From Carousels to Camp: What to Do with Kids in Brooklyn This Summer

Camp Ballibay  Camptown, Pennsylvania (Yes, there's a place called Camptown. That's where this camp is.)

It’s strange, sort of, to think that summer is in full swing already. Strange because it’s not exactly felt so much like summer yet, maybe because it’s been so cool, or maybe because… no, it’s definitely because it’s been so cool. But that’s all bound to change sooner or later (sooner, actually, if you take a look at what the rest of the week holds: sun! 90 degrees! summer!), and we’ll all feel as if summer will go on forever, and we’ll get to live eternally in this blissful state of at least partial relaxation, where we get to read books and linger outside and drink frosty, frozen things. Isn’t summer just the best?

Well, if your answer to that is an uncomplicated “yes,” I’m there with you, really I am. But you know who’s maybe not? People with kids. Why? Well, because summer might be great for kids and adults alike, but when you’re an adult with a kid (or more than one, those things happen) summer becomes a source of stress, a time to plan around instead of just enjoy. But here’s the thing, there’s actually tons of stuff to do in Brooklyn (and beyond!) this summer, so that your kids are happy, you’re happy—everyone’s happy. And you can trust me on this because I have kids and still—still!—I’m managing to enjoy the hell out of this summer. I really am.

Jurassic Park

ONE-OFF ACTIVITIES
For when you just need something special to do with your kids for a few hours.

NEW YORK CITY CHILDREN’S POETRY FESTIVAL
The city’s annual poetry festival is really tons of fun for the whole family, and with poets like Nick Flynn, David Matlin, Patricia Spears Jones, and Fran Quinn reading this year, there’s absolutely something for everybody.  But this is a particularly fun event for kids because they can write and share their own poetry at the festival’s child-specific component. Plus, they get to take a boat out to Governor’s Island, and, fact: All kids love boats.
7/25-7/26, 11am-6pm. Governors Island, Colonels Row. Freenewyorkcitypoetryfestival.com

JURASSIC PARK AT SUMMERSCREEN
There are tons of outdoor movie events this summer, so parents really have their pick when it comes to where to drag their kids. But may we recommend our parent company’s SummerScreen for your consideration? There’s the added bonus of live music, food trucks, plus the family-friendly offering Jurassic Park on August 5, because who needs Jurassic World anyway?
8/5, band at 6:30pm, movie at sundown, McCarren Park. Free. summerscreen.org

ARTHUR ASHE KIDS’ DAY
It’s something of a New York tradition to at least get grounds tickets for the US Open every year. (Or maybe that’s just something I hold dear, thanks to the amazing Honey-Deuce cocktails available?) Anyway, let your kids really enjoy themselves at Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, which is held each year in conjunction with the tennis tourney; the day promises a variety of free activities on the grounds of the National Tennis Center, like tennis lessons, a chance to watch the pros practice, and family games, plus an affordable, ticketed stage show that brings in big talent. Recent Wimbledon-winner Novak Djokovic will be there this year.
8/29. USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, Queens. Festival free; stage show $10 and up. arthurashekidsday.com

Photo via lakesidebrooklyn.com

BOROUGH RESOURCES
For when you need something to do in Brooklyn that will be there when you need it.

JANE’S CAROUSEL
There’s so much to do at Brooklyn Bridge Park, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing. But if we had to—if we were forced to—we’d say, take a spin on Jane’s Carousel. This beautifully restored ride sits in a gorgeous glass box right on the water and offers some of the most beautiful views of downtown Manhattan around.
Dock Street at Brooklyn Bridge Park, DUMBO. 11am-7pm

SPRAY-GROUNDS
Did you know there’s an official name for playgrounds which feature water attractions? I didn’t until just recently, when a co-worker (who actually is not a big fan of kids, but clearly knows some kid-related facts!) told me that they’re called “spray-grounds.” Anyway! They’re awesome and a great way to beat the heat. In our opinions, one of the best around is at the LeFrak Lakeside Center in Prospect Park, which also features roller skating, bike rentals, boating, and really good food.
171 East Side Drive, Prospect Park. Prices vary by activity; lakesidebrooklyn.com

STORY-TIME
We’re lucky here in Brooklyn that there are an abundance of both libraries and independent community bookstores, pretty much all of which offer story-times for kids in the summer. PowerHouse on 8th hosts a kids event most Sundays, and there’s even one coming up featuring SuJean Rim’s book Birdie’s First Day of School. I’m sure your kids will adore the reminder that September’s just around the corner. Or, if they don’t, at least you will.
Story-time with SuJean Rim 8/9 11:30am Free at PowerHouse on 8th, 1111 8th Avenue, Park Slope. For other story-times, check the schedule of your local library or indie bookstore.

 

DAY CAMPS
For when you need your child occupied all day, every day, but home on the weekends and for dinner.

STREB LAB FOR ACTION MECHANICS
Let your little one learn how to fly (no, really!) at this amazing Williamsburg institution, which offers week-long Circus Camp for kids in which they’ll take to trampolines and trapezes and really, really expend all that extra energy kids tend to accumulate during the summer. I genuinely wish this was also for adults.
Streb, 51 N. 1st Street, Williamsburg for more info visit streb.org

BROOKLYN BOULDERS
One of my favorite ways to exercise year-round is climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, but I have to admit that I frequently get distracted while looking for the nearest hand grip by all the amazing kids who are a third of my age and yet can scale these massive walls without a moment’s hesitation. So let your kid be as cool as these kids are and send them to one of Brooklyn Boulders’ many different camp options (they even allow for single day registrations) and be prepared to be really impressed by their skills in no time at all.
575 Degraw Street, Gowanus for more info visit brooklynboulders.com

So. Much. Green. Camp Ballibay in the Endless Mountains

SLEEP-AWAY CAMP
For when you want your child to have an immersive, potentially life-changing experience, that simultaneously allows you to have something of a summer of your own.

THE BALLIBAY CAMPS
Ok, so here’s the big one: Sleep-away camp. Did you go to sleepaway camp as a kid? Do you know people who did? If so, you are well aware that sleepaway camp is a childhood-defining event for pretty much everyone who experiences it. I mean, think of all the grown adults who still talk about their “camp friends” even though camp was many, many years ago. It’s the kind of thing that seems crazy if you didn’t experience it, but is actually totally normal if you did, because this is generally the first time in a kid’s life in which they get a real taste of independence and self-reliance. It’s a seminal time, formative in the truest sense of the word. There’s a reason, after all, that so many great movies revolve around summer camp experiences—it changes lives. Um, so, you better pick a good one for your kid!

The Ballibay Camps are located in Camptown, Pennsylvania (I know!) and are a cluster of fine and performing arts camps tucked away in the Endless Mountains (again, I know! these names!). Campers choose to attend specific programs, which range from musical theatre to fine art to rock band (and much more), and also have the opportunity to dabble in different media, like video & film, or radio. There’s plenty of traditional camp activities, like swimming, horseback-riding, fishing, boating, tennis, singalongs, and campfires, but because the camp features a self-described “non-competitive orientation” there isn’t any of the at-times fraught camp experience that some kids wind up having, in which they feel like they can’t measure up to the other kids. At Ballibay, the focus is more on the journey, rather than some end goal.

And, if you’re wondering how I know so much about Ballibay, it’s because I’ve sent both my kids there for years now. In a this-is-so-very-Brooklyn experience, I won a silent auction at the Prospect Park Conservancy’s annual gala for two weeks to the sleepaway camp, and sent my older son. (I also later found out that the father of my other son’s friend’s family started the camp decades ago, though the father, a professor at Brooklyn College, is no longer involved with the operational running of the camp.) I remember having some hesitancy about sending my son, wondering if he’d like it, if he’d be ok on his own; he was somewhat shy and had never been away from family for even a night. But he loved it. He left those two weeks brimming with confidence and having tried and adored activities he’d never even attempted before.

I think this is in no small part due to the approach of the camp which has a very familiar-to-Brooklyn-kids ethos. There is a high level of respect for the kids and their ability to recognize what is good and interesting for them. It’s not that the kids run the place—far from it; the staff is eminently capable and very impressive—but rather that their voices are heard and there isn’t the rigidity of schedule that some other camps have. Plus, the food’s amazing. This is the thing I hear most from my own kids before they leave for camp: We can’t wait to have the food. It’s sourced from local farms (including some, like Hails Family Farm, that are available at the Park Slope Food Co-op and Brooklyn Larder) and is antibiotic- and hormone-free. It is, I’ve found, the kind of place that where I can feel fully at ease sending my children, where I know that the large amount of time which elapses before I get another letter from them is due to how much fun they’re having.

And, really, isn’t that what summer is supposed to be about for kids? For adults? For everyone? The ability to relax and appreciate the fleeting nature of this season is something that seems like it should be easy to attain, and yet it so frequently borders on the impossible. Hopefully, though, these summertime kids’ activities will help you and your kids enjoy the last few weeks of summer to its fullest. It’ll be over before you know it.

For more info on the Ballibay Camps, visit campballibay.com or arts-summer-camps.com

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