As the school year ends and summer break begins, many parents and caregivers lose the stability of relying on school to provide their children with activities and meals for the majority of the day. 

What’s a frazzled parent to do?

Here are a few different options to keep your children entertained and fed during the summer break.  

Ryleigh Jones, 6, dances the Cupid Shuffle during a Youth Discovery Day camp at Wendel D. Ley Family YMCAJune 1in Houston. (Antranik Tavitian / Houston Landing)

Keeping children active

The Houston Parks and Recreation Department hosts summer camps at community centers across the Greater Houston area through their Summer Enrichment Program, said Debra Lathan, deputy director of recreation and wellness for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.

The department runs a 10 week day-camp for children ages 6 to 13 years old. The cost is $30 per week per child and runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The program runs through Aug. 11. It offers activities such as arts and crafts, nature exploration, fitness, nutrition, recycling awareness and instructional sports at 55 different community centers, Lathan said. 

“A lot of our inner-city kids – they don’t go on vacation. When they come to community centers and our Summer Enrichment Program, we see them as coming to a staycation, because when they go back to school, we want to make sure they have something wonderful to talk about,” Lathan said.  

Families can apply for a fee exemption by providing proof of income or certain social services they use. Online registration is required and people can register here. If an individual does not have access to a computer, Lathan recommends they visit their local library and use their computers to register. 

The community centers do not provide transportation to and from the camps. Children can be dropped off or they can walk to the centers by 8 a.m. They can also decide to participate in the Summer Food Service Program to receive lunch during the day.

YMCA activities

YMCA of Greater Houston has five different summer camps and an academic option throughout the summer.

The academic program focuses on educational lessons during the first half of the day, while the second half switches to a traditional day-camp model. There are about 25 day camp locations across the Greater Houston area. 

“It’s really focused on minimizing the amount of summer learning loss, and so we have a focus centered around different components, such as literacy, math, and STEM,” said Larry Taylor, executive director of youth development at YMCA of Greater Houston. 

The YMCA’s Discovery Camp is typically for new campers that are used to a childcare setting but want to explore, Taylor said. The discovery camp’s activities are usually located indoors, away from the summer heat.  

Wonder Camp operates indoors and outdoors, Taylor said. The camp offers academics but it mostly offers children ways to explore nature and learn about their surroundings.

Adventure Camp is 80 percent outdoors and campers spend the majority of their time exploring, Taylor said. It offers rope courses, canoeing, archery and fishing. 

Camp Cullen is an overnight camp for campers but families can also join. It features outdoor experiences such as archery, horseback riding, sports and fishing, Taylor said.

Each camp has different age groups. Typically, camps have participants that range from 5 to 12 years old but some locations allow ages up to 15 years old, Taylor said. Some of the day camps, which are located at YMCA facilities, have childcare on site for infants and toddlers up to five years old. 

“I would say that it’s very important for families to just figure out what location that they’re interested in and then from there, they are able to see if we’re able to accommodate them at that location,” Taylor said. “Because if not, I’m pretty sure they’ll find a YMCA up the street or about 10 to 15 minutes away, that could meet the needs of all the siblings in the household.”

YMCA also provides options for teenagers from13 to 18 years old called Y Teen L.I.F.E. during the summer months. The Y Teen L.I.F.E. includes social events, college readiness courses, civic engagement and youth leadership opportunities, Taylor said. 

Teenagers can also sign up for a complimentary YMCA summer membership through Aug. 31. They need to apply in person at the center where they would like to use the teen summer membership.

Families interested in their programs can also apply for financial assistance if needed. 

“We really do focus on the whole family,” Taylor said. “I would encourage families to not let cost deter them from wanting to seek out access to our programs.” 

Free bus rides

During the summer, students can ride the Metro for free through Aug. 31, according to the Metro website

Students K-12 and many college students with an active Metro fare card can ride the local bus, park and ride, METRORail, METRORapid and METRO curb2curb. K-12 students need to provide a class schedule or a report card, and may be asked to complete an application with a signature from a parent or legal guardian. 

Students can apply in person with a parent or legal guardian at any METRO RideStore. Students can also apply online and submit the documents electronically or mail a completed application along with photocopies of the required documents. 

In the assembly line, some volunteers pack the container with broccoli, chicken, and rice, and the last volunteer places the container into a machine which applies the vacuum seal, June 6, 2023, in Houston. (Nicole Hopwood for Houston Landing)

Feeding children when money’s short

During the summer months, a household can spend about $150 to $250 per child per month on food because the family loses access to school lunches, said Nicole Lander, chief impact officer of the Houston Food Bank. Many households do not have discretionary income to spend more money on food, she said, so they have to make trade-offs.

The Houston Food Bank participates in the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded and state mandated program, to help feed children throughout Greater Houston. 

“Summer hunger and the educational gap is a major focus for our organization, and the reason we do the Summer Food Service Program is to lessen that gap,” she said. 

Volunteers come early on Tuesday morning to the Houston Food Bank to help pack and seal fresh meals which will be transported by truck, in temperature controlled bins June 6 in Houston. (Nicole Hopwood for Houston Landing)

The Houston Food Bank prepares between 6,000 to 10,000 meals a day, which are distributed across the Greater Houston area. Their lunch sacks mimic a traditional school lunch with fruits, vegetables, grains and milk, Lander said.  

Children 18 years old and younger can receive food from the program. No identification is required but they must eat on site and cannot take their food home, Lander said. 

The food bank supports about 500 partners through food pantries and mobile pantries. Families can receive groceries and cook from their home. Lander recommends that families give their nearest food pantry a call and ask about any requirements they might have for individuals beforehand. 

Additionally, the Houston Parks and Recreation Department also participates in the Summer Food Service Program every year, Lathan said.

Caregivers can take their children to any community center in Houston for food during the summer months. Lunch is provided between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and snacks are provided between 2 and 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

To find food services, check the Houston Food Bank website.  

A reflection of children waiting in line outside of Kendall Neighborhood Library on the first day of Camp STREAM Monday in Houston. (Nicole Hopwood for Houston Landing)

Challenging children academically

The Houston Public Library hosts a week-long free summer camp for children in 3rd through 12th grade, library spokesperson Carmen Peña Abrego said. Camp STREAM is hosted throughout the summer with different options for caregivers. 

The camp will have four in-person and two virtual camps available this summer. The camps will cover science, technology, engineering, arts, reading and math. 

People must sign up for a library card to sign their children up for the camps. You can sign up for a library card online.

Additionally, the library hosts a summer reading program and challenge running through July 1. 

The reading program has over 200 events and programs throughout their different locations, Abrego said. Events include magicians, henna art and live animals at neighborhood libraries for families to take part in and sign up for the reading challenge. 

The summer reading program allows people to track what they read and how long they are reading for, Abrego said. It is available for children of all ages and adults to win different prizes and giveaways. 

The Houston Public Library also recently launched the One Houston, One Book citywide program that will run through Sept. 30. The program includes three different book options for children, teenagers and adults. 

Each book selection includes author talks, read-ins, book clubs and more at different locations. 

“It’s meant to spark community dialogue, and the programming will be about the community coming together,” Abrego said.

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Angelica Perez is a civic engagement reporter for the Houston Landing. A Houston native, she is excited to return to the city after interning at The Dallas Morning News as a breaking news intern in the...