• Today is: Monday, July 24, 2017

11 Pittsburgh playgrounds that kids—and parents—love

Emily Stimmel
July20/ 2017

Play is serious business for kids. As Fred Rogers once famously remarked, “Play is really the work of childhood.”

And there’s no better place for kids to carry out this important work than in spaces where they can run, climb, explore and imagine. These 11 Pittsburgh playgrounds offer all that and more.

best playgrounds
Aspinwall Riverfront Park sports a fantastic beast that doubles as playground equipment.

Aspinwall Riverfront Park
285 River Ave., Aspinwall

The first thing most visitors notice about Aspinwall Riverfront Park is its striking “Playground” bronze sculpture. The 30-foot-by-30-foot-by-24 foot installation by artist Tom Otterness serves double-duty as a slide.

The 11-acre park includes the Highmark quarter-mile walking trail, native gardens and wetlands, an amphitheater and stage, free ice skating in the winter, and warm weather kayaking in partnership with Venture Outdoors and Kayak Pittsburgh.

But the playground’s connection to children runs deeper than its kid-friendly amenities. When it was established in 2011, nearly 3,000 people rescued what was then the Aspinwall Marina from becoming a commercial parking lot. They raised more than $2 million in a little over six months – and kids brought in $14,000 of that total.

A Pittsburgh classic: The Blue Slide Park in Squirrel Hill. Photo by Clifton Page

Blue Slide Park
2005 Beechwood Blvd., Squirrel Hill

The centerpiece of this Frick Park attraction is—you guessed it!—a big blue concrete slide built right into the hill. But that’s not all this multilevel park has to offer.

To traverse the three sections of the park, kids wind through concrete tunnels, climb grassy hills, and swing and jump their way across several play structures separated by their age and ability level. There’s a separate play area just for toddlers and a dog park and picnic area nearby.

For maximum speed, be sure to bring along a flattened cardboard box for the slide. But there are usually plenty of extras to go around if you leave yours at home.

Anderson Playground near Schenley Park is an easy stop after a visit to the nearby Carnegie Museum or Phipps Conservancy. Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

 

Anderson Playground
3501 Forbes Ave., Oakland

Located in nearby Schenley Park, Anderson Playground is better known as the “Dinosaur Playground.” It gets its nickname from a dino-shaped play structure with tunnel slides for legs and a skeleton comprised of climbers and monkey bars. A “baby dinosaur” structure lets toddlers in on the fun.

Other mini-playgrounds on-site include a castle-themed area—complete with a drawbridge and lookout towers—and more traditional equipment, such as a merry-go-round.

A rubber ground surface, shade and plenty of green space complete the kid-friendly features.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow are part of the themes at Kids Castle Playground. Photo courtesy of Cranberry Township

Kids Castle Playground
111 Ernie Mashuda Drive, Cranberry Township

Nestled in Cranberry Township’s Community Park, Kids Castle is divided into three themed areas focusing on the Cranberry of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

From classic playground equipment — swings, climbing areas, and spring-mounted riding animals — to modern amenities like a rock climbing wall and Evos arched play structures, this playground offers an array of activities for kids from 2 to 12.

Other features include fully accessible common areas, walkways and decorative pathways, terraced steps, a circular brick stage, picnic tables and benches, baseball fields, basketball courts, and restrooms.

The $500,000 project—named Cranberry’s 2013 Community Project of the Year—was funded by community members and local businesses. It has been described as “a playground fit for a prince or princess.”

Dormont Park, photo courtesy of Dormont Borough

Dormont Park
1801 Dormont Ave., Dormont

Royal themes are prominent at Dormont Park, too. It’s known to locals as “Castle Park” because of the elaborate configuration of its playful wooden structures which have been around for several decades.

You’ll find a variety of classic playground equipment, from rings and monkey bars to slides and swings. There are even a few tire swings for the most adventurous.

Shaded, built-in benches provide respite for parents and younger kids, making this park a great choice for picnics. The 5.2-acre park also includes a ball field, soccer fields, and pavilion.

The sprawling Wiltshire Park delivers activities for kids from toddlers to teens. Photo courtesy of the Township of Upper St. Clair

Wiltshire Park
108 McMurray Rd., Upper St. Clair

In the neighboring community of Upper St. Clair, Wiltshire Park offers something for all ages, from toddlers to teens.

The playground features infant and standard swings, tunnel and open slides, horizontal rings, bar climbers and a merry-go-round. Surrounding areas of the park include two lighted basketball courts, a lighted street hockey court, a pavilion, and hiking areas, as well as a lighted walking path.

On especially hot days, families can enjoy a park atmosphere with a sandbox and the cooling perks of spray features.

North Park Black and Gold Playground, photo courtesy of Allegheny County Office of Marketing and Special Events

Black and Gold Playgrounds

North Park and South Park

With double-wide ramps, specialized swings, handlebars and other interactive and accessible features, the Black and Gold Playground near the North Park swimming pool is another great choice for children with special physical needs.

Alongside the main playground, you’ll find two smaller playgrounds with swing sets and other equipment tailored to younger kids. Bonus: The area is surrounded by picnic shelters.

A second Black and Gold Playground is located in South Park. The fenced-in playground is adjacent to several other parks, a game preserve, and horse stables.

And just like their name implies, both parks display their Pittsburgh pride through a black and gold color palette.

War Memorial Park offers colorful thrills in its playgrounds. Photo by Clifton Page

War Memorial Park
625 Blackburn Road, Sewickley

Tucked away among trees and Hoey’s Run stream, Sewickley’s War Memorial Park features multiple playgrounds for kids of various ages.

The large playground—Hoey’s Hideaway—was designed with 5- to 12-year-olds in mind. Here you’ll find equipment for the young thrill-seeker, including a zip line and rock climbing wall.

A smaller playground tailored to 2- to 5-year-olds includes spring-mounted animals, train-themed play structures and swings for various ability levels.

Both playgrounds are padded with soft, rubbery ground covering, and the candy-colored equipment complements the bucolic setting. Nearby amenities include a gazebo and benches, a hiking trail, plenty of parking, and Hoey’s Run stream.

Kids dig in the giant sandbox at Blueberry Patch playground. Photo by Clifton Page

Blueberry Patch at Blueberry Hill Park
1604 Blaine’s Way, Franklin Park Borough

Fats Domino found his thrill on Blueberry Hill – and kids will, too! The 87-acre Blueberry Hill Park offers baseball fields, sand volleyball courts, pavilions, a historic log house, and three playgrounds.

One of those playgrounds, Blueberry Patch, boasts a huge, roofed sandbox filled with pails and beach toys.

Other equipment at this fenced-in playground includes toddler-friendly slides and swings, climbing structures and bouncy bridges, all atop a soft mulch surface.

O’Block Playground offers accessibility for all. Photo courtesy of Allegheny County Office of Marketing and Special Events

O’Block Playground
675 Old Frankstown Road, Plum Borough

Part of Boyce Park in Plum Borough, O’Block Playground is all about accessibility, providing activities and equipment to visitors of all ages and abilities. Play components can be accessed by wheelchair, and the soft rubber ground surface makes it easy—and safe—to get around. Swings with high backs and harnesses allow children with special needs to join in the fun.

As an added bonus, exercise equipment is available for adults who’d like to fit in a workout while their kids explore.

The fenced-in park includes nearby parking, picnic tables and ample shade from surrounding trees.

Whether it’s visually appealing structures, accessible equipment, green space or just plain fun, Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities offer plenty of unique play areas.

What are your favorite playgrounds?  Let us know in the comments below!

Kristine Sorensen
July20/ 2017

It is hard to think about heading back to school in the thick of summer, but local non-profits have to do that just to be ready.  They are collecting supplies for kids in need, and they need your help.

School supplies are expensive, so for families who are just struggling to get by, it can be a real challenge.  The average price of school supplies for an elementary school student is $200; for a middle school student, it’s $330, and for high school kids $375.

That’s why the South Hills Interfaith Movement, or SHIM, is helping give away supplies.  “We really want to suport families in being able to afford those things,” says Courtney Macurak, SHIM Program Coordinator.  She says they don’t want anyone to have to “choose between paying a bill and sending their children back to school with new school supplies so they can be ready to learn.”

SHIM is asking people to donate any school supplies — things like pencils, markers, folders, binders, glue sticks, kleenex.  Donations can be dropped off by August at their location in Bethel Park – 5301 Park Avenue, right near South Park.

CentiMark, a national commercial roofing and flooring company headquartered in Washington County, donated 700 brand new Jansport backpacks for SHIM to donate to local children.  Now, they need help with the supplies to go with them.

They will be distributing the backpacks and supplies at 3 celebrations coming up in August, allowing each child to take what they need for their school.  They will go to any children who attend school in the six districts they serve:  Bethel Park, Baldwin-Whitehall, Keystone Oaks, Mount Lebanon, Upper Saint Clair and Keystone Oaks.  In fact, 4,000 kids in the South Hills qualify for free or reduced lunch, and SHIM knows many more who don’t qualify still need help, so no proof of income is necessary to receive the school supplies..

“Our back to school celebration is just that — a celebration,” Macurak says.  “They’ll be able to come to our locations and kind of “shop” for their supplies — choose the backpack they like most and choose school supplies they need.”

The 3 celebrations are Monday, August 14 from 1-4 p.m. at the Baldwin United Presbyterian Church; Thursday, August 17 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at PPFC and Friday, August 18th from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Bethel Park Community Center.

For more details, go to http://shimcares.org/

And next week, you can get a list of more places where you can donate or get help with school supplies on Kidsburgh.org.

Art Expression: Innovative Pittsburgh program helps kids develop social skills through art

Art Expression
Candy Williams
July18/ 2017

On the first day of a six-week workshop, a little boy told the teacher he never knew “he was good at art.”

“On the last day of the workshop, he confided in me that he would like to become an art teacher when he grows up,” says art facilitator Beth Asper. It’s hard to describe how thrilling it is to see kids discover that they can achieve success, she says, whether it’s by making art or making new friends.

Art Expression, an after-school art therapy initiative, works to develop kids’ social skills through art. The program gives as much satisfaction to its teachers as the kids they serve.

“I wanted to get involved with Art Expression because it has such great goals, goals that are aimed at encouraging kids to feel good about themselves,” says Asper, who has worked with kids in Allegheny Valley and Jeanette school districts. “It’s uniquely different from an art classroom, as we have small groups, a good materials budget and the assistance of school staff.”

The free program has served more than 8,000 kids over the past 16 years, reaching urban, suburban and rural school districts and community organizations in Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland counties. The organization also serves 10 agencies that provide services for kids and families who are victims of domestic violence, children of recovering addicts, and homelessness through the Homeless Children’s Education Fund.

Asper feels fortunate to work with Art Expression, a program that she says addresses the emotional needs of kids.

“It’s a fantastic model for inclusion,” she says. “We often have kids with special needs and mainstream kids in the same group.  I have never seen inclusion work as well as it does in Art Expression.”

When Asper led a unit on emotions, for example, she was pleasantly surprised that kids were so animated and creative.

“Students that may have been considered ‘troublesome’ during the school day were suddenly stars in the Art Expression setting,” Asper says. “It’s completely amazing to see these kids realize how capable they really are.”

Art Expression
Jeannette Mckee Elementary School students used the world we live in to inspire their art. Kids were invited to design their own “Cool School” as a space that would make learning fun.

Art Expression is feeling love from other areas, too.  The Mt. Lebanon-based nonprofit founded by Angela Lowden and her husband, James, was named a finalist for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. The honor comes from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

It’s the second time that Art Expression has achieved the prestigious national recognition as one of the top 50 arts- and humanities-based programs in the country.

For Angela Lowden, winning the award would be a major step in taking the program to new heights.

“It’s very important to us because it would establish us as a national model,” she says. “The prize money ($10,000) would be wonderful, of course, but more important is that it would give us national model status. It would help us reach more children and might help us expand to more cities.”

The American Art Therapy Association has already designated Art Expression as a model art-therapy program in K-12 schools.

The art facilitators who work with have master’s degrees in art therapy or counseling with a specialization in art therapy or are graduate-level art-therapy students. They partner with faculty co-facilitators in schools and staff from community organizations to teach elements of the program to students in grades K-12.

This summer Art Expression is beginning to combine music therapy and art therapy in a new program called Musical pARTners.

“One my favorite parts of this program is forming connections with the campers, says art facilitator Valerie Pusateri, who is working in partnership with Pittsburgh Public School’s Summer Dreamers Academy summer camp. “Seeing the same kids each afternoon for six weeks provides a great opportunity to form strong bonds and continue learning and exploring in a creative environment.”

Many of the third graders she is involved with this summer have used the opportunity to create art that is personally meaningful.

“One camper created a painting to honor a lost loved one,” Pusateri says. “Another camper sculpted a 3-D clay dragon, in part as a self-portrait to symbolize his strength.”

Art Expression
Students in Allegheny Valley school district at Acmetonia Elementary designed their own personal clubhouse and yard using various art materials. Rules such as “being kind” and “helping each other” were common choices.

Beth Asper says it’s hard to describe how thrilling it is to see kids discover that they can achieve success, whether it’s by making art or making new friends. In one class, she had students create a club house, complete with rules they made up.

“A majority of them included a ‘Be Kind’ rule,” she says. “Since many of them are experiencing bullying, I thought it was touching that kindness was a major part of their version of utopia.”

Michael Flaherty, an art teacher for Charleroi Area School District, has been a co-facilitator with Art Expression because it seemed like a good way for kids to be able to expand their creative thoughts in a positive social environment.

“I especially enjoyed ARTchitecture because the students dealt with real community issues on how to renovate a vacant building into a viable business,” he says. “And also, Creative PARTtners because the students really enjoyed working with the clay and paint and experienced quite a bit of expressive freedom.”

There is a special lighthearted freedom that comes after school, he says, when “the children let down their guard and are able to be their true selves, which is necessary for real art expression to take place.”

The program has become so popular among students at Charleroi that the district is planning to run four Art Expressions programs next year, one each quarter.

Art facilitator Krystal Neal, who worked with students at Woodland Hills School District, was intrigued by the mission, goals, and values of the Art Expression program.

“I am certainly an advocate of healing through the creative arts, and I believe that this idea can be utilized within a multitude of populations,” she says. “Having a program that focuses specifically on youth can create an invaluable process for the youth and the facilitators alike.”

Smile: Two days of free dental care delivered to Pittsburgh families

free dental
Sally Quinn
July18/ 2017

Picture a college-size gymnasium filled from backboard to backboard with dental chairs, X-ray machines, and about 500 volunteers, including dentists and dental assistants, nurses, and pharmacists.

That will be the scene at the two-day Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh dental clinic, running from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 28 and 29 at the A.J. Palumbo Center. Treatment will be provided free of charge to kids older than 2 years and all adults. There are no income or eligibility requirements. Registration is first-come-first-served beginning at 6 a.m.

The project has been a year in the making by Dr. Daniel Pituch, M.D., D.M.D., who specializes in oral and maxillofacial surgery at UPMC Shadyside, and Face2FaceHealing, a non-profit he co-founded with Karen Scuilli. Mission of Mercy Pittsburgh is helping to deploy the army of volunteers.

At the clinic, patients will first be seen by the nursing staff who will do health screenings, including blood pressure readings and glucose levels, before they’re sent onto dental triage and X-rays. Dentists will examine and evaluate the patients and develop a master treatment plan. From there, the patients will be routed to various stations, according to their treatment plan.

The stations cover a broad range of dental services – from pediatric dentistry to endodontics (root canals), prosthodontics (dentures, crowns), oral surgery (extractions), and restorative dentistry (fillings).

The endeavor – now in its second year – costs between $150,000 and $200,000, which is supported by donations from TeleTracking Technologies, Inc., UPMC Health Plan, and PNC Bank.

“Last year we delivered almost a million dollars’ worth of dental care over two days,” Dr. Pituch says. “We’re hoping to make it annual. The hope is to raise enough money to be able to provide this on a regular basis in Pittsburgh because we have found there is a significant need.”

free dental
Children from age 2 and older will be welcomed at the Mission of Mercy dental clinic.

Poor dental health in kids is particularly prevalent, he says. One in five kids has untreated dental cavities, making tooth decay the No. 1 health issue among kids in the U.S. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (C.H.I.P.) includes coverage for kids in low-income families, but not all providers accept CHIP or Medicaid.

And sometimes, a working family might have health insurance, but not dental coverage.

“When patients don’t have the money to pay or the insurance to cover that, they defer the treatment or don’t get it. And then they’re in trouble,” Dr. Pituch says. “Education is critical to parents of young children. If the education isn’t there, and the right things don’t happen, these children can develop significant decay that then needs to be treated.”

Neglected dental health, infection, and periodontitis can strain the immune system, lead to heart disease, premature birth, and low birth weight. But 47 percent of those in need of dental care have never seen a dentist, Dr. Pituch reports.

“Mission of Mercy dental clinic can be life changing for patients,” Dr. Pituch says. “I’m a care provider, and this is what I do for a living. It means everything to me to be able to help other individuals.”

free dental
A tractor trailer full of rented dental equipment will be delivered to the A.J. Palumbo Center for a two-day free dental clinic.

Volunteers are needed for dental, medical, and general assistance. Click here to learn more or register. The deadline for volunteer registration is July 24.

Maker Monday: DIY Lava Lamp

maker monday
Kidsburgh Staff
July17/ 2017

Oil and water don’t mix — except when you combine them in fun S.T.E.A.M. projects like this DIY Lava Lamp.

Create this week’s Kidsburgh Maker Monday project and watch its hypnotic rising blobs of color.

The science behind the magic comes from the fact that water is denser than oil. The evidence is seen in how the oil floats on top of the layer of water. Once you drop a piece of the effervescent tablet into the bottle, and it sinks to the bottom, you can see carbon dioxide being released in the form of tiny bubbles. As the carbon dioxide gas rises through the layers of water and oil, it pushes colored bubble blobs to the surface.

maker monday

Supplies:

Empty plastic bottle, with lid

Effervescent tablets (Alka-Seltzer or generic form)

Cooking oil

Food coloring

Water

maker monday

Fill the water bottle about 3/4 full with oil. Add water to fill.

maker monday

Choose your color and add a few drops to the bottle.

Break two tablets into three or four pieces. Add one piece to watch the groovy show of Lava Lamp blobs. Continue adding pieces as the bubbling stops to keep the show going.

When you’re done with the fun, screw the cap on tightly and save it for another day when you can add more tablet pieces to enjoy your Lava Lamp again.

For variations, add glitter with the food coloring. Turn off the lights and hold a flashlight underneath to make your Lava Lamp glow. Or add a glow stick to give a special effect.

For other Maker Monday projects and fun stuff for kids, visit the Kidsburgh Activities page.