First of all...I am home all summer so if you are a working family, my suggestions might not be valid. I apologize.
Many programs have financial assistance available in the forms of scholarships. For summer camps, Child Care Resource subsidy can be used.
Contact the appropriate offices early to find out about funding.
To Camp or not to Camp...that is the question.Both Champaign and Urbana park districts as well as the YMCA offer a variety of summer day camps with half-day preschool camps as well. I have sent my kids to some and worked in some. Obviously, it depends greatly on what you are looking for and what the staff brings to the camp (typically the camps are staffed with high school and college students). Honestly, I was not impressed with the Champaign preschool camps. I felt they were very crafty with product-driven artwork. My easy-going daughter enjoyed herself enough but it doesn't fit my younger ones personalities. I liked Urbana's nature camps more since the kids were walking in the woods, learning about animals, etc. At the time, I knew the camp staff well (they were teachers) but staffing changes each summer. I recommend CU Special Recreation Camps for kids with and without disabilities. They are inclusive programs with staff that typically has more experience with development.
Prairie Farms offers many programs both free and reasonably fee-based that sound fabulous but my kids have not been interested in them, so I don't have an opinion on them.
Unfortunately, since the programs only run in the summer, you can't really check them out in advance. Overall, I find the programs to be too expensive for the quality (if you are looking for a good learning environment...if you are looking for childcare, its a good deal). But each summer is different, and the programming and staff may be fantastic this summer.
Swimming LessonsIf your child does not like water or is fearful of it and you would like them to like it...I recommend the swim programs for the young ones through the park districts. They play games and get them used to the water with fun and developmentally-appropriate activities.
If you want your child to be a young Michael Phelps (minus the drug habits), swim lessons for young children are a waste, in my opinion. Of course, it will vary from instructor to instructor (high school and college-age life guards) but I don't feel like the kids learn a lot about strokes and kicks. Swimming is actually very natural and most people can figure it out on their own. Now that my daughter is older, 12, I would recommend learning how to really swim (e.g. freestyle, breaststroke).
Indian Acres also offers swim lessons and programming I believe, but I don't know much about it besides it is expensive.
Pool PassesIf you plan to head to the pool on a regular basis of any kind (e.g. 10 or more times over the 3 months), get a pool pass (and before May 22nd). In Champaign, kids 3 and under are free. This is our major investment each summer. A pool pass allows you to go anytime and stay for any amount of time you want (If I pay $24 for a visit to the pool, we are staying for awhile but if I used a pass, if the 3yo throws a tantrum or the 5yo throws up after 10mins, we can go and I don't feel like I wasted money).
Children's TheaterOur community offers several theatrical opportunities. I highly recommend the Urbana Youth Theater Program which is doing The Sound of Music this summer. The program does take place in the evenings but the schedule varies upon their role. There is no fee for the program but there is a script fee and often a costume fee. My daughter loves this program. There is a program for 6-9yos and 9-18yos.
Champaign offers a few programs as well but as camps that run during the day and come with substantial fees. This year they are doing The Jungle Book and High School Musical
So What to Do?Instead of camps, etc., we do sports (which I have had very good experiences with) or water programs that only run a couple weeks.
We go to the library for storytime every week and make several visits in between.
We go to the gym that has a playroom and outside play space.
We go to the park.
We set up playdates.
We go to Prairie Farms.
We go to the beach.
We head out to community festivals, concerts, farmer's markets.
Overall, if you are looking for some kind of childcare or drop-off program for your kids, camps are ok. If you just want your kids to do something outside the house, the community offers a lot of options and many that our free. Summer is a great time to find free activities because they are everywhere....check your local newspapers and blogs for information!