Saturday mornings at the home of any parent: "What are we going to DO
today?" What if you could answer that plaintive wail with an absolutely
dazzling idea, something your kids have never even dreamed of? Get
ready to be rock star for a day with these uniquely Pittsburgh
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History
offers a behind-the-scenes mollusk tour on Saturday afternoons from 1-3
p.m. Expecting a bunch of absent-minded professors talking shop?
Not! Tim Pearce, Asst. Curator and Head of the Section of Mollusks, is
the genial fellow who answers questions from any and all comers and,
more often than not, it's kids who do the bidding.
visit, it was my nine-year-old son and his hockey mate, Sam Sweet, who
quickly insinuated themselves into Tim's inner sanctum and before long,
we were all observing snails under a microscope. Most of the snails we
see are no bigger than a dime and inch forward via "waves of
progression." Next, Tim reaches for a bag of Potter County soil and
invites the boys to shake it through nested sieves in search of snails.
On finding an unknown species, I suggest we name it "Genus Samuelus
Sweetus" and Tim agrees!
The ensuing walk among stacks of
drawers filled with well-preserved shells calls to mind Ben Stiller's
race through the Smithsonian basement in "Night at the Museum" and
brings us face-to-face with the remains of killer snails (seriously) as
well as "Conus Alphabetus," a gorgeous shell that looks as if it's
written in Hebrew.
After dark, the Carnegie Science Center
hosts regular sleepovers and if your kids have ever dreamed of getting
locked into this gigantic playpen, now is their chance. I take my son
and a friend to the Light Up Night sleepover so they can witness the
outdoor fireworks display but there's plenty of explosive action
beforehand. We carry our sleeping bags to a predetermined location on
one of the museum's four floors and, after a brief orientation, nearly
three hundred kids are let loose inside the museum.
(or not), it's the girls who are cackling the loudest and my two
charges busy themselves with experiments in a glow-in-the-dark room
followed by a sprint between floors to have a turn at every possible
exhibit (the "be-a-weatherman" video spot easily gets the most
traction). They cap the action with a fireworks demo in the Works
Theater led by a bespectacled lady in a red lab coat. After a group
snack, it's a movie in the Omnimax and lights out at midnight. Waking
up the next morning (7 a.m. wake-up call, ouch!), we're treated to a
light breakfast and invited to spend the day at the Science Center and
the new Sportsworks next door. Heading to the latter, the boys spend a
couple of hours flying (roller coaster ride), jumping (two bungee
contraptions) and running (from one exhibit to the next). Parents,
prepare for an endurance event that your kids won't soon forget.Attack Theatre
is Pittsburgh's most inventive dance troupe and often stages
performances geared toward kids, whether in the schools or in its Strip
District space. Typical of the work is "Holiday Unwrapped," which has
been performed for nearly 8,000 teachers and students over the past two
years. In a 30-minute scamp, four dancers are holiday shoppers rushing
into a store and tripping over each other and then engaging in a
slow-motion race for the door.
Next up is "Game Day Plus,"
where parents and kids are invited to partake of old-fashioned,
schoolyard fun and games including Four-Square, backgammon and (now 3D)
tic-tac-toe between seven-minute performances. As with everything the
company does, the choreography is dazzling, the joy infectious and kids
will get it.
You'll find the Toonseum
in the heart of the Cultural District and that's exactly where this gem
belongs. While many of the museum's offerings slant toward adults,
programming for kids includes puppetry workshops and occasional
screenings of old favorites on a drop-down screen. The just-concluded
"Charlie the Tuna" exhibit featured cartoons on a loop interspersed with
Charlie commercials and amid the many sketches and cels were a Charlie
telephone and Charlie alarm clock that totally captivated my son. Brace
yourself for "Superheroes, Icons and Origins" come late Spring, when
Wonder Woman, Spiderman and the gang will be celebrated via screenings
of Superhero films and a Superhero Block Party masterminded by Bricolage
At the Phipps Conservatory
discovery stations are set up throughout the facility on weekends to
engage young minds. On a recent visit, I begin by arming my son and a
classmate, Caroline, with cameras so they will linger longer in each
room. Today, the various stations invite you to create a funny face on a
candy cane in the Fruit and Spice Room while hearing about the uses and
benefits of peppermint; craft a small boat at an origami table staffed
by volunteers from the Origami Club of Pittsburgh; and ice and sprinkle
sugar cookies at a Cookie Decorating Station in the Gallery. "The
cookie room was my favorite!" squeals Caroline on the way out and, yes,
the Phipps knows how to work with kids.
Back outside and close by is the disc golf course in Schenley Park
Pittsburgh's first disc golf course and featuring panoramic views of
downtown. For the uninitiated, the sport involves throwing a
frisbee-type disc over eighteen golf-style holes and putting into a
basket at the end of each hole. While the game is popular with teens
and college students, it's also great fun for young ones and their
parents since accuracy, not strength, is the great equalizer. Equally
enjoyable for families and taking full advantage of the great outdoors
are geocaches sprinkled throughout North Park and South Park. Check in
for pointers and remember, it's the journey, not the destination.
New Girl In Town Elaine Labalme believes every mom is Wonder Woman.
For more feature stories on all things kids, check out Kidsburgh
from the top: Carnegie Museum of Natural History; Carnegie Science
Center; Attack Theatre; Toonseum; Phipps Conservatory and Botanical
GardensPhotographs copyright Brian Cohen