We'll just say it: Raising a kid is expensive. Weekend classes, summer camp, after-school care, and dance and music lessons can add up. A 2018 study by Sun Trust Bank found that a majority of parents spend at least $1,000 a year per child on extracurricular activities. And let’s face it New Yorkers, we’re most likely paying much more than that.
That’s why we’ve rounded up more than a dozen FREE classes that run year-round in NYC to lighten the financial load. All the classes listed here are free within free-to-access stores and public places, but there are also plenty of free and low-cost activities inside of NYC museums and gardens that have monthly memberships. Don't forget that your IDNYC card will give you free or discounted access to many cultural institutions.
Check out our Free in NYC Guide for more budget-friendly family fun.
Apple Stores — Various Locations
Sure, we’re all trying to get our kids away from screentime. But sometimes a little screen can be educational, especially at a time when even preschoolers are learning to code. At the Apple Store, kids can code with Star Wars droids, create music, and program robots.
Bryant Park — Midtown
WIth ice skating in the winter and free movies and more activities in the summer, Bryant Park is a city favorite. The 2019 calendar includes live music, juggling, dance, sports, and yoga.
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New York City Parks Department offers free swim lessons throughout the year. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks
- New York City Parks Dept. Swimming Pools — Various Locations
Indoor pools make for some great exercise away from the cold. Year-round FREE swim lessons are offered through the NYC Parks Department, but you have to register ahead. Ages range from parent-and-baby to teens.
- New York City Parks Dept. Sports — Various Locations
Beyond swimming, the NYC Parks Department also offers free sports, including basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, and much more year-round and citywide. Check out its website for registration dates and details. The summer is also a great time to enjoy free sports lessons from the city.
- New York City Parks Dept. After-School Care — Various Locations
Each August, parents scramble to sign up for the Parks' FREE after-school programs that are run at seven recreation centers spread throughout the five boroughs. Staff provide academic enrichment, supervised use of computer labs and healthy snacks, while also leading students in team-building activities, sports, arts, and cultural programs.
- New York Public Library – Various locations
Libraries all over NYC are a great resource for free recurring classes but a trip to the famous Schwarzman Building makes for a great day trip as well. Sure, there’s storytime for many age groups and in many languages, but this library location also offers Toddler Crafternoon, where little ones can get artsy, and The Lion’s Lego Zone, perfect for kids ages 6 and up. You'll also find FREE classes, from tutoring to Minecraft to family concerts at other main branches of the library and even your neighborhood one.
Central Park — Midtown
Already a wonder to stroll through and play in, Central Park also offers a plethora of FREE activities and classes for kids. Just at a glance, the park provides discovery walks, ice skating, basketball, hockey, handball, catch-and-release fishing with fishing poles provided, and so much more. There are also programs for checkers, dominoes, backgammon, and, of course, chess, chess, and more CHESS!
Of course, you'll find FREE year-round, family programming at most NYC parks, including Prospect Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and even the High Line.
Disney Store — Times Square
Every morning, a special kid is invited to help open the store. But that’s just the beginning of the day. Inside, classes have included trivia events, animation and drawing demonstrations, and magical storytimes.
Home Depot — Various Locations
Who would have thought that a hardware store would also be in the market for kids classes? But it’s true. Your local Home Depot most likely offers creative and hands-on classes for kids. Upcoming events include a Heart Box Workshop, where kids can build and decorate a heart shaped box for Valentine's Day.
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Join a workshop at the Lego store. Photo courtesy of Lego
Lego Store — Various Locations
This builder’s dream destination offers free workshop for kids 6–14 at four locations within the five boroughs (Flatiron, Rockefeller Center, Queens Center Mall, and the Staten Island Mall). Demonstrations and events vary—the flagship store in Flatiron offers workshops for VIP members (no charge to join) where children can build mini creations and take them home...for free!
Michael's — Various Locations
An arts & crafts chain with NYC locations in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Manhattan, Michael's offers frequent free MAKE Break classes for kids (and adults!), as well as weekly Kids Club crafting sessions for $2 per class, plus extra in-store kids' crafting classes during the summer when school's out. With guidance and demos by experienced crafters, kids work either on their own or with family members on painting, crochet, knitting, and paper crafts.
"Illumination Box: Tinker with Lights" is a hands-on class offered at the National Museum of the American Indian. Photo courtesy of NMAI
National Museum of the American Indian — Battery Park
This free-entry museum is a pleasure to visit any day, but for some extra fun, check the calendar for family events. This year, you'll find Taíno Culture and Identity workshops, where you learn about the indigenous people of the Caribbean, and Exploring Art + Technology Labs where kids get hands-on at workshops focused on indigenous innovations.
Socrates Sculpture Park — Long Island City, Queens
Across the East River, with an amazing view of Manhattan, sits the serene, free Socrates Sculpture Park. Every summer, the park offers camps, Saturday drop-in workshops, and storytime. Its 2018 schedule of events is still in the works so check back periodically to see what’s new.
Whole Foods — Various Locations
Get those kids off the couch and into the kitchen with the help of some cooking classes hosted by Whole Foods. These classes introduce healthy eating and some basic skills for free. Not every location offers classes so check in with your local Whole Foods for details. You'll also find FREE sing-alongs for kids at certain locations.
A version of this story was published in 2018; it is updated yearly. Katie Nave Freeman contributed additional reporting.