Central Park

Best NYC Holiday Shows for Kids: Elf, Charlie Brown, and More

'Tis the season to get the gang all dressed up to see some holiday shows. While there are plenty of spectacles to splurge on like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and all those Nutcrackers, if you've got young children you may not want to blow all of your bucks on theater tickets.

That's why our roundup includes a range of productions, from inexpensive, low-key offerings perfect for fidgety preschoolers, to extravaganzas that are worth the investment. Bonus: We've got the scoop on how to save money on a few of the higher-priced offerings.

From live stage adaptations of holiday classics such as A Charlie Brown Christmas, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the movie Elf, to tot-friendly fairy tales and Hanukkah tales, to amazing magic tricks, here are our top 14 holiday shows for NYC families.

Christmas Tree Lightings in New York City This Holiday Season

You don't have to brave the Rockefeller Center commotion to witness a fabulous Christmas tree lighting in New York City.

We've rounded up some tree lightings that are much less crowded and every bit as hip, from Brooklyn and Queens to the Bronx and everywhere in between. These community holiday celebrations are festive and (mostly) FREE, and there’s no need to stand on your car to glimpse the goings-on. So grab that cup of hot chocolate and cozy up to one of these holiday illuminations in New York City. Find even more seasonal fun in our Holiday Guide.

Central Park's Top Playgrounds Ranked for NYC Kids and Visitors

When out-of-towners ask me how I have managed to stay sane with three kids in Manhattan, my answer is always easy: Central Park. It's been our family playground for more than a decade. In fact, my son's first steps occurred there, and every day of elementary school in our house has started with a trek across the urban oasis, while our afternoons just don't feel quite right without a stop at the East 110th Street Playground, where my daughter finally conquered the monkey bars.

Central Park is our family's collective happy place, thanks in large part to its diverse array of playgrounds, which always keep us coming back for more (sanity saving) playtime.

In the spirit of our recent post ranking Prospect Park's best playgrounds, we present our top picks for Central Park.

Destination Playground: Central Park's Heckscher Playground

The Central Park Conservancy has been on a mission of late renovating playgrounds all along its border from south to north, but one playground has stood the test of time, not only in the decade-plus since I've been a parent, but well beyond: Heckscher Playground.

Ask any native New Yorker, and they'll tell tales of their youth spent frolicking on the interconnecting pyramid-like structures in this 1.8-acre kiddie paradise, which is Central Park's oldest and largest playground.

Though originally built in 1926, Heckscher Playground was last renovated in 2006. Featuring different play areas for preschoolers and big kids, the playground is smartly designed. It's pyramids are hard to resist in any season, but it's a particularly cool destination in the summer when the spectacular sprinklers send towering jets of water into the air, and it's water-filled walkways provide a cool respite for tired toes.

Looking for more inspiration for your next playground day? Visit our Parks and Playgrounds Guide.

Totally FREE and Crazy Cool Art NYC Kids Can See Outdoors

One of the best things about living in an urban area is the access to culture. It's everywhere! From concerts and museums to festivals and parks, there's something to learn and appreciate every time you turn around, especially this summer.

Public art is an excellent (and FREE!) way to introduce your kids to (mostly) hands-on art, without opening your wallet. As the weather heats up, head outdoors to enjoy some of the coolest installations around town, from a giant whirlpool to murals and even some kooky goats.

If you like FREE events (there's only one answer to that question), check out our FREE guide, full of museums, sports program, movies, and more.

Preschool in the Park? Outdoor and Nature-Themed NYC Classes

Nature provides the perfect classroom for preschool-aged kids. Even New York's little urbanites love to jump in puddles, make mud pies, climb trees, and dig for worms. For parents looking for a classroom that draws its lessons from nature, we've rounded up the city's best preschools, "forest schools," and toddler classes in which kids spend a significant part of each day outdoors or interacting with the natural world. As classes are often held rain or shine, proper outdoor gear is a must, so get some sturdy boots and rain pants and let your kids explore!

For more preschool options, be sure to check out the directory of schools, as well as our New York City Preschool Guide with tips on what to ask during a tour and how to ease the transition for kids (and parents).

13 Dual-Language and Immersion Preschools in Manhattan

Whether your toddler already speaks a second (or third) language at home, or if you’re simply hoping to give your monolingual child the gift of another language, there are plenty of great preschools where NYC kids may begin, or continue, learning another language. 

As with mastering any new skill, regular (and fun) practice makes a big difference in how quickly a child becomes comfortable speaking another language. We previously rounded up great Spanish language learning centers for school-aged kids, as well as Spanish sing-alongs for toddlers. Now, we're turning our attention to the preschool set, pulling together a sampling of immersion and dual-language preschool programs available in Manhattan. All our picks accept a mix of children at different levels of language proficiency, including absolute beginners.

Read on to find out where your tot can learn German, French, Mandarin and Spanish, and be sure to look through our NYC Preschool Listings and Directory for even more options, including dual-language playgroups and preschool alternatives. 

7 Free Outdoor Art Exhibits to See in NYC This Spring

New York City's parks and plazas are brimming with a new crop of kid-friendly public art installations just in time for springtime neighborhood walks.

These seven eye-popping statues are larger than life. There are gigantic glowing bunnies at Brookfield Place and a massive recreation of a DNA molecule in Marcus Garvey Park. You'll also find a 30-foot swimming pool propped up on its side in Rockefeller Center; a 25-foot-tall spinning, neon sign in Brooklyn Bridge Park; a pair of towering orchids at the entrance to Central Park; and an awe-inspiring, 30-foot-tall aluminum humanoid on the Park Avenue Mall. 

Visit these gigantic pieces one by one or link a couple together for a fun family outing, perhaps over the upcoming NYC public school April break. The best part of these seasonal art installations is that they all can be spotted in parks or other public places, so you can view them at your convenience and for FREE.  

Feathered ‘Dinosaurs Among Us’ Opens at Natural History Museum

Bird or dinosaur? Your kid may ask that question a lot after visiting Dinosaurs Among Us, the new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, opening Monday, March 21, on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

The whole premise behind the new exhibit is that dinosaurs never really left. Instead, we can see their “evolutionary legacy” on display in the behaviors and anatomy of thousands of modern-day birds. Think of your annual turkey wishbone, birds' scaly feet with elongated toes, the aggressive, beast-like piercing call of certain species like the peacock and, of course, their egg-filled nests.

The exhibit is made up of dozens of fossils, full-scale dinosaur and bird casts, as well as display cases of eggs and nests, feathers (everywhere) and other elements to help visitors compare today's bird species with their extinct relatives, like a side-by-side display of the three-toed foot of an emu and the similar, but larger, three-toed foot of a Struthiominus altus that lived 78 million years ago in North America.

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