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 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
3. Get Hands-On
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.
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
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There's always something fun going on at the New York Botanical Garden, like the current Kusama exhibit.
10. Stop to Smell the Roses
11. Take a Ride
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. 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
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.
Float a toy sailboat across the Conservatory Water in Central Park. Photo by Mark Peters via Flickr
15. Sail a Boat
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.
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
Visit the sharks at the NY Aquarium. Photo by Louise Trapasso
Animal Encounters to Enjoy With NYC Preschoolers
21. See the Sharks
22. Go to the Zoo
23. See the Animals
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.