The 10 best Boston summer programs for kids

June 15, 2018
Image via Flickr/Denali National Park and Preserve

Summer is finally here, and kids throughout Boston are free to enjoy weeks of fun. You may have been looking forward to quiet, lazy days at home with the family. But if you’re like most parents, babysitters or nannies, you’ll probably quickly realize that keeping kids entertained is essential to summer bliss. Giving the little ones opportunities to explore, make new friends and try new activities during summer programs lets them have fun and gives their caregivers a well-deserved break.

Luckily, families in Boston live in the perfect area for summer entertainment. Whether you’re looking for a camp experience or free summer programming that will keep kids engaged, Boston is brimming with options. Here are 10 of our favorite summer programs for kids in Boston.

1. Boston Community Boating Inc.’s Youth Program

Address: 21 David G. Mugar Way, Boston, MA 02114
Phone: 617-523-1038
Fees: Classes range from $1 - $325. Click here for details.

Image via Facebook/Community Boating Inc. Boston, MA

The Community Boating Youth Program allows your child to become part of one of the most iconic Boston scenes: the bright white sails billowing along the Charles River. The Youth Program, also known as the Junior Program, is for any child between the ages of 10 and 17 who can swim 75 yards independently. The sliding-scale fees, which fall between $1 and $325, make it accessible for all families. Community Boating Inc. is the nation’s oldest continuously running sailing center and has been teaching kids the ropes since 1946, so there’s no doubt your little ones will be in good hands. Another great aspect of the program is the flexibility: Kids can come and go as they please, and there’s no need to commit to sailing all summer. The Youth Program incorporates classroom learning and on-the-water sailing lessons, giving your child a summer experience they won’t soon forget.

2. Boston Harbor Islands Junior Ranger Program

Address: 191 W. Atlantic Ave., Boston, MA 02109
Phone: 617-223-8666
Fees: Free

Image via Facebook/Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park

The Boston Harbor Islands are the city’s hidden gem, where you can feel a world away from civilization with just a short ferry ride from our favorite concrete jungle. The islands combine natural wonders — hills and beaches just waiting to be explored — with a rich history, complete with old military forts. Simply put, the islands are a kid’s paradise, and now your children can learn even more about the islands with the Junior Ranger Program. To help your son or daughter become a ranger, download the activity booklet before you visit the islands. Once it’s complete, find one of the staff rangers to check it over and bestow official Junior Ranger status. With 10 different activity books for Junior Rangers, covering topics from tidal pools to morse code, this is an activity that you can repeat a few times during the summer.

Outside the Junior Ranger program, the Harbor Islands offer plenty of kids’ programing. During the summer (starting July 4) there are family-friendly tours on the islands, as well as a giant Lego fort building (at George’s Island at 11 a.m. on Fridays) and youth fishing (on Peddocks Island Thursdays at noon). If you’re taking care of a toddler, don’t miss the special programing designed to help the smallest visitors get in touch with the islands’ natural resources. Find out more about all kids’ programming on the Boston Harbor Islands here.

3. Summer Swimming At Boston Pools

Address: Boston Centers for Youth and Families has three places with public swimming: the BCYF Clougherty Pool in Charlestown; the BCYF Mirabella Pool in the North End; and the family beach at the BCYF Curley Community Center in South Boston.
Hours: Pools and the beach are open daily beginning in mid-June. Check the site for more details on hours and specific contact information.
Fees: Beach is $5 per family per day. Pool rates vary between free and $15 per day.

Image via Facebook/Boston Children’s Museum

Swimming is the ultimate summer activity, and it’s even better when you can do it in the great outdoors. Boston operates two outdoor pools and a family-friendly beach that allow you to splash in the sun without having to drive outside the city. Kids will love refreshing in the water, and it’s no secret that even parents and caregivers enjoy a paddle now and then. As an added bonus, the pools and beach also give beautiful views over the Boston waterfront. If you feel that you’ll be swimming often, look into a family membership, which might be the most frugal way to cool off this summer.

4. Berklee Summer in the City

Address: Locations change according to event. Click here for a list.
Phone: 877-BERKLEE
Fees: Free

Image via Facebook/Berklee Summer in the City

Although it isn’t specifically for kids or families, the Berklee Summer in the City concert series is something you won’t want to miss. The program brings more than 400 free concerts to venues in Boston and Cambridge from May through September. There’s a wide variety of artists and genres represented, as well as locations ranging from the Boston Public Library to Atlantic Wharf. Nearly any day of the summer, you’ll find a free concert just waiting to be discovered. Kids will love swaying and dancing to the beat, and mom and dad will like feeling as if they can still enjoy Boston’s vibrant music scene, no babysitter required.

5. Zoo New England’s Zoo Camp

Address: Franklin Park Zoo, 1 Franklin Park Road, Boston, MA 02121 | Stone Zoo, 149 Pond St., Stoneham, MA 02180
Phone: 617-541-LION (5466)
Fees: Price varies according to session and a sliding scale based on income. (Note: Some camp sessions fill early.)

Image via Facebook/Franklin Park Zoo

Send your kids to spend the day among the birds and beasts at the Franklin Park Zoo. Little zookeepers will learn about animals and conservation through a different topic each week. The camp is perfect for kids ages 6-11, and the sliding scale fees make it accessible to most families, with tuition starting at $245 per week for families making less than $50,000. Twelve- and 13-year-olds can try their hand at becoming a Junior Zookeeper during a two-week program that allows them to work behind the scenes with zoo staff. Stone Zoo also offers summer programs.

6. Boston by Little Feet Walking Tour

Address: Tours meet at the Samuel Adams statue in front of Faneuil Hall.
Phone: 617-367-2345
Fees: Online, $10 | Cash in person, $12 | Free for Boston by Foot members

Image via Facebook/Boston By Foot

Do you want to share the Freedom Trail with your child but worry he or she isn’t quite old enough or will get bored too easily? Have no fear! The Boston by Little Feet Walking Tour is the perfect introduction to this beloved Boston attraction. The tour is designed to be engaging and fast-paced enough to hold the attention of kids between the ages of 6-12 — no small feat, as any parent knows. It covers 10 downtown locations in an hour, allowing your family to learn all about Boston history before the kids can even start to think about whining. Kids’ tours are offered most days at either 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. and cost $12 per person. Be sure to check the website to confirm times and get discounted tickets before you go.

7. Concerts in the Courtyard, Boston Public Library, Central Branch

Address: 700 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116 (Held at the courtyard of the Central Library in Copley Square)
Phone: 617-536-5400
Fees: Free

Image via Facebook/Boston Public Library

During the summer, there’s no need to be quiet in the Central Library’s courtyard, as the area comes alive with a free summer concert series. Kids will love darting around the courtyard pillars and pools and dancing to music, ranging from pop to folk to classical. The concert series takes place Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Fridays from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., giving parents the perfect opportunity to enjoy a little culture without taking kids out right before bedtime. To check who is playing, visit the BPL’s website. And if you visit on a Friday afternoon, be sure to also head across the street to Copley Farmer’s Market (which runs from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.) to stock up on delicious treats.

8. KidsArts

Address: 6 Eliot St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Phone: 617-524-0818
Fees: $375 per week, Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., with extended care available until 6 p.m. for an additional $30

Image via Facebook/KidsArts

If your child loves art but hasn’t decided whether they want to be a visual artist, dancer or musician, KidsArts in Jamaica Plain has the perfect summer program. During the camp, little ones experiment with all modes of art, including music, drama and visual arts, and explore a variety of techniques, materials and tools. Of course, there are also other summer favorites, like water play and plenty of outdoor time. This summer the theme for camp is “Cities,” and kids will be exploring art from cities real and imagined and working through a different subcategory each week, like cities in space or rural towns. The camp costs $375 per week, with the option for extended days at an additional cost.

9. Tenacity’s Summer Tennis and Reading Program

Address: Various sites around Boston
Phone: 617-562-0900
Fees: Free, but registration is required


Image via Facebook/Tenacity Boston

When it comes to picking a camp or summer program, oftentimes parents and kids disagree about what should be prioritized. Parents want a strong educational component, while kids just want to have fun. Enter Tenacity, a charity that combines tennis and physical fitness with academic supports in a format that kids love. The organization’s summer program allows kids ages 6-16 to drop in on one of 23 parks around the city for a three-hour block on weekdays between July 9 - Aug. 17. Kids ages 6-10 come during the morning session, from 9 a.m. - noon, while older kids ages 9-16 come in the afternoon from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. (9- and 10-year-olds can attend either or both.) The time is divided between reading enrichment and tennis lessons. Best of all, the program is free, although registration is required.

10. Family Programing At The Museum Of Fine Arts

Address: 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-267-9300
Fees: Most activities are free with museum admission, which costs $25 for adults, while kids 17 and under are free.

Image via Facebook/Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF)

A trip to the Museum of Fine Arts is always a fun activity for parents and kids and is a great option for days that are rainy or just too hot to be outside. The MFA offers formal studio art classes for kids during the summer. Or make your own adventure by picking up family activity totes or arts connection cards any time you visit the museum. These family-friendly activities will help your little ones connect to the art around them. For more formal kid-friendly activities, drop into an MFA Playdate, which takes place the first Monday and third Saturday of the month from 10:15 a.m. - 11 a.m. Slightly older kids will love participating in Drawing in the Galleries, where they can try their hand at drawing live models or objects from the museum’s collection on Wednesdays from 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. City Guides:

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Read next: Kid-friendly theaters around Boston

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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