  • Ages: Seven to 12 years
  • Cost: Varies by session, but begins at $50 per week

Multiple locations

Horizons National is a free summer enrichment program for low-income, public school students that operates on school and college campuses across 18 states. The curriculum has an academic component that emphasizes literacy and STEM programming, but students can also make art, go on field trips, and learn how to swim. Breakfast and lunch are provided at no cost. Horizons also offers after-school and weekend programs throughout the rest of the year.

  • Type: Day camp
  • Duration: Six-week program
  • Ages: Public school children
  • Cost: Free

Chicago, IL

Youth programming through the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) differs from all other programs featured on this list in one fundamental way: students are paid to attend. The programs are designed to be youth employment and internship programs to inspire young adults and teenagers to excel professionally. Specific programs include “Learn & Earn,” which focuses on career exploration, and STEM camp, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math enrichment. Both of these programs offer a $600 stipend for participation. Additionally, students ages 14 to 18 can earn $8.25 an hour, up to 15 hours a week, serving as Safe Summer Piece Ambassadors who engage younger children in positive community activities.

  • Type: Day camp
  • Duration: Varies by program
  • Ages: 13 to 18 years
  • Cost: Participants are paid to attend

Find a Summer Camp for Low-Income Families

Many communities across the country offer day and overnight summer camps for families in need. Parents and caretakers can search the web or call local schools to find more options; however, there are several national organizations known for their regular programming. These include the YMCA, the Salvation Army, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the United Way. Contact your local chapter of one of these organizations to learn more.

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson
Writer

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.

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