25 Things to Do with NYC Preschoolers Before They Turn 5
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 the Children's Museum of Manhattan, where little imaginations will love exploring all four floors of the museum, plus the backyard with its expanded H2O exhibit, with timed, 2-hour tickets.
Roar with the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Jody Mercier
4. See the full-scale dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History or visit one of its rotating exhibitions.
5. Step back in time at the DiMenna Children's History Museum at the New-York Historical Society.
6. Head uptown to the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling, where families can hear and create art and stories, meet working artists, explore art-making studios, and view permanent and rotating art exhibits.
7. Around the holidays, head to the NYBG train show. It won't disappoint. Buildings are added annually, so there's always something new to explore.
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. Skip the fast-paced (and currently closed) Central Park Carousel in favor of a 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.
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There's always something fun going on at the New York Botanical Garden, like the current Kusama exhibit.
11. Do a full day of rides at Fantasy Forest in Queens, a little-kid amusement park featuring only tame rides.
The Pier 6 Water Lab is worth repeat visits long beyond preschool graduation.
12. 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.
14. We can't stop talking about the newly opened Little Island, where kids can explore the floating park and attend one of the many (mostly FREE!) events.
Float a toy sailboat across the Conservatory Water in Central Park. Photo by Mark Peters via Flickr
16. Plan a preschool-appropriate (in both sights and length) day trip. You can hit uptown, downtown, parts of Brooklyn, and more.
17. Hit up the hidden gem (and totally FREE) Socrates Sculpture Park, which is open year-round and affords visitors amazing waterfront views, public art, and super cool family-friendly programs and events.
Hit the rides in Coney Island, which has plenty of mild thrills for little ones. Photo by Matt Nighswander
18. 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. 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. 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.
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Visit the sharks at the NY Aquarium. Photo by Louise Trapasso
Animal Encounters to Enjoy With NYC Preschoolers
21. Ride 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.
23. Visit The Art Farm in the City or one of these other local petting zoos in and around NYC.
There's plenty of farm fun to be had within city limits at the Queens County Farm Museum. Photo by Ros Muggeridge
24. Feed the goats, chickens, and other critters during a festival at NYC's only historic working farm, the Queens County Farm Museum.
25. 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:
Prospect Park Audubon Center
Fantasy Forest at the Flushing Meadows Carousel
Queens County Farm Museum
American Natural History Museum
Brooklyn Children's Museum
Queens Botanical Garden
Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Narrows Botanical Garden
New York Aquarium
Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Arts & Storytelling
New York Botanical Gardens
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Coney Island