This guest post is provided by our friends at Common Sense Media:
Online summer camps for kids aren’t necessarily a sad stand-in for the “real” thing. In fact, kids can do many of the same things they’d do at a traditional camp. They can make new friends, learn cool things, and improve academic skills (not to mention stay out of your hair).
In some ways, online programs can have a bit of an edge over an in-person camp. With self-paced lessons, one-on-one meetings with counselors, and experienced instructors, kids can take advantage of learning opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. And most — but not all — virtual camps are less expensive than the traditional kind. With many of the listings below, you can mix and match activities based on your kids’ interests. Each works a bit differently, so review the “How it works” section for details.
Where to look
If you’re casting a wide net, start your search with the camp directories below. You’ll find tons of online classes for a variety of ages and prices (including free). Other great places to look include your local YMCA, JCC, or parks and recreation department.
- ActivityHero. This clearinghouse for in-person and online classes and camps has options for all ages, interests, and budgets. You’ll find both single-day sessions and more in-depth “camp-like” experiences.
- Outschool. This site offers hundreds of online classes in almost every subject — from mindfulness to Minecraft — for kids age 3 to 18. Options include both live, interactive classes and “flexible schedules,” where kids can go at their own pace. Classes vary in their start date and meeting frequency. (Note: Common Sense Media has a business relationship with an investor in Outschool.)
For kids who love learning
Brain Chase (and Brain Chase Junior). Starts at $99, extra for electives; age 5–16.
Kids work on math, reading, and typing, all while competing in a real-life treasure hunt for the chance to win $1,000 in gold. Depending on which program you choose, Brain Chase starts in June or July and runs for five or six weeks.
How it works: Self-directed activities and videos released on a weekly schedule.
Camp Candlewick. Free; all ages.
Book publisher Candlewick Press hosts a 12-week summer reading program broken down into “cabins” by grade level. Each “cabin” gets a suggested book to read each month, as well as author interviews, activities, and live discussions.
How it works: Self-directed activities on a flexible schedule, all centered on a different book for each four-week period.
Camp Edmo. Starts at $275 per five-day session (supplies cost extra); age 4–13.
Camp Edmo Online offers two interactive technology camps using either Minecraft or Roblox. Kids can build skills in digital citizenship, game design, collaboration, coding, and more.
How it works: Two and a half hours of live instruction, interaction, and specialized activities via video chat from Monday to Friday. Morning and afternoon sessions are available.
Camp Kinda. $25 per family; age 3–13.
Camp Kinda offers themed “adventures,” like “History’s Mysteries,” for kids to complete at their own pace. Each adventure includes a week’s worth of online, offline, and even outdoor activities designed to take about three to four hours per day.
How it works: Self-directed activities on a flexible schedule, with new daily activities released every week.
Camp Wonderopolis. Free; age 7 and up.
Sponsored by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), this online camp lets kids explore topics such as weather, food, and technology. Each topic includes lessons, outdoor activities, videos, and additional reading suggestions for all ages.
How it works: Self-directed activities on a flexible schedule.
Summer Base Camp. Free; all ages.
The outdoor gear and clothing retailer North Face is providing educational, hands-on activities with a focus on nature and the outdoors. The weekly sessions cover topics including nature photography, how to make healthy snacks, and basic survival skills. Keep in mind that there may be a pitch to buy North Face-branded items.
How it works: Self-directed activities on a flexible schedule, with new activities released three to four times a week.
Varsity Tutors. Starts at $250 per five-day session; age 5–13.
Kids can join a weeklong session based on their grade level for a variety of original, educational subjects like coding, animation, and fossils.
How it works: Two hours of live instruction via video chat from Monday to Friday, with some self-directed work time.
For kids who love tech
Connected Camps. Price varies; age 8–13.
Connected Camps offers weeklong, instructor-led camps focusing on topics like coding, game design, and engineering. Some popular options include courses on esports and Minecraft. Note: Connected Camps are available on Outschool.
How it works: Ninety minutes of live instruction via video chat from Monday to Friday, with optional self-directed activities.
Id Tech Camp. Starts at $399; age 7 and up.
Id Tech Camp offers weeklong, instructor-led camps on a variety of tech topics including coding, game design, engineering, and advanced programming languages.
How it works: Two hours of live instruction via video chat from Monday to Friday, plus approximately two hours of individual work.
Kids 4 Coding. Starts at $119 per class; age 7–16.
Aspiring app developers and game designers can choose from several weeklong courses to sharpen their coding skills. The small classes are taught by trained teachers and university-level computer science students.
How it works: One to two hours of live instruction via video chat from Monday to Friday, plus additional self-directed time to complete projects.
Tech Revolution – Virtual Tech Camps. Starts at $299 per class; age 6–16.
Kids can learn a variety of programming languages, as well as video and music production, all taught by trained instructors. Small group classes work together on activities and projects, with plenty of breaks built in.
How it works: Three hours of live instruction, interaction, and specialized activities via video chat from Monday to Friday.
For kids who love creating and making
DIY. Free trial followed by monthly or yearly subscription; age 7 and up.
This site offers online courses in areas such as drawing, photography, animation, inventing, and science, plus more than 1,000 additional activities (many of which can be completed offline).
How it works: Self-directed projects on a flexible schedule.
Make: Online. Free project instructions, workshop/class prices vary; age 12 and up.
The folks behind the maker movement offer instructions and advice for creating projects using primarily household materials, like a banana piano or a leaf-blower hoverboard. Teens can also take online workshops with experienced STEM instructors to learn skills like cardboard engineering or robotics.
Start with a Book. Free; age 6 and up.
In addition to a summer science camp, this site offers a long list of themes, such as Art, Night Sky, and Weather Report, for kids to explore. For each theme, you get book suggestions (for all reading levels), discussion guides, hands-on activities, and related sites and apps. (You’ll need to check the books out of the library or buy them.)
How it works: Self-directed activities on a flexible schedule.
Tinkergarten at Home. $145 for nine-week session; age 2–8.
Get nine online classes for little ones, once a week and live, led by an expert Tinkergarten leader. Kids will learn an outdoor playtime activity that can help them build skills like empathy, problem solving, and creativity. You’ll also get bonus DIY lessons and resources for ongoing play all week.
How it works: Weekly online classes with a Tinkergarten teacher, plus self-directed activities on a flexible schedule, with new activities released every week.
Caroline Knorr, former senior parenting editor, contributed to this story.