10 Budget-Friendly Summer Programs for Kids

From reading programs to cooking classes, these awesome summer offerings are packed with fun and educational experiences for kids and a friendly price tag.

When school is out for the summer, parents may be on the hunt for a summer program for their kid (and let's be honest: odds are, you started your hunt months ago!). Fortunately, there are many local and nationwide options to keep your children entertained and learning all summer long, with many different options to pander to a wide variety of interests. If they love STEM, there are tech programs. If they love to cook, you can easily find a culinary class. If they're a drama kid, acting camps are fairly easy to find, too.

But the tough truth is, many summer camps and programs come with a hefty bill. Thankfully, there are summer programs out there that can be more affordable for families on a budget. Here are eight affordable options to explore.

1. The YMCA

YMCAs nationwide offer over 1,400 day camps and served 364,910 kids and teens in resident camps in 2020. Point being? The YMCA has a lot of camps in a lot of places and is a great place to start for any parent looking for a summer camp for their child. Prices vary depending on location and are often open to all with options to adjust fees based on income levels. They also offer scholarships and financial assistance to families in need.

You'll want to check out the YMCA's search tool to find a camp near you, but as a few examples of pricing and areas available: The YMCA in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area offers a day camp that can be less than $50 per day for kids in grades 2-6, while the YMCA of the Rockies has summer day camps starting at $47/day, with additional add-ons available.

2. Sur La Table Summer Series Cooking Classes

The nationwide culinary supply chain offers different 5-day series of seasonal cooking classes for kids aged 7-11 and teens 12-17 that run about $299. Choose from fun and flavorful options like Global Flavors and Baking 101. You may have to check back for summer offerings closer to warmer months and for exact times and locations.

3. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts

Both programs cost about $25/year for membership, plus additional (usually affordable) fees for activities that range from day camps to overnight camps to family camps. You can find a Girl Scout Camp near you or a Boy Scout troop near you online. Camps, programs, and activity fees vary by local council and are often open to all, with options to adjust fees based on income levels. Financial assistance is also available.

Summer Campfire Roasting Marshmallows
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4. Your Local Parks and Rec Department

Check out your local parks and recreation department for affordable summer day camp options, which often take place at schools, local parks, and other public facilities.

5. Montessori Summer School Programs

The nationwide organization offers educational programs during the summer that combine physical and emotional development with exciting endeavors involving art, music, science, culture, and more. Prices vary and may be higher for younger kids, but you can check out the main Montessori site for your local options.

6. Sylvan Academic Camps

Sylvan Learning Centers have a variety of programs to keep your kiddos intellectually stimulated and bolster their academics through the summer months. A few examples: Study Skills (Grades 4-12); Fit4Algebra camp (Grades 6-9); and Writing camp (Grades 4-9). Prices vary and some locations require you to call to find out exact pricing.

7. The Salvation Army Summer Camps

Salvation Army locations all over the country offer summer camp programs for low-income families. Campers learn to swim, play sports, create music, make art, and scout. Plus, trained counselors help them navigate any complicated emotions and struggles. Search on the Salvation Army site for locations near you.

8. Local Library Programs

Check out your local library for day camps and programs that run all summer long. For example, in Brooklyn, the award-winning BCAP Summer Camp for kids ages 7-10 is two weeks long and includes games, experiments, creative arts, and exploration. It's $750 for a 9-day session or $800 for a 10-day session.

9. Your Local College or University

Some colleges and universities offer summer camps and educational programs for kids. The camps provide a great way for enrolled students to earn credit or volunteer hours while offering valuable services to the community. For instance, if you're in Michigan, Oakland University offers a variety of different camps, from art to music and dance to science-themed. An art camp that runs daily for kids in grades K-2 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. costs $400/week.

10. Virtual Summer Camps

They may not be right for everyone, but virtual summer camps can offer more financial flexibility and access. Plus, you can register your child for almost any type of camp they have an interest in, from magic camp to art camp to STEM and dinosaur adventure camps. Varsity Tutors has virtual summer camp offerings for around $250/week.

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