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How to Throw a Kid’s Birthday Party in New York City Parks

Illustration: by Graham Roumieu

How tricky could it be to gather 25 kindergartners and their caregivers in Prospect Park on a Saturday afternoon? Actually quite. We spoke to parents, entertainers, and Parks employees for advice.

It’s worth going farther afield to find parks with better amenities. At a minimum, you’ll want a grassy open area, some shade, a table, and a bathroom nearby. “There’s a hill between the Parkside entrance to Prospect Park and the skating rink that is so perfect for kid parties because of the bathrooms near the rink,” says Jennifer McClelland-Smith, a Brooklyn mother. Rebecca McMackin, the former director of horticulture for Brooklyn Bridge Park, suggests Pier 3 because of the labyrinth and its reliably empty lawn. (Just note you’ll have to walk to Pier 2 for a bathroom.) Nellie Laskow, a Queens mom, likes the North Lawn in Astoria Park, where there is shade under Hell Gate Bridge on hot days. She also likes Randalls Island and Roosevelt Islandspecifically the latter for the big hill above FDR Hope Memorial. “It’s a little trek, but it feels secret and special,” Laskow says. And for a quintessential option, Lauren Smith Brody, a mother of two, recommends Turtle Pond, below the Great Lawn in Central Park, “because it’s easy to keep an eye on the kids with the border of the pond on one side and the Great Lawn path on the other.” Plus you get Belvedere Castle in the background of your photos, and kids love the turtles.

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 2 has a giant covered space with tables, and St. Mary’s Playground in Carroll Gardens is under the F/G tracks, which conveniently provide cover from rain or sun, according to Elisa Pupko, founder of Treasure Trunk Theatre, a children’s theater program. Beware, though: St. Mary’s does not have a bathroom.

Illustration: by Graham Roumieu

If you’re expecting more than 20 people, you need a special-events permit from the Parks Department, which will reveal if someone else is planning to have a party at the same time or if the area will be closed. Apply for your permit at at least 30 days in advance (it’ll take just a few minutes).

Caterer and mother of two Jessica Meter has paper towels, scissors, matches, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, trash bags, toilet paper, and table coverings on her must-bring list. And don’t forget something to weigh the tablecloth down and a vessel heavier than a paper cup to corral utensils.

“It’s better to have something you can execute successfully rather than going over the top,” says Anne McTernan, the Parks Department’s director of citywide special events. Erin Boyle, a mother of three and co-author of Making Things, suggests beading friendship bracelets and handing out travel watercolor kits for elementary-school-age kids. Laskow likes “toys that allow for the community of kids there to join, like bubble machines and Stomp Rockets.”

A skilled performer can add structure to the party and stop kids from wandering. McClelland-Smith hired Joe Magic Man once: “He kept the kids laughing and included the birthday boy as part of the show, which was fun for everyone.”

Illustration: by Graham Roumieu

Brooklyn mom Marisa LaScala recommends hosting a morning party with bagels. “During that 10 a.m.-to-noon slot, the park isn’t as crowded or hot,” she says. Plus parents will thank you for not eating up the entire day.

Many pizzerias cannot easily handle a large, last-minute order through an app, says Leah Wiseman Fink, co-owner of Williamsburg Pizza. She suggests meeting the delivery person at a park entrance with another parent to help carry.

LaScala says, “Parents are likely to bring siblings — and they’re going to want their own treats.”

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