Create Your Own Summercamp in NYC
When my kids were young we created our own Mommy-and-me summercamp. With all of the free and cheap resources in NYC, I found great opportunities that I could tailor to my child. We did many of the same things that other campers did, but without the forced conformity, and with personalized variations. At the youngest ages we would meet with other mothers and children at a favorite playground. On the upper west side we might choose Hippo Park on Riverside Drive and 91st St., with sprinklers, toddler swings and shady picnic tables, or Dinosaur Park on W. 97th St.
Sometimes we met at an Adventure Playground in Central Park where a long water pool welcomed tired feet, and wide slides and climbing apparatus entertained the kids. On the east side there are some lovely statues, including the Three Bears at 79th St. just south of the Metropolitan Museum at the entrance to a small playground, and the Alice in Wonderland statue at E. 74th St., just north of the Conservatory Water, where children can rent model sailboats, and the statue of Hans Christian Andersen, apparently reading to a duck, at 74th St. near 5th Ave.
And then there's always the carousel, midpark at 64th St.
A couple of the favorite water playgrounds in Central Park are:
For some extraordinary playgrounds in the other boroughs, check out this article in the New York Times: "Science and Secrets in New York City Playgrounds", by Laurel Graeber, April 14, 2011.
As my kids got older, they took part in larger group activities. We took advantage of the free tennis lessons around NYC, and found one from Play Tennis Now where we liked the coach and the other kids were close to the age of my son. A friend of my son's went with him three or four mornings a week.
FREE summer concerts in NYC EVERY DAY:
Birds in NYC: Every Tuesday, 11:30am – 2 pm, through 9/27, at the Carousel in Bryant Park, you can get a close-up visit with exotic birds from the Acadia bird sanctuary.
Our summer cost less than two weeks at one of those high-priced day camps, with our evenings spent at free outdoor movies, plays and concerts, picnicking and dancing on the grass in many of our city's parks. What memories we made!
Recommended reading for young children:
Read To a Child of the City: 25 NYC experiences. Written by an editor and New Yorker who raised a child here, and who knows just how rich the experience can be.