When a family’s struggling to fund essentials, summer programs, such as camp or classes, are a luxury. To fill the gap, free educational resources and programs around the Puget Sound region can help kids learn a new skill, keep up on academics and stop summer slide in its tracks. Here are some resources.

Summer meals: You can’t learn, or play, if you aren’t getting enough to eat. Many Seattle-area cities distribute nutritious lunches on weekdays at local parks. Seattle’s free lunch program (find sites at seattle.gov/parks/find/camps#freeprogramsandmeals) is often paired with reading, crafts or nature programs. Tacoma has a similar summer playground program at six park sites (weekdays, June 24-Aug. 30); and King County has a summer sack-lunch program at two parks in and around White Center; teens can also find snacks and activities at a drop-in program held year-round at Steve Cox Memorial Park. Parenthelp123.org has an online directory of summer meal programs for kids.

Library learning: Music performances, science experiments, story times, robotics sessions, theater, even escape rooms. Summer programs at Puget Sound-area library systems go way beyond the traditional reading challenges of yore. The theme of Seattle Public Library’s 2019 Summer of Learning, for example, is a partnership with Woodland Park Zoo titled “Explore Your World!,” with opportunities to participate in citizen science and much more. Other library summer-reading programs are teeing off the Apollo 11 moonwalk anniversary with a “A Universe of Stories” theme.

How to entertain your kids in Seattle this summer? Here some free and low-cost ideas

Maker madness: Speaking of libraries, downtown Bellevue’s year-old ideaX Makerspace (kcls.org/makerspace) is a hive of free STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics) learning all year long. Outfitted with a 3D printer, laser cutter, sewing machines, recording equipment and more creativity-sparking tools, the makerspace hosts a robust roster of maker events and classes. Tacoma Public Library has a Digital Media Lab that kids ages 12 and older can use.

Swimming lessons: To increase access to swimming lessons, during the summer Seattle offers free swim instruction at all nine lake beaches with lifeguards five days a week midday, and at four locations two evenings a week (Monday and Thursday, 6-6:30 p.m.). Lessons start July 1; register at your preferred beach starting June 22. Details at parkways.seattle.gov/2019/04/30/free-youth-swim-lessons-at-lifeguarded-beaches-summer-2019.

Free writing classes: The Bureau of Fearless Ideas, with locations in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood and Yesler Terrace, offers free writing camps. Check out this summer’s class list at fearlessideas.org/programs/workshops.


Enrichment all summer at Atlantic Street Center: Located in South Seattle, Atlantic Street Center’s Summer Academy offers academic and cultural enrichment to 40 children free of charge, including nutritious meals, cool classes and field trips. Note that its capacity is more limited than in recent years; the application deadline is May 31. atlanticstreetcenter.org/programs/early-learning/summer-academy

Apple camp: It’s not really “camp,” since sessions are only 90 minutes long and parents have to accompany kids, but spots at free three-day workshops at Apple stores, which let kids from 8-12 learn coding and robotics, moviemaking or musical storytelling, fill up fast. Find out about camp details at apple.com/today/camp.

Microsoft classes: Your local Microsoft store also hosts all kinds of cool (and free) classes for kids, from DigiGirlz workshops to a Harry Potter-themed coding workshop. Find out and sign up at microsoft.com/en-us/store/locations/events-for-students.


More family-friendly freebies

Free bowling: Through the Kidsbowlfree program (sign up at kidsbowlfree.com), kids get two free games a day for free at participating alleys, all summer (shoe rentals not included).

Free hiking: On four days this summer (June 1, June 8-9 and Aug. 25), you can hike in Washington state parks with no parking pass. Aug. 25 is also a free-admission day for national parks.

Free fishing: Kids can reel in a prize trout during the 2019 statewide trout-fishing derby all summer for free (no license needed if you’re 14 and under); and fishing is free for everyone during the state’s annual free fishing weekend (June 14-15).

Free adaptive bike rentals: If someone in your family has a physical disability that keeps them from cycling, you can now rent adaptive bikes for free at Outdoors for All’s bike center in Magnuson Park, through a new partnership with the Seattle Department of Transportation.


Free museums: Besides first Thursday in Seattle and third Wednesday in Tacoma; Bank of America cardholders can get into many museums free on the first full weekend of the month (the Museums On Us program); and you can check out museum passes from library systems including SPL and KCLS. And of course, many museums — such as the Frye, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma — are always free.

Free art: Olympic Sculpture Park hosts family-friendly artsy events on Thursdays and Saturdays starting in July. Seattle’s Arts in the Parks 2019 program hosts dances, crafts, cultural celebrations and even a circus party.

Free music: From Sunday concerts at the Ballard Locks to Tuesday kids concerts at Juanita Beach Park in Kirkland, free summer concerts are a music-loving family’s best friend.

Free tours: What do the Paramount Theatre, the Ballard Locks and Amazon Spheres have in common? You can tour them for free. Check the websites to reserve your place.