5 Summer Camp Alternatives for Your Kids

By Valerie Kirk
Summer Camp Sign

Just when you started narrowing down summer camp ideas for your kids—or if you were ahead of the game, you had already made a down payment and marked your calendar—the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation and summer programs were cancelled. So now we’re left to figure out how to give our kids the benefits of the summer camp experience in new ways.

With kids dealing with several months of learning at home and social distancing, they are ready to get out in the warmer weather to enjoy their summer and connect with their friends. And let’s face it, you could use a break too. Many organizations are offering alternative options to the traditional summer camps. Here are five ways to keep your kids active during the 12 weeks of summer.

1. Virtual Camps are a Thing

Many traditional in-person camps are shifting to virtual experiences, offering children a range of activities they can do from the safety of their home.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC are moving their camps online, giving children across the country access to the Smithsonian’s national treasures. Challenge Camp @ Home is offering over 100 elective STEM and Arts enrichment virtual classes, ranging from chess, coding, cooking, photography, robotics and theater.

For budget friendly camp choices, Camp Kinda is hosting free weekly camp activities for kids in grades K-8 and you can start and complete the adventures whenever you have time. Varsity Tutors, iD Tech, and Met Opera are also great choices for fun, unique, educational and free camp programs.  

2. Start a Neighborhood Camp

There are so many parents in the same boat this summer trying to balance work and childcare with the absence of summer camps. Get creative with other families in your neighborhood or school community by starting a neighborhood camp. Each day, one family volunteers to run the camp at their house, either for a full or half day. Parents plan activities for their day, such as water play, backyard obstacle courses, crafts, neighborhood walks or bike rides. The other families get a day off from the mundane quarantine life.

Camp numbers should be kept manageable so parents can comfortably entertain the children on their day. This is also a fantastic way to build relationships with neighbors and other parents in your school!

3. Get Some Help

One of the stark realities of the pandemic is that millions of Americans are unemployed, including many childcare workers. Consider hiring a nanny to help keep your kids active and learning. To help with costs—and to give your children additional playmates—consider going in with another family on a nanny share arrangement. 

You can also look at hiring a trusted high school or college student to help. They are generally less expensive than traditional nannies and are full of energy to keep up with your kids. You could even get creative with payment options. If you have a pool membership or live in a community with a pool, it’s often easy to add your nanny to your membership or give them access to your community pool, giving them the opportunity to use nice pools over the summer, even when they aren’t working.

4. Go Camping

Experience nature together by camping in the great outdoors together! If you have a tent, you can go simple and camp out in your own backyard! Or, you can go on a mini road trip to a camping park near you for tent or cabin living! Consider renting an RV —which is often cheaper than staying in a hotel and you can set up a remote office!

5. In-Person Camps May Be Available

As restrictions continue to ease in many states, parents can still find in-person camp options, although the number of available slots is limited for safety reasons. The YMCA’s regional chapters host a wide variety of outdoor camp experiences, and in many states they are ready to begin welcoming your child to summer camp. Check your favorite local camp options as well. As more state’s ease restrictions, many camps are retooling their programs so they can still offer an in-person experience.

Valerie Kirk is a freelance writer and mom of a teenager and a tween who lives in Gambrills, Md.

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