Illustration for article titled Occupy Your Kids With These Free Virtual Summer Camps
Photo: Shutterstock

For many kids, traditional summer camps just aren’t in the cards this year. And as we bid farewell to the at-home academic schedule we clung to all spring, our kids are looking around and saying, “Sooooo…. now what?” Well, like every other aspect of our lives for the better part of this year so far, there are virtual options. And like every other aspect of our lives, they aren’t as good as the real deal, but they’re something.

I know, the kids are totally Zoom’d out; my own 9-year-old hit his video chat limit sometime around mid-May. And “virtual” and “summer camp” really and truly seem like two phrases that don’t belong together. But this is life right now, and one good thing about virtual summer camps—particularly those that are free—is that kids can “attend” when they feel like it and they can say “nah” on days when it seems like too much of a bummer or they’d rather be playing in the backyard.

Here is a list of free virtual camps to check out with your kids:

Camp PBS KIDS

PBS KIDS is providing parents with articles, videos and activities on topics little kids love: dinosaurs, space, art and animals. In each category, they also provide talking points and questions parents can use to spark conversations with kids who are obsessed with shows like “Dinosaur Train,” “Wild Kratts” and “Nature Cat.”

Camp Wonderopolis

Hosted by the National Center for Families LearningCamp Wonderopolis offers courses and activities in four main areas: musicconstruction and engineeringhealth and fitness and science. They are billed as being for learners of all ages, but really, they’re geared toward kids in grades 2-8.

Reading Rockets

Chances are, your kid is really into something—superheroes, sports, cooking, fairy tales, music or animals. Reading Rockets’ “Start with a Book” program helps kids take a deep dive into their favorite topics via fiction and nonfiction booklists, suggested activities and additional apps and websites to explore.

Varsity Tutors

Varsity Tutors is offering a slew of free summer camps for students of different grade levels and focused on different themes, including the science of bites and stings, recycled art, improv, dinosaurs, Minecraft, creating slideshows, video editing 101, drawing anime, chess and beginner’s Spanish, among many others. The start dates span the entire summer.

Wide Open School

Wide Open School was created and is curated by Common Sense Media, which means you can trust that all the content is created by high-quality providers such as PBS, GoNoodle and Khan Academy. If all the content—and there is a lot of it—seems too overwhelming to wade through, they’ve also curated “Virtual Summer Camp” schedules with weekly themes for kids in grades K-12.

TakeLessons TV

Kids in grades K-6 can try out free online classes through TakeLessons TV, a weekly series of free online classes on topics that include foreign languages, acting, cooking, music, beatboxing and yoga. Once you register, you receive a weekly email schedule for upcoming classes.

Met Opera Global Summer Camp

Starting on June 15, the Metropolitan Opera will be offering an eight-week camp to teach kids in grades 3-12 about opera through hands-on activities and instruction from writers, artists, musicians—and apparently puppeteers, clowns and bakers, too. The website says registration is now closed, but kids who are interested will still be able to view all videos and virtual activities through FacebookYouTube and via the opera’s website.

Family Maker Camp

Maker Camp is exactly what it sounds like: kids (and families) make things, all kinds of things, using all kinds of materials. Upcoming live stream lessons include making a robot, making Father’s Day gifts, “Scrappy Circuits” and more. (Be sure to look at the materials list ahead of time.) You can also check out the library of previous Maker Camp sessions.

Camp Kinda

Camp Kinda wins the award for Best Virtual Summer Camp Name because it’s camp… kinda. Camp Kinda offers 3-4 hours’ worth of activities each day for kids in grades K-8, all connected to a weekly theme. (This week’s theme was “lights, camera, action!”)

K12 Inc. Summer Programs

Students entering 8th through 11th grades can take advantage of these free summer programs offered by the Destinations Career Academy from June 24 to July 22. Courses include business and marketing, healthcare, information technology, video game design and programming, and virtual reality.

Of course, there are lots more options out there—especially if you’re willing and able to pay a fee—but this list should get you started.

Have your kids participated in other virtual summer camps that you would recommend? Drop them in the comments for other parents to check out.