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Parks Host Special Events For Kids on Manhattan's East Side

By Mary Johnson | July 23, 2012 11:09am

MANHATTAN — Summer has arrived, bringing with it scores of children with hours of free time just waiting to be filled.

Although locals often bemoan the dearth of public open space on Manhattan’s East Side, there are plenty of parks available for children of all ages — some standing right out in the open and others a bit off the beaten path.

Fenced In: Tudor City playgrounds

Nestled within the Tudor City residential complex, located across the street from the United Nations, are two gated playgrounds that are open to the public.

The two spaces, located less than a block from each other alongside Tudor City’s famous Greens, both feature jungle gyms lined with benches shaded by tall trees.

Miriam Lebowitz peeled a peach for her 2-year-old grandson, Noah, while he ran around one of the two playgrounds on a recent Monday.

“It’s very safe,” said Lebowitz, who said she comes to the playground nearly every day. “You can let them do as they wish.”

There are no posted events for the playgrounds, and Lebowitz they don’t tend to attract crowds, leaving plenty of equipment ripe for the playing.

Mary O’Connor Playground is located on the north side of East 42nd Street between First and Second avenues. Tudor Grove Playground is located on the south side of East 42nd Street between First and Second avenues. There are no public restrooms available.

Art and Kid Friendly: Madison Square Park

Madison Square Park is a neighborhood hotspot for all ages, but kids have a lot to look forward to there this summer. The Madison Square Park Conservancy is celebrating the 10th year of offering free summer concerts for kids in the park. Every Tuesday and Thursday until Aug. 9, a variety of performers will host live, free concerts beginning at 10:30 a.m. Among those scheduled to appear in the park later this summer are Recess Monkey, the Dirty Sock Funtime Band and Father Goose.

In addition to the free music, the park is also hosting a kid-friendly public art exhibit until Sept. 9 featuring a series of vibrating pipes that wind their way through the park. The brightly colored, tactile exhibit was created by artist Charles Long.

Madison Square Park is located in the Flatiron district, between East 23rd and 26th streets along Madison Avenue. There are no public restrooms, but there is a pay toilet near the southern end of the park on Madison Avenue.

Fun for Fitness and Dance: Union Square Park

Union Square Park has also jumped on the free activities bandwagon and is offering a slew of programs that don’t cost a dime.

Every Thursday, the Union Square Partnership hosts Kids in the Square, which kicks off with kid-friendly yoga at 10 a.m. That pint-sized workout is followed by a variety of other events, including musical performances and circus skills taught by the cast of “Traces.” Whole Foods provides snacks throughout the morning.

Union Square Park is located near East 17th Street and Park Avenue. Public restrooms are available.

Secret Spot: Glass Garden

A neighborhood favorite that might be relatively unknown elsewhere in the city is the Glass Garden, a greenhouse and play space tucked inside the Rusk Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The Glass Garden is accessible by entering the Rusk Institute and immediately making a right. Inside, the greenhouse is filled with a variety of plants, birds, fish and even a cat that apparently is known to scratch when touched.

Outside the greenhouse, there is a play space with grass — virtually unheard of outside the bigger parks in the city — a sandbox, slides and other kid-friendly treasures to keep little ones occupied.

When several parents who frequent the space spoke about the garden, they openly worried that publicity would overexpose their secret destination for play dates.

“Don’t ruin in,” said Rebecca D., who declined to give her last name, as her 22-month-old daughter, Alice, ran from one end of the park to the other.

Rebecca said she comes to the garden with her daughter often, since they live nearby, and even hosted Alice’s first birthday there.

“It’s pretty safe,” she said. “There’s no cement.”

The Glass Garden, located inside the Rusk Institute on East 34th Street between First Avenue and the FDR, is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Restrooms are available inside the Rusk Institute.

For Water Lovers: St. Vartan Park

St. Vartan Park was booming on a recent Monday afternoon, abuzz with children zipping in and out of the sunken sprinkler area and hanging from swing sets.

Jessica Dillman spent the afternoon filling water balloons with her 3-year-old daughter, Ava, who subsequently tossed them onto the cement to watch them explode.

Dillman said she comes to the park with Ava almost every day, taking advantage of amenities that appeal to children of all ages, from basketball courts to swing sets.

“The water is great,” she said, noting that they frequent other parks as well, including Madison Square Park. “But Madison Square Park can be really crowded."

The park does have multiple entrances and exits, and it is not fenced in, which can be a concern, she added.

“You really have to keep your eye out,” she said.

St. Vartan Park is located between East 35th and 36th streets and between First and Second avenues. Public restrooms are available.