By Paul Adler & Michelle Gillan Larkin
Banish boredom from your little ones with this comprehensive A-to-Z list of the best activities, venues, attractions, and events expertly tailored to tikes.
It’s no secret kids come preloaded with drama, and savvy parents can tap into that energy with acting classes at Arc Stages in Pleasantville, where young drama queens and kings, ages 3 to teen, learn the fundamentals of acting, singing, and dancing for stage and screen via whimsical classes and conservatory-style workshops. The offerings are similar at Artistree Performing Arts, in Mamaroneck, which hosts daylong camps when school is out for spring break and other extended holidays.
*Since press time, the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival has unfortunately been canceled this year, but will return in 2022.
Burgeoning bookworms and parents who want to inspire and cement a love of books and reading descend in droves upon the annual Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, held each autumn (rain or shine) since 2013 under tents on the grounds of Bell Middle School. This year’s event is scheduled for October 2, and the usual 150-plus authors and illustrators are expected on-hand for signings, readings, and drawing demos, along with a gazillion books for sale and food trucks galore. Admission and parking are always free.
Among cherished holiday memories, few shine brighter than chopping or cutting down a fresh, pine-scented Christmas tree on a blustery December day. Those looking to relive this holiday rite of passage may want to stop by Yorktown Heights’ Wilkens Fruit & Fir Farm. A wonderful spot to pick a pumpkin or some apples during fall months, this popular pastoral gem really shines during their “choose-n-cut” Christmas tree event, when Douglas and Fraser firs can be chopped or sawed down and hauled off to your home anytime between Thanksgiving and the Big Day.
What kid doesn’t love a scary, scaly dinosaur? Adults may think dinosaurs have gone the way of the dodo, but they’re alive and well in the Dinosaur Garden at Lasdon Park, Arboretum & Veterans Memorial, in Katonah. Footprints, plant specimens, and gigantic, life-sized replicas of all the big-name, overgrown geckos decorate the blooming outdoor space, while a smartphone app lets visitors watch and learn how the creatures lived and what Earth was like during their heyday.
When Easter season rolls around, egg hunts become the thing for toddlers to tweens in a number of locations around the county, including the yearly standouts in Pleasantville, Pelham, Tuckahoe, Rye, Yorktown, Cortlandt Manor, and more.
Going strong for more than three decades, GymCats, in Yonkers, has been producing gymnasts from 20-month-old tumblers to fiercely fit and flexible kid and teen athletes who appear to fly among the apparatus with the greatest of ease. Competitive and non-competitive teams attract the most committed “gym cats,” along with summer camp, for fun-filled training when school is out. Nearly 50 years ago, Hawthorne’s Westchester Gymnastics & Cheer began training aspiring gymnasts and today continues to offer intro and advanced classes from the mommy-and-me level to teen team competitions and summer camp.
Not your grandfather’s course, Monster Mini Golf at Ridge Hill in Yonkers is miniature golf in a whole new stratosphere. Indoors — in near total darkness and to pulsing musical beats — these 18 glow-in-the-dark holes are brought to life by beaming black lights and monsters that move and talk. It’s a similar scene in the companion bowling alley and the arcade, where the hottest video games mesmerize the young while their young-at-heart parents get drawn in by classic (albeit glowing) Skee-Ball, air hockey, and hoops.
When your li’l darlings ask, “Can I have a pony?” trot them off to Beech Hill Farm Equestrian Center or Fox Hill Farms, both in Pleasantville and in business for more than six decades apiece. At either location, young buckaroos saddle up for private and group horseback-riding lessons in the ring and/or on the trails of neighboring Rockefeller State Park Preserve. Boarding and leasing programs are available at both, while Fox Hill Farm hosts summer and winter camps, a show team, and “schooling shows” for kids to exhibit their equine abilities to friends and family.
If your child has a creative streak, there are few better places to nurture their budding talents than at ArtsWestchester. This White Plains institution offers countless youth classes and programs, including Zoom cartooning workshops for youngsters ages 6–12, Teen Tuesdays and Thursdays, and summer art classes for children ages 6 to 13 in specialties ranging from digital and clay to painting and drawing. ArtsWestchester also streams craft classes for kids from their ArtsMobile, an educational center on wheels that during non-pandemic times makes its way to various schools, venues, and community centers.
Entertaining little ones since 1928, Rye’s Playland must be doing something right. Home to more than 50 rides and attractions, ranging from kiddie coasters to classic, family-friendly dark rides, Playland is the kind of place where you can enjoy a splash by the sea before getting some cotton candy and boarding a vintage carousel. A few years back, Playland received its first new ride in more than a decade, a topsy-turvy thriller called The Dragonator. When you’re done, try some mini-golf, build a sand castle, or a visit to the on-site children’s museum.
When trying to entertain kids, the local children’s museum may seem like an obvious choice, but Westchester’s iteration really is something special. Currently open on a limited basis, Westchester Children’s Museum remains a beacon of learning and enjoyment for area kids. Along with a ton of on-site workshops, summer programs, and classes, this Rye institution offers enriching at-home activities, including online programs, a virtual activity center, and STEAM kits to help kids experience science from the comfort of their living rooms.
Kids can now put down their LEGO sets and enter an entire world themed to their favorite toy with this impressive new theme park debuting in Goshen this year. LEGOLAND New York Resort will feature seven themed lands, including LEGO Pirates and LEGO Castle, with more than 50 attractions, rides, and shows, as well as ample shopping outlets and eateries. The resort will also include a 250-room LEGOLAND Hotel, with themes like LEGO NINJAGO and LEGO Kingdom — oh yeah, and 15,000 LEGO models constructed from roughly 30 million LEGO pieces
If your kid seems to have an ear or you simply want to encourage a lifelong appreciation of music, Scarsdale’s Crestwood Music Education Center offers private, group, and Suzuki lessons (and recitals) in orchestra and chamber music, jazz, and music theory for all instruments and levels, for ages 3 and up. School of Rock, in White Plains and Mamaroneck, teaches guitar and bass guitar, drums, piano and keyboard, and voice starting in preschool, with serious learners joining the house band or auditioning to go on tour across the U.S. over the summer. Similarly, Mike Risko Music School, in Ossining, offers kids 3 and up “performance-oriented” private and group instrument, voice, and musical theater lessons with the goal of developing musicianship and performance skills; summer rock-band camp is one of the hottest tickets in town.
In a world of cellphones, video games, computers, and 4K TVs, kids can sometimes lose touch with the great outdoors. If you are hoping to better acquaint your kid with nature, why not try a day at a farm? Katonah’s bucolic Muscoot Farm is an excellent place to start, featuring a working dairy farm, maple-sugaring classes, hiking trails, bird walks, and even a black-smithing shop. Meanwhile, Pocantico Hills’ Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture offers a host of educational resources, events, and conservation classes for budding farmers.
Few outings rival the sheer autumnal splendor of apple picking with the kids at one of Westchester’s many bucolic orchards. Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard, in North Salem, is a fruity fantasyland that typically features hayrides, food stalls, pony rides, hard cider for patient parents, live music, and outstanding cider doughnuts. Also ripe for the picking (and more) are the venerable yet vibrant Stuart’s Fruit Farm, in Granite Springs, and Yorktown Heights’ Wilkins Fruit & Fir Farm, where guests can enjoy a variety of not just apples but produce, pies, doughnuts, and other baked goods.
On cold, rainy days, or for when the playground just feels passé, take the fun inside with indoor play structures and apparatus for climbing, tunneling, sliding, bouncing, and limitless active, physical entertainment. The Play Place, in Elmsford, and Kids U, in Pleasantville and Port Chester, boast the biggest, maze-like indoor jungle gyms, while Elmsford’s Bounce U and Rockin’ Jump, at Yonkers’ Ridge Hill and in Mount Kisco, feature roof-covered bounce houses and what seems like miles of trampolines, respectively. All facilities offer classes, camps, and birthday party options for tots to tweens (and to teens at Rockin’ Jump).
Whether it’s 1921 or 2021, bowling remains a popular pastime for families, and, luckily, Westchester boasts some of the state’s best lanes. A one-time stop for music megastar Justin Bieber, Bowlmor White Plains is a popular spot for kids’ birthday parties and other lighthearted events, with its psychedelic backlight bowling, cozy seating, tasty food and drink, and ultra-fun interior design. Plus, those who aren’t a prince of the pins can enjoy billiards, an arcade, a sports bar, and a lounge.
Kids have plenty of ways to get in touch with their inner athletes, whether it’s during a day at an obstacle course or over years of in-depth training. If the former sounds good, try Pleasantville’s The Grit Ninja, Westchester’s first dedicated Ninja Warrior gym. Here, kids can take after-school classes, enjoy open gym, or hold private parties on an ever-changing obstacle course where they can jump, climb, swing, and run to their hearts’ content. If classic tutelage is better-suited to your fledgling martial-arts master, try Scarsdale’s Achieve Martial Arts, where kids 3 and up can learn both Tae Kwon Do and discipline in classes organized by age.
For aspiring athletes or to just burn some of that endless energy (assuring a quiet night’s sleep) Ardsley’s House of Sports is the place parents turn to for fast-paced, physically engaging, and challenging classes, private and group training, team clubs, tournaments, camps, and birthday parties focusing on hoops, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, for 2-year-olds and up. MVP Basketball Camp, in White Plains, offers week- and monthlong hoops camps for boys and girls, ages 6 to 16.
Entertaining audiences for nearly 50 years, the nonprofit Emelin Theatre, in Mamaroneck, presents uplifting, educational, and downright funny plays, musicals, films, and concerts that are family-friendly and enjoyable for all. Live shows are highly watchable and easy to absorb, whether it’s a classic like, Peter Pan, a current book craze, like Pete the Cat, original content, or a singer with a rockin’ lineup of kids-bop tunes.
There are few ways to better embrace the holiday spirit than with Valhalla’s incomparable Westchester’s Winter Wonderland. In 2020, this all-out holiday extravaganza run by the Westchester Parks Foundation became a 1.2-mile-long drive-thru-only event, with a host of eye-popping lights displays, including a 40-foot Christmas tree, 50-foot illuminated dove, and 100-foot-tall light tunnel. In prior years, the Wonderland has included everything from a heated big-top circus tent and hot chocolate to a 55-foot Ferris wheel, ice-skating rink, and rides.
When looking for a place to cool off with the kids, it’s difficult to imagine a location more suited to splashing than The Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark, in Monticello. Home to New York’s largest indoor waterpark, the Kartrite boasts wild slides, like The Kraken and Nor’Easter, an elaborate lazy river, a Flowrider for surfers and paddleboarders, aqua hoops, a splash area for very young kids, cabanas, and a host of other attractions and amenities, all kept at a balmy, 84˚, year-round.
Armed with the philosophy that all children can learn to swim if given the right instruction and encouraging environment, Swim Tank, with locations in Mamaroneck and West Harrison, offers introductory lessons to bathing beauties as young as 4 months up to 15 years old, along with stroke development/refinement classes for more experienced young swimmers. At Elmsford’s Swim Labs, lessons start at 6 months and continue well into the teens, with swim camps, specialized technique clinics, and competitive and triathlete video stroke analysis and training. Swimfinity Swimming Academy, in North Salem, begins water-safety classes at 6 months of age, followed by lessons and stroke clinics for more advanced swimmers, with the overarching goal of results in weeks not years.
Why not safely explore the county with your little one while learning a bit about the region you call home? Rock Paper Scissors, a company that plans and hosts virtual parties and in-person events, runs popular town-based scavenger hunts in Westchester and Connecticut. Their Bedford/Pound Ridge Scavenger Hunt is a downloadable, fun activity for the entire family, consisting of 16 miles of enjoyment. Just hop in the car with the kids and set off on an adventure that supports a good cause, as 50% of every sale will be donated to the Community Center of Northern Westchester.
Beneficial for all ages, yoga offers a world of good for kids and is believed to aid in relaxation and stress relief, focus, balance, confidence, physical strength and flexibility, and overall mind/body wellness. Like a traveling yoga studio, Budding Buddhas’ teachers lead classes for toddlers, tweens, and teens, in schools, libraries, and camps all over Westchester, as well as at Tovami Yoga Studio, in Mamaroneck (and virtually). At New Rochelle’s Westchester Yoga Arts, classes are virtual until further notice and offered for ages 6 to 16-plus.
Axe throwing? Check. Ropes course? Check. Laser tag, VR, and an arcade? Check, check, check. Kids won’t have much to want for at Spins Hudson, a Peekskill-based mecca of all things entertainment. Spins boasts a dizzying array of family-friendly fun, like a 50-foot-high aerial ropes course (with more than 70 different elements) and a 5,000 sq. ft., two-story laser-tag arena boasting thrilling features like fog and bridges. Or, kids can simply enjoy the futuristic arcade, all of which can be booked for parties, camps, and field trips.