These Fun NYC Activities Double as Useful Life Skills

Kemi Ibeh

One lesson from the past two years is to be prepared for whatever situation Mother Nature throws at us. Besides streaming TV, you might have spent a lot of time at home working on hobbies—making sourdough starters, solving jigsaw puzzles, growing herbs in window planters and the like.

Now is the time to expand that skill set (and have fun) through a host of individual and group activities. Some double as life skills that were once common for survival and have seen renewed interest from all age groups. Read on for where to experience them in NYC.

Courtesy, Bien Hecho Academy

Woodworking at Bien Hecho Academy

Brooklyn Navy Yard, 63 Flushing Ave., Bldg 3, Suite 1103, Brooklyn

Ever looked at the price of fine wood furniture, scoffed and thought you might be better off making it yourself? Well, you can put that idea into action after an Introduction to Woodworking class at Bien Hecho; it covers properties, techniques and design basics. Bien Hecho creates custom wood furniture and interiors, and participants in the class can take home their creations when they sign up for something like the Walnut Slab Workshop, during which you make your own bench or side table.

New York Botanical Garden. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Gardening at New York Botanical Garden

2900 Southern Blvd., Bedford Park, Bronx

Many took up plant parenthood in the past two years, familiarizing themselves with monsteras and pothos. What better way to put those green thumbs to use than with gardening classes? The New York Botanical Garden offers on-site and online classes, at which you can learn vegetable gardening basics, the fundamentals of gardening and landscape maintenance. Bonus: here’s your chance to commune with nature and reap the wellness benefits of doing so.

Courtesy, Kick Axe Throwing

Hurling hatchets at Kick Axe Throwing

622 Degraw St., Gowanus, Brooklyn

If you binge dystopia shows on Netflix, you might find yourself thinking about axe tossing—so much so that you’d like to book a 75-minute class at Kick Axe Throwing. Get a crash course in axe safety, stance and technique for a full-body workout; after you get the basics down, you can compete for fun. Learn this useful skill and soon you’ll be splitting wood for your fantasy cabin hearth in the Catskills.

Solving puzzles at the Great Escape Room

62-33 Woodhaven Blvd., Rego Park, Queens

Unleash your inner Sherlock by clue finding, code breaking and puzzle solving your way out of a room. Think of Squid Game but without the dire consequences of failure. The Great Escape Room is an ideal activity for group bonding and patience testing. Don’t fret if you have anxiety in a locked room; there’s usually a button to alert staff if you want to exit immediately.

Climbing at Brooklyn Boulders

23-10 41st Ave., Long Island City, Queens

Running up and down MTA steps should make this an easy feat, but this is no ordinary climb. You get to work core muscles and limbs gripping hand and foot holds set far apart as you make your way to the top. A couple of classes of this and you’ll be the proud owner of washboard abs. Brooklyn Boulders offers Intro to Climbing and Learn the Ropes classes in small groups, and gear is included.

Courtesy, Area 53 Adventure Park

Mastering the Ropes Course at Area 53 Adventure Park

616 Scholes St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Over by East Williamsburg, Area 53 Adventure Park is a fun space with all kinds of activities: ropes course with harnesses, zipline, roller-skating (with Zimmer frames for the wobbly legged; there’s a small surcharge if you need skates), laser maze and, especially appealing to Gen Xers, arcade games. Come with a group and try to do as much as you can in the three-hour window. There is paintball in an adjacent location, though it’s a separate ticket.

Courtesy, Home Cooking New York

Cooking classes at Home Cooking New York

158 Grand St., Little Italy, Manhattan

All these calorie-burning activities require replenishment. For the culinary challenged, Home Cooking New York offers in-person and virtual cooking classes that include Knife Skills 101, Six Basic Cooking Techniques and How to Cook Shellfish. There are public and private classes, a culinary boot camp and lessons geared to children and teens. Learn the art of a variety of food preparation and leave with life skills that will sustain you in any situation.

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Pottery making at Dan Harelick Studio Art

4575 Fieldston Rd., Riverdale, Bronx

Live out your Ghost fantasy by enrolling in a pottery-making class. Start with the Welcome to the Wheel class to learn clay history and how to “throw” clay on the wheel. It is ideal for novices and quasi-pros, and there is a summer camp for children too. Those with a side passion for wine might book a Wheels and Wine class on the art and zen of working with clay.

Courtesy, Bitter & Esters

Home brewing at Bitter & Esters Home Brew Supply

700 Washington Ave., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Master the centuries-old art of beer making and yeast fermenting by brewing your ale with a Bitter & Esters Gallon All-Grain kit. This brews a small home batch and comes with equipment and instructions. Bitter & Esters offers beer ingredients, classes on yeast and hops—the latter grown in New York State—and recipe kits for Japanese sake, Belgian ale, Czech and German lagers, IPAs and stout. After learning this skill, happy hour will always be within reach.

Plant foraging in Prospect Park

Grand Army Plaza entrance, Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

On this educational foraging tour led by Wildman Steve Brill and his teenage daughter, Violet, you’ll be introduced to edible “weeds” in Prospect Park, such as wild garlic and garlic mustard; overlooked berries and roots like elderberries and ginkgo seeds; medicinal leaves like common plantain leaf (no relation to our beloved plantain); and wild mushrooms. Learn to tell edible and poisonous flora apart. You might even taste brownies made from Kentucky “coffee” beans, which come from the Kentucky coffeetree, have a recognizable coffee taste (note: they must be roasted; otherwise, they are toxic) and have been brewed by ardent foragers. Bring a reusable bag to carry field garlic and garlic mustard home for a stir-fry. Note: what’s available changes with the seasons.


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