Summer camp for kids doesn't have to break the bank.
Summer camp for kids doesn't have to break the bank.

During the long stretch of summer vacation, parents often struggle with finding activities and programs for their kids that won't break a tight budget. While Chicago has many summer camps for kids, many of them come with sizable price tags. However, for families on a limited income, there are a few completely free summer camps, as well as a handful of camps that offer sliding-scale and free tuition for low-income families.

Camp Erin, Chicago/Northern Illinois

Roast marshmallows and learn about the grieving process at Camp Erin.
Roast marshmallows and learn about the grieving process at Camp Erin.

Camp Erin is a free youth camp for children affected by the loss of a loved one. Funded by Northern Illinois Hospice and the Moyer Foundation, Camp Erin gives children ages 6 to 17 the opportunity to experience traditional camp fun while meeting with grief counselors and participating in support groups. There is no cost for attending Camp Erin. The goal of the camp is to decrease the feelings of isolation that often comes along with the death of a family member, letting kids know that they are not alone.

Football and Soccer Camps for the Disabled

The Chicago Bears football team and the Chicago Fire soccer team both partner with the National Sports Center for the Disabled to offer two completely free summer youth camps for disabled children. The programs allow children ages 6 to 18 with mental or physical disabilities to participate. The kids learn about the sport, play games on the official fields, and get to use the teams' equipment. Mascots, players and coaches from the teams sometimes make appearances.

CircEsteem

At CircEsteem kids train for and perform a circus exhibition.
At CircEsteem kids train for and perform a circus exhibition.

CircEsteem works toward facilitating relationships between kids of diverse racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as promoting academic success. Children learn circus routines and stunts, while building leadership and cooperation skills. Summer programs are on a week-by-week basis. Kids can take part for as little as one week, or for the whole summer. While CircEsteem does charge for their summer program, fees are on a sliding-scale basis and are considered donations. Those that can afford to pay the full price are eligible to claim 50 percent of the cost as tax deductible for charity, as their donation funds a child who could not otherwise afford to attend.

YMCA Summer Camp

Learn to swim at the YMCA summer camp.
Learn to swim at the YMCA summer camp.

The YMCA Summer Camp program is based on a philosophy that all children deserve access to quality summer programs that will keep them healthy, safe and happy. The YMCA offers both day and residential programs. Campers engage in sports, games, theater, arts and crafts, swimming and workshops on nutrition and health. State and county day care benefits can be used toward the YMCA programs, allowing kids to take a break from a traditional day care at no extra cost to parents. In addition, the YMCA works with families to create sliding-scale fees to make sure that all children can participate no matter their parents' income.