25 Things to Do with NYC Preschoolers Before They Turn 5

Introduce your preschooler to art in a laid back way at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, which is stunning in any season. Photo by Jody Mercier
Introduce your preschooler to art in a laid back way at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, which is stunning in any season. Photo by Jody Mercier

New York City doesn't lack for awesome family events and institutions, from the many children's museums and zoos and gardens to only-here street and art fests. But as a mom of two children under age 5, I'm always looking for fun activities that appeal to the city's youngest children. It's a fleeting window of time, and I want to create lasting memories—within budgetary reason—manageable enough for kids who sometimes still need a nap and a sippy cup.

So, inspired by our roundup of 100 things to do with kids in NYC before they grow up, we came up with this list of 25 things to do with toddlers and preschoolers around the city before they turn 5 and head to kindergarten. A few of our selections are well-known favorites with specific under-the-radar attractions for preschoolers, while others are more off the beaten path, but all are things we've enjoyed doing or aspire to try soon!

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Cool Cultural Institutions and Indoor Play Zones to Visit With NYC Preschoolers

1. Rediscover an Old Favorite

Little imaginations will love exploring all four floors of the Children's Museum of Manhattan. Don't miss the backyard with its expanded H2O exhibit, with timed, 2-hour tickets.

2. Play Inside

When the weather is too unpredictable for a playground, hit one of our favorite indoor romping spots in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and citywide

3. Get Hands-On

Explore all kinds of creative stations at the Brooklyn Children's Museum with its Totally Tots play zone, just for those under age 5.

Little girls roar at the American Museum of Natural History
Roar with the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Jody Mercier

4. See the Dinos

See the full-scale dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History or visit one of its rotating exhibitions.

5. Step Back in Time

Sneak in a history lesson and have fun at the same time at the DiMenna Children's History Museum at the New-York Historical Society.

6. Head Uptown

The Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling invites families to hear and create art and stories, meet working artists, explore art-making studios, and view permanent and rotating art exhibits.

7. Celebrate the Holidays

The NYBG train show will not disappoint. Buildings are added annually, so there's always something new to explore.

RELATED: 15 Popular Preschool Summer Camps in NYC

Little girls on the SeaGlass Carousel
The SeaGlass Carousel makes a stunning destination in any season. Nighttime visits are magnificent, too. Photo by Jody Mercier

Fun Outdoor Places to Play in NYC With Preschoolers

8. Take a spin

Ride the fast-paced Central Park or Prospect Park carousels or try out the more mellow merry-go-round like Chelsea's Pier 62 Carousel, Brooklyn Bridge Park's Jane's Carousel, or the mesmerizing SeaGlass Carousel. All boast fantastic waterfront views.

9. Go Island Hopping

Romp on the playgrounds at Governors Island, swish down the epic slides on The Hills, swing in a hammock, or try a round of mini golf. The Island is open from May through October.

RELATED: 21 Signs You Have an NYC Toddler

Girl in the Palm Dome at NYBG
There's always something fun going on at the New York Botanical Garden, like the current Kusama exhibit.

10. Stop to Smell the Roses

Sniff the cherry blossoms, daffodils, and all the flowers at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Queens Botanical Garden, the New York Botanical Garden, or Wave Hill.

11. Take a Ride

Do a full day of rides at Fantasy Forest in Queens, a little-kid amusement park featuring only tame rides.

RELATED: Five City Destinations for Mini Day Trips With Preschoolers

Little girl at Pier 6 sprayground
The Pier 6 Water Lab is worth repeat visits long beyond preschool graduation.

12. Get Soaked

Wear your water shoes and bathing suit and get soaked at one of these NYC spraygrounds. It's a summer rite of passage for local toddlers. The water is usually turned on in early June.

13. Go For a Spin

Rent bikes (with a bike seat) to pedal through Central Park or along Brooklyn Bridge Park's waterfront. Be sure to stop for ice cream.

14. Visit Little Island

We just love Little Island, where kids can explore the floating park and attend one of the many (mostly FREE!) events.

RELATED: 30 Top Things To Do in Queens With Preschoolers

Central Park's Conservatory Water filled with sailboats
Float a toy sailboat across the Conservatory Water in Central Park. Photo by Mark Peters via Flickr

15. Sail a Boat

Too young to row their own boats? Sail a toy one across the Conservatory Water in Central Park.

16. Plan a Day Trip

Take a preschool-appropriate (in both sights and length) day trip. You can hit uptown, downtown, parts of Brooklyn, and more.

17. Hit Up a Hidden Gem

The totally FREE Socrates Sculpture Park is open year-round and affords visitors amazing waterfront views, public art, and super cool family-friendly programs and events.

RELATED: Our Favorite Toddler Playgrounds in Brooklyn

Kids on a Coney Island amusement park ride
Hit the rides in Coney Island, which has plenty of mild thrills for little ones. Photo by Matt Nighswander

18. Check out the Kiddie Rides

Bring the little ones to Deno's Wonder Wheel amusement park in Coney Island, which has 16 kiddie rides to choose from, including ride-on fire engines, water boats, and a sweet carousel.

19. Go High

Chelsea's High Line offers a whole host of activities for preschoolers, including fun railway trails, beams to climb on, a sundeck, a water feature, and lots of kid-friendly programming.

20. Camp in the City

Score a spot through the Urban Park Rangers camping program lottery (held every summer) to get the chance to create some family memories while camping for a night in one of NYC's parks.

RELATED: NYC Preschool Directory and Listings

See the sharks at the New York Aquarium
Visit the sharks at the NY Aquarium. Photo by Louise Trapasso

Animal Encounters to Enjoy With NYC Preschoolers

21. See the Sharks

Take the train out to the New York Aquarium to gawk at the amazing Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit, and all manner of marine life, or cross the boardwalk to come face to face with the Atlantic Ocean.

22. Go to the Zoo

Visit the toddler-sized Central Park Zoo to take in a sea lion feeding and get up close with the playful penguins. Stop for a cute photo-op in the Tisch Children's Zoo.

23. See the Animals

Visit the city's only indoor petting zoo, The Art Farm in the City, or one of these other local petting zoos in and around NYC.

RELATED: Best Amusement Parks for Preschoolers in and Near NYC

Two boys on a hayride at Queens County Farm Museum
There's plenty of farm fun to be had within city limits at the Queens County Farm Museum. Photo by Ros Muggeridge

24. Visit a Farm in the City

Feed the goats, chickens, and other critters during a festival at NYC's only historic working farm, the Queens County Farm Museum.

25. See the Butterflies

Wear something colorful to the enchanting Butterfly Garden at the Bronx Zoo in hopes one mistakes you for a flower and lands on you. Open April through October.

This article was first published in May 2014, but it is regularly updated to reflect the changing landscape of NYC.

Places featured in this article:

Fantasy Forest at the Flushing Meadows Carousel

Queens Botanical Garden

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Arts & Storytelling
DanceAfrica 2022
Brooklyn Academy of Music - various times Pick
French Baby & Me Language Class
Tribeca Language - 11:00 AM
After School Dual Language Program
Sweet Crafts Club Infinity Fun-Inc - 2:30 PM
Spanish Bilingual Afternoons - Mondays
Tribeca Language - 3:15 PM
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides