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Young teen's dilemma: Too old for camp, too young to work

There are exciting alternatives for middle-schoolers and young high-schoolers who are too old for day camp but too young to be left alone.

By GreatSchools Staff

"I don't want to go to camp. I just want time to hang out." Those were the words of my 12-year-old daughter when I mentioned summer plans. And then the parental anxiety set in. I knew in my heart that my middle-schooler was too old to go to that wonderful day camp that kept her busy and active all day long, but I also knew that letting her "hang out" all day would translate into too many unproductive hours in front of the TV or on the computer or the telephone. What's a parent to do?

Luckily, there are alternatives. More and more recreation centers, schools, museums, even colleges are catering to this age group with classes and programs. Volunteer centers are often looking for young preteens and teens to lend a hand. And it's never too early to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit. This age group may be beyond the general day camp approach so the key is cultivating special interests your preteen or teen has and being creative in finding programs to match. Don't be surprised if no single program will fill up your preteen's summer days, but by being resourceful, you can find a number of activities to make this an active, engaging summer, and still reserve a little time "just to hang out." Here are 10 tips to get you started. And do start early in planning for programs that require advance registration. Popular programs generally fill up quickly.

Ask at your child's school.

Many middle and high schools run special enrichment programs during the summer and/or can offer parents suggestions on summer activities.

Check with local community colleges and universities.

Many community colleges and universities host summer programs for middle and high school students on their campuses. It's a great way to introduce these students to what's ahead, to get them thinking about higher education, and what they need to learn in middle and high school in order to succeed in college.

Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, for example, hosts several week-long classes with enticing subject matter on their campus specifically geared to middle-school and high-school students. Offerings include an introduction to cartoon art, learning how to build "cool things" in an engineering class, applying math to woodworking and radio theater. Scholarships are available.

Check with your local library.

Many collect resources on summer programs. Most libraries will also have books with resources on teen summer activities, as well as community bulletin boards with fliers advertising local programs.


Middle-schoolers may be too young to work but many are just the right age to volunteer. Check with local food banks, hospitals, libraries, senior centers and humane societies. Churches and recreation centers with summer programs for children often look for younger teens to be assistants or junior counselors to help older teens serving as paid counselors.

Up for an adventure?

There are many organized adventure camps and outdoor skills camps that offer programs for middle- and high-school students. The National Outdoor Leadership School lists classes by activity and age-level on their Web site. Outward Bound offers special classes for young teens and tweens that are geared to give younger teens "a chance to master new skills, experience physical and group challenges and uncover newfound confidence."

Comments from readers

"This article really heped me figure out what i want to do this summer-no more boring summer"
"Don't forget your local YMCA! They are nationwide and a wonderful local resource that offers things for every age group. Ours offers an Xtreme Teen survival camp that is not your everyday ordinary camp at all. They also have volunteer opportunities."