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Summer can fly by before you know it, so make sure you aren’t wasting yours with work on the weekends.

The best memories of childhood are what you did in the summertime, and we’ve got some tips to get you out of doors to create new memories with your kids, nieces and nephews.

GO Brooklyn visited a few of the borough’s kiddie attractions to see what’s hot and what’s not. Of course, I didn’t dare make those critical decisions on my own; I had a discerning critic in tow, my own niece, Ashleigh Curtis, age 5. We also had some useful guidebooks.

When headed to Prospect Park, pick up the handy "Complete Illustrated Guidebook to Prospect Park & Brooklyn Botanic Garden" by Richard J. Berenson and Neil deMause (Silver Lining Books, $14.95). The book, which can be purchased in the Park or at a Brooklyn Barnes & Noble, features 20 pages of maps, 11 walking tours and four pages of bird-spotting guides.

Also, be sure to get the Prospect Park Alliance’s "A Map of Prospect Park and Its Community." Call the Prospect Park Alliance at (718) 965-8951 to find out where you can pick up your free map. It will cut down on the amount of time you spend lost and wandering - which is important when hiking with little legs that tire quickly.


The zoo

While Prospect Park offers rides on its handsomely restored carousel and pedal boats by the boathouse, what really grabbed Ashleigh’s attention was a visit to the well-kept and interesting Prospect Park Zoo, operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Inside the zoo, Ashleigh’s favorite feature was the Discovery Trail’s large, green metal lily pads that are spaced over one section of the marsh. Kids, alongside the real frogs sitting on real lily pads, can jump from pad to pad over the water. Though Ashleigh was a successful leaper, parents (and aunts and uncles) might consider bringing an extra pair of shoes and socks in case of any soggy mishaps in this interactive exhibit.

The World of Animals, which includes the Discovery Trail, features the animals in reproductions of their natural habitats - outdoors - really taking advantage of the park setting and making this zoo a pleasure for children and adults.

Another Ashleigh favorite was the prairie dog exhibit. Kids can climb in tunnels - faux burrows - which have clear domes at the top. Once there, the kids can examine the prairie dogs at eye level - and close proximity. Ashleigh climbed into and out of every burrow.

For those patriotic parents, be sure to look for the lone, majestic bald eagle, which can also be spotted along the trail.
A highlight for me was inside the indoor Animal Lifestyles pavilion. There, a senior zookeeper stood casually in front of the cotton-top tamarin monkey exhibit and told anyone who happened by what a second trainer inside the exhibit was doing. That zookeeper was training the tiny animals to recognize colors, and in the process, helping them to become familiar with humans (so they don’t become traumatized and can’t mate), explained the senior keeper.

It was an unexpected surprise to get a class on zoo keeping, animal husbandry and animal psychology. Ashleigh was captivated by the tamarins, which would tap certain colors in exchange for pieces of apple. The zookeeper explained that teaching kids and adults about the animals was an important part of raising awareness about animal conservation.

(The zoo is offering "Keeping Up with the Keepers" weekends in July. Call the zoo for more information on which animals will be spotlighted on which weekends.)

The baby Hamadryas baboon just celebrated its first birthday in June. Stop by the viewing room to see one of the zoo’s most popular exhibits - the outlandish pink-bottomed baboons.

Behind the Animals in Our Lives exhibit, kids can feed the barnyard residents, including goats and a cow, in their stalls. (Each handful of feed is 50 cents and will buy squeals of laughter when a small hand is lapped with the gargantuan tongue of the black cow!)

At the center of the zoo is an outdoor sea lion exhibit. Call before you go, so you can coincide your visit with a sea lion feeding. The sea lions are very vocal after May, the beginning of their mating season, which makes them especially full of antics.

If you’re headed to Prospect Park on July 14, the RH Macy’s Fishing Contest will take place from 10 am to 2 pm. Kids, ages 15 and under, tempt Prospect Lake’s carp, largemouth bass and brown bullhead catfish with bamboo rods and kernel corn bait. It’s a wet afternoon of catch-and-release fishing. Enter the park at Ocean and Parkside avenues and turn right into the Kate Wollman Rink parking lot.

The Prospect Park Wildlife Center is located at 450 Flatbush Ave., Prospect Park. (718) 399-7339. Open daily. Hours depend on season. Admission is $2.50 adults, 50 cents children. Children under 3 admitted free. For more information about Prospect Park go to


The New York Aquarium

It wouldn’t be summer without a trip to the beach!

Head out to Coney Island for the day and enjoy the boardwalk, the New York Aquarium, Astroland Amusement Park and Deno’s Wonderwheel Park, and if your kids are still standing, sit them down for a game at the new Keyspan Park and watch an affordable Brooklyn Cyclones game.

Ashleigh’s favorite area of the Aquarium was the outdoor Sea Cliffs, which featured enormous walruses who not only spotted her, they reared back and spit salt water on her. This hilarious event was the highlight of the day, though Sea Cliffs also features sea otters and penguins, as well as harbor and fur seals.

She was enraptured by the shark tank, but a bit hesitant when it came to touching the stingrays, horseshoe crabs, and sea stars (They’re not starfish anymore!) in the Touch a Ray and Touch Tank areas.

On July 21 and 22, the Aquarium is featuring a "From Russia with Love" program. The Aquarium will draw special attention to the white beluga whales and other Russian aquatic animals, like sturgeon, during the two-day celebration. Russian arts and crafts, traditional music and storytelling will also be featured.

From 11 am to 4 pm, on both days, there will be performances by the Brighton Ballet Theater and a storyteller. Dolphin and sea lion demonstrations will take place at noon, 2 and 4 pm. All children ages 2 to 12 will receive a "Sea Odyssey Activity Book" to encourage the kids to take a closer look at the displays.

The bottlenose dolphins, Tab and Presley, perform with California sea lion Fonzie. Whether you come for the Russian celebration, or on another summer day, call for performance times, so you can coincide your visit with this great show. A hint: the closer you sit to the show, the wetter you’ll get.

The New York Aquarium is open every day, 10 am to 5 pm (and 6 pm on summer holidays and weekends). Admission is $9.75, $6 children and seniors. Children under 2 admitted free. The Aquarium is located at West Eighth Street and Surf Avenue. For more information call (718) 265-FISH or visit the Web site at


More ideas

Astroland Amusement Park
[1000 Surf Ave., (718) 265-2100], Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Discovery Garden [1000 Washington Ave., (718) 623-7200], The Brooklyn Children’s Museum [145 Brooklyn Ave., (718) 735-4400], Brooklyn Cyclones [Keyspan Park, 1904 Surf Ave., (718) 449-8497], Nellie Bly Amusement Park [1824 Shore Parkway at 26th Avenue, (718) 996-4002], New York City Transit Museum [Schermerhorn Street at Boerum Place, (718) 243-3060], Puppetworks [338 Sixth Ave. at Fourth Street, (718) 965-3391] and Shadowbox Theater [YWCA, 30 Third Ave., (212) 724-0677].

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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