Free and Cheap Summer Camps for NYC Kids
Summer camp can be especially stressful for your family's finances—while we want our children to have a fun, rewarding, and safe experience, we don't want to dig into our retirement fund to pay for it. Even if your family's swimming in money (and if you are, congrats), we all appreciate a good bargain.
Although there seem to be fewer FREE New York City summer camps than in years past, our list of inexpensive or cheaper camps for local kids is still substantial. Arts and education funding subsidizes some excellent New York City programs so all children can experience the fantastic resources of this city.
Read on for all our picks for FREE and bargain summer camps for NYC kids. You can find even more summer options in our jam-packed Summer Camp Guide and search for programs by interest, age range, and location in our Camp Directory.
The BEAM summer math programs are aimed at low-income NYC kids who are fascinated with math. Photo courtesy of the camp
BEAM — Various Locations
For current sixth or seventh graders
This FREE summer math program is aimed at low-income NYC kids. In the BEAM Discovery Program, sixth graders who are fascinated by math spend five weeks with top instructors, solving problems and learning skills not generally covered in middle schools, like logic or computer programming. Other activities include sports, field trips, and games. To be eligible, students must have completed sixth grade this year, live in New York City, and demonstrate financial eligibility. Students submit short-answer responses, a teacher recommendation, and financial information. They also get to try out BEAM’s math problems in its Admissions Challenge. About 600 students apply for 200 spots. The program is entirely free, including breakfast, lunch, field trips, and daily transportation to one of two campuses (uptown or downtown). The program runs July through August. Application deadlines will be released soon.
BEAM also has a few open seats at its BEAM Discovery Program, a residential math program for seventh graders who spend three weeks studying math on a college campus in the Hudson Valley. Visit the website for more information and application materials as they are made available in the coming weeks.
Brooklyn Children's Museum Summer Camp – Crown Heights, Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Children's Museum hosts this completely free summer camp at PS 189. The camp's 80 slots are filled via a lottery. Priority is given to families who attend an info session and to siblings of those selected. Details are still being finalized, but the application period typically runs February through March. More information will be available online in the first week of February. Campers work with museum educators to explore arts, culture, and STEM topics all summer long. Camp typically lasts from 8:30am–5:45pm daily. For more information, contact the After School Program Manager, Kwame Brandt-Pierce, at email@example.com.
CultureHub CoLab Summer Camp – East Village
CoLab offers students in high school the chance to explore the intersection of arts and technology with professional artists and creative technologists. Kids can choose between two modules that meet for three hours per/day for two weeks in July. The program is entirely free of cost, and CultureHub provides MetroCards for students who need to travel. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for info.
Downtown Community Television Center Media Fellowship – Chinatown
This fellowship focuses on collaborative filmmaking and media arts, media literacy, video production and editing, and storytelling through digital video production. Participating students create a narrative, documentary, or experimental short film and develop web content. Visit the website for updates.
RELATED: Summer Internships for NYC Teens
G.O.A.L.S. participants are introduced to many STEM topics, including this workshop on structural engineering.
G.O.A.L.S. for Girls — Midtown West
Current 8th- and 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 grade and goes to school in NYC, she's eligible to apply for this FREE program at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Participants engage in field studies, workshops, and hands-on STEM activities. Only 50 girls are accepted into this highly competitive program, and applications are due Monday, March 16. G.O.A.L.S. is a six-week program, beginning July 6 and running through August 14. Teacher recommendations and an interview are also required. Organizers say G.O.A.L.S. is more youth leadership program than traditional camp, and participants are expected to attend school-year alumni events. They also have access to internship and mentoring opportunities down the line.
Goddard Riverside Community Center – Upper West Side
This Upper West Side nonprofit runs four summer camps with a focus on STEM, visual arts, recreation, and youth advisory. Its Beacon Program, for ages 11–14, is no-cost. Its other three programs, catering to kids from kindergarten through eighth grade, are low cost. Registration generally opens in early February.
Girls Who Code is a national program that welcomes 10th- and 11th-grade girls.
Girls Who Code — NYC Location TBA
Current 10th- and 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 go on field trips and take classes in robotics, website and app design, and meet industry pros. The application to the 2020 summer program will be available in mid-January. Sign-up for updates on the website.
Good Shepherd Services — Bronx and Brooklyn
Ages 6–13, varies by location
Every summer, this nonprofit runs more than 15 FREE camps in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The programs are meant to be fun, educational, and combat the dreaded summer slide. Healthy lunches are also provided. Age requirements vary by site. Some camps are held at the group's existing after-school centers, while others are held at to-be-determined public school spaces. You can find a complete list of centers on its website. Contact the location nearest you to find out how to apply.
NIA Community Services Network — Brooklyn
This reader-recommended general-interest camp is run by the Neighborhood Improvement Association, which offers several FREE camps at public schools throughout Brooklyn. Full information is available in early April, so email email@example.com or fill out the online form to be notified when registration materials are available.
Inexpensive Day Camps
We realize that we all have our definition of what constitutes inexpensive, but we've done our best to round up a sampling of some of the least expensive NYC summer camps. The programs below start at $500 for the entire summer and go up from there.
The youth programs and Abrons Arts Center offer arts and crafts, music, drama, sports, swimming, and field trips.
Abrons Arts Camp — Lower East Side
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. Details for this year are still being finalized, but last year's rate was $2,310 for a full-summer session, running July through August. Financial aid is available.
Adults and Children in Trust (ACT) Summer Camp — Morningside Heights
Ages 3 1/2–14
Adults and Children in Trust has been running a day camp on the campus of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine since the early '70s. 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 $2,495. Weekly rates in August range from $420–$490. Registration is now open.
Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program (BCAP) — Brooklyn
BCAP 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 botanists at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, discover the incredible 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. Two-week sessions cost $725, and the camp runs July through August. Registration begins on Saturday, February 1. Full and partial scholarships are available to those who qualify.
Enjoy carnival fun at The Children's Aid Society camp.
The Children's Aid Society — Various Locations
Details on this summer program are still being finalized, but the nonprofit usually runs camps at 17 sites in the tri-state area, including a country day camp in Westchester 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 FREE, while others charged rates around $300 per week. Financial aid is available to those who qualify. It's one of the few programs that also takes preschoolers. If you are interested in a particular location, reach out to that center directly to find out when registration starts.
NYC Parks Experience Summer Day Camp — Citywide
The Parks Department runs day camps at recreation centers throughout the city that feature arts and crafts, sports, computer time, and field trips. Details for this year's camp are still being finalized, but camp typically runs July through August. The cost for the entire summer ranges from $500-$575. To vie for a spot at this low-cost camp, enter the online lottery. Registration generally takes place in early March.
Summer Camp at Lehman College — the Bronx
This summer camp hosted on Lehman College's 37-acre campus offers half- and full-day (8am–6pm) options with plenty of outdoor activities, plus academic lessons, dance, arts and crafts, sports, and even swimming in the on-site Olympic-sized pool. FREE breakfast and lunch are provided to all campers. Sessions run for three weeks. Early bird rates are generally offered, and registration is now open.
Riverbank State Park — Harlem
This stunning Harlem park hosts a day camp that costs $550 for five weeks, and registration takes place in-person during the spring. Find more info on the green space's Facebook page.
YMCA — Citywide
Ages 4 and 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 for kids of almost any age. Registration for all YMCA camps is currently underway, so get in touch with the outpost nearest you to see what's offered. These camps are well priced, between $200–$450 a week, depending on location. Financial aid is also available for those who qualify.
Grants & Other Ideas
Some camp grants are available to New York City programs. 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 camp. These grants are not based on need, so anyone can apply.
There are also need-based programs like the venerable Fresh Air Fund, which gives 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. Also, check out Asphalt Green’s scholarship program. The deadline to apply is February 7.
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 membership.
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 2020 becomes available.
Finally, if your kids have their hearts set on a particular camp, inquire about financial aid. Many programs offer assistance to families who qualify.
All photos courtesy of the summer camp pictured.
This article, originally published in January 2010, is updated annually. Katie Nave Freeman contributed additional reporting.