Finding a cool and enriching summer camp that's right for your kid always takes a bit of work. Finding one that's a good fit for your first-time, preschool-age camper can be downright nerve-racking. You want their initial camp experience to be fun, safe, and memorable, but not over-stimulating or overwhelming. With so many high-quality camps for NYC preschoolers, it's hard to figure out which one to choose.
That's why we turned to the experts: our friends at the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey. They've selected 15 awesome New York City programs that offer preschoolers a well-rounded summer experience filled with games, arts, sports, socializing, and plenty of outdoor time. Best of all, many of these camps grow with your child taking kids in elementary school and beyond.
Keep in mind, every camp has its own philosophy and program so check out the website, call the director and, if possible, attend an open house to get all the information you need. Want more help? The ACA of NY and NJ also offers FREE camp consultations with its experts. Plus our Summer Camp Guide Directory allows you to search for camps by location, age range, and focus.
92Y Camp K'Ton Ton – Upper East Side
1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street
Specifically created for preschoolers and managed by the lauded nursery program at the 92nd Street Y, this camp offers creative art projects, imaginative activities, music, movement, gymnastics, sports, and science as well as periods of unstructured, child-directed play. Outdoor fun includes romping at one of the Y's three outdoor play spaces, bike-riding lessons, and swim instruction.
The Art Farm in the City – Upper East Side
Trevor Day School, 312 East 95th Street
The folks behind this innovative, animal-focused play space offer half-day camps for children ages 3 & 4 and full-day options for 5-year-olds, all at the Trevor Day School. Campers will participate in art-making, animal-care, gardening, and more. Those who spend a full day at camp get swimming lessons at the 92nd Street Y up to three times a week. Field trips to the Art Farm's indoor petting zoo are included for full-day campers, while half-day students receive coupons to drop in on their own time.
Trips to local beaches are on the agenda at Bank Street's Lower Camp all summer long. Photo courtesy of the camp.
Bank Street Lower Camp Village – Upper West Side
The Bank Street School, 610 West 112th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive
At the Bank Street Lower Camp Village, activities are designed to develop a child's cognitive skills with an emphasis on play. Campers call the Columbia Kraft Center home for the summer but spend a lot of time exploring the city. Campers are divided into age groups and led by head counselors who are usually teachers at the Bank Street School for Children or graduate students from Bank Street College. Participants go on weekly field trips to places like the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Carousel, and other developmentally- and age-appropriate spots. Swimming lessons take place three times a week at Riverdale's outdoor Skyview pool.
Bronx House – Morris Park, the Bronx
990 Pelham Parkway South
Ages 2 1/2-4
Bronx House's experience early childhood education staff leads a great pre-PreK summer camp for young campers. Over the six-week session, kids will explore the local neighborhood, spend plenty of time splashing in the sprinklers, enjoy picnicking in the great outdoors and pick up new friends and skills along the way. Full- and half-day programs are available, but campers must register for the entire summer.
The Caedmon School Discovery Camp – Upper East Side
416 East 80th Street between First and York Avenues
Campers are organized by age and there are three separate preschool groups: ages 2.8-3 attend half day sessions throughout the week; 4-year-olds go for the full day and attend an end-of-summer field trip, and 5-year-olds go on one off-site trip per week. Attendees of all ages enjoy arts and crafts, cooking, science, yoga, music, recreation, and sports on a daily basis. Enriching guests like Little Maestros, Musical IQ, and Penny & the Puppettes visit on Wednesdays. Fridays feature super-fun themes like Disco Dance Parties and Carnival.
Chelsea Piers Sports Camps – Chelsea
21st Street and 11th Avenue
Little athletes can hone their skills at Chelsea Piers' spectacular facilities. Campers ages 3 and 4 can participate in half day programs in gymnastics (a.m. or p.m. slots available) or ice skating (p.m. only). Junior campers, ages 4-5, spend six-hours on site and can choose from gymnastics, ice skating, or ice hockey camp.
The JCC uses cooking to teach science to its campers. Photo courtesy of the camp.
Day Camp @ the JCC – Upper West Side
The JCC in Manhattan, 344 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street
This Jewish camp aims to give first-time campers unique and new experiences. Kids enjoy yoga, music, science, and cooking lessons all while learning about Jewish values. Sports, swim instruction, and plenty of outdoor time in the JCC's rooftop playground and green spaces round out the fun.
Dwight Summer Day Camp – East Harlem
2116 First Avenue near 108th Street
This camp takes place at the tony independent school's brand-new, state-of-the-art athletic center overlooking the East River. Campers participate in a varied curriculum that includes sports like gaga, soccer, yoga, tennis, swimming, basketball, along with dance, arts and crafts, and digital media sessions.
Rooftop fun at the 14th Street Y. Photo courtesy of the camp.
The 14th Street Y – East Village
344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues
Children as young as 1.5 can attend this popular summer program held at the venerable East Village community hub. The Mini Camp (for ages 17 months to 3.5) is a Mommy & Me camp with caregivers and tots attending abbreviated 1½-hour sessions packed with arts and crafts, sing-alongs, and sprinkler time in the Y's rooftop playground. For children who have successfully separated from their parents, On Our Way (ages 2.4-3.5) offers more of the same in two weekly, half-day, drop-off sessions. New Town Day Camp (ages 3.5-6) offers full- and half-day sessions, and participants can take advantage of the Y's excellent facilities including an indoor pool, community room, theater, art studio, and that fabulous rooftop playground.
La Escuelita – Upper West Side
302 West 91st Street
La Escuelita is well known for its Spanish immersion preschool program, and those interested in introducing their kids to a second language will appreciate the summer camp offerings here. Full-day programs are offered for 4 and 5 year olds, while younger students attend just half-day sessions. All programming is in Spanish and organizers suggest that children older than 4 have some background in the language.
Little Red Summer Camp – Greenwich Village
272 Sixth Avenue at Bleecker Street
The lower camp at Little Red offers half-day programs for campers who will be 4 by the end of the year and a full- or half-day program for children who are 4 by August 1. Campers spend ample time playing outdoors at the nearby Downing Street Playground as well as the school's well-equipped rooftop play area. Full-day campers also enjoy a "choice class" during select afternoons. There are weekly theme days like Big Green Meadow and Deep Blue Sea, and Fridays are for field trips to spots like the Central Park Zoo and Carousel, Green Meadows Farm, Teardrop Park, the Staten Island Children's Museum, and Central Park's Victorian Gardens amusement park.
New York Kids Club – Multiple locations
Visit the website for a list of locations.
This chain of kiddie gyms offers half- and (nearly) full-day programs for kids ages 2.5 to 5 years. Kids will enjoy thematic adventures each day with guided play designed to engage each camper academically and physically. A two-week minimum is required for all campers, though the weeks need not be consecutive.
Oasis Day Camp: Early Start Imagination Camp – Manhattan, Queens & Brooklyn
Locations in Central Park, Downtown Manhattan, Bayside, and Brooklyn Bridge Park/St. Francis College
Oasis, the popular day camp for older kids, 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 participants get to enjoy field trips to city institutions.
The Park Slope Day Camp: Pee Wee Camp – Multiple locations
Visit the website for a list of 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.
Staten Island Academy – Todt Hill, Staten Island
715 Todt Hill Road
This private school offers both half- and full-day programs for its youngest campers. Camp activities are housed in the early childhood classrooms, and youngsters have run of the large playground as well as time to romp on the spacious campus. All full-day campers receive swimming instruction, too.
Thanks to our friends at the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey for writing this post.
Find out about other cool camps for preschoolers in our Summer Camp Guide.
Top image: Camp Oasis. Photos courtesy of the camp.
This post originally published in May 2014.