Summer camps provide a long list of benefits to kids and teens. Unfortunately, the benefits and fun can come with a high price tag. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), day camp tuition averages about $88 a day in 2023, with resident camp tuition at about $173 a day. Thankfully, there are affordable summer camps and even free summer camps that can make the decision to enroll a child a stress-free no-brainer. Kids will make great memories (without you breaking the bank) with these affordable or free summer camps in 2023.
YMCA’s all over the country offer day camps, as well as overnight programs for 970,000 kids and adults every summer. They also serve more than 439,000 youth, teens, families, school and retreat groups through group camping overnight programs
Cost: Prices vary depending on location and type of camp, but most have options to adjust fees based on income.
Where to find a camp: Use their YMCA search tool to find a camp near you.
Local recreation agencies create quality programs that are cost-effective for the families in their respective communities. Families with two or more kids might also be able to take advantage of multiple child discounts, as well as financial assistance programs. In general, by utilizing city facilities like schools, parks and recreation departments are able to offer campers a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities.
Cost: Prices vary depending on location and type of camp, but many will offer multiple child discounts and financial assistance.
Where to find a camp: Contact your local parks and recreation department.
If your child is already participating in either of these programs — which usually cost about $40 to $60 per year — you’ll be able to take advantage of their summer programs. Both Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the USA run a variety of affordable camps for kids. There are day camp and sleep-away options. Kids do not have to be involved with scouts before signing up for the camps.
Cost: All fees vary by local council and are often open to all with options to adjust fees based on income levels.
It is not just a thrift shops! The Salvation Army runs free summer camps and summer programs for low-income families nationwide with activities like music and art lessons, sports, and swimming. According to the organization, trained counselors are trained to help campers better cope with the “complicated emotions and struggles often associated with their lives back home.” They provide provides a wide range of engaging camp activities for kids, such as swimming, canoeing, hiking, archery, and other sports. In addition, the camps also offer educational and non-sports programs, such as arts and crafts, music, and drama. Kids are encouraged to develop social skills through team-building activities, leadership training, and community service projects. The Salvation Army summer camps provide kids with the opportunity to learn new skills, make friends, and create lasting memories—impactful childhood experiences that too often are only enjoyed by children from higher-income homes.
Where to find a camp: You can check out the Salvation Army for locations near you.
If you happen to live close to an Apple store, your 8- to 12-year-old can take advantage of a program focused on exploring music, coding, movie-making or art and design. The tech company’s completely free summer program spans three 90-minute sessions. It does bear noting that all campers must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian for the duration of Apple Camp. Cost: Free.
Where to find a camp: Visit the Apple site to find information on your local store’s program.
Local police departments throughout the country have various day camps for children and most of them are free! Google “police camp near me” to find options in your area.For example, NYPD offers a free Summer Police Academy for children between the ages of 10 and 15 that encourages positive relations between local youth and the Police Department. Six-week programs are held in each of the five boroughs and include field trips to police facilities, role-playing, lectures and demonstrations, drug prevention and gang violence education. Lunch, uniform shirts,and field trips are all provided. In the San Francisco area, the Police Activities League offers free and super low-cost summer camp programs in football, cheerleading, fishing, jujitsu, and more.
Churches of all demonstrations offer Vacation Bible School programs throughout the country. The programs are typically free and open to the public as well as church members. Many have a performance or demonstration at the end.
This program for low-income public school students is an award-winning free summer camp program in partnership with local public schools, colleges, and universities. Operating in 18 states, including California, New York, Virginia, and more, this free six-week summer camp program has free swimming lessons, STEM Programs and healthy breakfast and snacks.
Where to find a camp: Closing the Opportunity Gap in Education | Horizons National
Most libraries have FREE summer reading programs for school-age kids. Some of these are drop-off programs and some require parents to stay at the library with their child. But even with those that require parents to stay, a few hours of quiet and library wifi is a welcome respite to work or relax while your kid is occupied.
Microsoft stores across the country offer free summer camps for children that explore things like designing video games, robotics, and coding. The camps are totally FREE (advanced registration is required) and for ages 6-14.
Where to find a camp: Online summer camp and virtual activities for kids | Microsoft
There are a ton of museum camp programs for kids of all ages and many of them are free or very inexpensive summer programs for kids. In Houston, The Health Museum in Houston hosts a camp about science, medicine, and the human body. Scholarships are offered based on potential and need.
Where to find a camp: search “museum camps” in your area.
This 11-week day camp based out of Boulder, CO is for ages 4-13. An outdoor and adventure camp, they offer 300 scholarships a year to families that make less than $100,000 per year. Some families qualify for a full scholarship making this a free summer camp.
Where to find a camp: Avid4 Adventure Summer Camps | Avid4 Adventure
For children ages 8-12, this one-week sleep away camp is free for disadvantaged families. Located in Michigan and Arizona, campers are put into small groups to learn swimming, archery, and even traveling in covered wagons! All food and dorm accommodations are covered.
Where to find a camp: Youth Haven | Home
This residential day camp, just outside of Cincinnati, is meant for children who would otherwise not be able to afford camp. There’s swimming, ropes courses, and arts and crafts. In addition, there’s a leadership program for ages 13-15 and two “police” camps for ages 10 and up. Each summer, the final week is reserved for foster children. Costs vary but begin at a very affordable $50 per week for this low-cost summer camp program.
Where to find a camp:Camp Joy (camp-joy.org)
Rising Juniors and Seniors can attend the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program (SIP) for FREE for seven weeks. There are 81 programs throughout the country that encourage girls in the computer sciences and help them develop a supportive network of other girls.
Where to find a camp: https://girlswhocode.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/categories/202681357-Summer-Immersion-Program-
Home Depots across the land offer FREE two-hour workshops on Saturdays where children learn to build a fun project and get a workshop apron, commemorative pin, and certificate of achievement. You must pre-register online.
Where to find a camp: DIY Workshops | The Home Depot
Michael’s Craft Stores hosts a program called “Camp Creativity” on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10am-noon There is a new craft each time (including the kid-favorite–slime!) and kids get stickers and coloring pages to take home. Cost: $3 for a 30-minute session
Where to find a camp: Camp Creatology | Michaels
S.P.A.R.K.S. is an adorable acronym for “Science Projects Are Really Kid’s Stuff!” STEM programs for for elementary age children through hands-on programs that provide enrichment in every area of science. They have programs in New York, New Jersey, Deleware, Tennessee, Illinois, and Oklahoma.
Where to find a camp: Our Programs - S.P.A.R.K.S. Foundation (sparksfoundation.org)
For more camps across the US, you can search the American Camp Association Find a Camp tool.