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5 NYC Mixed-Age Music and Art Classes for Toddlers, Babies

As mom to an infant and a toddler, I know that handling two young children is a serious juggling act—whether I'm simultaneously changing two diapers (not impossible!), nursing the baby while helping my 2-year-old eat her lunch, or chasing after my toddler on the playground while pushing the sleeping baby in the stroller.

Of all the mom-of-two-tots struggles, one of the hardest for me was keeping my toddler active when the new baby came. I began searching for classes that would excite and stimulate my toddler without overwhelming my infant. I also wanted an activity in which my baby could look around and see other little ones like herself, and maybe even make a friend or two. Thankfully, I was able to find a selection of mixed-age classes where I could comfortably and happily bring both kids. Check out these five great picks around NYC.

Free & Cheap Indoor Movies for NYC Kids this Summer

We recently rounded up free outdoor film screenings for New York City families. But with temperatures stuck in the 80s and 90s, there are days when all you want to do is spend a few hours in a nice, dark, air-conditioned movie theater—you just don't want to shell out $30-plus to do it.

Happily you don't have to. Wonderful family flicks are playing at a theater near you, and the tickets are free (or inexpensive). Now all you have to do is dip into your 401K to pay for that popcorn.

Holiday Markets in New York City 2014

New York City is a flurry of holiday shopping at this time of year. There are wonderful seasonal markets all over town selling crafts, unique boutique goods, food and more. These cool local spots aren't just in Manhattan either; there are several markets in the outer boroughs, too.

Unlike the craziness of Black Friday, these shopping experiences are much more relaxed for families. Plus, you're often supporting local businesses and artisans. We love shopping local so much, we made it the focus of our Holiday Gift Guide. Read on for our round-up of New York City holiday markets.

Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festivals in New York City: Moon Cakes and Flying Lanterns

Recently we rounded up a slew of outdoor fairs and fests in September. Below we're spotlighting the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, a Chinese tradition that's celebrated all over the city.

Basically a Chinese harvest festival, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival marks the fall equinox. Traditionally, families go out to admire the big autumn moon, eat elaborate moon cakes and light pretty paper lanterns. There are a number of organized celebrations around the city.

NYC Allergen-Free Bakeries: 10 Sweet Spots for Gluten-Free, Nut-Free & Dairy-Free Cakes & Other Treats

In addition to having a teenager with special needs, my family was recently thrust into the world of food allergies. Our youngest is severely allergic to dairy, soy and nuts, and since I'm still nursing, that means I can't eat anything with those ingredients either. We've been allergen-free for about a year now, but as my son gets older, he’s beginning to beg for the same goodies that his brothers and sister get, making feeding the kids quite challenging, especially when we're out and about.

Thankfully, NYC isn't just filled with allergen-free restaurants, it also has plenty of allergen-free bakeries. In fact, I've discovered so many delicious shops selling nut, soy, dairy and gluten-free treats like cakes, cookies and even ice cream, I'm almost grateful to be eating allergen-free... almost. Here are 10 of my family's favorites.

A Chocolate Birthday Party at Max Brenner's

Last week I wrote about last minute birthday party ideas, inspired by perhaps my most slacker mom moment—not having a party planned on the actual morning of my daughter's 10th birthday (Who am I kidding? Probably not even top 10). I wasn't stressed though, this is New York, limitless possibilities lay at my fingertips. I couched my guilt and got on the internet, where all life's problems are solved.

Our plan was to take a few of her friends out to dinner. I wanted to find a place that would be fun and was a real experience. My daughter's favorite, Ninja, was nixed as too expensive, Serendipity had no room. We settled on Max Brenner's Chocolate by the Bald Man off Union Square.

Baby Fingers and Other Baby Sign Language Classes in NYC

Russian is my first language, so when I became a mom, I resolved that all of my children would be bilingual. I now have three kids and failed with all of them in their own way (not unlike what Tolstoy said about unhappy families). They are all definitely English dominant.

But I did do one thing right with my now eight- and five-year-olds: In addition to speaking Russian to them from birth, I also enrolled them in baby sign language classes. Not only were they able to communicate through sign months earlier than their mouths and tongues were capable of physically producing words, it created a perfect bridge from one language to the other. When I spoke to them in English (if their father was around), I signed the words. If I spoke to them in Russian (when we were alone), I signed the words. Making the same sign whether I was speaking English or Russian crystallized the point that all three–English, Russian and sign–referred to the same thing, and really helped them keep it all straight.

Here are some places where families can take baby sign language classes in New York City.

Used Kids' Books in NYC: Where to Buy Second-Hand Children's Lit

As a novelist myself, I’m all for people supporting authors by purchasing brand-new copies of their books. However, as a budget conscious mom who has watched her two small children spill/drool/color all over expensive picture books, I know that sometimes buying used titles makes a lot more sense.

While there are lots of ways to snag second-hand kid-lit online—I see tons of kids' stuff up for grabs on sites like freecycle.org and paperbackswap.com—I really enjoy browsing used books in person. I always end up finding wonderful, weird vintage tomes, and I don't have to wade through all of the branded characters stocked by big box bookstores.

Here are my top shops in New York City to find used children's books.

Free and Cheap Places to Rent Bikes in NYC

My preschooler just scored a scooter for her birthday. Now I know that scooters lead to bikes, which means cycling is just around the corner.

I'm really looking forward to riding with my family—but not to storing all of those bikes. Who has the space for three cycles in a NYC apartment, I ask? Not most of us, which means I'm going to rely on rental spots to keep us on wheels.

I did the research, and here are some great places that rent bikes at reasonable prices—sometimes even for free! Happy Bike Month!

Growing in the City: Gardening Classes, Events, Farms and Community Gardens for NYC Kids & Families

You can't blame New York City kids for thinking that vegetables magically appear at the grocery store enclosed in plastic bags (or arrive at the door in a cardboard box), or that flowers sprout from the concrete every Spring. But it's not hard to teach them the real facts of nature. There are so many places for families to learn about and even grow their own bounty in this concrete jungle, from classes at the big gardens to working on plots in a community green space to visiting a working farm...within the city limits!

Here's how to get your kids growing this Spring.

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