50+ Ways to Keep NYC Kids Off Screens This Summer

Summer Activities for NYC Kids: STEM, Public Libraries, Museums
Spend the day at a sprawling spinkler park, like JJ Byrne. Photo by Al DiIngeniis

"Brain drain." "Summer slide." No matter what you call it, the phenomenon of students losing months of math and reading skills during the eight-week summer vacation scares parents and teachers alike.  

Luckily, we live in a city that offers tons of opportunities for summertime excitement and learning, many of them FREE. We've put together a list of more than 50 of our favorite NYC activities, events, and even at-home challenges that get kids to exercise their brains, and keep them (and us) off our screens!

So get out there to try some of these ideas for enriching exploration and edu-tainment around NYC with kids this summer. You can find even more ideas in our STEAM Guide, and don't forget to check out our NYC Schools Guide as September approaches.

1. Instead of playing video games, have the kids create their own beat-the-heat crafts for summer days. 

2. Science classes that they'll actually love? We've found some awesome options that will have your kids hooked from the start with fun takes on science and technology. 

3. Stock up on reading material at some of our favorite NYC libraries, including the Children's Center at 42nd Street, the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in Prospect Heights, and the Children’s Library Discovery Center in Jamaica, Queens. Now it's time to take the Summer Reading Challenge 2018

4. Don't forget NYC's indie bookstores: Shops in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens offer free storytimes and sometimes other special kid-lit-themed activities.  

5. Help kids hone critical-thinking muscles with analog board game play at Brooklyn Strategist, Brooklyn Game Lab, Geekery HQ in Astoria, Queens, or Hex & Co.

RELATED: NYC Summer Fun Guide: Festivals, Pools, Day Trips

Explore the ColorLab at the Brooklyn Children's Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum

6. Check out ColorLab, a new family art studio at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights that will inspire kids through independent exploration, hands-on collaboration, and experimentation.

Get lost in "Amaze" on Governors Island. Photo by Sara Marentette

7. Enjoy a day of play on Governors Island. Explore the mini-golf course, zip-line, and free public art.  

8. Groove to a FREE outdoor kiddie concert; they say music relieves stress and improves learning and language.

9. Visit a nearby pick-your-own farm for everything from peaches to flowers and veggies.

10. Get creative making science-based crafts such as a marshmallow catapult or a baking soda submarine for an engaging hands-on mini physics lesson. 

11. Fishing can help kids practice being patient and foster an appreciation for nature. In NYC, kids don't need a license or equipment to try the sport. 

12. Pick up a new language. Register them in a summer-long language immersion camp available in Spanish, French, or Mandarin.

RELATED: 100 Free Things to Do this Summer in NYC

Water games are always affordable fun on a hot summer day! Photo by Rose Gordon Sala

13. Indulge in a boredom-busting outdoor water game or toy that will make summer a hit, for cheap! 

Check out some bugs at the New York Hall of Science. Photo by Ben Hider for the New York Hall of Science

14. Expose budding scientists to the many spectacular exhibits at the New York Hall of Science, one of Queens’ best places to visit with kids.  

15. Turn a trip to these NYC sandboxes into a math lesson by bringing along measuring cups and plastic spoons.

16. Have a bird-call imitation contest. See who can do the best owl screech, blue jay squawk or chickadee tweet or one of these other 99 creative summertime play ideas

Dance on the Math Square at the Museum of Mathematics. Photo courtesy of the museum

17. Encourage everyone to fall in love with math at the Museum of Mathematics, featuring creative hands-on attractions. 

18. Let their imaginations run wild at the the Imagination Playground near South Street Seaport, complete with a collection of giant foam blocks, spheres, semi-circles, pipes, troughs, and balls designed to (what else?) foster imagination. 

19. Or take a whale-watching trip to (hopefully) see some of the big guys up close. Most boats have a naturalist on board to share information on these incredible mammals with the kids. 

Learn about the history and modern day life of New England Tribal Families. 

20. Visit BCM's newest exhibit, Native Voices: New England Tribal Families to learn about the history and modern life of indigenous communities through first-person narratives, oral history storytelling, and hands-on activities. 

21. Get creative at one of NYC's art camps, including many that feature professional artists who moonlight as teachers.

22. Introduce your preschooler to STEM by building an apple boat or a toothpick-marshmallow castle. 

23. Get dramatic with the NYC family theater scene, where you'll find something for all ages and tastes. 

24. Create a tornado in a bottle, a working sundial, or perform a simple science experiment with stuff you already have at home. 

25. Pick up computer programming with these learn-to-code websites or apps for parent and teacher-approved screen-time.  

Walk the deck of the Intrepid to see some amazing aircraft. Photo courtesy of the museum

26. See a WWll aircraft carrier and NASA space shuttle Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

27. After kids have moved on from Legos, stimulate STEM-focused play with one of these cool building toys.  

28. Turn family game night into spelling bee by playing Scrabble, Boggle, Bananagrams or one of these fun family word games.  

29. Read classic books such as the Little House series, Charlotte's Web, or Harry Potter to inspire family playtime or to create a building-wide book club.

30. Improve team-building skills by attempting to beat an escape room. Don't know where to go? We discovered Harlem's Hoodwinked and loved it.

31. Explore the science behind the Mummies exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. 

32. Journey to the Caribbean with the Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance as it performs an interactive Afro-Caribbean music class.  

33. Drop into one of the city's newer bookstores, including Stories Bookshop and Storytelling Lab (Park Slope), Books Are Magic (Cobble Hill), and a new outpost of Greenlight Bookstore (Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn).

RELATED: Preschool Guide: How to Find the Right School in NYC

Build a bird's nest at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Discovery Garden. Photo by Liz Ligon/courtesy of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden

34. Go camping: in NYC or outside the city, you'll be surrounded by the natural world where screens just seem dull.

Bring your best game at GAME ON! Photo courtesy of the event

35. Get your GAME ON! Play corn hole, ping pong, shuffleboard, giant Jenga and more along Water Street.

36. Discover rural farm life with hayrides and more at area farms.

37. Read to your kids, and read to yourself. Let your kids see you reading a book, Kindle, newspaper or whatever. Talk about what you're reading.

38. Get out in nature and go kayaking, rowing, or canoeing

39. Calling all Makers! Tinker, test, and learn by constructing solutions to marine-focused challenges at an outdoor Maker Space. 

40. Get wrapped up in a story at the Brooklyn Public Library's storytime at Brooklyn Bridge Park, enjoying the breeze from the water.

41. Kids can try their luck fishing in Hudson River Park, and they'll learn a few environmental lessons in the process.

42. See NYC's true scale with a bird's-eye view of the whole of the city at the Queens Museum's Panorama of the City of New York.

43. Seek out athletic activities in the concrete jungle at a sports and outdoors program

44. Make this summer both memorable and educational by signing up for a STEM camp

45. Plan a sleepover at one of their favorite cultural institutions for an unforgettable experience. 

46. Star-gaze and spark interest in the solar system for your family. 

47. Work on writing skills while learning about our country's National Parks by participating in the Junior Ranger program. There are 10 national parks in NYC.

Test your agility at the Alley Pond Adventure Rope Course. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks and Recreation 

48. Hit the ropes as a family at the Alley Pond Adventure Rope Curse in Queens. 

49. Take a hike in the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, or even some memorable parks within the five boroughs. Research shows that a walk in the woods positively impacts brain function.

50. If you haven't yet, get a library card. You'll wonder why you waited!

A version of this story was published in 2017; it has since been updated.