Ask the readers: What should I do with my kids this summer?

My oldest is 14 and will be a rising junior (there were 2 grade skips).

My youngest is 8/9 (summer birthday) and will be a rising 5th grader.

I’m not sure how wide-spread vaccines will be this summer, but it is very likely that they will not have been vaccinated yet.  That means we’re leery of sending them to in-person or away camps.  Especially since our area has rampant covid-denialism (a recent faculty/staff survey at the UNIVERSITY showed that only 60% are planning to take the vaccine when offered(!)).

In the past, DC1 has gone to a bazillion engineering and coding camps of varying qualities.  DC1 has done sciencey day-camps.  Last summer we had been planning on sending them to less academic camps– DC1 was going to go to magic camp and orchestra camps. DC2 was going to do a lot of camp run by the after school program.  I also looked into sending them together away to a fancy Spanish camp (Concordia), but couldn’t get the dates to work out.  Then the pandemic cancelled all of those.

Our primary need with DC2 (age 8) is that zie have something to keep her busy and out of our hair during the work day.  Virtual school days have been so much better than school holidays.  Ideally we would not be providing the tasks and instructions and feedback and so on.  As far as I can tell, none of the usual camps in our town for middle-schoolers or elementary schoolers are offering virtual options, only in-person.

Our primary need with DC1 (rising junior) is that zie have something that either helps hir with a skill that needs work (Spanish, actual English instead of the crafts and feelings zie gets at school) or a skill zie wants to increase (computer science, magic).  Ideally, zie would also do something that looks good on a college application.

DC1 has taken 2 years of computer science in high school and has learned Java and Python and will have taken one of the AP CS exams.  There are no more computer science classes in high school after this (they had offered a video game design class in conjunction with the arts department, but starting in 2021 it will no longer be offered to people coming in from the computer science track).  There might be computer science courses at my Uni, but I can’t figure out how an at-will high school student can take them during the summer (there are ways during the school year) and zie would probably need to take the intro class (which is not Java or Python at our uni) but I don’t think that is usually offered over the summer.  There’s also a community college, but I don’t know if their summer course offerings would be worthwhile or online.  Also, zie is taking BC Calc next year, so zie can’t just take the next math class in the sequence because the timing doesn’t work out (summer would only let hir take differential calculus, not both semesters), and zie hasn’t had the prereq for Calc 3 or Linear Algebra.

There are a lot of very expensive summer camps at extension programs of fancy universities sending us paraphernalia, and some of those deadlines have passed but some haven’t.  I’m not sure if any of these would be at all worthwhile.  They are certainly expensive!  And DC1 has gone to versions of some of these that our Uni puts on and we haven’t been all that impressed.

Usually I have this all figured out in January, but with not knowing what is going on with Covid, I just didn’t.

So… I have no idea what to do.

What are you guys doing with your kids?  What recommendations do you have?


44 Responses to “Ask the readers: What should I do with my kids this summer?”

  1. Jen Says:

    We decided that sleepaway camp is the only thing we feel comfortable with. All kids and staff are tested beforehand (and at least 2 days after being on any mass transit (planes, trains, buses)), daily temp checks and no one leaves the camp during session. Masks are required anytime you are outside your cabin but not within the cabin or during meals.

    Our girls are 6 and 9 and have been homeschooled this year due to covid and cannot wait to go to camp. I don’t know who is more excited, them or us. It’s the starter week at Camp Seafarer in North Carolina so it’s only 1 week. Depending on our local cases (not North Carolina), we may put them in a half day tennis camp for a few days and we can sign up last minute for those.

    We will probably continue to homeschool and switch off at lunch so we can get some work done. We are both tenured professors so it’s low pressure. Hopefully some camping trips in my parents RV.

  2. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    At least one vaccine will almost certainly be approved for a 14-year-old by June. Whether they can get one, however, is a different question.

    Does your local community college have any fun summer classes the older kid could take? Like Spanish or cooking or pottery or something. My bet is on them actually happening, not online, at least by the end of the summer.

    I have no idea what I’m doing with my kids but they are certainly going to get signed up for whatever’s available camp-wise around here…

    Unrelated, MY university wants me to tell them if I plan to get vaccinated and when I am and, no, my personal health information, unrelated to immediate business needs or new employment, is none of their business.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The local community college is ~30 min drive. They’re not really geared for fun from what I can tell. Very different from the one I grew up with in the midwest. (Also they employ an adjunct our department didn’t renew many years back for being a terrible teacher on an insanely high teaching load so I have concerns about quality.)

      • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

        Darn! Even our rural one does the fun stuff.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with it. I took a lot of classes at ours growing up and it just doesn’t have the same opportunities. But that may be because it’s not the only option for such opportunities? So instead of them having a summer nature camp for kids, the local museum does, for example.

    • A Says:

      I realize it’s a tangent, but MY university just asked for our vaccine info too. Maybe there’s a course for admins somewhere recommending it. As far as I can tell, the universal faculty response has been “schedule a vaccine clinic for us and you’ll get that info as you vaccinate us.” Meanwhile, most of my students are getting vaccinated, but I’m not yet eligible despite teaching in person.

      And I have no idea what I’m doing with the six year old this summer, except that the school is offering 4 weeks of free outdoor camp/school as apology/enrichment/remediation so we’ll do that.

  3. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    I should also add that last night I found out that DC1 signed up for but did not take the AMC math competition tests because neither zie nor DH wrote the dates down and the school didn’t remind hir or us. It was easier than usual to qualify for the aime and this was hir last chance to take the lower level version of the test. (I qualified once in high school and I think DH qualified twice, but there was only one ASHME at that time not different AMCs)

    That means that DC1 has zero extracurriculars for two years running. And Zie is getting Bs in Spanish and English last grading period and this grading period. I know most readers will think we are horrible parents for caring but we are the first in our respective families to be upper middle class and we got that way via educational pedigree and we want DC1 to at least be able to get into as good an undergrad program as we did. And I know that’s not possible with only grades and testscores (and zie isn’t really getting the grades 100% of the time in these two classes).

    • CG Says:

      Orchestra is an extracurricular! Or at least it should count as one. Does DC1 like orchestra? Is there any kind of music camp ze would enjoy? Does ze want to come to the Midwest? Our orchestra camps will be open this summer. I have recommendations if you’re interested. As for DC2, what, if any, running around with other kid options are there in your neighborhood? Last summer was one of our kids’ best summers ever, I think, because no one was in camps and there were a ton of kids to hang out in the park with and go to the pool with. We did a lot of front porch playdates. (I should add that last summer cases around here were very low because…the students were gone.) So our plan for this summer is similar–tennis a few times a week, go to the pool a lot, and hope that other parents decide to free range it again this summer so there are other kids to play with. We’ll probably have 2-3 days a week of child care to help drive the kids places (one of the places they play tennis is bikeable for the two older ones but not for our youngest and the other place they play is a drive away). Would that be an option for you? I know you’ve said in the past it’s much hotter where you are so the roam-around-outdoors summer may be less appealing.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Zie does orchestra, but doesn’t do competitions.

        I am concerned about in-person camps because of covid.

        There are no running around with other kids options in our HOA (kids are always supervised by adults). Also nobody wears masks. And only recently has the HOA forced people to take their trump signs down. Hir close friends also don’t do masks during playdates, even indoors, and at least two of their families have had covid at this point.

        Oh, and yes, I forgot, it’s crazy hot outside in the summer. (It’s nice now!)

    • anandar Says:

      I 100% do NOT think you are horrible parents, and I think I want all the same things that you do for your kids, but… FWIW, I pretty frequently tell my inner tiger mom to “stand down” in circumstances like this, on the grounds that passing down my family’s generational privilege (which, like yours, is mostly built from academic pedigree + a thoughtful and frugal approach to personal finance) is also a legacy of white supremacy that I wish to renounce, at least to the extent that it historically hasn’t been and can’t in the future be shared– which it can’t, because the kind of smaller, highly competitive/prestigious schools that my spouse and I (and for me, my parents too) attended are just not widely available enough. That doesn’t mean I won’t totally support my own kids’ ambitions and goals, I’m just trying to resist the urge to do as my own parents did and top off their ambitions with my own desire for the kids to be unusually academic and thus continue our level and type of economic security. If that makes sense!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ironically I am at a talk right now about how economic inequality is related to huge differences in mortality trends (and there is an effect of college selectivity)… (Also: California and Minnesota are the best places to be for age adjusted mortality)

        I don’t think we’re tiger parents so much as we want hir to do the bare minimum to get into a selective (by which I don’t mean ivies, but maybe the top half of the Fiske guide). If we were Tiger parents I wouldn’t e worrying right now because we would have forced hir to be in things and to compete and study and there wouldn’t be nothing now.

      • anandar Says:

        That sounds interesting! I am glad to hear I’m raising my kids in a relatively healthy state (CA), maybe that will balance out not optimizing their college chances. :)

        Re “top half of Fiske guides”– that is a good example of what my parents would have considered minimally acceptable, but I am questioning now. It can’t possibly include all good state schools, or all quality (but not particularly competitive) small liberal arts schools? (my oldest is still in middle school so this is all just theoretical for me.) My mindset has changed since moving to CA and leaving academia at the end of my 20s– growing up and getting going to college/grad school in the Midwest/East Coast, I think I understood the world as divided into “smarter” (=better, wealthier, healthier) people v. less smart/good/healthy/wealthy, with an assumption that academic pedigree roughly correlated to smartness (with plenty of exceptions). In my current CA life, college pedigree doesn’t seem to play quite as salient a role (I’m not in especially wealthy or fancy settings or neighborhoods). Maybe because the UC system, for all its faults, is bigger, better, and more accessible than East Coast equivalents.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The top publics are in fiske. I am not allowing my kids to go to the flagship public school where I teach so they’re more likely to get into say, northwestern or carleton than Michigan or Berkeley. I don’t see the point in paying out of state tuition for large impersonal classes in another state. I believe all of the UCs are in Fiske, not 100% sure about Merced.

        Pedigree is a huge deal in my profession and it helps DH, especially the networks. My R1 does have networks but I don’t like the way our undergrads are all memorization and scantron.

  4. Omdg Says:

    Can DC1 do a statistics or data science course? Even if not available where you live, there are online versions they could do for certificate credit.

    We are likely going to send our daughter to in person camp given that all member of our household are likely to be vaccinated by then. Our school district is also offering summer school which is appealing, but depends a bit on what they are offering, since she doesn’t really need it for academic reasons. Daughter expressed great interest in a local traditional camp that has a lake for swimming and canoeing, archery, and arts and crafts. She has never been to a camp like this before, so I support this. We also may have horse camp for a few weeks. The rest of the time I’m hoping she’ll be able to roam the neighborhood with her friends.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Zie could take statistics, maybe (again, I’m not sure about what is offered at our colleges and if DC1 can take them) but that’s also the math class zie will be taking senior year since calculus is next year.

      • Omdg Says:

        What about online courses:

        I also share the fear that my daughter will not pick extracurriculars and will therefore not get into college. I’m trying to be more relaxed about it. She already likes writing, riding horses, and drawing, but it seems like an ECA only “counts” if competition or a “leadership position” is involved. The end result is all the kids end up looking the same on paper. Ultimately they are going to have to find their own motivation from within, and figure it out for themselves what they want and how best to get there.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        There’s also coursera. That may be a way to keep the CS stuff going.

  5. abe Says:

    Well, I live wayfaraway from you, so these ideas are unlikely to be terribly useful, but here goes: Does your cooperative extension have any 4H groups that might be of interest? Ours also does “community school” classes in stuff like cooking, tai chi, various martial arts, etc. (pretty sure the curriculum is selected based on what they can recruit a teacher for). Any tribal groups doing day or overnight camps that are open to all? Girl Scouts, if applicable? Good luck

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think there are 4H groups because I see signs. It looks like in our area they offer livestock and dog shows and an away camp. No community school classes though.

      I don’t think we want to do any overnight camps because DC2 is not going to be vaccinated, and I don’t know if DC1 will be.

  6. gwinne Says:

    My kids are similarly spaced in age; last summer, with 8 and 16, I paid the big one to watch the little one for 2 hrs/day “camp.” Just a thought. This summer I will do in person camp for the little whether or not I have been vaccinated and the camp seems to be taking reasonable precautions.

  7. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Are there any online things that people or their kids have loved?

    • Jen Says:

      Both of my girls take Spanish online through They have teachers in Latin America give one-on-one private tutoring for $4/30 minutes. The girls love it and are learning from a woman in Colombia (my husband is Colombian so he loves that they are hearing the Colombian accent).

      It’s not a program and doesn’t last long enough to make a dent in childcare, but DC 1 might enjoy a different learning experience if she’s starting to struggle in Spanish?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Neat! if you’d like to recommend someone specific, could you email ?

        With so many of these online places it’s hard to know about quality if you don’t know someone who has tried it already.

      • revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

        I would love to know if you have a recommendation too, I’ve been wanting to give JB better exposure to Spanish than what I can do on my own.

      • Jen Says:

        Of the tutors (, we have had lessons with Luisa from Colombia. We haven’t been doing it a long time but so far we are happy. My girls were coming from learning Spanish on Rosetta so it wouldn’t take much for them to feel like it’s a lot of fun.

        The free demo was a great experience; you don’t need to give them any information to schedule it and there is no pressure to sign up at the end (they just send you an email with the subscription information if you’re interested).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Awesome! Thank you!

  8. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    I have been fretting about this for our six year old because we’ll both be working and not traveling and still have no childcare. Up to now, I have used Outschool (they have a small $20 discount for referrals) on and off for online math and dance lessons which they quite enjoy. I just signed them up for a new 8 week course of fun fitness classes and I’m looking at dance classes to add.

    For Spring Break I’d like to add a dance class that’s every day that week if any are offered and some science lessons. The scheduling is hit or miss, it depends on the instructors, but it’s nice when we match up what’s offered to what we want.

    On the science front, I spotted a volunteer program that looked interesting and have written to the Sharks4kids people to request a couple lessons. If that works well for Spring Break then I’ll ask them for more for the summer. This is totally new to us, hence testing the waters. It’s donation based, I think. I am guessing they probably prefer classes rather than individuals but there’s nothing I can do about that. I just have the one kid.

    I’m still looking for more stuff. I’ll blog about it when and if they pan out. I suspect we’ll be Tetris-ing together a schedule for summer much the same way we are doing the regular school year.

  9. bogart Says:

    I am not much help. We are camping for 2 weeks, which will effectively be 3 weeks because it starts/ends mid-week. I mean, DS will still have empty days in there, but he can help DH prep the camping trailer and pack up and stuff (and unpack), so…

    For the rest of the summer we have 2 weeks of golf camp (which did run last summer in the pandemic and was done very, very carefully) and 2 weeks of kayak camp (which did not, last summer, but hopefully will this summer).

    Ordinarily we’d have out of town family visiting, but — probably not. And I’d be looking for sleepaway camps, but not in the pandemic. So.

    Last summer I made DS do some catch-uppy schoolwork stuff (mostly working on reading and writing skills, which needed it) by hiring a recent college grad at loose ends I found on NextDoor. They met over Zoom several times a week with assignments in between and it worked reasonably well. I may do something similar this summer, we’ll see.

    EdX offers a “Science and Cooking” series (free) that I’ve always thought I should take and never taken — it’s framed in terms of chemistry. I assume it includes cooking activities (as exercises for the learner, I mean), but again, haven’t actually investigated, but — if I were looking for something to do this summer or to have my kid do, I might investigate. If *you* investigate (or DC investigates), please report back!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My undergrads and grad students are such bad writers…I would love a writing tutor for my kids, but don’t know where to find someone who actually knows how to write something clear and logical!

      Great suggestions! Will update if we research that direction!

  10. RH Says:

    We plan to have DS do a local outdoors-only camp (he’ll be 8) for 8 weeks of the summer. Hiking and playing in the woods all day, catching bugs, etc. They will be with the same small cohort and counselor for each 2 week session with required mask wearing when in close quarters but not when they’re hiking etc. After an entire year of forced at-home computer time, we are very much looking forward to a camp where electronics are not allowed. DH and I are both vaccinated and have been very careful this past year. There isn’t zero risk but I’m quite excited for DS to have this experience.

    • EB Says:

      My ki9ds are grown now, but the best thing we ever did was let the two older ones (at different times) go and spend 2 weeks with their country cousins during late elementary school. All the good and bad of country life in a working class village near a big iron mine, and an early chance to function in a culture somewhat different from their home suburb right next to a huge city., Some of what went on, I later learned, we would not have allowed. Oh well.

  11. Debbie M Says:

    Here’s what I want–DC1 organizes and teaches a Spanish class for DC2, including writing some programs that are Spanish lessons in Java and/or Python. Then put those lessons online and let me learn from them! Because it’s all about me!

    No, actually I thought of that because:

    * My best friend and I taught each other a course during one otherwise boring summer in high school. (She taught me about Australia. I taught her about the solar system.) So it’s possible, though we were older.

    * I taught my little brother to read when I was 5 and he was 3 because I was so excited I wanted to share! Now this wasn’t a way to distract us for a stretch of full work days, but it’s possible to have something for younger people.

    * I want to learn Python and Spanish, and I just last week decided that I should make Spanish lessons in Python.

    For example, I was thinking I could definitely write a number-practicing game I made up in my Spanish class called Juan Upmanship. (Señor Juan Upmanship can always do one better than you. So if you have a problem, he has two problems. If 22 people came to your party, 23 came to his. And my favorite question: ‘You say “There are seven words in my sentence.” Sr. Upmanship says “And there are __________ words in my sentence.”’ Yes, anyone may use any of my ideas with my full permission–the more the merrier!)

    I’ve already had some fun with explaining Spanish concepts online:
    * I love reflexive verbs in Spanish (things you do for yourself like take a shower or go to sleep) –
    * I made a song about Spanish agent nouns (nouns made out of verbs, like baker or refrigerator) –

    Even if you don’t go with this idea, I still have some resources I’d highly recommend:
    * DuoLingo (learning mostly Mexican Spanish for standard American English speakers) has gotten kind of amazing. They now actually teach things directly (though they call it “tips) as well as by throwing you in the pool with just lots of repetition. Some of my strategies for using it are here:

    * Sr. Jordan’s videos ( – He’s a middle school teacher with a bad US accent but good explanations. I’m not a big fan of his songs, except for the one on irregular words in the preterite tense (

    * If you want to add some knowledge of Spanish from Spain, the BBC’s Mi Vida Loca ( is a free online video course that is fun (and scary), though the plot peters out a bit by the end. I also enjoy the similar but even older PBS’s Destinos (, though the video quality is so bad that the old man looks dead already! For example, how do you make a list of clothing vocabulary fit into a story? Show someone packing for a trip!

  12. Jen H Says:

    Is DC1 an independent learner? There are a ton of massive open online courses on a variety of topics but definitely CS. It doesn’t go on a transcript but independent learning is a huge skill. Zie could write about it in essays and maybe even test out of a course? Some do offer certificates.

  13. SP Says:

    My toddler is continuing at her current daycare, barring some huge increase in COVID cases (due to variants or whatever). I’m not looking forward to the days of arranging summers, and the pandemic makes it especially tough.

    I’m hoping by fall her daycare will be back to more normal hours. Right now I have to end my work day at about 3:30 to go get her, which is not great but workable. Also, they likely they will increase class sizes at some point, so they are financially stable.

  14. Emma Says:

    STARTALK summer camps—many (including the one I run) are likely to be online this summer! This will be updated soon:

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