Greater Boston area summer day camps – general camps vs. specialty camps, details, costs, dates, etc.

Summer camp stock photo from Foter

This post is for my fellow Boston-area and Greater Metrowest parents who are looking at summer day camps for their children. Yes, it’s the beginning of January but some camps already have registration open, or will have it open in the next week, while others don’t even have their schedules out yet. Add to that the fact that we have no idea what we’re doing for summer vacation, or if school will end up going longer for snow days, and it sure makes it confusing to be a parent.

Here’s my write-up of popular local summer camps. It’s not meant to be a selection about which camps are best, but just an attempt to offer a selection and put a bunch of info in one place for easier access. For ease of consideration, I’ve divided camps into town camps, general camps, and specialty camps. The advice that I’ve gotten is to do a mix of camps, with some time in the summer for a general camp with swimming, arts & crafts, sports, etc., and shorter time at specialty camps focused on things my children like to do (one mom advised me “it becomes less special and more of a do-I-have-to if they focus on the same thing week after week).

Please note that these are all day camps – for overnight camps, I’ve heard that a great resource is the Acton Summer Camp Fair, which will take place on 1/21/16, and includes day and overnight camps with their own booths.

Town camps:

Most of the towns in the area run their own summer camps/programs. These tend to be the lowest cost of all the summer camp choices and some can be on the more no-frills side but still provide a great experience. These camps are run by each town’s individual recreation department, like Burlington RecreationArlington Recreation, etc. and are on a later registration schedule. None of the local rec departments have their spring/summer info out yet, so you won’t be able to sign up for these camps for several more months at least (last year registration started in mid-late April). If you’d like an example, check out Club Simmonds, by Burlington Recreation – this is the 2015 brochure but it was $90/week for 8:30-4:30PM, with an additional $15 charge for early drop off between 7:30 and 8:30.

We would love to put our kids in our local town camp but it’s frustrating that the registration and information is on such a different schedule than for other camps. Totally understandable – they provide a great service at a good price – but it’s still hard because you don’t know if you could just have your kid go to a town camp for the whole summer. I think we will end up with a mix of our local town camp, a general camp, and then a specialty camp for a few weeks.

General camps:

Arlington Boys & Girls Club – Arlington, MA.  A community center that also runs a daycare and after-school programs during the year, this camp is known to be relatively inexpensive (several hundred dollars per week) and to expose kids to a wide variety of activities. It’s known for having an indoor pool and being right on Arlington’s Spy Pond so campers get to swim every day as well as learn boating and explore sports. Information about this year’s camps is not available yet – registration won’t be until the spring.

YMCA of Greater Boston – Various locations. The Y offers day camps that include time at their facilities (most have great pools) and field trips. The North Suburban YMCA day camp, for example, has Camp Mini for kids ages 5-6 and Camp Mighty for kids ages 7-13. They also have a separate sports camp for ages 8-13. Registration is not yet open (open house dates aren’t even up yet) and the deadline to register is the Thursday before the session you want starts. They don’t have prices up now but I’ve heard it’s inexpensive and that you can sign up pretty late and still get a spot.

Running Brook – Waltham. This camp has swimming twice per day, one instructional session and one free swim session. There are buses from various neighborhoods in Belmont, Watertown, Somerville, Arlington, Cambridge, and Winchester (list here),  but the buses bring kids home at 4, so aren’t an option if you’re looking for extended day. Running Brook is expensive, but is apparently excellent. The rate starts at $575 per week if enrolling for two weeks or less to $415 per week if enrolling for nine weeks. Morning extended day (7:30-8) is $50/week, afternoon extended day (4-6) is $100per week, or it’s $120/week for both extended day options. The bus is $50/week. 10% discount for Waltham residents. They also have Arts and Adventure camps which are slightly more expensive.

Many local private schools offer summer camps, like the Cambridge Montessori Summer Camp, as do other childcare/recreation facilities – these are just examples of three different general summer day camps.

Specialty camps – Nature:

Nature - tress and grass - Creative Commons attribution-free licensing

Habitat Camp – Belmont, MA. These day camps take place at the Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary and are wildly popular (I couldn’t resist). They offer two-week day camps and one-week theme camps,  with extended day available from 3:15-5PM for all levels except Ramblers (children entering Pre-K). Registration is filled by a lottery system and you are limited to attending one two-week session and one one-week session over the summer. All registration forms must be received by January 18th. The cost for a two-week session ranges from $675-840, with the one-week sessions costing $410/week.

Drumlin Farm – Lincoln, MA. Registration for Drumlin Farm’s camp opens today (1/12). They also focus on exploring and appreciating nature (although the farm component is different, obviously) with a two-week camp setup and have similar hours to Habitat but longer extended day hours (you can sign up for early extended day from 7AM and/or after camp until 5:45. You can sign up for multiple sessions. Prices vary by camp (see brochure) but a typical example seems to be $635 member, $835 non-member for one example.

Mass Audobon also runs summer camps at other locations as well as overnight camps. You can find their full list of camps here.

Specialty camps – Art, Drama, Gymnastics, etc:
Esh Circus Arts Summer Camp

What to know: Some specialty camps operate for the entire summer and you just choose the week or weeks you’d like your child to attend, whereas some are operated by a specialty organization for a specific timeframe, so the camp is offered for a week or a few weeks, not the whole summer. I assumed these camps would be prohibitively more expensive than general camps, but that’s not the case overall, so go ahead and explore if your child has a specific interest.

TumbleKids – two locations, Winchester and Watertown. Please note that the links for each location are to the packets for the 2015 summer camps – 2016 info has not yet been released. They offer both pre-school and school-aged programs by the week, with regular programs running from 9AM-1PM and full-day programs running until 3PM (full day available at the Winchester location only). Camps run throughout the summer.

Kidstock – Winchester. Week-long drama camp where kids put on a show at the end of the week (for all groups except the youngest). Each week is themed around a different production, from musicals like Scooby Doo to a movie production. $255 per week for half-day (9-12:30, only offered for kids ages 4-6) and $355/week for full days (9-4). No extended day. Registration is already open, here. Camps run throughout the summer.

Arlington Center for the Arts – Arlington, MA. ACA offers a Vacation Arts Camp for children entering grades 1-6, and a Summer Drama Camp for children entering grades 3-6. (they also have a half-day camp for younger children and options for older children as well, but I’m not focusing on those here). The camps run from 9-4:30, with extended day available ($15/day for 8-9, $25/day for 4:30-6). You sign up for a week at a time, and camps run throughout the summer. Each week has a different theme as seen in the brochure. One thing to note about this camp is that the start date for the first week is dependent on the Arlington Public School schedules, and they do run a week later than many other camps (through 9/9). Cost is $190/week for members and $210/week for non-members.

Esh Circus Arts – Somerville, MA. Yes, we really do live near what is apparently a well-known circus training facility, and they really do offer a summer camp, called the Youth Circus Survey, for novices and experienced circus performers from ages 5-16. There are two sessions, 8/1-8/5 and 8/8-8/12, with each including juggling, tumbling, trapeze, clowning, wire walking, and more. The camp runs from 9-3:30 with an optional extended day option until 5PM for an additional $25 per day. This is among the more expensive camps at $625/week or $1,200 for two weeks before extended day. They don’t have a registration form but say to contact them via the email on their website to register.

All camps:

If you want to search all camps in the Boston area, the Boston Parents Paper has a searchable database by type of camp, dates, etc. The Boston Globe puts out an article every spring summarizing popular camps, so keep an eye out for that as well. Finally, here is a resource list that the Arlington Public Schools department has created for English Language Learners with local summer camps (ELL – Parent Resources: Summer Camp Programs for New Families) which seems kind of random to me – I’m not sure why these camps are best for English language learners – but it was put together by the school system so including it in case it is a useful starting point for some families.


Swimming Tubes photo credit: KWDesigns via / CC BY-ND

Trapeze photo credit: Esh Circus Arts


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