According to UNICEF, early childhood development is the key to a full and productive life. Their research has shown that half of a person’s intelligence potential is developed by age four.
Unfortunately, affordable preschool isn’t always an option (either because of age or cost), leaving some tender years where your child’s brain is longing to be enriched. While there are some basic “mommy and me” classes that you can attend with your child at places like Gymboree and Dreamtastics, they only fill up an hour or so of your day.
To help you and your family, I’ve gone out with my son to experience what Nassau County has to offer. The following is a vetted list of affordable places you can take your toddlers and young children to fill up your days with activities that spark learning, growth, and fun.
Top Nassau County Activities for Families With Children
1. Liddle Bites
Admission: $10 per child
Liddle Bites play café is one of my favorite finds in Nassau County. Walking in, you’ll encounter every child’s favorite activity in the facility: a large, two-floor dollhouse equipped with a full kitchen on the first floor and a bedroom set upstairs that includes a vanity, hairbrush, and hair dryer. The children love to cook and serve meals in the play kitchen and then proceed up the stairs to begin their bedtime routine with their dolls. Towards the back of the facility are interactive toys, teepees, and other stimulating activities for the pint-sized customers.
Although smaller than other play gyms, it is an ideal destination for toddlers during the summertime. Located only two blocks away from Long Beach, you can split your day playing in the sun and then seeking refuge from it by playing indoors at Liddle Bites.
The play café resides between rows of consecutive restaurants where you can have food delivered right to you. As parents of toddlers know, a trip to a restaurant turns children into ticking time bombs waiting to explode. Instead of having to constantly quiet your child or chase after them, you can all enjoy your meal without the judgmental glares of fellow patrons.
One last thing to note is that the owner is always tidying up and cleaning, which is much appreciated. Spreading germs between children are inevitable, but being able to avoid it as much as possible is beneficial for all.
2. Lollibop Kids
Admission: $12/day per child on weekdays, $12/hour per child on weekends
There is an unequivocal demand for play cafés in Nassau County, but the inventory is small. Thus, Lollibop Kids is another rare gem that deserves a notable mention. Boasting almost 2,000 square feet of space, this play café offers innovative toys and games, a dress-up area for both girls and boys, a vanity and American Doll area, a music section with enough instruments to create a band, a giant Lego wall, a crawling area for infants, a two-floor clubhouse with a slide, a video game section, a kitchen area, and a rock climbing wall.
With all the activities offered, your child will surely work up a healthy appetite. Fortunately, Lollibop’s café offers an extensive menu of options that range from breakfast, lunch, beverages, and desserts that will appease the pickiest eater.
3. Once Upon a Treetop
Admission: $12 per walker, $6 per crawler
Kids who involuntarily run errands with their parents aren’t strangers to shopping at a grocery store, ordering food at a restaurant, or going to the bank. Once Upon a Treetop is designed for interactive play for this reason. This play gym consists of more than eight individually themed rooms furnished with the tools, machines, and props to allow children to simulate real life activities. These rooms include a fire station, grocery store, pizzeria, diner, and more. Children learn essential social skills as they unknowingly begin to role-play in these scenarios.
Your kids will be entertained for hours, and the best part is that they are being enriched through play. You will also find a real tree house in the back of the facility that the children all enjoy climbing. If a more structured class is what you prefer, Once Upon a Treetop offers classes in the summer for children 15 months to 4 years old, with courses ranging from Ocean Adventure to Advanced Ballet.
4. Cup O’Fun Cafe
Admission: $12 per child
At 8,000 square feet, Cup O’Fun Café is one of the largest play gyms in Nassau County. Within its walls, you can find a bounce house, a two-story indoor playground consisting of two slides, multiple tunnels, a rock climbing wall, an interactive touch video projector, and a private party room.
What distinguishes Cup O’Fun Café is that it facilitates a broad range of activities for children. The large slides and bounce houses that are usually only offered in gyms geared towards older children (such as Bounce U) can be found here, as well as the interactive play and toys that are enjoyed by toddlers. This is valuable for parents of toddlers who are more active and tireless than their peers (like mine), as well as parents of children who may have a large range in age. Like Liddle Bites, you can order food. The convenience of having prepared meals delivered adds to the convenience of this play gym.
5. What’s Cooking
Children love mimicking their parents, and it’s no different when it comes to the kitchen. My son loves to watch me cook and is eager to assist. But because I’m usually in a rush and there are many hazardous components in the kitchen, I take him to cooking class geared towards children instead. What’s Cooking is a cooking school for children ages two to eleven. They offer 10-week sessions every season where children not only learn how to cook, but also learn proper etiquette, recycling, social skills, and math skills.
In the mommy and me class for toddlers, the children make two recipes and read a story related to the theme of the day. During one class, the kids learned how to make cinnamon roll pancakes and vanilla roasted peaches. The story they read that day was “If You Give a Pig a Pancake.” In another class, the kids made pumpkin cookies and homemade ravioli. “Bunny Cakes” was read by the teacher.
6. Long Island Children’s Museum
Admission: $13 per person or $75 for a yearly membership for two
Speaking of cooking, I like bringing my son to the Long Island Children’s Museum on Fridays because it offers a cooking class every Friday morning for an additional $5. The children make simple dishes like zucchini pasta with tomato sauce.
After the cooking class, we explore the rest of the museum. The two-story building is sectioned off into different areas including sections for arts and crafts, bubble fun, and wood building. You will also find sandboxes, sound showers, a bug exhibit, and more. During the summer, there is an outdoor garden area that opens to the public and offers children a chance to explore the natural elements.
Between all the exhibits, classes, and outdoor play area, LICM is an endless exploration for the young ones. LICM is conveniently located near Roosevelt Field Mall, restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. Scheduling timely errands to any of those stores may be a wise decision; I usually take a trip to Trader Joe’s after my visit to LICM.
7. Center for Science Teaching & Learning
Every Monday, the Center for Science Teaching & Learning offers a class for Tiny Tots. Each class incorporates arts and crafts, story time, and an activity with a corresponding theme for the day. With admission to each class, you can explore the grounds on your own. Indoors, there are displays of fish, amphibians, and reptiles. Outside, you will find about six varieties of birds, including owls and peacocks, and goats. Newly built for this season is an outdoor exhibit with large-scale replicas of the Tyrannosaurus Rex and other dinosaurs.
The CSTL may not offer much variety, but the smaller grounds are what is attractive about this facility. Aquariums and zoos tend to be too exhausting for the summer heat, and toddlers can’t last too long on their feet. After a mommy and me class, spending an hour or so walking the grounds of CSTL and seeing the different exhibits is the perfect summer activity. The children get to see and interact with a few animals (and dinosaurs!) and also spend time in a classroom learning and creating.
8. Lifetime Fitness
Admission: $179/month per adult and $50/month per child
As a fitness enthusiast, I find Lifetime Fitness to be a playground for both my son and me. It is a gym that offers a variety of group fitness classes as well as individual equipment for whatever physical activity you wish to engage in that day. What sets Lifetime apart from other gyms is the extent of their childcare, classes, and activities for children. Lifetime offers a Child Center, where babies and toddlers are surrounded by toys, books, and interactive activities while being supervised by qualified professionals.
Children under the age of four can be dropped off at this Child Center for up to two hours, giving you plenty of time to work up a sweat in up to two group classes (and still have time for a shower after). You can focus on improving your health without having to be distracted by your wandering kids. If you don’t feel like working out that day, you can simply visit their spa to indulge in one of their services or open your laptop at their café to catch up on your emails.
Lifetime also offers classes for children, such as swimming, karate, dance, yoga, arts and crafts, school skills, and mommy and me classes. If free play is what your children would like to do, they can splash around in one of the two pools and have a blast going down the waterslides. Tacking on these activities to your workouts makes for an efficient and fun day for both you and your children. Both mind and body are exercised for both parties.
9. Christopher Morley Park
Admission: $6 per adult and $4 per child for pool access
Christopher Morley Park has it all when it comes to outdoor activities. Set on 98 acres, it offers 10 indoor tennis courts, four handball courts, four basketball courts, three baseball fields, a recently renovated playground, picnic areas with barbecue equipment, a 9-hole, par-30 golf course, a one-mile Fitness Trail, ice skating rink for the winter, and two swimming pools for the summer.
While access to the park is free for Nassau County residents, there is a daily admission fee for the pool for the summer. But if paying the nominal fee allows my family to experience all that Christopher Morley has to offer, it’s a great value for any summer day. We love to invite our extended family and friends to spend the day with us at the park. While the men grill on the barbecue and get a late lunch ready, the women take the children to the pool where they can splash for hours. On days when the weather is more forgiving, the men take the kids to the baseball field for a small game of T-ball after lunch.
10. MLB Mets Game
Admission: Free through Mr. Met’s Kids Club
Growing up, my husband spent many summers watching baseball games with his father. Due to financial and schedule constraints, most games were watched through the television at home. The few times that were spent watching a game in person resulted in cherished memories, which is why my husband was eager to sign up for Mr. Met’s Kids Club.
Through this program, the New York Mets offer complimentary tickets for a child and parent to attend one of its games. To make the experience more momentous, they allow the children to run the bases after the game. Although the stadium may not be located in Nassau County, the Long Island Railroad’s Port Washington line stops directly at this stadium, making this a top summer destination for your kids.
Early childhood may be an overwhelming time for parents, but it’s the most important period for a child’s development. Make it impactful by structuring your toddler’s days with enriching activities that are both parent and child approved.
How valuable is it that you can find such noteworthy options for your children right here in Nassau County? Do you have any other recommendations?