Image courtesy of New York Family
With school out for break this week, parents all over New York City have been looking for activities to occupy their youngsters. Many turn to Mommy Poppins, a local guide for the best preschools, classes, camps, events, trips, and generally fun stuff to do with kids in the city on every budget.
The go-to site for parents was founded in 2007 by native New Yorker Anna Fader who wanted to share her vision for a “more artsy, educational, non-commercialized and community-oriented way to raise kids in New York City.” It’s since expanded to include Long Island, New Jersey, Westchester, Connecticut, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, as well as an app that helps parents find things like playgrounds and restaurants on the go. 6sqft recently caught up with Anna to learn about her personal experiences raising a family downtown and get some insider tips on the best things to do with kids in New York.
We heard you grew up in a pretty awesome downtown apartment. Tell us a bit about this.
We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I actually lived in lots of different neighborhoods and interesting places. One of my favorite places, though, was a loft on West 14th Street. It was raw space that my parents built out themselves. I had a sleeping loft, and my dad made a window looking out on the living space. We had a trapeze, and the living room was a big open space that became a staging ground for all kinds of play. The most amazing thing was the backyard. We could only access it by climbing out the window, but it was double wide between our building and the next one. It was big enough that we could play baseball back there. We tried not to hit the ball too hard or we’d lose it over the fence, but that was pretty awesome. I think our rent was $300.
You’ve been raising your own family downtown since 2004. What drew you to the area and why do you think it’s great for raising a family?
Our neighborhood is a little pocket that doesn’t really have a name. It’s not quite the Seaport or the Financial District or Tribeca or Chinatown, but sits between all of those. I love the proximity to all those areas with such different flavors. It also has amazing public schools and a really nice community of parents. I really wanted to have that neighborhood school experience that I had as a kid for my children and myself. In NYC the neighborhood schools can really be the core of the community.
How do you think the neighborhood has changed in the past 12 years?
I think people often talk about how the city has changed, but it’s very hard to separate how the city has changed and how you yourself have changed. I mean, if you think there’s nothing cool going on in New York City like there was in the old days that just means you need to get out more.
You started Mommy Poppins in 2007. Where did you get the idea?
I started Mommy Poppins as a New Year’s resolution to do something creative for myself outside of my very intense job. I didn’t really know what it would be, but as I started writing I honed in on what was interesting to me. Then when other people actually found it, I saw that there was a huge need for someone to help parents discover the city, especially things that were free or inexpensive.
The site is now one of the go-to resources for city parents, and you’ve expanded to seven other locations. To what do you attribute the success? And do you have plans to grow even more?
My single-minded focus is always to create the best content that we can create. I believe that if we always do that everything else will fall into place. That’s pretty much the beginning and the end of my business strategy right there.
What would you say are some of the challenges of raising kids in New York City? What about the advantages?
I think the best thing about raising kids in NYC can also be the worst thing. The city offers almost infinite choices for everything from where to send your kids to school to what ballet class to take. All those choices open up amazing opportunities, but can also be completely overwhelming and paralyzing.
So many young families are moving to Brooklyn these days. Do you feel there’s pros and/or cons to living with children in the boroughs as opposed to Manhattan?
I’ve lived in most of the boroughs at some point in my life and they all have a lot to offer. NYC has so many different types of neighborhoods in both Manhattan and the outer boroughs and there are so many different things to take into consideration if you are deciding where to live. You want to look at the quality of the schools, the commute, the community, access to parks and amenities and, of course, affordability. Talk about overwhelming choices.
How do you think the attitudes of parents in New York City compare to those in other cities or suburbs?
I think on a basic level everybody wants the same things: for their kids to be happy and healthy. I think the main thing NYC parents face is they often have very limited living space, so they are looking to get out of the house a lot. Luckily there’s basically unlimited opportunities for fun just outside your door here.
What are some of your favorite spots to take your two kids?
Our favorite thing to do is to explore neighborhoods. There are so many different enclaves that practically feel like you’re traveling to another country. We did a food crawl through Queens where we made a dozen stops to taste different ethnic foods. We still muse about that yummy day.
How about some recommendations for families on a budget?
As much as people talk about how expensive it is to live in NYC, and it is, the city provides amazing opportunities that cost little or nothing, but many people don’t know about them. Changing that is one of the main missions of Mommy Poppins. We have a whole guide dedicated to free activities and post about free things regularly. You can also search our event calendar just for free things to do. I think if you are looking for amazing free opportunities I would start with the museums. It’s unbelievable that children can take art classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art for free. There are even free summer camps. New York is just an amazing place.
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All images courtesy of Mommy Poppins unless otherwise noted