NEW YORK CITY — Kids just want to have fun — but when the temperature drops and playgrounds are covered in snow, it can be tough for tots to find a place to let off steam.
Wintry weather often leaves city families torn between staying home in apartments that are too small for cartwheels, let alone a game of tag, and shelling out steep membership fees to join children's gyms and activities centers.
But with a little research — and a MetroCard — parents can find dozens of affordable indoor activities across the five boroughs, from free arts-and-crafts workshops to child-friendly museum exhibits.
"When the weather's not cooperating, having a place where kids can get their ya-yas out is really important, especially because so many of us live in tiny apartments with no room for running around," said Anna Fader, a lower Manhattan mother of two and founder of the Mommy Poppins website.
"We don't have backyards. Finding indoor play spaces is really important."
Fader's favorite winter destinations include libraries, which offer free story times, and shops such as the Scholastic Store (587 Broadway in SoHo) and Ikea Brooklyn (1 Beard St. in Red Hook), which have free play spaces for kids.
Stephanie Hochman, a Park Slope mom who has two young daughters, said she likes the Brooklyn Children's Museum (145 Brooklyn Ave. in Crown Heights) and the New York Transit Museum (Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn Heights) because they both allow kids to run around and explore, while also learning.
"It can get stir-crazy," Hochman said of the colder months. "We try to arrange more play dates... And if you can do a little teaching on the side, that's also nice."
Many of the city's YMCAs also offer drop-in play sessions, from the Dodge YMCA (225 Atlantic Ave. in Downtown Brooklyn), which has a $5 play group for children ages 6 months to 3 years old, three days a week, to the Long Island City YMCA (32-23 Queens Boulevard), which has free drop-in track, fitness, capoeira and Zumba classes for member children.
And for kids who are literally bouncing off the walls in the winter, parents suggest BounceU, an indoor play space packed with inflatables that has locations in Brooklyn and Queens.
Milda De Voe, a Financial District mother of two, said she'll take her kids to any space large and loud enough for them to release their pent-up energy without attracting too much attention — including public atriums such as the World Financial Center Winter Garden (200 Vesey St. in Battery Park City).
"Parents gravitate toward places that don't throw you out," De Voe said. "It's a really big deal…. In your apartment, [kids] can't be as wild as you want them to be. They can't scream, they can't run around, and jumping up and down bothers the neighbors."
Here are more of parents' top picks for indoor play spaces across the five boroughs:
Where: 100 Reade St., Tribeca.
When: Weekdays 3 to 6 p.m., weekends noon to 6 p.m.
Price: $30 for a one-hour adventure workout.
Good for: Elementary school kids with energy to burn.
Exerblast is a kid-friendly adventure gym that aims to make kids the stars of their own real-life video game. Elementary-age children can drop in for an hour-long "Blast," in which staff guide them through a series of physical challenges including a rotating rock-climbing wall and a rope jungle gym — all to help save the imaginary planet Botania. Parents can participate as well.
Where: 129A W. 20th St., Chelsea.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, reservations required.
Price: $10 for one hour for first-timers, then $20 per hour or $40 for an unlimited day pass.
Good for: Kids 18 months to 8 years old who want to get their hands wet.
Parents love City Treehouse for the SPLASH! water table, which lets kids build dams, fill buckets and even spray hoses at sculptures to make them spin. The interactive two-story play space includes a kaleidoscope, slide and climbing structure. City Treehouse also offers dance, music, art and Spanish classes.
Where: Chelsea Piers, 23rd Street and Hudson River Park, Chelsea.
When: Reopening Dec. 1 following Hurricane Sandy. Hours vary, call 212-336-6500.
Price: $12 for one session.
Good for: Kids 6 months to 4 years old who want to climb, bounce and jump in a ball pit.
The Little Athletes Exploration Center at Chelsea Piers is a favorite among parents and toddlers alike for its ball pit, and it also has an indoor jungle gym with a slide and plenty of mats for budding gymnasts. Older siblings can check out Chelsea Piers' other attractions, including open rock-climbing sessions, batting cages and more.
Where: Scandinavia House, 58 Park Ave. at 38th Street, Murray Hill.
When: Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.
Price: $8 per child.
Good for: Preschoolers who want to explore, Scandinavian style.
The new Heimbold Family Children's Playing & Learning Center wowed parents when it opened at the Scandinavia House cultural center in the fall of 2011. Based on traditional Nordic preschools, the Children's Center features an Active Play Room with trains, a mock kitchen and a reading nook, and a Sensory Zone with climbing toys, dress-up costumes and a "please touch" wall. A kid-sized tunnel connects the two rooms. Children must be able to walk on their own to play at the center.
Where: 550 Madison Ave. at 56th Street, Midtown.
When: Tuesday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Price: Free, but advance reservations recommended.
Good for: Curious elementary school kids who love science and technology.
Kids can perform simulated open-heart surgery and program a robot at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab, one of the most captivating free children's museums in the city. The lab also lets children build an original video game character, explore the inner workings of cell phones and digital cameras and create their own movie trailer. The museum is free but it can fill up quickly, so advance reservations are recommended.
Where: 419 E. 91st St., Upper East Side.
When: Drop-in playtime Monday to Thursday 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Price: $20 per day.
Good for: Animal lovers ages six months and up.
City kids can cuddle bunnies and feed turtles at The Art Farm, an Upper East Side favorite that has its own indoor petting zoo. Children can also learn to care for The Art Farm's chinchillas, guinea pigs, lizards, birds and fish — and sometimes bigger animals stop by for a visit as well. Other activities at the four-day-a-week drop-in program include arts and crafts and imaginative play.
Where: 334 Amsterdam Ave. at West 76th Street.
When: Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m., from Nov. 3, 2012 to March 23, 2013 (not Jan. 26).
Good for: Crafty kids from birth through elementary school.
The JCC in Manhattan opens its doors to the community every Saturday afternoon for R&R: Shabbat at the JCC, a series of free programs and classes that are especially popular among the neighborhood's kids. The schedule varies from week to week but often includes arts-and-crafts projects, circle games, supervised play, dancing, storytelling and more.
Where: Central Park West at 79th Street, Upper West Side.
When: Monday to Thursday 1:30 p.m. to 5:10 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays and public school holidays 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. to 5:10 p.m.
Price: Free with museum admission, which is suggested $19 for adults, $10.50 for children.
Good for: Children ages 5 to 12 who like animals and fossils.
The American Museum of Natural History's Discovery Room turns kids into detectives, whether they're searching for a missing piece to assemble a dinosaur skeleton or hunting for insects and reptiles in a recreated African baobab tree. Young scientists can also track earthquakes, collect skulls and solve puzzles. Parents like the Discovery Room's educational value, as well as the museum's large open spaces, which are good for youngsters who need to let off some steam.
Where: ACT at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 112th Street, Morningside Heights.
When: Monday to Thursday from noon to 3 p.m., from Nov. 26, 2012 to March 6, 2013.
Good for: Kids 5 and under who want to run around.
Four days a week in the winter, St. John the Divine's gym hosts Playstation, a drop-in playground geared toward toddlers and preschoolers. Climbing equipment, slides, tricycles, balls and mats give kids plenty to stay busy, while their parents socialize. "They can romp and have a nice time," said Jose Torres, executive director of the church's ACT program for children and families, which subsidizes Playstation.
Where: 875 W. 181st St., Washington Heights.
When: Visit the online schedule for details.
Price: $7 per hour.
Good for: Kids 6 and under who like playing make-believe.
Uptown parents flock to Wiggles & Giggles Playhouse, where kids and grown-ups are equally likely to run into their friends from the neighborhood. At daily drop-in play sessions, children ages 6 and under can play with trains, make pretend meals in the toy kitchen and dress up in costumes. Wiggles & Giggles also offers a "Mommy Break" for 2 to 6-year-olds Monday to Friday from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. for $15 an hour, which includes crafts and a snack.
Where: 212 Smith St. between Baltic and Butler streets, Cobble Hill.
When: Visit the online schedule for details.
Price: $10 for two-hour drop-in play session.
Good for: Kids 4 and under who like creative play and art.
ArtsCetera offers popular children's art classes in Cobble Hill, but for families that prefer a less expensive drop-in option, there are Open Play sessions every weekday. Kids can play with Legos and toys, put puzzles together and draw pictures, and some sessions also include sing-alongs and read-aloud story time.
Where: 421 Fifth Ave at 8th Street, Park Slope.
When: Monday and Friday 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., from Oct. 29, 2012 to May 3, 2013.
Price: $10 per family.
Good for: Kids ages 1 to 4 who like music.
On Monday and Friday mornings, the Brooklyn Arts Exchange opens a large, sunny studio filled with toys to young children from the neighborhood for Playspace. There are stations for different activities, including instruments, props, balls and hula hoops, and kids can also climb an indoor jungle gym. "It's an opportunity for families to hang out together," said Maya Visco, Brooklyn Arts Exchange's education director. "We try to make it engaging but not over-stimulating."
Where: 159 N. 4th St., Williamsburg.
When: Weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weekends 9 a.m. to noon.
Price: $15 for a daily playground pass, $10 for each additional child.
Good for: Elementary school kids who like to climb and slide.
Klub4Kidz just celebrated its second birthday in Williamsburg, where the towering four-level playground has quickly become a favorite spot for birthday parties. But parents can also bring their energetic youngsters to the enormous playscape any day of the week, to crawl through the tubes and shoot down the slides. "You can come in the morning and stay 'til the end of the day," owner Tina Klideris said of the $15 all-day pass. For an additional $10, kids can also tackle an 18-foot rock-climbing wall.
Where: Floyd Bennett Field, 3159 Flatbush Ave., Marine Park.
When: Weekdays 5:30 a.m. to midnight, weekends 6 a.m. to midnight; hours for specific programs vary.
Price: Skating $7 for kids, $9 for adults, plus $5 skate rental; rock climbing $10; open youth basketball $10; gymnastics $10 per half hour.
Good for: Athletic kids in elementary and middle school.
Aviator Sports and Events Center is a long hike from the subway, but for families with cars or those willing to take the bus, it boasts an array of activities designed to get kids' blood pumping. The indoor rink hosts open skates every day of the week, and a 35-foot rock-climbing wall challenges adults and kids alike. Aviator also offers youth basketball games and gymnastics classes, a bungee trampoline and an arcade.
Where: 6273 Fresh Pond Rd., Ridgewood.
When: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Price: Tuesday $5, Wednesday to Friday $8, Saturday and Sunday $12.
Good for: Kids from 6 months to 12 years old who like climbing and mazes.
Kids Fun House is a popular Queens birthday spot, but it also hosts Open Play hours six days a week, allowing energetic elementary school kids to roam a three-level playscape of tunnels, mazes and slides. There is also a smaller toddler area so the youngest visitors don't get overwhelmed. Families can pay extra to sign up for music and movement classes or to drop off their kids for babysitting.
Where: 47-01 111th St., Flushing.
When: Tuesday to Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., Friday 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
Price: Free with museum admission: $8 for children, $11 for adults.
Good for: Children ages 6 and under who like exploring how things work.
Kids' eyes widen when they walk into Preschool Place at the New York Hall of Science, which is filled with things they can climb, build and explore. The 22 hands-on exhibits include a child-size puppet theater, a magnetic train set, a crane that moves foam bricks and much more. The museum also hosts weekend crafts sessions for an additional fee.
Where: 5-02 50th Ave., Long Island City.
When: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 1 to 2:30 p.m., Tuesday and Friday noon to 1:30 p.m., Friday 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Price: $12.50 for one child, $20 for two children.
Good for: Budding gymnasts ages 1 to 5 years old.
Long Island City Kids opens its gym for free-play sessions, allowing kids free reign over the gymnastics equipment including two trampolines, parallel bars, a balance beam and an obstacle course. The crowd tends to be a little older, with more 4 and 5-year-olds, during the 4:30 p.m. Friday session. Kids can also take an array of classes, including tumbling, martial arts, yoga, theater, chess and music.
Where: 170 W. 233rd St., Kingsbridge.
When: Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Good for: Children from crawling age to 3 years old.
The 16,000-square-foot Uptown Sports Complex has everything from batting cages to hip-hop dance classes, but toddlers can get their exercise in a calmer environment at the weekday Open Play sessions. With children's songs playing in the background, tots can explore a room filled with colorful mats in different shapes and sizes, honing their motor skills. Uptown Sports Complex also offers gymnastics and dance classes, along with an after-school program.
Where: 2900 Southern Boulevard, Fordham.
When: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Price: Admission varies based on day and time.
Good for: Kids who are interested in plants, flowers and trains.
Even when the rest of the city is cold, it's always warm inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden, which stays steamy enough to grow exotic flora from around the world. In addition to peering at cacti and tropical fruit trees, children can also visit the conservatory's Holiday Train Show with its miniature New York landmarks through Jan. 13, 2013. The annual Orchid Show will run March 3 to April 22, 2013.
Where: 1000 Richmond Terrace.
When: Tuesday to Friday noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sunday and school holidays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Price: $6, grandparents free on Wednesdays.
Good for: Kids who like hands-on exploring.
Kids can play chess with life-size pieces, commandeer a pirate ship and learn how to build a house at the Staten Island Children's Museum. The creative, hands-on exhibits include one on bugs that allows young visitors to watch butterflies and bees at work and one on firefighters that lets kids respond to "emergencies" by donning gear, sliding down a pole and hopping aboard an antique fire truck. The museum also offers many free and low-cost public programs.
Where: 400 Chelsea Rd.
When: Reopening as soon as Dec. 1 and will offer daily open play.
Price: $9.99 per child, $4.99 per adult.
Good for: Kids who like climbing and playing pretend.
Staten Island favorite Chelsea Playground flooded during Hurricane Sandy, but the owners are making repairs and plan to reopen as soon as Dec. 1. The space features a three-level jungle gym with tunnels and slides, along with a rock-climbing wall and a "kids village" that allows children to dress up as firemen, ballerinas and more.