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Are Online Summer Camps Worth the Money?

A young girl showing off camp crafts she made at home while participating in a virtual summer camp.
Maria Symchych/Shutterstock

Many summer camps are changing their on-site programs to virtual offerings. Having doubts about whether your child will enjoy online camp? Let’s take a deeper look at the pros and cons.

Traditional summer camp is a unique experience, with kids learning outdoor skills, singing songs, camping under the stars, and making new friends. However, COVID-19 is sadly preventing many camps from opening up this summer. This has led to a surplus of online programs.

A lot of the value of online camp really depends on your child. Plenty of kids and teens will thrive from the structure, programming, and peer interaction, even if it’s limited to an online format. However, other kids, and their parents, hate the extra screen time that comes with online programs.

The Current Summer Camp Dilemma

We’re months into this pandemic and have seen schools canceled, weddings postponed, and plenty of jobs lost. It’s devastating, to say the least. As we’re approaching summer, parents are left wondering what to do with the open months that lay ahead.

Some states are proceeding with in-person camps, such as Texas. Others have outlined very specific guidelines, such as taking temperatures, thorough handwashing, hosting as many activities outside, as well as limiting the number of participants. Some parents are comfortable with these procedures; others are not.

Furthermore, many parents depend on full-time summer camp in order to work. Even if they enroll their child in an online summer camp, they may need to reduce their work hours or hire a nanny to help assist their child with online activities.

What Online Camp Will Look Like

A majority of camps are offering reduced tuition compared to their regular in-person rates. And yet there are plenty of camps still charging the full rate, which is bound to turn away those who are hesitant about the online format.

The hours are reduced to 1-3 hours per day, depending on the child’s age and type of activity. Camps geared towards older kids will have longer sessions.

The good news is that there’s no shortage of online offerings, with everything from Broadway camp to soccer camp. Seriously, there’s something for everyone.

The Benefits of Online Camp

A young boy talking with other campers online using his laptop and headphones.
Ulza/Shutterstock

Deciding to enroll your child in an online summer camp is a tough decision. First, let’s look at some key benefits.

Structure

If your child easily gets bored, likes regular stimulation, and thrives on social interactions, then online summer camp is a great option.

Plus, it gives parents a much-needed break. Even if your children are young and need constant supervision, having someone else guide the creativity and fun will allow you an hour or two to focus on something else—such as responding to emails or enjoying a cup of coffee.

New Skills

Signing your child up for an engaging, challenging, and innovative camp will help your child learn and expand on different skills.

Perhaps your child is wanting to learn a new musical instrument, wants to master a foreign language, or is dying to learn a tech-skill, such as computer coding. All of these programs are available via online summer camps.

Sure, you can always find free tutorials on YouTube, but a paid camp allows your child to receive individual feedback on a daily basis. Being part of a camp also increases their level of commitment and accountability, similar to when adults pay for online fitness classes.

Connection

If your child loves meeting and connecting with new people, then an online camp can be very beneficial. There’s also the added advantage of your child connecting with people around the country. Remember penpals? Well, now your child can have one, too!

The Disadvantages of Online Camp

Young boy frustrated by the lack of physical activities during his virtual summer camp.
myboys.me/Shutterstock

There’s no denying that the online summer camp experience will be a far cry from traditional summer camp. Here are some other reasons you might decide to forgo it this year.

Extra Screen Time

The extra screen time that comes with an online camp is a valid concern.

Let’s say your child does three hours of “camp” in the morning, then wants to watch a movie in the afternoon. That’s about five hours of screen time. Many parents just can’t get on board with that.

Plus, both kids and adults have admitted to feeling tired after long stretches of staring at the screen, with video-call fatigue being a real problem. Even if your child’s camp involves plenty of movement, it’s still hard continuously staring at one screen for hours on end.

Financial Cost

Fortunately, there are plenty of free online summer programs, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art camp, which is geared towards ages 6-13. Meanwhile, a mast majority of camps are trying to cover costs, which is understandable given that the summer camp industry usually generates $18 billion a year.

However, your family may be experiencing a drop in income, which makes paying a premium for camp a hardship.

If your child is able to remain occupied for hours on end, allowing you to squeeze in extra work hours, then paying for online camp is worth it. But if your child needs a lot of supervision, it’s probably not worth the cost, unless it’s a low-cost option and offers your child a stimulating activity every day.

Some Options to Consider

If you’ve decided to go ahead with trying an online summer camp, your best bet is to start locally. Look to see what nearby studios, small businesses, and individuals are offering. That way your dollars can support the local economy, ensuring these businesses remain open after the pandemic blows over.

Next, look into unique opportunities that your child wouldn’t normally be able to take advantage of, such as a camp that’s usually held on the other side of the country, or even an international camp.

Then, research your child’s specific interests. Try to avoid shoving them into a camp you think would be best, like enrolling your child in math camp just to boost his math scores. You really want your child to be inspired to participate, otherwise it’ll become a daily battle. Remember, summer camp should be fun.

Finally, make sure the camp is within your budget. There’s no point in shelling out big bucks when you’re doubtful about how your child will respond to an all-online format. It’s okay to scale back this year.

Here are some top options to explore:

  • Camp WIT: This online entrepreneurship program is geared towards teens ages 13-18. Every camper will be assigned to a virtual cabin, working together on projects and activities that are presented at a virtual bonfire.
  • Challenge Island: Make slime, play sports, blast into space, and more! This camp is where STEM skills meet the arts. All online, for ages 4-14+.
  • Act One Theatre Camp: Does your child love acting, singing, dancing, and everything in the performance domain? This is a fast-paced, fun-filled online camp geared toward ages 6-15, guaranteed to get your child moving and grooving.

Looking for more ideas? Check out 22 virtual summer camps to keep kids entertained.


Missing out on real summer camp is definitely a bummer. However, it’s not forever. Your child will hopefully be able to attend real-life summer camp next year. So, try your best to find an online program that works for your child, or go ahead and skip it altogether. There are plenty of ways to have a fun summer, regardless of whether camp is on the agenda.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »

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