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Activities for Labor Day weekend: Free and cheap events in 2012

From kid-friendly kayaking to the New York City Unicycle Festival, these low-cost activities for Labor Day weekend will help your family make the most of the three-day holiday.

1/19
Photograph: Alex Strada

The New BBG Visitor's Center

2/19
Photograph: Etienne Frossard

Brooklyn Bridge Kayaking

3/19
Photograph: Philip Greenberg

Brooklyn Bridge Park

4/19
Photograph: Children's Museum of Manhattan

Biophilia Workshop at CMOM

5/19
Photograph: Children's Museum of Manhattan

Biophilia Workshop at CMOM

6/19
Photograph: Courtesy Wave Hill

Wave Hill Family Art Project

7/19
Photograph: Donald Yip

Biking on Governor's Island

8/19
Photograph: Donald Yip

Biking on Governor's Island

9/19

Hans Christian Anderson Statue in Central Park

10/19
Photograph: Jonathan Barkey

Kayaking on the Hudson

11/19

McNally Jackson storytime

12/19
Photograph: Yvonne Brooks

McNally Jackson Storytime and Crafts

13/19
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

HWKN Wendy at MoMA PS1

14/19

Historic Richmond Town

15/19

Historic Richmond Town

16/19
Photograph: Courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park

Saturday Sculpture Workshops

17/19

Unicycle Festival

18/19
Photograph: Syd London

West Indian Parade and Carnival

19/19
Photograph: Syd London

West Indian Parade and Carnival

The results are in—activities for Labor Day weekend (Saturday, September 1 to Monday, September 3) are looking better than ever this year. While some New York City broods will ditch the city streets for a relaxing day trip or beach visit, families who decide to stick around town this year will have no shortage of options to keep the kids entertained—and hopefully take their minds off the school year's imminent return. From storytimes for tots to cool, all-weekend-long activities on Governors Island, this Labor Day weekend is bound to be the ultimate summer sendoff. 

Saturday, September 1

Kayaking on the Hudson
The Downtown Boathouse offers complimentary kayaking every weekend through October at three Hudson River docks. No need to make a reservation; just walk right up and wait in (a bit of a) line. Never kayaked before? Not to worry: The nautical experts provide the equipment and the know-how—although they do ask that you sign a liability waiver and wear a bathing suit, shorts and T-shirt. Kids under 16 must be accompanied in the boat by an adult. Sat Sept 1 9am--6pm. Hudson River Park at Pier 40. For schedules at Pier 96 and West 72nd St, go to downtownboathouse.org. Free. Ages 2 and up.

Visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Welcoming visitors at no cost from 10am to noon on Saturday, this 52-acre park is home to the climate-controlled Steinhardt Conservatory (which houses plant life from three different temperate zones), as well as gardens devoted to fragrances and plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. If you want some fauna to go with your flora, check out the ducks in the picturesque Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. Kids will also flip for BBG's new visitor center, where they'll spend a good hour exploring its clever and informative interactive displays, which have them smell magnolia and sweet birch, learn about the Osborne Garden's whispering benches, hear the song of chickadees and cardinals, and discover the difference between Chinese and Japanese wisteria. Sat Sept 1 10am--6pm. Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Free with garden admission (admission is free 10am--noon). All ages. 

Story Time on the Terrace 
Kids can join the Greenbelt Nature Center for a relaxing storytime beneath the trees. Registration is recommended. Sat Sept 1 10--11am. Greenbelt Nature Center. Free. Ages 3 to 6.

Family Art Project: Frederic's Vista 
Channel the famous Hudson River Valley painter Frederic Church at this painting workshop. You and your budding artists can use watercolors to sketch your favorite Wave Hill vista. Sat Sept 1 10am--1pm. Wave Hill. Free with grounds admission (admission is free till noon). All ages.

Brooklyn Bridge Park Kayaking 
If walking along the river is not close enough to the water for your little Aquaman, Brooklyn Bridge Park gives you a chance to get on a kayak and let the East River surround you. Sign-up at the Boat Basin is on a rolling basis, and it ends one hour before closing time. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Sat Sept 1 10:30am--3:30pm. . Free. All ages.

Richmond County Fair 
Kids can take pony rides, watch magic shows, check out live music performances and take part in many other fun activities at this annual festival. Sat Sept 1 11am--6pm. Historic Richmond Town. $15, seniors $10, children under 30" tall free. All ages. 

Stories at the Statue 
This outdoor storytime has been entertaining tots for more than 40 years. Every Saturday morning throughout the summer, a different yarn weaver drops by to hold little ones enrapt. Sat Sept 11am--noon. Central Park, Hans Christian Andersen Statue at Conservatory Water. Free. Ages 6 and up.

Saturday Storytime at McNally Jackson
Kids are invited to join author Yvonne Brooks in a themed storytime and original art project. Sat Sept 1 at 11:30am. McNally Jackson Books. Free. Ages 2 to 6. 

Saturday Sculpture Workshops 
Drop into Queens' inspirational outdoor sculpture park for free family classes led by a different local artist each week. This Saturday, creative kids are invited to use a variety of materials to scribble their own insignias, glyphs and phrases onto T-shirts. See socratessculpturepark.org for the full lineup. Sat Sept 1 noon--3pm. Socrates Sculpture Park. Free. Ages 3 and up.

Hula Hoop Contest
Grab a swimsuit, water wings and, of course, a hoop, to have a classic summer day at the Brooklyn Beach Shack. After strutting their stuff in the contest, let the kids jump to the free pop-up pool or walk along the river beach. Once they get hungry, treat your crew to burgers and ice cream at the Shack (extra charge). Sat Sept 1 at noon, 2pm. . Free. All ages.

New York City Unicycle Festival 
The celebration rolls into town this weekend (on one wheel, no less). While the fest spans three days with tours and rides around the city, you'll find the best sights for kids at the Governors Island stop. Check out demonstrations, races, and even unicycle basketball and hockey games. Sat Sept 1 noon--5pm. Governors Island. Free. All ages.

Weekend Family Programs at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Each weekend in Brooklyn Bridge Park's playgrounds, a different set of activities, inspired by a different theme, will give children and their parents an opportunity to engage in artistic, environmentally friendly workshops. This weekend, kids can make music with the park's playground associates using handmade instruments. The full lineup (through Sept 30) is available at brooklynbridgepark.org/events. Sat Sept 1 at noon, 4pm. . Free. Ages 2 to 9.

Biophilia workshop at CMOM 
City kids will get to know the Icelandic musician Bjrk, her music and a little bit about how her mind works, thanks to the launch of CMOM's Biophilia workshops, based on the singer's lauded interactive app of the same name as the album that spawned it. Kids will get a hands-on tutorial of the app, which lets them learn about and make music, investigate natural phenomena or just listen to Bjrk's celestial music. Each song from her Biophilia album opens up access to interactive games and art activities, abstract animations and musical notation that allows a sort of karaoke experience, among other experiences. Participants will use the app on iPads donated to the museum for the project, a collaboration between the artist, CMOM and the New York Public Library. Check CMOM's website for scheduling details. Reservations are required for weekday workshops; weekend workshops are first-come, first-served. Sat Sept 1 at noon. Children's Museum of Manhattan. Free with museum admission. Ages 5 and up.

Wendy by HWKN
Taking up residence in MoMA PS1's two courtyards this summer is a visitor named Wendy. Lest your kids envision a reincarnation of the Peter Pan character, let them know that this Wendy is someone/something even more kidtastic: an enormous, mega-pointy 3-D star made of blue fabric that's supported by an equally large scaffolding. Designed by HWKN (Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner), the winners of this year's New Architects Program, Wendy is climbable and comes equipped with water features including spray showers to cool families off all summer. Coolest of all, though, is that the coating of the material the sculpture is made of works to bind and eliminate CO2 from the air, such that Wendy's presence is akin to removing the emissions of 260 vehicles from the surrounding environment.  Sat Sept 1 noon--6pm. MoMA PS1. Free with suggested museum admission. All ages.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab Screening: Chimpanzee 
Take in a screening of Chimpanzee, a documentary about a baby chimpanzee named Oscar who is orphaned during an attack by a rival group of chimpanzees. Reservations can be made by phone two weeks in advance of the screening. Sat Sept 1 at 12:15pm. Sony Wonder Technology Lab. Free. All ages.

Hands-On Nano demos 
Explore the itty-bitty world of nanoscience and nanotechnology through hands-on activities. No reservation required. Participation granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Sat Sept 1 1--3pm. Sony Wonder Technology Lab. Free. Ages 7 and up.

Mahabharatha: The Mystical Journey
This performance by Ms. Rajeswari and her students will tell the tale of the Indian epic which portrays man's eternal struggle in life. Someday your little ones might read the great novel, but for now they can enjoy a theatrical rendition in between exploring the zoo. Sat Sept 1 2--3pm. Staten Island Zoo. Free with zoo admission. All ages.

NYC Parks Summer Movie Series: Happy Feet 2
You know the drill: Gather a picnic basket, blanket or lawn chairs and bring your flock to an alfresco screening of the kid-friendly animated musical. Sat Sept 1 8--10pm. St. Mary's Park. Free. All ages.

Story Time: Susanna Reich
To commemorate the 100th birthday of Julia Child, Reich serves up the tasty tale of the legendary chef, told from the perspective of her cat Minette as she learns how to master the art of French cooking. Sat Sept 1 at 11am. Greenlight Bookstore. Free. Ages 3 to 8.

New Museum First Saturdays for Families: NEW Optics
Take the brood on a gratis stroll through the current exhibit that investigates the relationship between humans, machines and art. Little artistes will be inspired by the work of Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, whose canvases create illusions of depth and movement, as they learn how to craft their own optical masterpieces using simple shapes and patterns. The program includes free admission for up to two adults per family; children under 18 are always free. Sat Sept 1 10am--noon. New Museum of Contemporary Art. Free. Ages 4 to 15.

"Animation"
At this visiting exhibition at the New York Hall of Science, little cartoon lovers learn about the history of animation and explore its processes by developing storyboards, drawing characters, and creating moving backgrounds. They'll also investigate the science and technology that make animation possible, and take in the principles of sound and phonetics by adding their voice to a silent animation and selecting background music. Since no animation exhibit would be complete without a screening room, kids can have a seat in the Cartoon Museum to take in a few animated flicks while learning more secrets of the trade. Sat Sept 1 10am--6pm. New York Hall of Science. Free with museum admission. Ages 4 and up.

Wild Forest: A Lego Safari
The Bronx Zoo's conservation-themed "safari," which closes this weekend, lets families take in fauna of a very unusual kind: Each one of the exotic animals on view—lemurs, rhinos, flamingoes, gorillas and a giraffe—is made of Legos, the hard work of several master builders. The fun continues at the Animal Activity Trail, where the kids can run, jump, dance and crawl, and with the staging of Avenue Zoo, featuring a guest performance by Kate Monster, the puppet star of the Tony Award--winning musical Avenue Q. Visit the website for a full listing of activities and exhibits. Sat Sept 1 10am--5:30pm. Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society. Free with zoo admission. All ages.

Sunday, September 2

Kayaking on the Hudson
The Downtown Boathouse offers complimentary kayaking every weekend through October at three Hudson River docks. No need to make a reservation; just walk right up and wait in (a bit of a) line. Never kayaked before? Not to worry: The nautical experts provide the equipment and the know-how—although they do ask that you sign a liability waiver and wear a bathing suit, shorts and T-shirt. Kids under 16 must be accompanied in the boat by an adult. Sun Sept 2 9am--6pm. Hudson River Park at Pier 40. For schedules at Pier 96 and West 72nd St, go to downtownboathouse.org. Free. Ages 2 and up.

Family Art Project: Frederic's Vista 
Channel the famous Hudson River Valley painter Frederic Church at this painting workshop. You and your budding artists can use watercolors to sketch your favorite Wave Hill vista. Sun Sept 2 10am--1pm. Wave Hill. Free with grounds admission (admission is free till noon). All ages.

Richmond County Fair 
Kids can take pony rides, watch magic shows, check out live music performances and take in many other fun activities at this annual festival. Sat Sept 1 11am--6pm. Historic Richmond Town. $15, seniors $10, children under 30" tall free. All ages. 

New York City Unicycle Festival 
The celebration rolls into town this weekend (on one wheel, no less). While the fest spans three days with tours and rides around the city, you'll find the best sights for kids at the Governors Island stop. Check out demonstrations, races, and even unicycle basketball and hockey games. Sun Sept 2 noon--5pm. Governors Island. Free. All ages.

Weekend Family Programs at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Each weekend in Brooklyn Bridge Park's playgrounds, a different set of activities, inspired by a different theme, will give children and their parents an opportunity to engage in artistic, environmentally friendly workshops. This weekend, kids can make music with the park's playground associates using handmade instruments. The full lineup (through Sept 30) is available at brooklynbridgepark.org/events. Sun Sep 2 at noon, 4pm. . Free. Ages 2 to 9.

Wendy by HWKN
Taking up residence in MoMA PS1's two courtyards this summer is a visitor named Wendy. Lest your kids envision a reincarnation of the Peter Pan character, let them know that this Wendy is someone/something even more kidtastic: an enormous, mega-pointy 3-D star made of blue fabric that's supported by an equally large scaffolding. Designed by HWKN (Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner), the winners of this year's New Architects Program, Wendy is climbable and comes equipped with water features including spray showers to cool families off all summer. Coolest of all, though, is that the coating of the material the sculpture is made of works to bind and eliminate CO2 from the air, such that Wendy's presence is akin to removing the emissions of 260 vehicles from the surrounding environment.  Sun Sept 2 noon--6pm. MoMA PS1 . Free with suggested museum admission. All ages.

Children's Activity Table
When they aren't frolicking in the Queens Botanical Gardens' grounds, kids can check out the Children's Activity Table, featuring nature-themed crafts like seed plantings, pinecone birdfeeders and collage making. Sun Sept 2 1--4pm. Queens Botanical Garden. Free. Ages 3 to 10.

National Grid's Earthworks: Horse Around with Horseshoe Crabs
Curious kids can learn all about the horseshoe crab—an underwater creature just as old as the dinosaur. Tykes will have the chance to find out where the horseshoe crab came from and explore its role in the tidal ecosystem. This program is sponsored by National Grid. Sun Sept 2 1:30--2:30pm. Brooklyn Children's Museum. Free with museum admission. Ages 4 and up.

Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition
Board a Circle Line spectator boat ($30, children $25) or grab a spot on the pier as you witness the tug parade, race and bow-to-bow pushing contest. Landlubbers will then channel Popeye in a spinach-eating contest and test their might in a line-toss competition. Sun Sept 2 9:30am--2pm. Hudson River Park at Pier 84. Free. All ages.

Harlem Meer Performance Festival
BHdos, the pre-professional division of the premiere dance troupe Ballet Hispanico, stars in the grand finale of this lakeside performance series. Bring a blanket and picnic lunch to enjoy, and get ready for some audience participation in this exploration of Spanish and Latin American flair. Sun Sept 2 2--4pm. Central Park, Charles A. Dana Discovery Center. Free. All ages.

"Animation"
At this visiting exhibition at the New York Hall of Science, little cartoon lovers learn about the history of animation and explore its processes by developing storyboards, drawing characters, and creating moving backgrounds. They'll also investigate the science and technology that make animation possible, and take in the principles of sound and phonetics by adding their voice to a silent animation and selecting background music. Since no animation exhibit would be complete without a screening room, kids can have a seat in the Cartoon Museum to take in a few animated flicks while learning more secrets of the trade. Sun Sept 2 10am--6pm. New York Hall of Science. Free with museum admission. Ages 4 and up.

Wild Forest: A Lego Safari
The Bronx Zoo's conservation-themed "safari," which closes this weekend, lets families take in fauna of a very unusual kind: Each one of the exotic animals on view—lemurs, rhinos, flamingoes, gorillas and a giraffe—is made of Legos, the hard work of several master builders. The fun continues at the Animal Activity Trail, where the kids can run, jump, dance and crawl, and with the staging of Avenue Zoo, featuring a guest performance by Kate Monster, the puppet star of the Tony Award--winning musical Avenue Q. Visit the website for a full listing of activities and exhibits. Sun Sept 2 10am--5:30pm. Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society. Free with zoo admission. All ages.

Monday, September 3

Kayaking on the Hudson
The Downtown Boathouse offers complimentary kayaking every weekend through October at three Hudson River docks. No need to make a reservation; just walk right up and wait in (a bit of a) line. Never kayaked before? Not to worry: The nautical experts provide the equipment and the know-how—although they do ask that you sign a liability waiver and wear a bathing suit, shorts and T-shirt. Kids under 16 must be accompanied in the boat by an adult. Mon Sept 3 9am--6pm. Hudson River Park at Pier 40. For schedules at Pier 96 and West 72nd St, go to downtownboathouse.org. Free. Ages 2 and up.

Bike and Roll's Free Bike Monday
Spend the day off soaking in the last of summer with a cycling trip on Governors Island as a family. Bike rentals are free today, one of the few times the isle is open on a Monday, courtesy of Bike and Roll. Mon Sept 3 10am--7pm. Governors Island. Free. All ages. 

West Indian American Day Parade and Carnival
Celebrating its 44th anniversary, the West Indian American Day Parade and Carnival features thousands of marchers donning colorful costumes while shaking it to reggae and calypso beats. The celebration also welcomes partygoers to enjoy delicious native foods like Jamaican jerk chicken and Bajan fried flying fish, and watch parade floats and plenty of other visual spectacles. Mon Sept 3 11am--6pm. Eastern Pkwy between Grand Army Plaza and Schenectady Ave (718-467-1797, wiadca.com). Free. All ages.

Richmond County Fair 
Kids can take pony rides, watch magic shows, check out live music performances and take in many other fun activities at this annual festival. Mon Sept 3 11am--6pm. Historic Richmond Town. $15, seniors $10, children under 30" tall free. All ages. 

Celebrate America's Workers
While you brainstorm the plethora of different jobs people hold, kids can create a large-scale mural of America's workers that help to make the community thrive. Mon Sept 3 at 11am, noon, 2pm, 3pm. Children's Museum of Manhattan. Free with admission. Ages 5 and up.

Charles H. Tally Holiday Monday Family Program
Stay cool on Labor Day by spending the day playing at the Met. In this program series, families can participate in fun discussion and sketching on Monday holidays throughout the year. Mon Sept 3 noon--1pm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Free with admission. Ages 5 to 12.

Wendy by HWKN
Taking up residence in MoMA PS1's two courtyards this summer is a visitor named Wendy. Lest your kids envision a reincarnation of the Peter Pan character, let them know that this Wendy is someone/something even more kidtastic: an enormous, mega-pointy 3-D star made of blue fabric that's supported by an equally large scaffolding. Designed by HWKN (Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner), the winners of this year's New Architects Program, Wendy is climbable and comes equipped with water features including spray showers to cool families off all summer. Coolest of all, though, is that the coating of the material the sculpture is made of works to bind and eliminate CO2 from the air, such that Wendy's presence is akin to removing the emissions of 260 vehicles from the surrounding environment.  Mon Sept 3 noon--6pm. MoMA PS1 . Free with suggested museum admission. All ages.

Wild Forest: A Lego Safari
The Bronx Zoo's conservation-themed "safari," which closes this weekend, lets families take in fauna of a very unusual kind: Each one of the exotic animals on view—lemurs, rhinos, flamingoes, gorillas and a giraffe—is made of Legos, the hard work of several master builders. The fun continues at the Animal Activity Trail, where the kids can run, jump, dance and crawl. Visit the website for a full listing of activities and exhibits. Mon Sept 3 10am--5:30pm. Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Society. Free with zoo admission. All ages.

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