Free & Cheap Summer Camps for NYC Kids
Even if your family's swimming in money (and if you are, congrats), we all appreciate a good bargain. Summer camp is an especially stressful financial issue because while we want our children to have a fun, rewarding and safe experience, we don't want to dig into our 401Ks to pay for it. One thing we've learned is that cost and quality don't always correlate. Some wonderful programs are subsidized by arts and education funding so that all children can experience the rich and amazing resources of this city.
Although there seem to be fewer completely FREE New York City summer camps than in years past, our list of excellent inexpensive camps keeps growing. One of those programs—the NYC Parks Experience Summer Day Camp, which costs $500 for the entire summer—holds its online lottery for spots this week! Read on to find out how to vie for a space and for info on many other FREE and bargain summer programs for NYC kids. You can find even more summer options in our jam-packed Camp Guide.
Goddard Riverside Community Center – Ages 5-13
From Monday, June 30 to Friday, August 14, this Upper West Side nonprofit runs three summer programs for kids, one of which is FREE.
Children ages 11 to 13 can attend Beacon, a no-cost general interest day camp.
The other two programs—summer camps at the Bernie Wohl Center for ages 6 to 10 and West 84th Street for ages 5 to 12—cost $950 for the seven weeks (an additional $50 registration fee is required for the Bernie Wohl program). Three- and four-week sessions are also available.
Chess-in-the-Schools Summer Chess Camp – 3rd graders & up
The nonprofit organization, which teaches chess to city kids throughout the school year, is holding multiple FREE four-week camps in July at to-be-determined locations. You can find the info on the Chess-in-the-School's website the first week of April. Children of all skill levels are eligible, however, priority registration is given to current Chess-in-the-Schools students. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. There's also a chess program at Camp Ramapo Anchorage in Rhinebeck, NY specifically for disadvantaged city kids with special needs. Camp runs Monday, July 7-August 1.
Good Shepherd Services – Ages 6-18
Every summer, this nonprofit converts its 20-plus after-school centers in the Bronx and Brooklyn into FREE camps. The programs are meant to be fun and educational, and a way to combat the dreaded summer slide. Healthy lunches are also provided. Age requirements vary by site. You can find a complete list of centers in Brooklyn and the Bronx on the website. Contact the location nearest you for more information, including registration deadlines and how to apply.
NIA Community Services Network – Ages 5-13
One of our readers, Sarah, recommended the summer-long general interest camps run by the Neighborhood Improvement Association. This nonprofit offers a number of FREE camps at public schools throughout the borough. Click here for registration information, all kids are selected via lottery. The program also runs two fee-based camps that cost $1,225 for six weeks Monday, July 7-Friday, August 15.
Camp G.O.A.L.S. for Girls – 8th & 9th graders
G.O.A.L.S. stands for Greater Opportunities Advancing Leadership and Science so if you know a girl who's really into STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics) subjects, listen up. If she's currently in eighth or ninth grades and goes to school in NYC, she's eligible to apply for this no-cost camp at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. From Monday, July 7-Saturday, August 16, participants will do field studies, workshops and hands-on STEM activities. Only 50 kids are accepted into this highly-competitive camp, and applications are due Friday, March 14. Teacher recommendations and an interview are also required.
College Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving – 7th graders
This FREE summer sleepaway math camp is aimed at low-income NYC kids. Seventh-graders who are fascinated by math spend three weeks with top instructors, solving problems and learning skills not generally covered in middle school, like number theory and computer programming. Other activities include sports, field trips and games. In order to be eligible to attend, students must have just completed seventh grade this year, live in New York City and go to a public school in which at least 75% of the students receive free lunch. Teacher recommendation and an in-person interview are also required. About 200 students apply for 80 spots, and free transportation is provided to and from the two program campuses, Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson and Siena College in Loudonville, NY. Dates for 2014 are Sunday, July 6-Sunday, July 27. Email email@example.com for more info.
The Wooster Group Summer Institute – Ages 12-17
Celebrated avant-garde theater company the Wooster Group hosts a FREE three-week summer performance workshop for teenagers every summer. Applicants must attend public school in NYC and apply online by Monday, April 7 in order to be considered. The dates for 2014 are Monday, July 7-Friday, July 26. Under the tutelage of ensemble members Kate Valk and Ariana Smart Truman, kids will work on a variety of texts and enjoy daily visits with guest artists in performance, movement, writing and video. Participants will mount a performance for family and friends the final week.
Girls Who Code – 10th & 11th graders
These days, it's almost a requirement that kids learn to code. If you have a daughter in high school, this seven-week summer immersion program can help. Participants will go on field trips and take classes in robotics, website and app design, and meets industry pros. Applications are due by Wednesday, March 5 and only 20 kids are accepted.
Wingspan Arts Summer Theater Conservatory – 5th to 11th graders
This program offers high-quality stage training for middle and high schoolers, and theater classes for younger children. The day is split between rehearsals and classes with breaks for outdoor play, quiet games and lunch. Wingspan's summer theater conservatory is a FREE program for students in grades 5 to 11. It's by audition only and unfortunately the 2014 deadline has already passed (that's why we mentioned the due date in a news post back in December). If you missed it, plan ahead for next year—applications are usually due in mid-January. Wingspan also has a program for elementary-age children that doesn't require an audition and usually costs around $1,000 for a two-week session. 2014 info should be posted on the website any day now.
Louis Jonas Foundation Camp Rising Sun – High-school students
Unfortunately, as we mentioned in the same news post, the deadline to apply for this summer was February 2. However, this is an amazing sleepaway camp that you should put on your radar for the future. The foundation operates an international leadership program and selects teens based on character, potential and promise. Every summer, a diverse group of gifted and motivated young people from all over the world participate in the seven-week program, which promotes personal growth, leadership and intercultural understanding. All attendees receive full scholarships (including travel) and come from more than 30 countries. At both the boys' camp in Rhinebeck, NY and a girls' camp in Clinton Corners, NY, participants sleep in tents and follow an experiential learning program. All attendees become members of the alumni network, which consists of 5,000 people from more than 90 countries, including business, academic, political and humanitarian leaders who work together to create positive change around the world. It is truly a life altering experience. As you can imagine, it's quite competitive!
We also keep a list of FREE summer sports programs for New York City kids that will be updated in May when the info for 2014 becomes available.
Inexpensive Day & Sleepaway Camps
We realize that everyone has their own definition of what constitutes inexpensive. The camps below range from $25 for the entire summer up to $400 per week, with many prices in between.
NYC Parks Experience Summer Day Camp – Ages 6-13
The Parks Department runs 11 day camps at recreation centers citywide that feature arts and crafts, sports, computers, field trips and more. The program runs Monday, July 7-Friday, August 22 and the cost for the entire seven weeks is $500. To vie for a spot, enter the online lottery from Friday, March 7 at 9am through Saturday, March 16. Some centers will also offer in-person registration during designated hours. Unfortunately, it looks like the Parks Department has discontinued its other bargain camp, the Junior Rangers Day Camp, which was operated by the Urban Park Rangers.
The Children's Aid Society – Ages 3-14
Info on summer 2014 has not yet been finalized, but the nonprofit usually runs camps at approximately 17 sites in the tri-state area, including country day camps in Westchester and Staten Island, and NYC day camps housed at centers in Manhattan and the Bronx, as well as local schools. Tuition varies by location. In the past, the East Harlem camp has been 100% free, while others charged rates around $300 per week and also offered financial aid to those who qualified. Once info for 2014 becomes available, you'll find it on the website. However, if you are interested in a particular location, it's probably best to reach out to that center directly to find out when registration starts.
Riverbank State Park – Ages 7-12
This stunning Harlem park hosts a day camp that costs around $550 and runs Monday, July 7-Friday, August 8. The trouble is getting more info on it (as a budget-crunched New York State Park, it's next to impossible to get anyone on the phone). You can try calling 212-694-3600 but I've found that the staff is better about responding to inquiries on the park's Facebook page. In fact, there's a recent post that says this year, registration will only be accepted in person beginning Saturday, April 5.
The Boys Club of New York – Ages 6 & up
If you've got a son, listen up: The nonprofit runs day camps Monday, July 7-Friday, August 15 at its clubhouses in Harlem, Flushing and the East Village. Boys engage in a variety of activities, including sports, visual and performing arts, city outings and weekly trips to BCNY’s campus in Martinsville, New Jersey. The entire session costs $25 although there are nominal fees for certain enrichment classes and outings. For current members, registration takes place Monday, March 17 through Friday, April 4. New members can vie for spots beginning on Monday, April 7. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
YMCA – Ages 4 & up
With sleepaway camps and day camps located in all five boroughs, the Y provides youth with supervised activities that teach core values, conflict resolution and leadership skills. There are myriad opportunities to focus on sports from soccer to swimming to martial arts, crafts, science and more. Registration for all YMCA camps is currently underway, so be sure to get in touch with the outpost nearest you to see what's on offer. While these camps are well priced, between $250-$350 a week for the day camps depending on location, financial aid is available for those who qualify.
Camp Henry – Ages 4½-13
Part of the venerable Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side, this program offers arts and crafts, music, drama, sports, swimming and field trips. If you sign up by Friday, April 25, the rate is $1250 for six weeks, Monday, July 7-Friday, August 15. Sign up after that deadline and the fee goes up $150.
Uptown Sports Complex – Ages 5-9
Located near the Riverdale section of the Bronx, this youth athletics complex runs a camp from July 7 through the end of August and the cost is $275 per week with discounts if you sign up for multiple sessions. Kids can enjoy all kinds of team sports (baseball, soccer, basketball), gymnastics, hip-hop dancing, martial arts, theater, art and more.
Oasis – Ages 4-11
Oasis runs several camps around the city, including programs near Central Park, in downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and around the tri-state area. Participants go swimming, do sports, crafts and performing arts, and go on field trips. Best of all, the kids are outside almost all day, running around, getting dirty, having fun and getting tired. At $3,600 or less in the outer boroughs, they're a NYC bargain. Families can also get discounts for paying early, referring friends and more, and kids can sign up for a little as two weeks. Financial aid is also available, and Oasis runs a handful of free camps for students at specific public schools.
ACT Summer Camp – Ages 3-14
Since the early '70s, Adults and Children in Trust has been running a day camp on the campus of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Kids enjoy arts and crafts, cooking, reading and playing on the gorgeous grounds, plus field trips. The July session requires a five-week commitment and costs $2252,d but there are individual weeks in August for $300 or $430 per week, depending on the week.
Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program – Ages 7-12
BCAP is the only camp in the world whose campus includes a garden, a historic house, a nature center, a landmarked park, a library, a zoo and two museums! Campers enjoy a carefully crafted curriculum led by instructors at each site, often combined with behind-the-scenes access. BCAP takes advantage of the incredible resources of Brooklyn's cultural institutions by offering hands-on experiences for children. Campers explore world cultures at the Brooklyn Children's Museum, become plant scientists at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, discover the wonderful wildlife in Prospect Park, celebrate literature at the Brooklyn Public Library, meet sea lions, baboons and meerkats at the Prospect Park Zoo, create an artistic masterpiece at Brooklyn Museum and more. Each two-week session is $675, and the camp runs Monday, June 30-Friday, August 8. Full and partial scholarships are available to those who qualify. Some ages groups are already sold out so if you're interested register ASAP.
Frost Valley – Ages 7-16
Frost Valley offers traditional sleepaway camps and specialty programs, like farm camp and horse camp. Tuition is sliding scale and there are three price tiers. Paying the higher rate is voluntary and not based on income. A two-week session at the regular sleepaway camp ranges from $1630 to $1880.
Grants & Other Ideas
Some camp grants are available. Several of my friends have participated in the One Happy Camper program, which offers grants of up to $1,000 off a child's first year of Jewish sleepaway camps. These grants are not based on need so anyone can apply.
There are also needs-based programs like the venerable Fresh Air Fund, which gives inner-city kids the chance to experience sleepaway camp at no cost, the Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation, which runs day camps at various public schools and community centers, and Wishbone, a nonprofit that helps promising low-income NYC high school students attend the summer or after-school program of their choice.
The wonderful website InsideSchools recently published a list of 100 FREE or low-cost after-school and summer programs. We looked through it and most of the opportunities (though not all) are for middle and high school students. Also, many programs don't operate in the summer, are outside of NYC or aren't happening this year. Still, it's a good resource to have on your radar. Just be prepared to do additional research.
Another good bet is to contact local Catholic schools, churches or community centers in your area. Many of them run inexpensive summer camps for kids, and not all require that your family be a member.
Finally, if your kids have their hearts set on a particular camp, always inquire about financial aid. Many programs offer assistance to families who qualify.