Let’s assume that you ate breakfast at your hotel or somewhere nearby; you don’t really need to get on the subway at 6am, or whenever your toddler wakes up, to tour around.
For your first stop, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, splurge on a cab; the subway is at least eight blocks away. The museum, the country’s first for children, opened in 1899, and a recent renovation made it New York City’s first LEED-certified green museum. But what interests your kids is the Totally Tots exhibit, for ages 5 and under, with a water play area, colorful sand for digging and climbing structure. World Brooklyn exposes kids to Brooklyn’s diversity; shape dough at a Mexican Bakery, try Chinese calligraphy, shop at a West African Import Store or make pizza at an Italian restaurant.
The Prospect Park Zoo focuses on small animals and small children. Best here is the Discovery Trail, for toddlers to about age 10. Kids can hatch from giant eggs, hop on lily pads, jump like wallabies and pop up next to prairie dogs in their own Plexiglas holes (very small children need to be boosted up). There is a large sea lion environment, with daily feedings, and a barnyard where kids can feed goats, sheep and a cow.
Getting there: Walk north on Brooklyn Ave towards Bergen Street. Take the B43 Bus from Brooklyn Ave and Bergen St. toward Prospect-Lefferts Gardens; get off at Empire Blvd and Flatbush Ave. The ride is about 20 minutes.
The Wildlife Center is part of a Children’s Corner with a carousel and Lefferts Historic House, where kids can play with old-fashioned toys and games. At special seasonal events, kids can help churn butter, spin fleece, or make candles.
The Audubon Center, open Thursday – Sunday, has a café where you can buy lunch and eat outside in nice weather. Kids can climb into a giant bird nest, play with bird puppets and make crafts. Admission is free. Ride on electric boat, April – mid October, for a guided tour of the lake.
Getting there: walk in the park; there are signs.
If you don’t want to go to the Audubon Center, or are short on time, go across the street from the carousel. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a children’s discovery garden and a café for lunch. The discovery garden, right at the Flatbush Avenue entrance, has a short nature walk where you can pump water and examine plants. Another section invites you to smell and touch different plants; in another area, you can dig in the dirt. The rest of the garden is a gorgeous urban respite, with mature trees, a Japanese garden where my kids always liked to feed the koi fish (save some bread from lunch) and indoor pavilions they love to explore. You can go through a desert environment with cacti and a tropical forest with waterfalls.
If you still have energy, go to the adjacent Brooklyn Museum of Art (the garden and museum share a parking lot). The Museum has free drop-in family programs, but you may just want to head to the period rooms, 23 complete rooms from the 17th century to the 20th century including the Jan Martense Schenck House. The rooms are on the fourth floor. My kids also like the totem poles on the first floor, and the main gift shop, which has a well-edited selection of picture books and art supplies.
Go to Park Slope for dinner. Two Boots is both a child-friendly restaurant and a bar, so get there early. Kids can watch pizza being made, and get a piece of dough to shape their own pie. The pizza face is the way to go with kids; parents can get Cajun or Italian food, or a bit of both; crawfish on pizza.
Getting there: take the 3 train from Eastern Parkway - Brooklyn Museum station heading Uptown / to Harlem one stop to Grand Army Plaza. Then go up Lincoln Place to Seventh Avenue and take the B67 or B69 toward Kensington (cross 7th Ave) and get off at 3rd Street.
You can also walk; turn left out of the Brooklyn Museum, cross Grand Army Plaza and walk up Union St. Turn left on Seventh Avenue and you will pass dozens of family-friendly restaurants. Two Boots is just off 7th Avenue; make a left on 2nd Street.
Other child-friendly spots include Barrio, 7th Avenue and 3rd Street, a Mexican restaurant which has kids meals free some nights; Scottadito, Union Street between 6th and 7th Avenue, an Italian restaurant that also offers kids meals free some nights; and Olive Vine, a Mediterranean restaurant on 7th Avenue and Lincoln Place, which has a heated outdoor tent where you can eat humus and falafel.
Getting home: if you are at 2nd or 3rd Street, you are close to the F train, at 9th Street. Take the Manhattan bound train. If you are at the other end of the Slope, you can get the 4 or 5 train from Grand Army Plaza, or the B or Q from Seventh Avenue (walk north on 7th to Park Place and turn right).