This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Across the city, there are lots of ways to keep kids learning over the summer. To save parents the constant scramble of looking for fun, educational activities for their children, we’re compiling a weekly list of free and low-cost activities and programs that will have parents relieved to know their kids can be physically active and intellectually engaged even while school is out.
Music / dance / movement
Monday Jazz Jam upstairs at World Cafe Live (5:30-7 p.m. Mondays) is a great way to expose kids to live music. The free event opens with songs played by the house band, then the cafe opens up for Philly jazz musicians to perform. Listeners of all ages are welcome.
The Mann Center has a free Young People’s Concert Series called Magnificent Magical Mondays. It will include a wide range of performing arts events by both established professional artists and emerging artists, including young performers meant to inspire kids as they see their peers’ talent on stage. Starts July 13. Register in advance for tickets.
Music Monkey Jungle offers three high-energy music and movement programs: MMJ Sing Along, MMJ Drummers, and Dance Move Play Groove. Through song, drumming, and dance, each program helps show kids how music works. Programs Monday through Friday. Times vary by location. Cost is $8 per child; free admission for babies under 5 months.
Music for Aardvarks calls itself “the most imaginative and original interactive music class for babies and toddlers.” This summer, to kick off its new Philly location, the program is offering free demo classes of its “rockin’, fun group music and movement classes for babies and toddlers 4 months to 5 years old.” Advance registration for free classes is required. Classes will be offered on July 16, 18, 23, and 25.
Tree House Books is offering a Summer Books Camp for Young Readers (ages 5-8), and Kings and Queens (ages 9-13). The camp promises to help kids explore reading in new ways. Beginning July 6, it runs for four weeks, from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday-Thursday. Cost is $100 per camper and $50 for those eligible for financial aid.
Linvilla Orchards hosts a Story Time and Craft, where staff read a farming, animal, garden or nature-themed story to preschoolers — all themes perfectly suited to tune kids in to what’s going on at the orchard around them. Kids can make a craft each week. Although the event is technically geared toward preschoolers, the organizers say the entire family is invited. The program is from 10-11 a.m. on Tuesdays, meeting in the Garden Center at the Orchards.
Summer of Wonder at the Free Library will be ongoing through the summer, providing Alice in Wonderland-themed activities to celebrate the book’s 150th anniversary. This week’s theme: Illusions. The library’s Summer Reading program also has an ongoing prize drawing, which young readers can enter by logging their books.
Once Upon a Nation Storytelling has storytellers scattered throughout the historic district near Independence Hall in Center City to tell stories about the early United States. By collecting flags and stars, children can get a free ride on the Parx Liberty Carousel and a History Hero Certificate. The event is free to all ages and ongoing throughout the summer.
ANSA Whiz Kidz Rising Stars will help kids write, produce, film, edit, and perform to gain hands-on experience in music and video production. The program will culminate in an end-of-summer performance for the community and a CD/DVD. Rising Stars is free for those who register in advance. The all-day program runs Monday-Friday from July 7 through Aug. 14 at the Lea School.
Whiz Kids also offers a Summer Adventure camp, which more broadly explores technology along with more typical summer camp offerings.
The Asian Arts Initiative’s annual free Summer Youth Arts Workshop and Summer Youth Lounge starts July 9. Students need to sign up in advance, and sessions are open to any public, private, or charter school student in grades 6-12. The workshop includes video game design, while the less-structured youth lounge will involve general artmaking and college prep.
The International House is screening Nocturna, an animated movie that follows a young boy named Tim into the “secret world of Nocturna, inhabited by curious creatures that control the night” to show kids that “night doesn’t have to be so scary after all.” The G-rated film (originally a Spanish and French production) will be shown in English during a family matinee at 2 p.m. on July 11. The screening is $5 for non-members, free for members.
The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, hosted at DeSales University, has a Shakespeare for Kids show. This summer they’re performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show is geared to kids ages 4 to 10, runs for one hour, and promises to be high energy. The performers, Team Shakespeare, say they try to introduce kids to the magic and mischief of the kid-friendliest of characters and situations from this work of Shakespeare’s. Tickets are $9.50 for kids and $10.50 for adults.
Science and nature
Ongoing on Wednesdays from 10-10:30 a.m. (until Aug. 12) is Growing Up Green at the Sister Cities Park, a time of free nature-inspired activities led by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation staff. At 10:30 a.m. every other Thursday is Nature in the Park, focusing on natural-science activities for kids.
Friends of Wissahickon is having a Tree House Open House on July 11, starting at 10 a.m. On the same day at 10 a.m. the park is hosting Wine Berry Wild, which they call an “expedition to find and eat wine berries”– a species similar to raspberries, termed invasive but delicious. Both events as for kids and require advance registration.
Saturday, July 11, is Linvilla Orchard’s Blueberry Festival. There will be time to learn about the food celebrated with storytime, and instructions for how to preserve your own fruit, along with other fun: costumed characters, a pie-eating contest, live music and an instrument play-along time, and other activities and crafts. In the morning, they will also have time for pick-your-own blueberries (and although there’s no admission fee to the festival, there will be a charge for the berries).
Children ages 10 and up can participate in the Friends of Wissahickon’s Invasive and Native Plant Safari. Hikers will learn, hands-on, about the intense and detrimental effects of aggressive invasive species. Sturdy comfortable footwear is recommended, and children should be accompanied by an adult. The free hike will take place at 2 p.m. July 12. Hikers are asked to register in advance.
Museums and attractions
The Penn Museum’s next Storytime Exhibition will feature the book We’re Sailing Down the Nile, exploring Egyptian landmarks and historical artifacts, in the Sphinx Gallery. The story complements the museum’s summer series, World Wonders: Journey to Ancient Egypt, and will be paired with museum artifact viewing. The storytime will be from 1-1:45 p.m. July 8. Museum general admission is $10 for children ages 6 and over.
Philadelphia Museum of Art is pay-what-you-wish every Wednesday night until 8:45 p.m. Every first Sunday is also pay-what-you-wish. Right now, the museum is showing Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting, an exhibit that shows the critical role that art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel played in developing the identity and fame of the Impressionists as we know them today. Ending Aug. 2 is the print, drawing, and video exhibit Dance: Movement, Rhythm, Spectacle.
The museum also offers Art Splash, with themes that change through the summer to encourage return visits. This week, the theme is R is for Rivers. There’s an Art Splash Gallery designed for families, a Splash Studio for making art projects that change throughout the summer, family tours at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (grouped by ages), a Family Art Cart to pair activities and stories with exhibits, and a mobile app, A is for Art Museum, that can be used (on a borrowed iPad) to explore the galleries.
There’s also more daily programming, which cycles based on day of the week. Art Splash is free with admission, and kids 12 and under get in free; otherwise, admission is $14 for students and youth, and $20 for adults.
Philadelphia Magic Gardens hosts PECO Family Jams every second Sunday of the month between noon and 4 p.m. On July 12, the activity is Personal Symbols with Teaching Artist Lynn B. Denton, where kids will view Denton’s exhibition and create their own symbols, using watercolors and oil pastels. “Kid-friendly” tours are also held at 1 and 3 p.m. Programs are free with admission.
There is also a free Visionary Visits program to Family Jams, for economically disadvantaged and underserved audiences. Applications for Visionary Visits must be filled out at least a week before the visit.
Joe Hand Boxing Gym is offering free kickboxing classes for girls ages 10-17 on Fridays from 5:45-7 p.m. The class teaches self-defense, as well as cardio exercise. Equipment will be provided for free, but sign up is required.
Learn how to bowl! A program called Kids Bowl Free allows kids to bowl two free games a day over the summer, providing a simple way for kids to try something new and stay active. Kids must register to participate.