By Caroline Knorr
Common Sense Media
If managing your kids’ summer schedules is running you ragged, you may want to consider the online option. Apps, websites, and even full-fledged virtual camps offer a wide range of summer learning opportunities and can provide the ideal activity during a “staycation” or a fill-in between other activities. Online learning also gives kids something unique: individual attention. You, a babysitter, a grandparent, or even an older sibling act as virtual camp counselors, leading — and even learning alongside — your kids.
With many of the virtual camps below, you can mix and match activities to tailor the experience to your kids’ interests. Expect to be more involved if you go for the free, choose-your-own-adventure camps. But fee-based camps call for some adult participation, too. Check out these offerings:
Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Summer Camps
Kanopy. Free; age 3 and up.
As long as you have a library card, you can access all the free entertainment and educational videos this app has to offer. Most of the content choices on Kanopy are similar to what patrons of a well-stocked library would expect: well-selected, award-winning films; independent and foreign films; popular kids’ and adults’ TV series; educational shows. The animated books are top-quality, with classics from producers such as Scholastic and Weston Woods.
MarcoPolo World School. Free to try, then monthly fee; age 4 and up
This early learning video and game app emphasizes STEAM skills (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). Kids choose from a list of favorite subjects and watch a related topic-based video, which is then followed by a game. Parents and kids can view the monthly calendar to see what new topics are being added to the app, and parents can view kids’ progress.
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 shell out for books if you can’t find them at the library.
PBS Kids for Parents. Free; age 3–9.
The PBS Parents’ site offers a variety of practical, step-by-step plans to incorporate learning and playing into the dog days of summer. You can search by age and topic to find tons of age-appropriate ideas to keep kids active and engaged.
DIY. Free and fee-based; age 7 and up.
This site offers dozens of skill-based activities (which it calls “challenges”) in a variety of categories, including Art, Business, and Engineering, that kids can do year-round. Every summer, DIY runs camps and shorter courses. Some of the camps have online counselors who interact with your kid. Sign up to get notified of the latest offerings.
Make: Online. Free, but materials cost extra; age 12 and up.
The folks behind the maker movement offer weekly camps based on themes such as Far Out Future and Flight. You get a PDF with daily activities that support the theme, such as making slime and designing and flying kites.
Made with Code from Google. Free; age 12 and up.
A wide range of projects, including making emojis, animating GIFs, and composing music, is designed to ignite a passion for coding in teen girls. (There’s no stopping boys from doing these projects, though.) The site offers inspiration stories from female tech mentors as well as ideas to make coding social, such as a coding party kit.
Google Arts & Culture. Free; age 12 and up.
Google Arts & Culture puts the worlds of art, science, history, and travel at your fingertips. In addition to letting you take a selfie and compare your face to images from great works of art, it also lets you find information about artists, museums, historic figures, places, and historic events.
CreativeLive, variable costs; age 14 and up.
CreativeLive is a collection of educational video courses, ranging from photography to personal growth. The lessons aren’t necessarily aimed at teens, but most of the content is fine for kids who are interested in adding new skills, such as Photoshop, to their resume.
JAM: Online Courses for Kids. Free for first 14 days; price varies per course, with discounts for purchasing an “All-Access Pass” or “Family Pass”, age 6–16.
What can’t kids learn at this online school? There’s drawing, cooking, animation, music, science, engineering, and much more. Each course has a professional mentor and is broken down into easily manageable projects that kids can complete at their own pace.
Khan Academy. Free; age 6 and up.
While Khan Academy doesn’t offer specific camps, it provides meaningful, step-by-step exploration in a variety of topics, including math, science, and arts and humanities. Kids can sign up with a coach (a teacher, parent, or tutor) who can monitor their progress and suggest lessons. Kids also can earn badges by learning and teaching. The custom dashboard has a progress map that fills up as kids work their way through the skills.
Brain Chase. Starts at $89, extra for electives; age 7–14.
Created by two parents who were looking for a way to help their kids continue learning during summer, Brain Chase takes a creative approach to enrichment. It starts in June and runs for six weeks; kids work on math, reading, and typing all while competing in a real-life treasure hunt for the chance to win a scholarship.
Camp Wonderopolis. Free for campers; optional instruction guide for parents; 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.
Connected Camps. Price varies; age 8-13. For tech-curious kids, check out Connected Camps, which offers week-long, instructor-led, Minecraft-based camps including coding, game design, and engineering. There are also courses in Minecraft and the Scratch programming language just for girls.
TechRocket. Free for a course sampling; price varies; age 10 and up.
Launched by iDTechCamp (the popular — and pricey — computer day and overnight camps), TechRocket offers online instruction in coding, game design, and graphic design. Each camp offers a variety of levels and challenges as well as a dedicated instructor.