Family, Kids & Relationships

12 affordable summer camp options for your family

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Every year, the summer camp registration frenzy gets more competitive and more expensive. In fact, many parents have already registered their kids for summer activities before winter is even over, knowing that waiting any longer can severely limit their family’s options. 

Summer camps fill a crucial gap in child care for many families who don’t have a parent available during the daytime to watch kids who are out of school for the summer. For example, in the D.C. area, over half of households with kids under 14 have no parent available during working hours, leaving them scrambling to find child care during the summer months.

Some camps open their registration as early as January or February, and run out of spots sometimes within minutes. Many parents compare the summer camp registration process to buying highly in-demand concert tickets — only a lucky few will succeed. Those who do secure a coveted summer camp spot may find themselves paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the short reprieve from coordinating summer child care.

If you’re worried you’ve already missed the summer camp boat this year, or are looking for some more affordable options for your kids, check out this list of low-cost summer camp options.

Parks and Recreation Department

By using city resources like public spaces and schools, many local Parks and Recreation departments are good sources of low-cost summer child care for kids. Many also offer discounts for multiple children and financial assistance for low-income families. To find out more, search online for “[your town] Parks and Recreation summer camps.”

YMCA summer camps

YMCAs all over the country have overnight and daytime summer camp options, often with a sliding cost scale depending on your income. To learn more about your local Y’s summer child care options, check out their website.

American Camp Association

The American Camp Association’s Find a Camp tool can help you find all kinds of local camp options. Simply fill out the form with your preferences — overnight versus daytime care, distance from your home, the activities your kids love, and any special needs they might have.

Girl Scout and Boy Scout camps

Both of these organizations have daytime and overnight camp options, and your child does not need to already be affiliated with either organization to get involved. You can find local Girl Scout groups at their website or you can search the Boy Scouts website for local troops that may offer summer camp options.

Council for the Arts

Your local Council for the Arts most likely offers some affordable summer art programs for kids. To find out what options are available, search online for “[your town] Council for the Arts summer programs.”

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army provides free summer camp programs for low-income families all over the country. They have activities like swimming, sports, and the arts, along with counselors trained in issues that low-income kids might face in their daily lives. Check out their website to find camps in your area.

Girls Who Code

The Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program (SIP) is a free summer program for girls and nonbinary students who are rising high school juniors or seniors. The program teaches kids all about computer science and other valuable skills to prepare them to succeed in the tech world beyond high school. To find a camp, check out their website.

Camp Invention

This unique camp program is a project of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The program is offered through local schools and organizations at an affordable cost, and focuses on STEM learning for kids going into kindergarten through sixth grade. To find a program near you, check out their website.

Museum camps

If your town has a museum (especially a children’s museum), you may be able to find low-cost summer programs there. Many museums offer affordable summer day camps for kids, and often provide discounts for members, or scholarships for low-income families. To find out if your local museums offer any programs like these, search online for “[your town] museum summer camps.”

Horizons summer programs

Horizons is an organization dedicated to providing enriching summer learning opportunities to low-income public school students. The programs are offered in partnership with local schools, and are available in 18 U.S. states. To see if there are Horizons programs near you, check out their website.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America

This organization connects low-income or marginalized children and families with mentorship and resources to help them succeed. Many local chapters offer affordable summer camp options. To find your local chapter, put your zip code into this search page.

Library summer programs

Many public libraries offer summer reading programs for school-aged kids. Some of these programs do require a parent or guardian to stay with the child, but some of them are drop-off programs led by trained librarians and child development professionals. To find out if your local libraries offer any programs like these, search online for “[your town] library summer programs” or check out this website for some specific examples of summer library programs.

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.