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Low-Cost Summer Daycare Activities for 2021

Daycare activities for children
Written by Madison Mazer

Check out our list of fun and COVID-19 safe summer activities that will keep your kids entertained without breaking the bank.

School is out! Although summer is supposed to be a period of rest and relaxation, it can be one of the most financially stressful times for parents. Many are not sure how to keep their kids entertained while staying within a budget, and often face pressure to put their kids in cost-heavy summer camps. On top of that, summer looks very different in these unprecedented times. Due to COVID-19, many of the activities we all love are still on hold.

Don’t know what to do with your kids this summer? We have you covered. There are tons of COVID-19 safe programs that will save you money if you just know where to look. Keep your kids entertained and active all summer with these inexpensive and free summer activities.

Organize Playdates or Daycare Swaps

Do you and other parents in your circle have kids that are close in age? Set up safe daycare swaps or organize playdates on a regular rotating schedule. According to the CDC, COVID-19 vaccinated individuals are now able to socialize with others who are vaccinated without being put at high risk. Another socially distanced option is online activity dates. Come up with a craft to do, get some supplies, download Zoom or Skype, and you’re good to go. You kids will enjoy doing an organized activity virtually with their friends, giving you the break you need without the expensive daycare bill.

Explore Your City as a Tourist

Tour your city with your family. Although you may think there’s nothing more to see in your hometown, try exploring it as a visitor. You might discover exciting new places such as parks, splash pads, or other fascinating attractions. You can even turn your journey into an adventure by taking a bus or train and packing a picnic lunch to enjoy while you explore.

Take Advantage of Free Admissions

During the summer, many zoos, museums, and cultural attractions offer free admission. As more and more outdoor activities re-open during COVID-19, now is a great time to take advantage of these opportunities. If local attractions have a fee, try asking for a student discount. Also, keep an eye on event calendars, which can offer free specific admission days, classes, and special events. If you’re a Bank of America cardholder, you can gain free admission to museums in your area one weekend a month. Target also offers anyone free admission to various cultural events in major cities. In addition, some towns offer free or discounted admission for those with reduced incomes. Do some research to see what is available in your area.

Although some attractions are still closed, others provide virtual alternatives that you and your family can do at home. World-renowned museums such as the Smithsonian National History Museum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam offer online exhibitions and tours. This experience is not only engaging, but it exposes your children to art and history from other cultures. 

Even zoos and aquariums are hopping on the virtual train. The Melbourne Zoo, Bronx Zoo, and Monterey Bay Aquarium can bring their animals into your home through live cameras with the click of a button. Some even offer various online activities and educational projects, so be sure to browse their websites.

Play it Up with Sports Camps and Programs

If you have a junior athlete in the family, try finding them a summer sports program—it may be more affordable than you think. Scout out school or sports league camps that fit your children’s interests. Many professional teams offer sports camps or clinics for kids throughout the summer, like this traveling baseball camp with former Major League Baseball (MLB) players. While some camps do have costs involved, financial aid may be available—don’t be afraid to ask about assistance programs.

If you don’t feel comfortable sending your child to an in-person summer camp just yet, there are tons of virtual options. Online summer camps are becoming a popular and cheaper alternative to the real thing. 

Sites like Activity Hero make it easy to find free or low-cost classes, workshops, and week-long day camps taught by businesses in your area. Ranging from programs about coding and science to music and cooking, this site has entertaining virtual programs that will fit a variety of your kids’ interests. 

Virtual 4-H camp is another great option that is completely free. This program, created by Microsoft and Utah State University Extension, offers a series of camps that deal with diverse subjects to those in grades pre-k through 12th. Every camp or subject matter has three captivating activities that each take 30 minutes to a couple of hours. The program also has features like a virtual fireside, where your kids can engage, learn campfire songs and get real-world experiences. 

Get Out and About for Open Gym

Looking for times and a place where your kids can burn off extra energy? Open gyms have recently begun in-person activities at local schools and community centers. This is a great opportunity for kids to get out of the house, exercise, and safely spend some time with their friends in size-reduced classes. Older kids involved in sports may particularly enjoy the extra time to work out and lift weights, or scrimmage with others as they get ready for the upcoming school sports season.

Search out STEM This Summer

Just because school is no longer in session, doesn’t mean that your kids should stop learning. Search for engaging classes and day camps in your area that incorporate the important skills of science, technology, engineering, and math. Many local libraries and community centers offer these kinds of programs almost daily. Sign up for their email lists and follow them on social media to stay in the loop about free upcoming events. For day camps that involve a fee, be sure to ask if there are scholarship programs.

If you have a little one obsessed with technology, Google offers free coding classes to those ages nine to 14. Your kids can get their feet wet with STEM by starting with a one-hour coding course before moving to longer or multi-day programs. All coding classes are specialized and can be based on music, art, fashion, or whatever else your kids might be interested in.

Have Fun with Affordable Entertainment Options

Did you know that there are programs that offer free bowling, roller skating, and cheap movies? With Kids Bowl Free, your children can bowl 2 free games daily and through Kids Skate Free, they can go to participating roller rinks for free.

You can also check with movie theaters in your city for low-cost children’s summer movie programs. Some towns even offer free movies in local parks. This is a great socially distanced option for a night out with your family. Just pack some blankets or chairs, and don’t forget the popcorn! 

If this is not being offered in your area, another option is having a movie marathon at home. There are tons of family-friendly options on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and many others. You can even use the app Teleparty with many of these sites to watch movies with friends or extended family online. If you don’t already own a subscription to one of these platforms, you can watch movies on legal free streaming sites like Popcornflix, Tubi, and Vudu.

Get Back in Touch with The Boys and Girls Club

Some may remember going to the boys and girls club when they were younger, but did you know they are still helping the new generation? By taking COVID-19 precautions, the boys and girls club was able to make a speedy return in time for the summer. 

Locations across the U.S. offer affordable summer daycare options, which vary in price based on your income. If your family qualifies for government child care assistance, you may be eligible for free summer childcare. Those who don’t have child care assistance may still be eligible for scholarships depending on gross income. Contact your local club for more details.

Get Outdoors with Free Nature Activities

One of the best parts about summer is the beautiful sunny weather. If you and your family are looking to get outside this season, chances are there are some free, or very cheap, local day camps and nature activities going on. Libraries, parks and recreation, and conservation departments often run great summer programs with activities like fishing, hiking, and learning survival skills. Various programs even offer fun field trips to local aquatic centers and other attractions. Visit websites for organizations in your area to find out more about fun opportunities to get your kids outdoors.

Several national and state parks also offer free admission. While some do charge, be sure to take advantage of national park free admission days, and mark your calendar for the next one on August 4th. Spend your time at the parks taking in the beautiful sites while hiking with your family, or if the park has a lake, bring a bathing suit and go for a swim. If you have a 4th grader at home, you may qualify for a free national parks family pass, which is also being offered to 5th graders through August 2021.


Help Your Big Kids Volunteer

If your tweens and teens feel like they’re outgrowing summer daycare programs try volunteering. Even amidst COVID-19, your favorite non-profit organizations are looking for volunteers. Giving back is a fun and free way to get your bigger kids out of the house, especially for those who aren’t old enough to work a summer job—you can even do it together as a family. 

Community service is a valuable experience that presents the opportunity to make new friends and explore interests all while keeping you and your kids busy. Also, many middle and high schools have community service requirements, so volunteering could even help your child meet academic guidelines. Volunteering also looks good on college applications. Check with local libraries, animal shelters, zoos, or other non-profits to see what programs are the best fit for your children.

Having summer fun as a family doesn’t have to be expensive. There are lots of fun ways to have exciting and educational opportunities without exceeding your budget. With a little bit of creativity and work, there are some great ways to find free and low-cost summer daycare and activities for your family.

About the author

Madison Mazer