Living on Long Island isn’t cheap, so when parents find something that doesn’t cost them a fortune—or is free—then we're obligated to spread the word. And believe it or not, there are plenty of activities around town that won't break the bank. From storytime and art to train and carousel rides, here are some ideas to keep your preschooler occupied both inside and outdoors. And for more ideas, be sure to check our Long Island Events Calendar, which is updated daily.
1. Hit the books: Book stores throughout Long Island, including Book Revue in Huntington, Dolphin Bookshop in Port Washington and Barnes & Noble have regularly scheduled free book readings and author signings and more.
2. Visit a Museum: While this isn't a cheap visit, many local libraries offer museum passes to places like the Long Island Children’s Museum, Cradle of Aviation, Children’s Museum of the East End and more. Just be sure to reserve them as far in advance as you can.
3. Ride the Nunley’s Carousel: At $2 per ride, you can afford to send the little ones on quite a few trips aboard this LI landmark.
4. Board the train: If you have a preschooler who loves trains, take them on a ride on the Long Island Railroad. Kids under five ride for free! And in May through October, little ones can hitch a ride on Long Island’s Little Steamers. The rides are free, but donations are accepted. And Wrong Island Railroad has a large selection of model trains on display--admission for kids under 12 is $4.
5. Watch a movie: Starting at the end of February, kids can watch G-rated movies for free every third Saturday and Sunday of the month at 10:30 a.m. Adult tickets are only $5. There are participating theaters in Hicksville, Farmingdale and Holtsville.
6. Enjoy Hot Cocoa & Marshmallows: This fun-filled program for children ages 3-5 includes a story read by the author, as well as a craft activity related to the story while kiddies enjoy a cup of hot cocoa & marshmallows! The program meets on Wednesdays at the ECC in Stony Brook Village at 10:30am through March 16. $3 per child; no reservations are required.
#7: Pet some animals: Go to Holtsville Ecology Center & Animal Preserve, which is home to a zoo and ecology zenter, as well as a greenhouse, picnic area and playground. There is a $5 parking fee, with a suggested donation of $2 per child.
#8: Take in some nature: Once spring hits, take your preschooler to visit one of LI’s kid-friendly botanical gardens. Kids under 6 are free at Old Westbury Gardens, the Planting Fields charges $8 per car, and the Bailey Arboretum and Clark Botanic Garden accepts donations.
#9: Create some art: While art classes can be pricey, kids can still get the chance to create without spending a dime. Lakeshore Learning offers regular free crafts, while Hofstra has its Explorer Family Backpacks, where kids can look at art and then create their own keepsake to take home.
#10: Go the library: Most of LI’s libraries in Nassau and Suffolk offer free kids programming, so be sure to check in with your library. See something you like in a neighboring town? Many libraries accept non-residents into their programs; just call in advance to check availability and reserve your spot.
Photo: Dolphin Bookstore