Summer 2022 is swiftly approaching, and with it comes the challenge of figuring out activities for kids on summer break. Many parents, particularly low-income ones, need to work year-round and need somewhere for their kids to go during the day. A fantastic option is a virtual or in-person summer camp.
With more than 250 million Americans having received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, most in-person options for summer camps are back. This means kids across the country can opt for day and overnight camp options again!
However, some online summer camp options are here to stay and may be a great option for families who want at-home activities for their kids this summer.
The American Camp Association (ACA) is an excellent resource for camp directors and families still concerned about Covid. 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 this year will have the option of fully online or hybrid programs and in-person day camps and overnight camps.
Summer 2022 may start to look like it did pre-pandemic with full camps and kids socializing together in large groups. For parents looking to make a plan for the summer, here is a list of outstanding low-cost in-person and online summer camps.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind while looking for in-person or online summer camp options.
While some of these programs are already low-cost or even free, some have fees associated with them. However, most offer promo codes, financial assistance, or scholarships. All of the camps listed below have their financial assistance programs noted. However, most local camps offer some kind of financial assistance as well. So, when considering camps that aren’t on this list, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask the programs directly about financial assistance or scholarships.
Low-income families who do not have access to the internet for online summer camps can apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Eligible households will receive a $30 monthly discount on their internet service. If applicants live on qualifying Tribal Lands the credit is up to $75 per month. There is also a one time $100 discount to a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer.
Using the success of their online summer camps from the past two years, 4-H has a virtual summer camp for pre-k 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 order 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.
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 and 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 and 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 throughout the school year.
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 local booksellers. Each subject also has fun activity suggestions parents can do with their kids or older kids can complete independently.
With a focus on STEM and literacy, the Wonderopolis free online camps will engage any student. These camps emphasize science and math with a focus on literacy, so kids learn valuable skills all while having fun. Since its inception, more than 57,000 counselors and campers have participated in these camps.
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.
DIY has hundreds of online courses, projects, and how-to videos for kids. Some simple projects 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 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.
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.
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.
Whether it is a one-hour course or a multi-day program, Google offers some of the best free kid coding programs.
Courses are geared towards students’ 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.
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.
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.
CA, CO, OR, MA, ME, MN, IL, WA
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. Their day camps are offered in eight states and cater to children in preschool through 11th grade, providing a variety of different types of camp experiences.
For instance, kids in the “adventure camp” spend their days mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking, while those enrolled in an older mentorship program nurture their teamwork and leadership skills.
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.
This is a religious-based camp with an emphasis on teaching Christianity. Note that Youth Haven offers additional children’s programs, including weekend camps and a special teen program.
YMCA programs 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.
Victory 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 various 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.
Camp Fire in central Puget Sound offers a diversity of summer camp experiences at eight locations throughout the Seattle area, including day and overnight programs. A few examples include Carkeet Park, where kids will explore 220 acres of forests, meadows, and beaches on the Puget Sound and Blyth Park, where kids spend their days along the Sammamish River.
Camp Sealth also offers 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.
Camp Kumbayah is an excellent example of a community-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to giving children of all means a summer worth remembering. Based on a sliding scale, families can apply for free or reduced attendance.
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 treehouse. Fees include lunch prepared over an open campfire. Note that Camp Kumbayah offers special leadership and adventure programming for older students.
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, including 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.
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 ages ten and older. The final weekly session each summer is reserved for foster children.
Horizons National is a free summer enrichment program for low-income, public school students. It operates on school and college campuses across 19 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.
Youth programming through the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) differs from all other programs featured on this list fundamentally: students are paid to attend. The options are youth employment and internship programs designed 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 stipend for participation. Additionally, students ages 14 to 18 can earn wages for up to 15 hours a week, serving as Safe Summer Piece Ambassadors who engage younger children in positive community activities.
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, several national organizations are 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.