6/20/2018 6:00:00 PM | Family Life

Create the Perfect Last-Minute Summer Plans for Your Child—Without Breaking the Bank

The best summer activities are timeless, priceless, and budget-friendly.
The best summer activities are timeless, priceless, and budget-friendly.

Remember when summer meant spending all day, every day outside? Remember riding your bike, shooting hoops, jumping double-dutch, running through the sprinklers, and eating candy with a group of neighborhood kids that somehow showed up at the same time every morning, ready to run wild until the sun went down?

These days, summer for kids is a lot less spontaneous. That’s because every April parents start calling, texting and e-mailing each other with a host of questions about boutique summer camps and elaborate travel plans. It can make planning your kid’s summer feel like a nuclear arms race.

Plus, plenty of busy parents don’t have the bandwidth to plan that far ahead. If June rolls around and summer is still wide open for your child, don’t panic!


Make A Plan. Stick to a Budget.

There is a better way. Planning your kids’ summer shouldn’t feel as stressful as planning for college. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. After all, the kids will mostly remember the friends they spent time with, not the camp logo on the front of the t-shirt.

“Summertime is a big switch for working parents,” says Esje Woolfe, a Portland pediatric occupational therapist. “You go from having a kid in school to feeling like you have to plan every second of every day. It can be overwhelming. Especially for families that don’t have thousands of dollars to send their kids to camp.”

To better plan your kid’s summer, ask yourself three simple questions:

  • How much money do we have to spend on camps, trips and activities?

  • What is my child most interested in right now?

  • Does he/she do better in large or small groups?

Keep in mind, the “perfect summer” is a figment of your imagination. Most parents usually weave together a variety of fun, educational and affordable activities for their kiddos, mixed with some well-deserved downtime. Here are a few options to consider:



It’s not too late to find affordable summer camps in 2018. Here are some great options:

Park District Camps: Portland and Seattle offer a variety of camps and classes focused on everything from sports and adventure to nature and the arts. Camps range in price from as little as $150/week up to $325. They often include daily swimming sessions—to make it really feel like summer.

“The Portland Park system’s offerings are pretty amazing,” says Gina Clemmer, a Portland mom. “You even get a discount for being a Portland resident. I signed up my

6 year-old daughter for a five-week hip-hop dance class for $24. Seriously? That’s amazing.”

If your top summer camp choice is full, look into summer passes to your nearby public pool. Talk to other working parents about taking turns chaperoning the kids.

DIY Camps: At one local grammar school in Portland, a group of entrepreneurial 8th grade girls designed two weeks of activities including mask making and finger painting and created their own summer camp for kindergartners and 1st graders. This pop-up summer camp proved to be a big hit, saving parents a ton of money by providing many of the same activities other camps provide. Why not see if your kids and some of their friends want to start their own camp?



Take a road trip (or a few!). Whether you're in the Northwest, or California, there are plenty of places to see within a couple hundred miles of your front door. Loading up the kids in the car and taking a road trip, instead of flying, will save money and carbon emissions.

Go camping. The best way to get away from it all is to go camping. Pre-teens love sleeping bags, roasting marshmallows and starry skies. Teens love it too, they just won't admit it. Both Portland and Seattle have a number of campgrounds just a hop, skip and a ferry ride from downtown. Check out these 11 places to camp close to Portland and these scenic sites in Seattle.

Can't get away? If you have a backyard, you’ve got a built-in campground! Backyard camping is a great option on warm summer nights. If you have older kids, it’s a great opportunity to put them in charge: Let your kids plan the menu, fire up the bbq, and pitch their own tent.

Free Summer Options: When it comes to last-minute summer plans, the best things in life really are free. From outdoor movies and concerts, to open swim at public pools and a host of free programs at public libraries, there’s no shortage of free summer events that will keep kids learning and loving life.

“People forget what a great resource the local library is,” says Woolfe. “They typically have daily story times for little kids and the other day I saw they were doing a teen pizza night. Reading at home and at the library is a great summertime activity.”

Speaking of reading, does your child have a library card? Now’s the time to show your kids how fun books can be.

Skip the TV restrictions and the daily benchmarks: they can make reading feel like a chore. Instead, strategically place books around the house and in the car. Let your kids pick the books that excite them (Hint: nothing inspires a child to read like a parent furrowing their brow and saying, “I’m not sure you’re old enough for that book.”). And lead by example: read for pleasure with your kids. Get some pizza and candy and hold reading nights, just like movie nights.

You can explore programs for families at local libraries in Portland, Seattle, Spokane and Sacramento. Check out Travel Portland’s list of free summer events for kids and this guide for kid-friendly things to do in Seattle.

And if all else fails, well, that’s why Steve Jobs invented the iPad. Just kidding. Happy summering.