8 cheap and free summer ideas for kids

Pier 1 Kayaking, Brooklyn
Kayaking at Pier 1. Photo by Jonathan Barkey, courtesy of Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy.

Filling a kids’ summer with camp is like putting a full-size sheet on a queen-size bed — no matter how you try to stretch it, there just isn’t enough to cover the whole thing. If you’re a parent or a babysitter like me, you’re about to enter the gap between the end of camp and the beginning of school. Maybe mom and dad were smart enough to plan a trip, or maybe you’re trying to fill the time with local outings, which can cost as much as a vacation if you’re not careful. Here are some inexpensive ways to squeeze the most out of the season before school starts. And if you’ve got ideas, as always, please leave them in the comments.

RIDE A BIKE / ROW A BOAT By now, you’ve heard about, and probably experienced, the wonders of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6, with four play areas that will entertain for hours. But you may not know about the full calendar of free activities for kids, like tomorrow’s free bike-riding lessons, bike included, or Wednesday’s historically rich Brooklyn Bridge scavenger hunt. (Leave the little ones at home for Rosemary’s Baby.) If your 8-year-old is tiring of the swim-diaper crowd at the sprinkler playground, head over to the Boathouse on Pier 1 for free kayaking. The recently opened Boathouse offers tandem kayaks so children can practice their skills an arm’s length away. The Boathouse is usually open from 11-4pm but hours can change according to the tide.

OUTSOURCE PLAYTIME AT THE MOXIE SPOT When you need a respite from the sun, walk up Atlantic to The Moxie Spot (81 Atlantic Ave.) This child friendly restaurant has clean, child-size bathrooms and an unlimited play space upstairs. For $2.50 per child, you can sit back and relax with a beer ($6) while they paint, play with Wii and cool off.  Kid’s meals here can cost upwards of $3.25 for a chicken fingers and fries but a classic PB&J will only set you back $2.75. (Note, the calendar says they’re closed for renovations until next Friday; check back for updates.)

HANG AT KLUB 4 KIDZ This clean and inviting indoor maze of tunnels, slides and a climbing wall isn’t the cheapest kids’ venue in town, but there’s wifi (genius) an open-snack policy, so there’s no succumbing to chicken-finger inflation once you’ve shelled out admission. It’s $15 for the first child and $10 for the second, but bring your laptop and you can earn it back in sheer productivity. Located off the Bedford stop 159 North 4th St.

FISH AT THE AUDOBON CENTER Prospect Park has a number of playgrounds and even a carousel, but the secluded Audubon Center is where you should take your kids to kill a few hours. Close to the Prospect Park train station, the nature conservatory has live animals to study and fun exhibits on birds and insects found in the park. Take advantage of the electric boat tours ($8 for ages 13 and up) to get up close to nature. On Saturdays, the Audubon Center also offers free fishing lessons and recycled craft making for your little ones.

FIGHT BAD GUYS AT THE SUPERHERO SUPPLY STORE In the heart of Park Slope is one of my favorite ways to pass those last remaining hours before bedtime. The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (372 5th Ave.) is actually 826NYC’s cleverly disguised children’s writing center.  The nonprofit sells superhero supplies of course, but more importantly, it will give your child plenty to examine for free. Open from 11-5pm Sunday through Monday, the Superhero Supply Co.’s atmosphere is easy-going enough so children can test superhero capes and try out the Devillianizer machine all afternoon long.

GRAB A NOSH AT DUMPLINGS AND THINGS After fighting evil, take the kids across the street for an early dinner at Dumplings and Things. The tiny shop (375 5th Ave.) offers five decent sized dumplings ($3) in both veggie and meat options. Not necessarily labeled a children’s restaurant, the flavorful but not overly spicy finger food fares well with the 2-10 age demographic.

HANG WITH HOMELESS DOGS AND CATS If your daughter will not stop asking for a pet, spend sometime petting kittens at Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition. BARC located at 253 Wythe Avenue, has socialization hours from 12-5pm, Tuesday through Saturday. At this nonprofit, no-kill shelter, kids can pet dogs and cats all day long for free. If they’re still asking for a pet, bringing home a puppy will only set you back $150.

GET CRAFTY AT HABANA OUTPOST On Tuesday and Thursdays, head over to Habana Outpost in Fort Greene. The colorful Cuban restaurant (757 Fulton Street) has Kids’ Corner from 12-4pm where your little ones can make environmentally friendly arts and crafts while you enjoy a $2.75 beer. There are no children meals, but the menu does include easy-to-handle corn on the cob and chicken fingers.

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