It’s time to ask yourself the dreaded question “What will I do with my kids this summer?” Luckily, with a little research, we’ve found tons of cool summer programs for kids that keep costs very low or even free (and some are online). From the Ranger Rick photo contest to Camp Creatology, these affordable summer programs for kids are some of the best ways to stay busy when they’re not in school.
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National Geographic's Summer Programs
The Planet Possible Family Challenge is a great way to make sure there's minimal summer brain drain. This series of projects and crafts from National Geographic hopes to inspire families to get outside, explore the habitats that surround us, and empower kids to understand why it's so important to protect them. Each challenge has three steps:
- MAKE IT! A step-by-step DIY for a tool or craft that will help kids explore the microhabitat
- TRY IT! Prompts or activities to encourage kids to explore and learn about biodiversity, using the Make It! craft
- SAVE IT! Kid-friendly tips on protecting the microhabitat
Cost: National Geographic Premium With Disney+ is $10.99 a month. You get access to Disney+ in addition to a digital subscription to National Geographic.
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.
Outschool Programs for Kids
Outschool offers dozens of classes and courses for ages ranging from toddler to tween. Do they want to learn another language? There's a class for that. How about beginning hip hop or even wilderness skills? You can find that too. Check out our favorite classes for kids here.
Cost: varies (some start as low as $14)
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.
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 28 national programs for all ages, covering everything from math to cooking.
Walk & 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. The non-profit organization Marathon Kids, which 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.
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 to 14, and while the camps are free, advance registration is required.
Give your kids an exciting and engaging adventure this summer with one of Brain Chase's 2022 treasure hunt programs. How does it work? Kids choose between two programs: The Globe of Magellan or the Sunstone of Cortes. Once your kiddo has picked which one, they'll 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. The fun starts on Jun. 13. New this year is a junior version of each program for kids grades K-3!
Cost: $99 and up. Click here for more information.
Your avid reader can help underprivileged kids gain access to books by keeping track of their total minutes read this summer. Sign up on Scholastic's 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.
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!
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 picket fence planter. At the end of the two-hour workshop, kids receive a certificate of achievement, a workshop apron, and a commemorative pin while supplies last.
Camp Creatology at Michael's
Does your artist dream of paint, paper, glitter and glue? If so, Michael’s Camp Creatolgy is the perfect way to beat the summer brain drain. The 2022 program runs from Jun. 20 - July 16, for ages 6 & up. If you don't want to sign up for the in-store classes, online programs are also available.
Cost: The classes are free, but the required materials cost $40 for the entire summer.
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.
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 Megaplex, Cinemark and Regal theaters 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.
Cost: $1 per movie.
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 the summer months). Click here to find out if it’s happening at your local rink.
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.
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.
From the popular hands-on outdoor learning program for kids comes an 11-week summer course you can do at home. Filled with all sorts of fun like a printable "trail map," reading summer list, songs and rituals for camp, plus articles and resources for parents, each week focuses on a different core Tinkergarten skill: persistence, empathy, creativity, focus and more.
Cost: $149 per family
MarcoPolo World School
Keep the summer boredom away with this fun digital learning platform. Kids ages three to seven can learn STEAM concepts while watching videos and participating in interactive online activities. You can try it out with a seven-day free trial; after that, it’s $7.99 a month.
From the creative minds behind Angry Birds, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Ice Age comes a free, interactive camp-style YouTube summer experience for kids. Every day is new, and activities include making food, doing science experiments, singing songs and more. Counselors will be on hand to lead extra content, and be on the lookout for special guest stars including Sparkles and Beaver and Scribbles the Cat.
Dates: Anytime on YouTube