With many of our big summer plans canceled, it’s time to get creative to keep the kids busy. Your usual sleepaway camp might not be happening, but there are still tons of cool summer camps and programs that have taken their operations online and are keeping costs very low or even free. From cooking classes to reading challenges, these kid-approved summer programs are the best way to fill your time this summer.
If your kiddo is interested in cooking, you’ve got to check out Raddish Kids’ virtual cooking camp. Each week covers a different theme, from Around the World to Bake Shop. The camps are designed for kids ages 8 to 13 and run daily for one week each. Follow their page on Outschool to be notified when you can sign up; you can also check out their recorded one-time classes in the meantime.
Cost: $15/one-time class
Keep your kids learning (and having a great time) this summer with Camp Wonderopolis, a great free program that incorporates science, music, reading comprehension and more. Choose from themes including space travel, the Olympics and city building.
Get some learning time in this summer with Varsity Tutors’ weeklong, totally free virtual summer camps. Running June through August, kids can sign up to make their own LEGO movie, crack detective cases and create their own worlds in Minecraft. Space is limited, so grab your spot soon.
Family Maker Camp
Get your whole crew involved with Family Maker Camp—it’s a great way to flex your imagination and create something new. Join in on one of their live streams or pick something that sounds interesting out of their project library. Before you know it, you’ll have built a hovercraft or a musical instrument.
MarcoPolo World School
Keep the summer boredom away with this fun digital learning platform. Kids ages 3 to 7 can learn STEAM concepts while watching videos and participating in interactive online activities. You can try it out with a 30-day free trial; after that, it’s $9.99 a month.
MOCA Art Camp
MOCA North Miami is offering a virtual contemporary art experience with free Virtual Art Camps this summer. Kids ages 6 to 13 will be introduced to mixed media, painting, drawing and textile arts during Zoom workshops, and their final projects will be featured in a virtual exhibition on MOCA’s website. Space is limited, so be sure to sign up while you still can!
If you’re worried about getting your middle or high school kids up to speed in the new school year, Numerade has a fabulous (and free) solution. They’re offering free STEM summer camps covering SAT test prep, precalculus, physics and more.
Gigi’s At Home
With the onset of Covid-19, GiGi’s Playhouse Down Syndrome Achievement Centers were forced to temporarily close, but they were able to bring a ton of content to their website tailored for families with Down Syndrome. Browse more than 20 programs for all ages, covering everything from math to cooking.
Walk and Talk from Marathon Kids
Research shows that kids connect when they're participating in an activity with you whether it's cooking, playing outside or being creative. Non-profit organization Marathon Kids, that works to ignite the joy of physical activity in kids, is launching a free summer program in hopes of making this easier for parents. Simply walk a mile and talk while doing it. Each day you'll receive a new prompt, there's a special mileage tracker, and by the end, you'll have walked the length of a marathon (26 miles) while getting to know your child better.
Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program
If you need an incentive to get the kids to go screen-free every once in a while, check out the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program. Download a reading journal from the Barnes & Noble website, then have your little bookworm log each book as it’s completed. Once they’ve read eight books, bring the completed journal to your local Barnes & Noble between July 1 and Aug. 31 to get a free book. Score!
Insider Tip: Your local public library likely has a summer reading program, too! Be sure to visit your branch to get the scoop on how to participate and win prizes.
LEGO Mini Builds & Magazine
Every month this summer, download the free instructions to a new LEGO mini build. In addition, your master builder can receive a free magazine as part of the LEGO life program. There are stories, activities and news updates for kids ages 5-9.
Microsoft Kids Camp
Microsoft normally offers free kids camp at their stores during the summer, but they've moved online for now. Kids can sign up for free online workshops to tour the Smithsonian, plan a virtual road trip, put their Minecraft skills to the test and more. Ages range from 6-14, and while the camps are free, advance registration is required.
Give your kids an exciting and engaging adventure this summer by joining forces with Mae Merriweather from the Grayson Academy of Antiquities. Starting on Jun. 1, 2020, your tiny treasure hunter can join other participants from all over the world to work hard, have fun and decode the clues that will lead one lucky winner to the mysterious Sunstone of Cortes.
How does it work? Kids will choose three electives out of 15 (depending on which package you select), including math, engineering, cooking, typing and even yoga, to solve each weekly challenge. Once solved, an original webisode containing the next hidden clue will be unlocked. The first treasure hunter to solve the mystery will jet off to unearth the real buried treasure—$1,000 in gold!
Cost: $99 and up. Click here for more information.
Your avid reader can help underprivileged kids gain access to books by keeping track of his total minutes read this summer. Sign up on Scholastic's new Home Base to get started. As kids track their reading streaks, they’ll unlock fun videos, book excerpts and other exclusive summer content. For every two days in a row kids track their reading streaks, Scholastic, with the help of other sponsors, will donate a book (totaling up to 100,000 books) to underserved kids across the country. You can register here, and check out the info for parents here.
Ranger Rick Photo Contest
If you’ve got a budding Ansel Adams at home, the Ranger Rick photo contest is a great way to keep her busy over the summer. First, head for the great outdoors (or your own backyard) and have her take nature photos. Then, select her favorite one and send it in with proper sizing (2 MB or smaller, JPG format, at least 600 pixels wide or 600 pixels tall). If your kid doesn’t have a digital camera, no worries! Phone images are also accepted. Recent winners (this is an ongoing contest) are entered into the running for Ranger Rick’s "Your Best Shots" Magazine Award and are selected three times a year. Each winner receives a certificate of achievement and copies of the magazine featuring the winning image!
Kids That Do Good Volunteer Program
It's never too early to instill the habit of giving to others. Have your little philanthropists sign up with Kids That Do Good this summer in order to spend time giving back to their local community. The online (kid-founded!) resource allows kids to get involved with a cause or charity of their choosing—or, if you’ve got real go-getters at home—create their own! Once you’ve created an account and found an organization, kids can track their service hours via social profiles and certificates. During Covid-19, they're highlighting ways that you can volunteer safely from home, including sewing masks, transcribing historic documents and more.
The very popular Apple Camp returns for the summer. Designed to help spark the imaginations of kiddos ages 8-12, this three-day workshop allows kids to explore and expand on their digital creativity. They’ll choose one of three tracks, and spend 90 minutes of each day working on their project. Be sure to sign up here to get an email announcing open registration—spots fill up quickly!
Covid-19 update: Apple has paused all of its events for the time being. You can check back on their website for updates and sign up to be notified if/when registration opens.
Home Depot Maker Classes
The Home Depot offers workshops that are perfect for mini-makers. Simply pre-register online, and then show up on the selected Saturday to build fun projects like a putting green. At the end of the two-hour workshop, kids receive a certificate of achievement, a workshop apron, and a commemorative pin while supplies last.
Covid-19 update: These classes aren't currently running; check back later in the summer for updates.
Camp Creativity at Michael's
Does your artist dream of paint, paper, glitter and glue? If so, Michael’s Camp Creativity is the perfect way to beat summer brain drain. Kids come in on Mon., Wed. and Fri. from 10:00 am-12:00 pm to work on projects that have fun themes like Zoo Adventures, World Explorers and Sea Treasures. There are new crafts each day, Friday is a slime-themed project, and kids get stickers and coloring pages to collect for each session they attend.
Cost: $3 for a 30-minute session
Covid-19 update: Since gatherings are off limits for now, Michael's has taken their kids club online! Visit their website and sign up to take a live class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 pm central time. All the classes are also saved in video form so you can get crafting whenever you want.
Kids Bowl Free
Budding bowlers can perfect their technique all summer long thanks to Kids Bowl Free, which allows them to play up to two games a day free of charge. All that's missing is a pair of those sweet bowling shoes. To find a participating bowling alley near you, click here.
Covid-19 update: With bowling alleys largely closed across the country, Kids Bowl Free is pausing their program until June 1. As bowling alleys reopen, the program will start back up again—and may extend past the summer months as well.
Summer Movie Programs
Sometimes a dark and cool movie theater is the only way to beat the heat. Your kids can sign up for a punch card or show up at participating Cinemark (movies shown on Tues. and Thurs.) and Regal theaters (movies shown on Tues. and Wed.) to catch a fun, kid-friendly flick for just $1. Even better, most movies show before noon, making it easy to catch a flick and head home for nap time.
Insider Tip: You can skip the concession lines at Cinemark with a speed pack!
Cost: $1 per movie at both locations, or $5 for 10 punch card from Cinemark.
Kids Skate Free
Xanadu your heart out and head for the local roller rink this summer. Whether your kids like to skate or rollerblade, a few laps will get their blood pumping, and the cool, A/C-induced temps are a total bonus. The Kids Skate Free program allows families to take advantage of this offer once a week (during summer months). Click here to find out if it’s happening at your local rink.
Covid-19 update: Most roller rinks are currently closed. As your area opens up, check the Kids Skate Free website to see if your local rink is still participating.
National Park Jr. Ranger Program
If you’ve got a National Park nearby, be sure to sign up your mini explorers for the NPS Junior Ranger Program. Each kiddo will be outfitted with a handy Junior Ranger guidebook that's filled with historical facts and cool tips about all the National Parks. Every adventurer also gets the chance to complete a series of activities, share answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and certificate. Click here to learn more.
Insider Tip: Kids can earn badges at home by downloading activity books and information packets. Click here for more info.
Covid-19 update: National park services are slowly opening in phases, so be sure to check the park website before you visit. There are plenty of online activity guides that you can print out and complete, along with virtual tours and video content to enjoy the parks from home.
Museums on Us
If you are a Bank of America or a Merrill Lynch cardholder, you can snag free admission at more than 150 museums, science centers and botanical gardens across the country on two days every month just by showing your card. Find out if your favorite museum is participating, and on what days, by clicking here.
Covid-19 update: With many museums closed indefinitely, be sure to check your local museum's website to see if they're open before you visit.
—Susie Foresman & Gabby Cullen