As a father of a three-year-old girl I spend most of my weekend time with my wife and daughter. We try to get out of the city on a regular basis to spend time outside.
A two-hour drive from Manhattan will take you to the Long Island shore, the Litchfield Hills, the Hudson River valley, or the New Jersey farm country. Farmer’s Markets, apple picking, short hikes, and lots of time on the beach digging are generally highlights of these trips.
Some days we just play around the house, constructing forts and castles with sofa cushions and blankets, building towers out of Lego or having tea parties with various dolls. Reading books, doing art projects, and making a trip to the local playground or Central Park round out the day.
But New York City, with its incredible range of activities, always beckons. Here are a few of our favorite activities that are fun for children and parents:
American Museum of Natural History
A perennial favorite. I loved coming here as a boy and am so happy that my daughter seems to enjoy it as much as I still do. This is LARGE museum. Take it in slowly – you will be exhausted if you try to see it all. Highlights are the Hall of Mammals, the huge life-sized blue whale hanging from the ceiling in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and the Dinosaur Halls. Also, be sure to check the website for the museum’s terrific range of temporary exhibits.
An unstructured day in Central Park is glorious, regardless of the weather. No agenda, no goals. We climb on the rocks, watch the squirrels, listen to the musicians, explore Belvedere Castle and visit a playground. There is always something new to see. The Park is a welcome break from the scheduled activity during the week and it gives our daughter a chance to take the lead.
Central Park Zoo
Centrally located in the southeast corner of Central Park, the CPZ is a wonderfully accessible way to help your child learn about animals and the natural world. The penguins, polar bears, and seals are sure to please, but don’t miss the smaller animals that are tucked away in this compact zoo. The otters at the top of the hill are usually active and fun to watch, and the enormous boa is fascinating. The cafeteria, remarkably, has a solid selection of organic and healthy food for parents and kids.
Children’s Museum of the Arts, SoHo
A creative place for your child to experience an incredible variety of artistic opportunities, like painting, drawing, finger paints, etc. Smocks and other protective gear are provided. The staff does a great job keeping the peace and guiding children. The clay animal guy can make a clay ball into any animal with a few pinches. Great fun.
I have to recommend a trip to FAO Schwarz! My daughter loves to go tour the store. We regularly change the mix of product, so there is always something new. Highlights include the life-size stuffed animals - currently dragons, unicorns and other mythical creatures are on display, but late April will see the arrival of DINOSAURS! We also have a host of experiences where a child can create their own toy – from customizing a Hot Wheels car, to styling a Barbie doll with fashions only available at FAO Schwarz. The Lower Level is for newborns through toddlers, while the upstairs is for older children.
This little theater is a treasure. It is set in a Swedish cottage with a $5 admission charge. The performances are done well with great music and singing. Our daughter loves to go. We buy the CD of the show and play it in the car on family trips. Cinderella, Pippi Longstocking and The Big Bad Wolf are family favorites.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Remarkably child friendly, this is another enormous museum with plenty to see and do. Do not try to see too much. The Temple of Dendur, the open sculpture gardens, and the Arms and Armor Gallery with suits of Armor are current favorites. Strollers are permitted in most areas, but not the larger jogging strollers. Most visitors to the museum are very tolerant of children, but you do get the ‘eye’ from some if your children are too loud.
The New York Theatre Ballet
This is a fantastic way to introduce children to ballet. Productions are done in a small, 400-seat theatre located on 59th Street, between Madison Ave. and Park Ave. They offer a number of family-oriented productions during the season. This year, we have been to the Nutcracker and Cinderella. The ballets last about an hour – perfect for younger children. Highly recommended.