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The best places to visit in New York with kids

From awe-inspiring stores to techy robot classes, here are the absolute best venues and experiences New York has to offer its pint-size residents

Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson
Wave Hill

Every year, we put our heads together to pick our absolute favorite activities and places to visit in NYC. We’ll be honest…it wasn’t easy! After doing our research on top contenders—and keeping in mind things like user experience and accessibility—we’re excited to announce the very best of New York. See our favorite picks in eight categories (museums, performances/performance venues, green spaces, restaurants, stores, keeping active, film and classes), and check out the beautifully glossy “It’s great to be a kid!” print feature in our most recent issue.

RECOMMENDED: 60 things to do with kids in NYC this winter

Museums for kids

Children's Museum of the Arts

Kids can explore the art world at a museum designed just for them. The 10,000-square-foot institution has more than enough room to house its 2,000-piece collection of international children's art, including a huge center gallery to display it in. Artists lead workshops in classrooms, studios or the media lab—which boasts a sound station, clay bar and video-making equipment. CMA's WEE Arts Program ($395 per semester) fosters artistic expression in kids as young as 10 months old, while the Art Colony day camps ($595 per week) engage kids ages 6 to 15 in disciplines like drawing and sculpture. Kids can work their bodies as well as their minds on the museum's second floor, where they'll find interactive art displays and a ball pit.

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Downtown

DiMenna Children's History Museum

Exhibits and programs at this kid-focused arm of the New-York Historical Society transport children back through 350 years of U.S. history (with a special focus on NYC). Galleries highlight the lives of kids who grew up to become famous doctors (James McCune Smith), athletes and political figures (Alexander Hamilton), and Little New-Yorkers classes invite kids to get in on sing-alongs and crafts. Other family programs include cooking classes, scavenger hunts, games, and story hours.

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Upper West Side

American Museum of Natural History

Recommended

Home to the largest and arguably most fabulous collection of dinosaur fossils in the world, AMNH’s fourth-floor dino halls have been blowing kids' minds for decades. Roughly 80 percent of the bones on display were actually dug out of the ground; the rest are casts. The thrills begin when you cross the threshold of the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, where you’re confronted with a towering barosaurus rearing up on its hind legs to protect its young from an attacking allosaurus—an impressive welcome to the world’s largest museum of its kind. During the museum’s mid-1990s renovation, several specimens were remodeled to incorporate new discoveries. The Tyrannosaurus rex, for instance, was once believed to have walked upright, Godzilla-style; it now stalks prey with its head lowered and tail raised parallel to the ground. The rest of the museum is equally dramatic. The Hall of Human Origins boasts a fine display of your old cousins, the Neanderthals. The Hall of Biodiversity examines world ecosystems and environmental preservation, and a life-size, 100-foot-long model of a blue whale hangs from the ceiling of the Hall of Ocean Life. The impressive Hall of Meteorites centers around Ahnighito, the largest iron meteor on display anywhere in the world, weighing in at 34 tons (more than 30,000kg). The spectacular $210 million Rose Center for Earth & Space—dazzling at night—is a giant silvery globe where you can discover the universe via 3-D shows in the Hayden Planetarium and light shows i

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Upper West Side
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New York Hall of Science

Here, kids can get hands-on with hundreds of interactive exhibits and activities that bring science, technology, engineering and math to life. Built for the 1964 World's Fair, NYSCI is home to a revolving lineup of displays about light, 3-D printing, outer space and robots, plus the new Design Lab, where kids can tackle activities at five stations: Backstage, Sandbox, Studio, Maker Space and Treehouse. Kids can also climb on a rope web and play minigolf ($6, kids $5) at the massive Science Playground and Rocket Park.

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Queens

Children's Museum of Manhattan

Recommended

This nearly 40,000-square-foot institution houses exhibits that make learning about culture, history and science a blast for kids ages six and under. Explore the benefits of good nutrition from "EatSleepPlay," a Dora the Explorer play area, and immersive exhibits that rotate in and out of the five-story space. CMOM also hosts classes and workshops—from Gross Biology for kids who love burps and germs, to the Music in Me!, a toddlers' program by Laurie Berkner—all designed with the latest child-development research in mind.

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Upper West Side

Performances for kids

Puppetworks

At this low-tech playhouse, kids will gladly cast phones and gadgets aside to see amazing handmade puppets in action. Founder Nicolas Coppola adapts classic tales for his marionettes to perform in the cozy theater (kids sit on rugs at the front, parents are on benches at the back). Families will be swept away by the artful scenery, lively music and intricate puppets as they take on a life of their own, moving across the stage as if by magic.

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Park Slope

New York Theatre Ballet

If your dance enthusiasts are ready for some onstage inspiration, New York Theatre Ballet's colorful productions will not disappoint. This innovative dance troupe makes ballet accessible to audiences of all ages with its kid-friendly, hour-long performances, often featuring emerging choreographers and young dancers from Ballet School NY. The troupe also sponsors a children's performance series (called "Once upon a Ballet") at Florence Gould Hall. NYTB's own performance space is used for more intimate dance performances geared toward adults (but welcoming of children ages 5 and up).

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Midtown

The Little Orchestra Society presents Lolli-Pops Concerts

Get the kids into something other than Ariana Grande with a show at the Little Orchestra Society. The Lolli-Pops series—starring Bang the Lion, Buzz the Bee, Toot the Bird and Bow the Panda—features stories that get kids singing, clappingand stomping along to the beat. Catch upcoming musical performances exploring the percussion family through Bizet and Tchaikovsky in Things That Go Bang! (Feb 7–8), then close out the series with a brand-new show, Lolli-Pops: World Tour (March 7–8), introducing little ones to music from around the world through the sounds of Sousa, Villa-Lobos and more played on various instruments by the Little Orchestra Society. Ages 3 to 5.

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New Victory Theater

It just so happens that New York's oldest operating theater is home to the city's most innovative and exciting new productions for children. Families eagerly await each season's offerings, which include everything from reworkings of classic plays to dance, performance art and even break-dancing BMX bandits. Expert-led workshops after select shows ($17) educate kids on fun topics like puppetry, juggling and songwriting in the intimate and beautifully restored space. The New Victory often collaborates with Autism Friendly Spaces on special adaptations of its shows for children with ASD and sensory issues, ensuring all kids can enjoy the experience of live theater. Become a member of the New Victory Theater for discounts on tickets and workshops.

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Midtown West

Aladdin

This adaptation of the Disney classic tops the rest with its kiddie-crowd-pleasing laughs and upbeat music. Charming street urchin Aladdin brings his exotic world to Broadway along with beloved songs like "A Whole New World" and "Friend Like Me," plus several new tunes, which come to life onstage through music composed by Alan Menken and lyrics penned by Howard Ashman and Tony Award winner Tim Rice. Kids will be dazzled by the color-drenched production and awe-inspiring special effects, like a confetti cannon and fireworks. Ages 4 and up.

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Green spaces for kids

New York Botanical Garden

Recommended

Give city kids a chance to get their hands dirty and explore lush landscapes on this 250-acre expanse. Family programs educate kids (and adults) on our connection to nature, while the Edible Academy teaches children about gardening and healthy living through workshops, scavenger hunts and crafts in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden. Celebrity chef Mario Batali helps youngsters get acquainted with the food on their plates via cooking demos, family dinners and picnic using homegrown ingredients. From spring through the end of autumn, kids can explore nature in Dig! Plant! Grow! gadening workshops, and though the beds are covered during winter, there's still plenty of family fun on the grounds, including the holiday train show in the conservatory (Nov 15–Jan 19) and the magnificent orchid show, come February.

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The Bronx

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Recommended

Stretching 1.3 miles along the East River, this beautiful revamped waterfront is proof that an idyllic slice of nature can exist right in the city. Pier 2 is tricked out with recreation facilities for basketball, handball, bocce, shuffleboard and roller-skating (open daily 6am–11pm). Bring your bikes (or rent them at Pier 1's entrace) for a spin on the Greenway, then stop at Pier 6 to explore a playground featuring wonderfully landscaped play spaces, including the Water Lab—a stone-strewn area with water underfoot to splash in—plus, New York's largest sandbox. At Pier 3, post up with a blanket and book, or take a peaceful stroll minus traffic noise thanks to Sound Attenuating Hill. Continue walking south and you'll come across the Pop-Up Pool and one of the prettiest walks in NYC, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Add clean bathrooms, a food court, spots for fishing and the mutli-purpose sports fields at Pier 5 and there’s not much room for improvement—especially when views of downtown Manhattan and New York Harbor are the backdrop.

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Brooklyn Heights

Prospect Park

Recommended

After Olmsted and Vaux unveiled Central Park in 1859, they turned their attention south to create this bucolic Brooklyn destination. There’s plenty of room in Long Meadow and the Nethermead to have a family picnic on a patch of grass, while the Ravine, a towering indigenous forest, offers a woodland respite unparalleled in the borough. Wander the woodsy trails and it's easy to imagine you're back in primordial Brooklyn. Nearby Lefferts Historic House, built circa 1783, uses activities like candle making, butter churning and needlework as more peaceful reminders of the past. In the park’s children’s corner, kids can ride a super-fast (100-year-old!) carousel, visit with animals at the zoo and search behind it for stone memorials marking Battle Pass, the exact location of the Revolutionary War's largest battle in 1776. At the zoo’s Discovery Center, families can read nature books together and explore wildlife using a magnifying glass before saying hello to red pandas, sea lions and monkeys. Now that construction has been completed on Lakeside, kids can frolic in the fountain or take a spin around a roller rink, and in winter, bundle up for outdoor skating on two connected ice rinks. All year round, Prospect Park hosts family-friendly events, many of which are even free, including the summer-long Celebrate Brooklyn, the New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks, a Halloween carnival, food truck rallies, nature and birding walks, and much, much more.

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Prospect Park
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Governors Island

Recommended

In the eight minutes it takes to journey (for free!) from Battery Park or Brooklyn to the 172-acre former military base, families are transported to a world a million metaphorical miles away from the bustling city, where lush green lawns are dotted with quaint Victorian homes, giant outdoor sculptures beg to be climbed on, car alarms are replaced by jangling bicycles, and there’s always a quirky festival going on. With a full roster of free kids’ activities, including craft workshops courtesy of the Children's Museum of the Arts, prime picnicking at Picnic Point and an artist-designed mini golf course each summer as part of the FIGMENT Festival, you can save your cash for the gourmet food trucks and ice-cream stands like Brooklyn Soda Works, Blue Marble Ice Cream and El Paso Taco. As of summer 2014, the island stays open seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day. See art installations at Liggett Terrace, run wild on the 14-acre Play Lawn, and explore Hammock Grove's 50 hammocks. Look forward to Slide Hill, a 38-foor slope with four toboggan runs, coming in 2015—we’ll be first on line for that ferry.

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Governors Island

Wave Hill

Everyone needs a few hours of calm now and then—kids included—and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more serene spot within city limits than Wave Hill. A few stops on the Metro-North Hudson line brings you to the sprawling grounds perched above the Hudson, boasting 28 acres of public gadens, plus woodlands and lawns to wander. You’ll find an elegant 19th-century mansion surrounded by meticulously groomed gardens, featuring abundant wildflowers and shady pergolas. Jump in on nature walks, story times and family art projects, often led by local artists and usually free with grounds admission. Wake up early to take advantage of free admission between 9am and noon every Saturday and check out their seasonal offerings for families like Honey Weekend.

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The Bronx

Restaurants for kids

Big Daddy’s Diner

As advertised, everything here is enormous—from ambiance (there's a larger-than-life neon sign above the door) to the heaping portions of amped-up diner fare, like Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love Pancakes (studded with banana and chocolate chips), honey-dipped fried chicken, and mac and cheese. Loud music and riotous decor make the place ultra kid-friendly, as do monthy family trivia nights—your chance to find out if you're smarter than a fifth-grader.

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Gramercy

Ample Hills Creamery, Gowanus

This ice-cream paradise brings your kids' favorite treat to the next level with an ever-rotating menu of outrageous flavors crafted on-site from the freshest ingredients. Figuring out what to order is the hard part—we suggest the Munchies, with pretzels, potato chips, Ritz crackers and mini M&Ms. You could order your ice cream in a plain ol' cup, but why would you when you can get it on a warm brownie? The new location in Gowanus has booths and counter seating, but take your treats up to the outdoor roof deck where the kids can pedal an ice cream–churning bike and take in stunning views of the Manhattan skyline frame by the Gowanus Canal below. The shop is also home to a huge production facility; little ones (and their parents) will love watching the ice cream being made.

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Roberta's

Recommended

Kids love this spectacular wood-fired pizza because it has all the right answers: No, it's not greasy. Yes, you can pick off the basil. No, it's not too charred. Yes, you can have some more. You love that the menu contains produce (like tomatoes and lettuce) grown in the restaurant's own backyard, the mozarella is homemade and honey comes from its very own beehives. Their simple Margherita ($13) is a classic. Take your kids on a garden tour so they can play with their food before it arrives on their plates ($10 and up, email @ robertaspizza.com to make a reservation). Be sure to roll in early, around 4:30 or 5pm—this place get insanely packed.

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Williamsburg
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Gotham West Market

With eight different food purveyors to choose from, there's something to please an entire family of varying tastes and appetites at Gotham West. The bustling Hell's Kitchen market spans 15,000 square feet, and the food-court-style seating means you can all eat together once your kids have chosen from Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, Genuine Roadside, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, Choza Taqueria and four other premier artisinal eateries. In addition to the communical tables at each of the busy food stalls, garage doors open up to sidewalk seating for alfresco dining. Try a tasty, kid-friendly lunch of grilled cheese ($8) from Court Street Grocers Sandwich Shop followed by two schoops of Jeni's to-die-for chocolate ice cream ($6) for dessert. After you eat, rent a bike at Velo, Gotham Market's full-service bicycle shop (or just browse the killer selection of bikes and gear).

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Hell's Kitchen

Dizzy's on 5th

The dishes on the kids’ menu at this “finer diner” in family-friendly Park Slope have cute names like “The Hokey Pokey” (a customizable omelet; $6) and “The Nutty Monkey” (PB&J with bananas; $7). Even greasy spoon fare from the regular menu items will please youngsters with classics like grilled cheese on thick-sliced bread ($8) or Southern-fried chicken ($15) with grits and buttered peas.

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Park Slope

Melt Shop

This family staple has 11 kinds of grilled cheese, including the Classic (American cheese on white bread; $5.05) and substantial sammies like the Big Skinny with grilled veggies ($8.96). Add sides like cheesy tots ($3.90) or tomato soup ($2.99) and promise the kids a Nutella-fluff shake ($5.51), and they'll have no trouble cleaning their plates.

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Midtown East
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Alice’s Tea Cup, Upper West Side

Jump down the rabbit hole, and immerse your kids in the ethereal atmostphere at these Alice in Wonderland–themed spots. The Mad Hatter murals, Cheshire Cat tchotchkes and Queen of Hearts quotes will keep your kids busy until the food arrives. Alice's Wee Tea offers a three-tiered tea service with a small pot of tea, a scone, any kids'-menu item and the appropriately oxymoronic "white rabbit"chocolate mousse. Next thing you know, your kids will be asking if they can have their next very merry unbirthday party here.

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Upper West Side

Sockerbit

Here the selection of Scandinavian treats is dizzying—more than 140 different kinds fill the bins lining the walls. Kids will delight at filling their own bag of brightly colored candies, from sour octopi (sura blackfiskar) to salty licorice tigers (salta tiger huvud). And you can feel good about the fact that all of Sockerbit's sweets are free of trans fats and artificial colorings. FYI: sockerbit means "sugar cube" in Swedish. The storefront also carries pantry items (Swedish meatball mix, crisp bread and cloudberry jam) and designer ceramics.

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West Village

Stores for kids

Giggle

A stroller parking lot, an in-store changing table, daily product demos and weekly storytimes are just a few of the nifty amenities at this everything-for-baby spot. Be sure to check out their line of organic cotton toys (we love the plush animal finger puppets) and bodysuits. All the kidware, including clothing, strollers and furniture, have been vetted to meet parent-minded criteria such as space-save-ability, washability and durability.

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Soho

Greenlight Bookstore

Recommended

With numerous NYC stores shutting their doors, we couldn't be more thrilled to see this little indie-store-that-could still going strong. The locally owned haven for lit lovers boasts 300 square feet of picture books, chapter books, and YA selections for children and tweens, as well as an assortment of educational games and toys. Catch Friday singalongs (2:30pm) and storytime on Sunday mornings (11am).

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Fort Greene

Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store

Recommended

At this Kelly green, 1,100-square-foot spot with a backyard for events, whimsical housewares, novelties and whatever owner Ann Cantrell, a former product developer for Ralph Lauren and Coach, deems “best in show” crowd the shelves. Its rotating lineup is heavy on items for little ones, so spoil your nieces and nephews with adorable stuffed animals from Hazel Village and Jellycat ($13–$42), childhood classics like a Spirograph ($32) and Etch-a-Sketch ($18), and puzzles and DIY craft kids ($8–$45).

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Boerum Hill
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LuLu's Then & Now

The pint-size members of Brooklyn's style set have an eye for unique duds. Brigitte Prat's third kid-oriented LuLu store in Park Slope fits the bill, making an eco-friendly foray into the world of consignment. Gently used clothing (newborn to size 8) shares space with secondhand baby gear, toys, books and even furniture.

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Park Slope

Babesta Threads

Husband-and-wife team Aslan and Jenn Cattaui fill their cozy 450-square-foot store with the stuff kids dig—Junk Food concert tees, Uglydolls, Eazy Bean chairs and vintage wear that’ll make parents envious. The shop mainly focuses on the under-six set, but the Cattauis have recently begun stocking pieces for older children from popular lines such as Chaos Recycled. You'll wish this stuff came in your size.

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Financial District

Pink Olive

Owner Grace Kang has been a buyer for Barneys, so it's no surprise that her store is filled to the brim with chic clothes and accessories for kids. They'll love rocking clothing and accessories like Liberty of London hair bows ($16), bear-claw booties ($52) and Brooklyn-repping onesies ($32) at play group.

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Park Slope
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Movies for kids

Film Forum Jr.

Your kids may never get bored with Frozen, but you also know they'll never tire of the classics at weekly film series Film Forum Jr. On Sundays, the downtown theater hosts a matinee screening of a bona fide family favorite. This season's remaining top-notch picks include Bringing Up Baby (Dec 14) and Mary Poppins (Dec 21 and 28). Ages 5 and up.

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Automatic Studios

Automatic Studios

Little directors will want to head to this Brooklyn favorite for a hands-on filmmaking experience. After-school Movie Arts classes taught by seasoned industry pros give elementary- and middle-school students the chance to direct their own films in studios and classrooms fully outfitted with cameras, sound equipment, lighting, props and a green screen ($675 for 10 sessions). And at their movie-arts camps, held during school vacations, future Scorseses and Spielbergs can produce a short film from start to finish ($150 per day).

New York International Children's Film Festival

This film fest for kiddos showcases 100 new features and shorts from around the globe each year, and rounds out the experience with retrospectives, interactive workshops and filmmaker Q&As for families. Though a jury determines which director takes home the grand prize and other esteemed awards, young audience members (ages 3–18) can cast their votes in the short-film category. And Mom and Dad get the chance to vote for the winner of the Parents Awards. The $60 Super-8 membership buys advance notice of the programs and first dibs on tickets; otherwise, look for news of the 2015 lineup in January. Ages 3 to 18.

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Keeping active for kids

Brooklyn Boulders

This Gowanus climbing gym is the largest in New York City, featuring more than 18,000 square feet of bouldering and climbing walls. Climbing classes for all skill levels, as well as yoga and pilates instruction, are also available. Learn the ropes through packages like BKB Adventures (9am–3:30pm), which includes five full-day sessons with unlimited climbing, outdoor recess and snacks ($539 per week). Bring the whole family to Weekend Family Hours (Sat, Sun 9–11am) to avoid peak-hour climbing traffic.

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Gowanus

Chelsea Piers

Recommended

Chelsea Piers is a state-of-the-art recreational facility located on the Hudson River. Bowling, golf, ice hockey, wall climbing, dance and BlueStreak—its intensive sports-training program—are just some of the many activities available. There's even a Stunts & Skills class for kids to learn parkour, free running and other action-movie-worthy moves. Check website for program schedules and prices.

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Chelsea

Lakeside at Prospect Park

This $74 million project overhauled 26 acres of the park’s southeast corner and now offers year-round fun. The LeFrak Center houses two huge, state-of-the-art rinks, one covered and one open-air where kids can take hockey and skating lessons beside scenic Prospect Park Lake. The space doubles as a roller-skating rink in the spring and summer. There's also a boat dock and wading pools along the restored waterside.

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Prospect Park
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Yogi Beans Classes

This UES Studio teaches kids about meditation, focus and breathing techniques while moving through various yoga poses. At Siblings Yoga (ages 3–9), kids quit bickering and learn about cooperation and communication through asanas, games, song and even foot massage. You can also try Family Yoga class, in which parents can practice with their little ones. If your baby is battling teething and thinks sleep is for losers, then you could probably use some downard-dog time yourself; new moms can take a Bye-Bye Bump class ($45 for drop-ins), while babysitters mind the children nearby. Ages 6 weeks to 16 years.

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Lenox Hill

Classes for kids

Brooklyn Robot Foundry Gowanus

Little technies will dive into this bot-tastic program. Owner and mechanical engineer, Jenny Young, designs fun projects to help kids understand basic engineering concepts and how things work, allowing them to build their own functioning creations to take home. The space offers after-school and weekend classes as well as open play, mini sessions, summer sessions and clubs. At Robot Crafting, kids ages five and six make bot-themed crafts. Kids ages seven to nine can try Robot Building, where they'll get a new engineering lesson each week, and those ages 10 to 12 can learn about motors, LEDs and sensors in Robot Programming. Parents can also pick and choose different projects and treats to build a personalized birthday party for their tot. Browse a quirky collection of robot-related toys, books, kits and other gadgets at the retail shop on location. All ages.

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Gowanus

Make Meaning

Recommended

You needn't be a budding Martha Stewart to get your creative juices flowing at this DIY haven. The five-story second Manhattan outpost (the first is on the Upper West Side) offers foolproof crafts that any age or skill level can master. Decorate your own prebaked chocolate or vanilla cake ($24–$48) with fondant shapes, edible glitter, embellishments ($1–$5) and spray coloring in a motorized rotating booth, or make a scented candle ($20–$70) and then watch it take form at the Skinny Dip, a flowing wax-cooling river. Buy a yearly membership ($36) and you can paint ceramics ($12–$120), bead jewelry ($12–$45), create scented soap ($8–$24), or make functional glassware such as trivets, vases and coasters ($22–$99) whenever you’d like (otherwise, it’s $12 for a one-day pass). Those who don’t want to get their hands dirty can have a pro apply glitter tattoos ($5) and hair feathers ($6) at a station on the first floor, or hit the retail area to pick up quirky gifts such as Seedling Design Your Own Superhero Cape kits ($40).

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Upper East Side

The Pixel Academy

Get kids away from playing video games long enough to create their own. This drop-in after-school facility allows beginners and gaming gurus alike (ages seven and older) to tackle everything from coding and video-game design to 3-D printing and app building. They'll emerge with their own creation and the skills to build their own robots at home, thanks to the academy's top-notch instructors and teaching tools.

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