Summer camp is definitely more challenging for parents of preschoolers.
Just when the kids have got the routine down at their “regular” school or at home, they find themselves in a new environment, doing new things. As Martha would say, that’s a good thing—although it may be hard to keep that in mind while you deal with a meltdown at first-day drop-off. That's why it's important to know your little one is under the supervision of experienced counselors who know how to work with that delightful, but sometimes—ahem—difficult age group.
We've been there. To help out a fellow parent, we’ve created a list of some of the best summer camps for preschoolers around the city, and now we're zeroing in on options in the booming boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. As you’ll see, some have specialties, like music or wildlife, while others are general camps geared for more traditional camp fun. The best news of all? This list means summer's coming! (Eventually.) And you'll be totally ahead of the game.
Remember, you can always search our NYC Camp Directory for more options. Just use the handy filters to sort by location, age, and interest. The list below is just a sampling of the many NYC summer camps available.
Aviator Sports Summer Day Camp — Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn
Ages 3 and up
A traditional day camp with lots of outdoor space, this camp keeps campers busy by rotating five activities per day. While sports are a camp focus, the little ones keep busy other ways, too. Campers enjoy nature activities, meditation and yoga, STEM projects, and more. Full days of 9am-5pm, with extended hours available, make it a great option for working parents.
Brooklyn Heights Montessori Summer Program — Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn
Ages 3.5 and up (Must have attended one year of preschool)
Campers here enjoy the Montessori educational approach, with games and free play, arts and crafts, music, gardening, and cooking. Twice a week, they attend water safety classes taught by certified lifeguards at the Dodge YMCA on Atlantic Avenue.
Christofer Bear Advanced Early Learning Center — Park Slope, Brooklyn
This summer camp is best described as more of a summertime preschool, with activities especially suited for early child development. There's lots of imaginative play, art, and age-appropriate academic learning. Full days with optional early drop-off and late pickup are available.
Garden School — Jackson Heights, Queens
Ages 1.5 years and up
Full disclosure: my daughter has gone to this camp for years. The excellent swimming program, which begins when kids are 3, is the main reason she became a strong swimmer. The nursery program here is a play-based program led by a certified teacher. Kids get playground time, crafts, library visits, and other age-appropriate activities, including rest time. Things I liked? Lunch and snacks are included, and there's early drop-off and late pickup, plus the option of half days or full day.
Kings Bay YMCA — Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn
Ages 2 and up
The preschool camp here is an extension of its year-round program, and includes the Bank Street progressive educational approach. Children have daily walks, outdoor play, music, art, and naptime. They also receive enrichment in Hebrew and Russian, reflecting the neighborhood's diversity. Starting at age 4, children can opt to enroll in sports-specific camps, like basketball or soccer. M-F, 9am-3pm.
RELATED: Free and Inexpensive Summer Camps Around NYC
Music comes naturally to many preschoolers.
Musication Camp — Prospect Park South, Brooklyn
Ages 3 and up
This camp is perfect for fostering a love of music and movement. Children participate actively through hands-on instrument playing, dance, singing, music-related crafts, and general exploration. After all, what kid wouldn't want to be part of a drum circle?
NY Aquarium Camp — Coney Island, Brooklyn
Ages 4 and up
The Tidal Tykes program is specially designed for the short attention spans of younger children. Activities include live animal encounters, science experiments, interactive games, marine life exploration, exhibit visits, and interactive games. Kids will learn how animal collaborate in a habitat, as well as about marine animals themselves. An extended day program is available until 5:30pm.
Oasis Early Start Imagination Camp — Bayside, Queens, and Brooklyn Bridge Park/St. Francis College
Oasis, a popular day camp for older kids, which has locations around the city, also offers an Early Start Imagination Camp, a modified version of its high-energy activities for the preschool set. Tots enjoy arts and crafts, dancing, music, and sports in shorter periods accompanied by snacks and nap breaks. Participants also have swim lessons daily.
Park Slope Day Camp: Pee Wee Camp — Multiple Brooklyn locations
With four Brooklyn outposts, this program's Pee Wee Camp strikes a balance between indoor and outdoor activities in Prospect Park. Along with weekly swimming lessons and field trips, campers enjoy music, arts and crafts, gymnastics, and even learn circus skills.
RELATED: NYC Preschool Guide and Directory
Preschoolers playing and planting at the summer Children's Garden. Photo by Anne Tan-Detchkov/courtesy of QBG.
The Queens Botanical Garden — Flushing, Queens
Ages 4+ for Summer Children's Garden
The Summer Children's Garden is for children 4 and up, who will have a blast playing and learning outside. The program is a blend of freeform and structured activities and is focused around art, science, and themed experiences. Younger kids (ages 2-3) can ease into the fun with Garden Buds, a six-class series beginning in spring and running through the beginning of summer.
Queens Zoo Camp — Flushing, Queens
Toddler Time Camp, ages 2-3 with adult supervision; KinderZoo, ages 4 and up
My nine-year-old asked to attend this camp this summer, since so many of her friends have had a great time here over the years! Toddler Time Camp is designed to ease little ones into a weeklong experience, with parents by their side for an hour each day. KinderZoo is the next step for slightly older children who are becoming more independent. They'll enjoy animal guests, crafts, and hands-on activities.
Steve & Kate's Camp — Carroll Gardens and Williamsburg, Brooklyn
This camp is all about kids learning independence and choosing the activities they love best, whether that's sports, music, arts and crafts, or just goofing off. Kids can choose to hang and experiment in several different immersive studios, including a bread-baking section! But Steve and Kate's get that your preschooler might need to warm up to the concept of camp. That's why it places its youngest campers (ages 4-5) into the Launchpad program, where they're given a little more guidance and structure to help get them pointed in the direction that might suit them best. Day passes are available, but the camp encourages full week participation to get campers in the groove.
It's never too early to get your game on at SuperKickers.
SuperKickers — Jackson Heights, Queens
Ages 3 and up
This camp is a neighborhood staple, and was founded by a local mom. It's grown into a mini-empire, with other branches, which is a testament to how beloved this camp (not to mention, the afterschool program) is. As you might guess from the name, there's a focus on soccer, but kids also have water play, arts and crafts, field trips, and playground time. There's even a bouncy house. Part-time schedules available or go for the extended day until 6pm.
Top photo: The Queens Botanical Garden's Garden Buds program runs through the beginning of summer. Photo by Anne Tan-Detchkov/courtesy of QBG. Photos courtesy of the camps.