Too Old For Summer Camp?



“Summer camp is for little kids.”

“It’s boring.”

“None of my friends have to go to summer camp.”

“Why can’t I just stay home and do what I want?”

Uh oh. Your 14 year old daughter just decided she’s too old for summer camp. It’s understandable. Between the ages of 12 and 15, your child is probably mature enough to stay home and be responsible for negotiable periods of time. But for an entire summer? Most working parents cringe at the thought of their child watching TV, playing video games, Snapchatting, eating Cheetos, and living an entirely unproductive life for several months.

Kids are only young once, and as much as they want to hang out and do whatever they want, most moms and dads know that tweens and teens still need structure and guidance. They need to have goals and purpose in order to live useful lives and stay out of trouble. So what can parents do when their kids are too old for summer camp, but too young to earn minimum wage flipping burgers or scooping ice cream?

Perhaps the goal for parents should not be to try to keep their kids busy, but to recognize the opportunities that summer brings. Young people, who are nearing the cusp of adulthood, are trying to figure out who they are and what interests them. Giving your child the chance to use summer break to explore potential interests and to experience something different or outside of the usual routine could produce long-lasting benefits for your child.

Here are some alternatives to summer camp that parents can encourage their kids to do.

Consider a counselor-in-training program

Even if your child feels too grown up to attend summer camp, he might have a completely different perspective if he has the opportunity to learn how to be a counselor instead of a camper.

Check to see if your kid’s favorite summer camp has a counselor-in-training program. For example, the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh offers a Counselor in Training (CIT) program for kids ages 14 to 18 that promotes leadership development, personal growth and service to others. The beauty of programs like this is that CITs must be responsible and positive role models for other children, plus the leadership and on-the-job skills they learn can be important training for future employment. Often CIT positions fill quickly, so encourage your child to sign up or apply early to programs that they are interested in.

Start a business

Does that sound far-fetched? It shouldn’t. If there’s one thing every kid likes, it’s more spending money. There are traditional jobs like grass cutting, dog walking (and pooper-scooping), babysitting, and the old-fashioned lemonade stand, but help your kid brainstorm other ways to make money doing things they already like to do.

For example, if your teen is a technology wizard, maybe he or she can teach seniors how to use a computer or set up a Facebook account. Strong academic students may be interested in tutoring younger kids in subjects like math, reading and writing. Your child can bake cookies, make jam, or do magic shows for children’s birthday parties. If your child is creative and likes making jewelry, greeting cards, or other crafts, look into selling items on Etsy, an online platform that allows kids to sell as long as an adult manages the Etsy account.

Let your child’s interests and talents be the guide to find ways to get paid doing things they enjoy. If having their own business keeps them active and puts a few dollars in their pockets, you and your child might enjoy the summer more than you expect.

Be a volunteer

One of the most valuable things parents can do is teach their children to care. Pittsburgh faces many social, economic, health and environmental challenges and there are numerous local non-profit organizations that work to assist, educate and improve the lives of Western Pennsylvania residents.

Pittsburgh Cares is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make volunteering easy by matching volunteers of all ages with volunteer opportunities within the Pittsburgh community. Or, as Executive Director, Deb Hopkins, explains it, “we are the eHarmony of the volunteer world.”

The organization, located in Lawrenceville, manages a volunteer matching website that allows hundreds of not-for-profit organizations to post their upcoming volunteering needs. After signing up on the website, parents can view the Volunteer Opportunity Calendar, or search by keyword or filter to view Youth-Friendly volunteer opportunities.

Last year, Pittsburgh Cares received a generous sponsorship to offer two Summer Service Camps for high school students, who met at either the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University campuses for a week-long program. Every morning, the students, many of whom came from low income households, got to hear from different non-profit executive and program directors, elected officials, professors and leaders of student organizations to discuss the human challenges that, in some cases, impacted their own lives. In the afternoon, the group visited a different non-profit organization each day to learn about and work on various service projects to help eradicate homelessness, hunger or otherwise benefit the community.

At the time of this writing, Pittsburgh Cares is hoping to secure the necessary funding to continue this program. Check the website at, or call (412) 471-2114 for more information.

Get a head start on college

Pittsburgh colleges and universities offer a wide variety of summer programs and courses for high school students to learn about different careers and get a feel for what it would be like to study selected undergraduate majors.

Point Park University High School Programs

If there’s one thing that Point Park University summer programs offer to local students, it is variety. Kids can sign up for summer camps that explore diverse fields like animation, filmmaking, forensic science, accounting, journalism, dance, and sports and entertainment event management. No matter what your child’s interest, Point Park University wants your kids to think about their futures by jumping in and getting hands-on experience.

Westminster College – Summer Science Splash Camp

Teaming up for the first time with the II-IV Foundation and the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, Westminster College is looking forward to hosting an overnight science camp for 7th, 8th and 9th graders at its New Wilmington campus in July.

“We are super excited to bring this camp to the Pittsburgh area,” says Westminster College contact, Sharon Muraca.

Every day the campers will participate in in scientific observations, labs and age-appropriate experiments while “exploring innovative technologies and the natural world in sessions led by Westminster faculty and assisted by Westminster faculty students.”

“It’s a very interactive camp and the kids will be active from morning to night,” Sharon says.

In addition, the College is offering $500 scholarships to any child who participates in the camp and ultimately decides to attend Westminster College.

Carnegie Mellon University – Summer Engineering Experience for Girls (SEE)

If your daughter will be entering the 8th or 9th grade in the fall of 2017 and is interested in math, science, designing and building things, then check out Carnegie Mellon University’s SEE program.

“The middle school years are a critical time for girls, who are more likely to fall out of classes that would lead to a STEM career,” says Dr. Alicia Angemeer, who spearheads the SEE program.

SEE was specifically tailored for young girls to accommodate how they learn best and what is important to them. It’s not about competition as much as it’s about teamwork. Each girl works with a mentor to learn research skills, put together a presentation and get a taste of the kinds of real world problems that engineers solve. Most importantly, the SEE program encourages girls to discover that they have the power to make the world a better place.

The program is free to participants and includes lunch every day. However, selection is competitive.

Duquesne University- Intensive Summer Writing Camp for High School Students

Creative writing can be intimidating. Perhaps your child loves to write and would enjoy the structure of being immersed in a week-long writing camp. Or maybe your child has never written anything before, but has always wanted to try.

According to John Fried, a creative writing teacher in Duquesne’s English department, the camp is a “safe, welcoming place where kids can express themselves in the most supportive environment possible.”

High school students can select either poetry or fiction and work with published writers in that genre, who provide personal feedback on each student’s work.

“I'm simply in awe every year at how talented these young writers are,” admits John Fried.

Learn to act

I have two sons. My older son is shy, but his younger brother is a ham. Years ago, when my sons were going to spend the summer with their father, who lives out of state, I worried about what they were going to do all day. Their dad worked full time and although my older son was old enough to take care of himself, he wasn’t ready, or even interested in, being responsible for his little brother all day. Their dad signed both of them up for a theater program that was organized by a local church. It was a brilliant move.

Although my boys had no acting or theater experience, they learned something new. My younger son enjoyed the small role he played, and my older son, who was terrified of performing on stage, got to help with sets and lighting. It kept them busy. They attended rehearsal every weekday and participated in a wonderful production at the end of the class. It turned out to be one of their best summers.

Pittsburgh has a vibrant theater arts community for kids. Whether your child is a serious actor, interested in pursuing higher education and a possible career in the dramatic arts, or is intrigued by acting and interested in gaining self-confidence, here are some of the local summer programs available.

Pittsburgh Public Theater

Summer Youth Classes include workshops for kids from 10 to 18 years old. Katie Conaway, the Director of Education and Outreach, says that new students tend to “gravitate to the Improv class, which is our most popular class and loads of fun.” The Shakespeare class is a 3-week course that focuses on one Shakespeare play that the kids learn and perform. All the camps end in a showcase performance for friends and family to enjoy.

Saltworks Theatre Company

Offers summer acting classes for kids aged nine to 16. Production Manager, Rachel Smith, says “We pride ourselves on focusing on ‘process over product,’ which means that we strive for a welcoming and stress-free learning environment where exploring and growing matter more than creating a ‘perfect’ performance.”

Act One Theatre School

“Anyone who loves to learn, create and explore their own potential through studying the arts is welcome at Act One,” says founder Karen Cordaro. Campers, aged kindergarten through 12th grade, explore a wide variety of subjects and receive personal attention. “Our goal is to produce skillful, confident, collaborative artists.”

Prime Stage Theatre – Monologues and Movement

"Camp participants have lots of fun discovering ways to express their individuality and gain new skills as performers and readers in the classroom and on the stage," says Wayne Brinda, Prime Stage's cofounder.

Grow a summer garden

Every summer I want to plant a vegetable garden until I remember how much time it takes to plant and maintain a garden. But by the end of summer, I wish I had made the effort because I miss the fun of picking fresh tomatoes off the vine and watching this year’s Halloween pumpkin grow.

A garden doesn’t take much space, but it does take planning, which makes it the perfect family project for spring. A good way to keep your teen or tween involved is to allow them to grow things that interest them and give them the daily responsibility for watering, weeding, pruning and picking the things they planted. Teach them how to prepare and preserve foods and encourage them to plan for surplus by delivering fresh produce to a local senior center or simply sharing your overabundance with neighbors.

Grow Pittsburgh is a local nonprofit organization whose mission it is to educate the general public about the importance of gardening and agriculture as part of a vibrant, healthy community. The organization has helped build or improve over 60 active community gardens in the region, including school garden programs that serve as “edible” classrooms for kids. Near the end of the school year, the organization is always looking for people to sign up for summer garden care, If a teen lives in a community where there is a community garden or school garden that they would like to help with, please contact Eva Barinas, the School Garden Coordinator at 412-362-4769. For more information about the organization, visit

Investigate local resources, like…

Recreation centers

Neighborhood rec centers offer a wide variety of sport, hobby and educational activities for teens during the summer. Maybe your child would like to learn karate or fencing. Or perhaps you can assign your kid the responsibility of taking Fido to dog obedience classes. Find out if other neighborhood kids or friends are interested, too, and work out carpool arrangements with other parents, if possible.


Check your local library to see what summer programs or activities they have that might spur your child’s interest. Summer reading programs are one of the most popular annual events at libraries across the region. In 2016, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh challenged city residents young and old to read 90,000 books between June 5th and August 31st. Rising to the challenge, 14,000 Pittsburghers read a record 150,244 books during that period. If your son or daughter really gets into the spirit of it, suggest that they recruit younger children in the neighborhood and organize a daily or weekly story time to boost their book numbers.

Even if your kid doesn’t sign up for a library reading program, make her assigned summer reading list a priority. Set a schedule, make a chart, offer incentives or do whatever you can to encourage her to read early and often, rather than wait until a week before school starts to tackle that list.

Teen and tween summer apathy may be a challenge, but it is not inevitable. With a bit of foresight and guidance, you can find ways for your 12 to 15 year olds to not only make the best of the summer, but to enrich their lives and possibly give them direction for the future.

Pittsburgh writer, Ann K. Howley, is the author of Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad and teaches writing courses for CCAC’s Community Education program.


* Published in Pittsburgh Parent Magazine, March 2017 *