Are you a working parent looking for affordable summer camp alternatives for your kids this summer? I know how hard it is to frantically find great kid activity solutions for your kids while you work over the summer. Check out these great alternatives for your kids from indoor playground memberships to neighborhood DIY summer camps!
For the last 5 years, since my daughter was 2, I’ve done the frantic scramble during the spring trying to find affordable childcare options for the summer months after the school year ends. I work full-time from 8-5, and it’s very hard for me to work and watch my very active kids.
It makes me feel like a bad employee – and a bad mom. This can’t just be me, right?
Now my kids are 3 and 6, so they are starting to be able to play by themselves very well. The other day they play in the backyard by themselves for 6 hours. SIX HOURS. I tried bringing them inside to rest, but they were engrossed in their sandbox play. But, that’s a rare occurrence, and I don’t want them on their own all summer!
Affordable Summer Camp Alternatives
I have to be honest. I don’t have $2000 per kid for summer day camps fees for the entire summer. That’s a LOT OF MONEY.
Instead, I’m always looking for affordable childcare options that I can use to give my kids a fantastic summer. Here are 3 options we’ve done for the last few years:
Preschool Summer Camp 2 Days/Week: I am not made of money, and couldn’t send my daughter (at age 2-3) to summer camp every day of the week. But, I was able to sign her up for her preschool play group summer camp just two days a week. She loved this excursion, and it gave me 2 solid days of work. The other 3 work days I worked around her craft and park schedule. It worked for us and gave me a breather for those 2 days! Check out your local schools to see if they offer single day registration.
Summer Nanny: When my children were ages 1 and 4, we hired a nanny for the mornings during the summer. She came to our house from 9-12, and my kids had a BALL. We found her on the Nextdoor App, and we are still friends today. She’s one of my kids’ favorite people. Paying for her just 3 hours a day (15 hours/week) was far more reasonable for two kids than all-day every-day. During the afternoons, they had rest time/quiet time, and I was able to work while they napped.
Travel & Mother’s Helper: Last year we traveled for three weeks to be near the grandparents and extended family. My husband was traveling for work, so I took my remote work and let my kids have quality grandparent camp. They did VBS, kids museums, and honestly I think it was their favorite summer. When we came home, we hired a neighborhood friend to be a mother’s helper in the mornings. She walked down from 9-12 every morning, and my kids loved every minute.
This year, I’m doing a hybrid of all these options! Keep reading to see my current favorite affordable childcare ideas.
1. Cheap Childcare Options
If you are looking for traditional childcare, but can’t afford daycare or summer camps full time, here are my favorite options.
- If your child takes naps, you might only need a babysitter/childcare for the morning hours. Start with this and see if it works.
- My favorite place to find good babysitters & nannies is the NextDoor app for your neighborhood. Also, if you are religious, look at nearby seminaries and theology schools, because they might have listings for their college students needing daytime babysitting jobs.
- Ask neighborhood high school kids if they want to be a mother’s helper – playing with your kids from 4-5 after school/naps.
- Look for drop-in nurseries or church childcare services (Mother’s Morning Out) for flexible childcare morning hours.
- Often the local library, local parks, and preschools have 1-week summer camps. Even if you can’t afford childcare all summer, maybe just one week is the best way to give your child an exciting summer adventure.
2. DIY Neighborhood Camps
If you have older children in your neighborhood (ages 12-16), ask them if they would like to plan a neighborhood camp for a few younger children to earn money.
Even if they were able to plan activities for one week for a few kids in your front yard, that would be an amazing (and cheap!) way to give your kids a fun week of activities.
I did a quick search on the Nextdoor App for “summer camps” and found some great options for the neighborhoods near me. Try it out!
3. Indoor Playgrounds
We have an indoor playground near us that is $50/kid for the whole month. If I were just looking for a fun play time with my kids, that would be a steep price. But, I’m going to purchase this membership for my kids this summer so they can play in a safe environment while I work.
We will have unlimited access, they love to play there for hours, and there are awesome tables nearby that I can work while I keep an eye on them.
Check out your local playgrounds, museums, and libraries for monthly memberships! This is a cheap way of giving your kids fun while you work.
4. Vacation Bible School Camps
We are part of a church that has a weekly Vacation Bible School during the summer. These Bible camps usually last from 9-12, and cost about $100/child. This is a great way to give your child meaningful summer fun while you work.
Even if you aren’t part of the local church, they usually welcome new friends to their VBS camps.
This year I’m hoping my kids can go to at least 1, maybe 2, VBS camps near our house. I will probably work at a coffee shop nearby, and enjoy the change in our summer activities.
5. Mom Trade-Off
Now, hear me out. This is a fantastic idea!
Have you seen the movie Tyler Perry’s Single Mom’s Club? Yep, this is where I got this idea. Watch it for inspiration! (It’s a great mom movie!)
If you are able to take off work fro 3 hours one morning (or trade it for some working hours over the weekend), then maybe you can several other moms or parents can trade off kids. Each mom takes a weekday morning for a playground date, Costco snacks, and good ol’ fashioned fresh air outside.
Then, for the other 4 days, you get free childcare, and your kids get non-stop fun. It’s a win-win!
This is a fantastic idea if your normal schedule can’t do all the zoos, crafts, aquariums, museums, etc. Try it out!
6. Summer Camp at Home
What if you can only afford $50 per month for your kid’s childcare?
Then budget that money towards indoor and outdoor play equipment, new toys for the toy room, craft activity kits subscriptions, and so much more! Here are some of my favorite ideas.
One of my goals this summer is to buy an outside play house for the kids, and maybe a jungle gym. I’m going to look on Facebook Marketplace. But, even if I need to buy it new, it will cost WAY less than a babysitter.
If you have been waiting to upgrade your play equipment for your kids, do it in the name of “summer childcare” and update the play areas in your house!
The Dollar Store is the PERFECT PLACE to buy everything you need! We don’t need quality…just really fun plastic things from China. Oh well. This is what I love to get:
- Huge plastic baskets to store items (make sure they are stackable!)
- Plastic boxes with lids to store like items (chalk, bubbles, etc)
- New chalk, bubbles, water guns
- Bug nets, bug boxes and some nature activities
- Gardening gloves, shovels, and seeds
- New items for water activities
- Summer hats, sunglasses
- Paper products for lunchtime picnics
- New picnic plastic cups and plates for summer dishware
- Splash balls and nets/throwing games
The options are endless! If you don’t have access to a Dollar Store (or have higher standards!), check out these favorites:
Have fun finding new ideas!
Create a Water/Sand Station
Even if you only have a small balcony, you have room for a water table or makeshift sandbox. Let me show you how to make it!
Water Table: I really love our water/sand table. It is the ultimate example of how creativity is worth the storage. We use the water table for water games, sand games, bubbles, animals and toys, watching bugs…everything!
Tip: Make sure you get a water table that is easy to disassemble and store!
Sand Container: If you don’t have room for a real sand box, I have the solution for you! Just get a big & shallow plastic box that has a lid that attaches. Fill it with sand and sand toys – and it will last seasons!
The Original PlasmaCar – Our garage is full of bikes, scooters, and other riding toys. But this PlasmaCar is by far my kids’ favorite riding toy HANDS DOWN. It is perfect for all ages – from 2 to 8 year olds. It is easy to ride, and has no pedals. It is FAST and my kids love spinning out with it. It is great for inside or outside. My kids take them to the park, and every kid there wants to play with them. If you are looking for a riding toy outside, the PlasmaCar will be their favorite!
Stomp Rocket The Original Ultra Rocket Launcher – My daughter asked for this Stomp Rocket toy for years before we bought it. We finally gave it to her as a birthday present, and my kids still play with it years later. It’s a huge neighborhood cul-de-sac hit, and is the most simple surprising toy for kids. We have also given this as a birthday present many times to younger kids and it’s a great gift for birthday parties.