Back-to-school time can be a mixed bag for families: while many kids dread the end of summer and the return to the classroom, parents often look forward to getting their children out of the house and back into the school-day routine. But all should be able to agree that fall can be a particularly fun time for families to be together celebrating the harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving or just relishing that last bit of warm summer weather. And once the City's pools and beaches close, parents of babies and toddlers will also be looking for ways to keep their little ones entertained. Never fear; suitable events abound throughout the five boroughs from September to November. Below we've put together a list of 19 kid-friendly fall happenings—holiday themed, free, outdoors or just good fun—to keep the young ones occupied and happy.
Enchanted Wave Hill Weekend
Wave Hill's floral beauty and sweeping views are enough to draw visitors any time of year. But the weekend-long Enchanted Wave Hill festival kicks things up a few notches with folklore- and fairytale-inspired storytelling and craft making. Enjoy live music while the kids create small woodland dwellings using sticks and other natural materials.
Día de los Muertos Weekends
New York Botanical Garden
October 24–25 and October 31–November 1
While it translates to “day of the dead,” Día de los Muertos isn't as scary as it sounds. The Mexican holiday is a time for families to come together to honor their deceased loved ones. For two weekends in October the New York Botanical Garden celebrates this tradition with a parade of life-size skeletons, puppetlike butterflies and representations of the grand dame of the day, La Catrina. On October 24 and 25, kids can watch a special pumpkin-carving display. The second weekend coincides with the end of NYBG's Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Lifeexhibition.
Holiday Train Show
New York Botanical Garden
November 21–January 18, 2016
The annual Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden is a must for any family visiting NYC during the holiday season. More than 150 NYC landmarks—including the Brooklyn Bridge, Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty—are built from natural materials like seeds, bark and leaves, creating a miniature NYC backdrop through which model trains twist and turn.
Bargemusic Family Concerts
Brooklyn Bridge Park
This renovated coffee barge underneath the Brooklyn Bridge now serves as a concert venue with some of the best views of Lower Manhattan around. On Saturdays throughout the year, families can enjoy one-hour concerts as part of the Neighborhood Family Concert Series. Performances begin at 4pm; doors open at 3:45pm. Free
Boo at the Zoo
Prospect Park Zoo
Come in costume to this spooktacular event, where creepy live animals will scarf down Halloween treats and even interact with some of the guests. The kid-friendly fete typically features arts and crafts, face painting and other less-frightening activities for the super-young set.
Disney on Ice Celebrates 100 Years of Magic
Disney's all-time favorite characters—Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Cinderella, Snow White and more—share the ice with some newer cartoon celebrities, like Anna and Elsa from Frozen, in this extravaganza at Barclays Center. Sing along to Disney favorites like “Let It Go” (Frozen), “Hakuna Matata” (The Lion King) and “You've Got a Friend In Me” (Toy Story), accompanied by a cast of more than 50 and a crowd of fans young and old.
Jack and the Beanstalk
The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
Through September 20
The classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk gets a bit of a twist, courtesy of the Swedish Cottage and City Parks Foundation. In this version, Jack encounters the thieving giant who has stolen from him and his mother. With the help of his friends, Jack attempts to take back what is rightfully his.
The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter
American Museum of Natural History
September 5–May 29, 2016
More than 500 live butterflies fly freely inside a vivarium that mimics their natural habitat with warm temperatures, tropical flowers and vegetation. Also on display is information about the life cycle, anatomy, farming and conservation of these beautiful insects. A visit makes for a fun, educational day trip for the kids; they'll learn, explore and enjoy the tropical feel of the exhibition.
Hansel and Gretel's Halloween Adventure
The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
Get the kids in the Halloween spirit with a twist on a classic tale, which finds the brother-sister duo safe at home in their beds but having dreams that involve Central Park and Belvedere Castle. The two set out on an adventure throughout the City, encountering pirates, vampires, mermaids and monsters along the way.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and Balloon Inflation
Every kid should have a chance to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in person and in all its glory. For something a little different, take a trip up to the streets surrounding the American Museum of Natural History to watch the parade balloons being inflated the night before (November 25, 3pm–10pm). Crowds tend to fill this event, too, so it may be worth going later in the evening when some children have gone to bed. Free
More than just an excuse to eat sweets, NYC Honey Week (September 8–13) aims to bring attention to the importance of honeybees and their contribution to human existence. But, hey, the food is probably really good too. On September 12, visit the Rockaway Boardwalk for Honey Fest, a daylong celebration of our yellow-and-black insect friends that includes art, food, music, kids' crafts and much more.
Queens County Fair and Amazing Maize Maze
Queens County Farm Museum
September 19–October 25
The City's largest remaining stretch of undisturbed farmland rests in Queens, at the beloved Queens County Farm Museum. This family-friendly space hosts events all throughout the year, but it really shines in the fall with the 32nd annual Queens County Fair (September 19 and 20)—contests, races, hayrides, carnival rides, games and entertainment—and the corn labyrinth known as the Amazing Maize Maze, which remains open for a month after the fair.
Pumpkin Patch, Halloween Haunted House and Children's Fall Festival
Queens County Farm Museum
The fun just doesn't stop at the Queens County Farm Museum, as the harvest and Halloween celebrations continue well into October. On weekends take the kids to find a choice pumpkin at the Pumpkin Patch; visit the haunted house on October 24 and 25 for some spooky fun; and, on October 25, enjoy the music, games and food featured at the Children's Fall Festival.
Drop-In Family Art Workshops
Sundays are your chance to get creative at Drop-In Family Art Workshops at the Queens Museum. Kids (ages 5–12) and parents are invited to come by for some hands-on art activities—including such techniques as bookmaking and clay figures. The theme changes each week, sometimes centering on the nearest holiday or on museum exhibitions. Free for kids
Richmond County Fair
Historic Richmond Town
There's some good old-fashioned family fun to be had at Historic Richmond Town each September. The living history village pulls out all the stops for this annual fair, which includes circus performers, rides, crafts, live music, contests and plenty of food.
Staten Island Museum Snug Harbor Grand Opening Weekend
Staten Island Museum at Snug Harbor
The Staten Island Museum opens its new Snug Harbor home this September, and to celebrate the museum is offering free admission, games, music, crafts, food and family fun all weekend long. While on the grounds, enjoy the opening exhibitions—on extinction, island history and objets d'art from around the world—along with the contemporaneous Autumn Moon Festival and some “special surprises.” Free
October 3–November 1 (weekends)
On the grounds of Historic Richmond Town sits the working family-style Decker Farm, a New York City landmark. While it's certainly an interesting place for families to visit year-round, the farm is most famous for its annual pumpkin-picking extravaganza, where pumpkins are spread over 10 acres for the taking. Hayrides, face painting, crafts and a corn maze are also on offer.
Shrek the Musical
St. George Theatre
The beloved green ogre from the hit films takes to the stage in Staten Island for one night only. Kids are invited to come in costume and participate in a preshow parade; a meet and greet with characters follows the performance.
Staten Island War Memorial Rink
Kick off the holiday season right: go ice-skating at one of the City's many wonderful rinks. The Staten Island War Memorial Rink is typically one of the first to open for the season. As a bonus, it's encased in a huge heated bubble, so you won't freeze too terribly in the City's coldest months; it makes it a lot easier on kids, too.