New York City doesn’t lack awesome family events and institutions, but as a mom of two children under the age of 5, I’m always on the hunt for the best things to do with preschoolers in NYC. These early years are fleeting, and I want to create lasting memories—within budgetary reason—manageable enough for little 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 preschoolers in NYC before they turn 5 and head to kindergarten. A few of our selections are well-known favorites with specific under-the-radar attractions perfect for preschoolers, while others are more off the beaten path, but all are things we’ve enjoyed doing with our own preschoolers or aspire to try soon!
2. Visit a Play Space
3. Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Roar with the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by Jody Mercier
4. American Museum of Natural History
See the full-scale dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History or visit one of its rotating exhibitions.
5. New-York Historical Society
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. Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling
The hands-on Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling was practically made for preschoolers, and invites families to hear stories and create art, meet working artists, explore art-making studios, and view permanent and rotating art exhibits.
7. Visit the Train Show
A visit to the NYBG train show a rite of passage for preschoolers in NYC and 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
Outdoor Fun Things To Do With Preschoolers in NYC
8. Ride a Carousel
It’s easy to find a preschooler-friendly place to take a spin on one of these local carousels. Choices abound: 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. Governors Island
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It’s easy to spot fun things to do with preschoolers in NYC at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo by the author
10. Explore a Botanical Garden
11. Fantasy Forest
All aboard the rides at Fantasy Forest in Queens for an amusement park experience that’s a perfect addition to our list of things to do with preschoolers in NYC.
The Pier 6 Water Lab is worth repeat visits long beyond preschool graduation. Photo by Jody Mercier
12. Hit the Splash Pad
A visit to a sprinkler park is a rite of passage and one of our top things to do with preschoolers in NYC. Here’s our list of the city’s top splash pads guaranteed to induce giggles for years to come. The water is usually turned on in early June.
13. Go For a Spin
14. Little Island
We just love Little Island, where preschoolers can explore the floating park and attend one of its many (mostly FREE!) events.
Float a toy sailboat across the Conservatory Water in Central Park. Photo by Mark Peters via Flickr
15. Sail 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. Socrates Sculpture Park
The FREE Socrates Sculpture Park is open year-round and affords visitors amazing waterfront views, public art, and super cool events making it a must-visit with preschoolers.
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. The High Line
Chelsea’s High Line offers tons of things to do with preschoolers in NYC, including fun railway trails, beams to climb on, a sundeck, a water feature, and lots of kid-friendly programming.
20. Go Camping
Score a spot through the Urban Park Rangers camping 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 New York Aquarium, which is the perfect, compact size for preschoolers to conquer, no stroller required. Photo by Louise Trapasso
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21. New York Aquarium
22. Central Park Zoo
23. The Art Farm
There’s plenty of farm fun to be had within city limits at the Queens County Farm Museum. Photo by Ros Muggeridge
24. Queens County Farm Museum
Feed the goats, chickens, and other critters during a festival at NYC’s only historic working farm, the Queens County Farm Museum.
25. Bronx Zoo Butterfly Garden
Wear something colorful to the enchanting Butterfly Garden at the Bronx Zoo in hopes a butterfly 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.