Discounted, free summer activities for military families


There’s always a lot to do in the summer. That’s especially true for military families, who can often find discounts and free admission to all sorts of entertainment thanks to the sacrifices they make to keep us safe.

Here are some of the special deals you can find this year:

Blue Star Museums

Nearly 2,000 museums and centers across the country offer free admission every summer to active-duty service members and their families, including National Guard and the reserves. Through Labor Day, you can check out the latest art, technology or cool wild animals at many science, music, nature and children’s museums.

Click here to find participating museums in your area.

New to the list this year: the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia; the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame Museum in Memphis, Tennessee; the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Hagerman, Idaho; and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

DoD-Morale, Welfare and Recreation Summer Reading Program

Research shows that students who join summer reading programs do better on reading achievement tests the next school year than the students who don’t. That’s why DoD-MWR libraries want to make sure kids get the resources and experiences they need to retain the knowledge they’ve learned at school during the summer gap.

The annual summer reading program is called “Reading by Design” this year, and it includes various activities, crafts, reading lists, incentives and more for children, teens and adults. For more, click here.

FEMA Preparedness Programs

Does your child like to help others? The Federal Emergency Management Agency wants kids to be prepared for disasters 24/7, and they’re making sure they know how to help others who are affected by them.

Many preparedness education programs and resources are available nationally and locally. There’s AmeriCorps, in which students can earn money for education; the American Heart Association’s Be the Beat program, which teaches students CPR and AED; and the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary’s Civil Air Patrol Cadet program. There’s also the FEMA Corps, which allows youths to work on projects that cover preparedness, response and recovery. Plenty of programs are also available for kids interested in fire safety, emergency services and law enforcement.

To check out the options in your region, check out FEMA’s Youth Preparedness Catalog.

USDA Summer Meals Program

Even if you’ve served your country honorably and proudly, life can still get hard. If you’re worried about your ability to give your children quality nutrition this summer, you may be eligible for one of the many programs offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services. To see the options and eligibility requirements, click here.

Taking a Road Trip?

Learn some new games to play in the car! Military One Source has lots of options for you to check out.

Compete with each other on scavenger hunts, look for license plates from all 50 states, hold state trivia contests or play some backseat bingo. Even classic car games like “I Spy” and “20 Questions” will keep your kids entertained for hours.

Installation Youth Centers

If you live on or near your military installation, you’re probably aware that they have tons of youth programs available to kids and teens throughout the summer.

To find out what’s available at your installation, click here, then pick “Youth Programs/Centers” out of the drop-down box where it says “Looking for specific program or service?” You can pick your installation or add in your zip code, and it’ll pull up all the relevant information for youth centers in your area.

You can also search for open swimming pools at your local installation through the above link.

Operation Purple Camps

There are several Operation Purple camps that military children can attend. The National Military Family Association runs several of these camps each year, which give military kids a free week of camp so they can connect with other kids like them, as well as learn how to adapt and overcome stressors that are unique to military life.

The program, which began in 2004, has served nearly 60,000 children in that time. Operation Purple’s website provides an area where you can see what camps are available for your children.

Other military kids camps

If your kid can’t make it to an Operation Purple camp, don’t worry – there are plenty of other options available. The American Camp Association’s webpage lists more than 3,500 camps available throughout the U.S.

Other military child-supporting camps like Camp Corral and Operation We Are Here might be available in your area. Then there are usually summer programs offered by your local military installation, as well as National Guard youth programs. You can also check out regular children’s camps near you, as some of them provide military kids with discounted rates or special programs.

And if you’re a bit far away from any of the above camps or your military installation, check in with the local YMCA – you may be eligible for free or discounted memberships.

No matter what you choose to do with your kids this summer, make sure to have a lot of laughs and make lots of memories!

By Katie Lange, DoDLive.mil