Summer camp can be 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 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 anyway.
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 keeps growing. Some wonderful New York City programs are subsidized by arts and education funding so that all children can experience the amazing resources of this city.
Read on for all the info on 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.
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BEAM (Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics) — Various Locations
Current sixth- and seventh-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, students must have completed seventh grade this year, live in New York City, and go to a public school in which at least 75 percent of the students receive free lunch. Teacher recommendations 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 a yet-to-be-determined site. Another big plus: BEAM welcomes sixth-graders to a city-based day camp. BEAM 6 runs from July 11-August 5. Visit the website for more information and application materials. Contact BEAM for more information and to apply.
Brooklyn Children's Museum's Summer Camp – Crown Heights
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. Applications are due March 17 and camp sessions run from July 5-August 18. Campers work with museum educators to explore arts, culture, and STEM topics all summer long. Camp days last from 8:30am-5:45pm daily.
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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 eighth- and ninth-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 will 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 20. The program runs from July 10-August 18. 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 a trio of summer camps. Its Beacon Program, for ages 11-13 is no-cost. Its other two programs, catering to kids from first through ninth grades, are low cost. Registration generally opens in early February.
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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. Applications are now available from this national nonprofit and must be submitted by March 17.
Good Shepherd Services — Bronx and Brooklyn
Ages 6-13, varies by location
Every summer, this nonprofit runs more than 20 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 will be held at to-be-determined public school spaces. You can find a complete list of centers at 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 a number of FREE camps at public schools throughout Brooklyn. Full information is available in early April, so email firstname.lastname@example.org to be notified when registration materials are available.
Teachers College's CP Speech Camp – Morningside Heights
This three-week long camp invites children with cerebral palsy to partake in intensive, but fun speech therapy. Children improve their speech through dramatic play, games, and singing, while under the supervision of TC's Speech Production and Perception Laboratory staff. Enrollment requires an evaluation. Contact the camp organizers at email@example.com to inquire.
Inexpensive Day Camps
We realize that we all have our own definition of what constitutes inexpensive, but we've done our best to round up a sampling of some of the least expensive of NYC's summer camps. The programs below start at $25 for the entire summer and go up from there.
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. The rate is $1,980 for six-and-a-half weeks, Wednesday, July 5-Friday, August 18. Register by April 18 for a 10 percent discount. Financial aid is available.
Adults and Children in Trust (ACT) Summer Camp — Morningside Heights
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 $2,470. Weekly rates in August range from $400-$471. Parents of young ones, please note: There is no Mini ACT camp this summer due to renovations in the school building that usually houses this 3-4 year old group.
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 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. Two-week sessions cost $665-$715 and the camp runs Monday, July 3-Friday, August 11. Full and partial scholarships are available to those who qualify.
Goodwill Summer Program – Brooklyn & Queens
The charitable org better known for collecting your gently used clothing and housewares also sponsors a collection of ultra-low cost summer programs throughout Brooklyn and Queens. Campers spend time on-site at a variety of locations, but also go swimming, on cultural and educational field trips, and study creative and performing arts. At camp's end, there will be a performance to showcase new skills. Cost for the seven-week camp is $150 for the first child, with discounts for additional kids.
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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. Camps will run Wednesday, July 5-Friday, August 18, 2017. To vie for a spot at this low-cost camp, enter the online lottery. Registration in 2017 runs from Friday, March 3-Sunday, March 12. Cost for the entire summer is $500 for a day that runs from 9am-5pm or $575 for an extended day from 8am-6pm.
Oasis — Various Locations
Oasis runs several camps around the city, including programs near Central Park, in downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and around the tristate area. Participants go swimming, try other 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 $2,485 for the entire summer in the outer boroughs (or $710 for two weeks), it's fairly well priced. That price does not include lunch or transportation, and rates are higher for prime locations like Central Park ($3,575 for the whole summer, or $1,160), but families can also get discounts for paying early, referring friends, and more. Kids can sign up for as little as two weeks. Financial aid is also available. Additionally, Oasis runs a handful of free camps for students at specific public schools.
Summer Camp at Lehman College — the Bronx
This summer camp hosted on Lehman College's 37-acre campus offers half day 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-size pool. FREE breakfast and lunch are provided to all campers. Sessions run for three weeks. Early bird rates run $150 to $466 per week and go up from there, so book before Easter for a deal.
Riverbank State Park — Harlem
This stunning Harlem park hosts a day camp that costs around $550 for five weeks, and registration takes place in person during the spring. Find more info on the green space's Facebook page.
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 approximately 17 sites in the tristate 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 FREE, while others charged rates around $300 per week and also offered financial aid to those who qualified. 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.
Uptown Sports Complex — Bronx
Located in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, this youth athletics complex runs a number of different camps that range in price from $250-$275 per week. Dates, prices, and athletic activities vary but gymnastics, baseball, and a general sports option are offered. Check the website for more info.
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 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.
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 2017 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.
Read about lots of other wonderful summer programs in our Camp Guide. You can even search for programs by interest, age range, and location in our Camp Directory.
Top image: The Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program includes visits to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children's Museum, the library, Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park and Prospect Park Zoo. All photos provided courtesy of the summer camp pictured.