Article / Published Aug 06, 2019

The Best-Kept Secrets of Affordable Extracurriculars

Kids are expensive. For one thing, there’s all their growing (how is it possible that these shoes don’t fit anymore?!), not to mention all their eating. But then there’s more: Maybe your kid loves soccer and wants to join a team, or they’re itching to try gymnastics. Maybe they’re dramatic enough at home that you think they belong onstage. Swimming lessons. Music. Dance. Martial arts. The list goes on. Extracurriculars can enrich children’s—and families’—lives immeasurably, and watching your kids develop a passion is rewarding and exciting. But the costs are often substantial, and it can be stressful to figure out how to either make it happen—or say no.

We did a little digging to figure out the best places to access extracurriculars of all kinds without breaking the bank:

The Y

You’ve probably heard of this one already. There are YMCAs all over the country, and they’re known for affordable sports offerings like swim lessons, soccer camps, and gymnastics. But did you know they also offer model government for teens, young leaders programs with mentorship and community service opportunities, and year-round STEM activities? Find your local Y to check out what’s available in your community.

Boys and Girls Clubs

Like the Y, Boys and Girls Clubs are all over the country. For an annual membership fee on a sliding scale, the clubs offer diverse afterschool and summer programming for kids of all ages. There’s the National Photography Program, DramaMatters Afterschool, and the National Fine Arts Exhibit, to name a few—plus opportunities in music, science, and sports. For teenagers, there are also programs in leadership development, money management, and even driving. Find your nearest club here.

El Sistema USA

El Sistema is a music education program founded in 1975 in Venezuela, with a vision of using music for social change. In the USA, there are hundreds of music programs inspired by El Sistema. They typically offer free or affordable group or private music instruction to students who qualify, along with the use of an instrument. (Search here to find a program near you. In Boston, check out Boston Strings Academy. If you’re in New Orleans, take a look at Make Music NOLA.)

The library

We all know libraries are great sources of books, DVDs, and air conditioning in the summer. But libraries are also often home to extracurricular activities: reading and science clubs, arts and crafts, music and storytelling workshops, and movie screenings are just some of the things you might encounter at your neighborhood library. Check out your local library’s website for a calendar of upcoming events and school-year programming.

Your local government and non-profit organizations

It’s worth checking out your city government’s website to learn what kinds of activities the city sponsors directly. They’ll have a department dedicated to family and community services, which will often oversee offerings like playgroups for younger children, subsidized arts and sports, public pools in the summertime, and scholarships for opportunities that might be otherwise out of reach. (For example, check out Boston’s Centers for Youth and Families, or the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission.) Local arts organizations are also great places to look: At Dancing Grounds in New Orleans, for example, teens can take adult classes for free.

Your neighbors

Remember that kid next door whose squeaky recorder practice used to drive you crazy? Or the one who’s always shooting hoops or kicking her soccer ball down the block? Teenagers in your neighborhood can be a great resource for your younger child: That budding musician might be interested in offering low-cost introductory lessons to your child, or he might have an outgrown instrument collecting dust in the closet—perfect for your kid to take for a test run. An older athlete in the neighborhood can practice with your younger child and help them learn basic skills in a new sport. With an arrangement like this, your child can try out a new activity before making a bigger commitment to it. Plus, your neighbor’s teen might appreciate the opportunity to become a mentor, earn some cash, and gain teaching experience to add to their college applications.