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The working parent’s guide to unique caregiver-and-me classes in Pittsburgh

Becky Willis
January06/ 2015

With my full-time job, I rarely get the chance to see those “light-bulb” moments–the firsts, the smiles, the giggles from my kids over new experiences. Before having kids, I hoped to share those moments at “Mommy and Me” classes with my little ones. After having kids, my dreams of story hours and gym classes took a back burner to my career. What I didn’t do early on was my research and now I realize I was missing out on a lot.

Fortunately, there are plenty of locations in Pittsburgh offering educational experiences for caregivers and children that fit into family schedules like mine. Here’s our round-up of unique classes for you and your little ones offered on evenings and weekends all across the city.

General Early Childhood Education

As many Pittsburgh families know, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh offers some of the most well-rounded and creative indoor fun in the city. It is also home to one of the most talented early childhood educators in the region, Yvonne Atkinson. Over her long tenure at the Museum, Atkinson has gently guided our city’s youngest citizens through the fleeting pre-kindergarten years at weekday programs like Tot Time and Tot Hike. This July she helped launch a new Tot Discovery program. Offered on Saturday mornings, this program is is specifically geared toward families with working parents.

Tot Discovery is a hands-on, themed program for children 18 months to 3 years old held from 9-1o a.m. in the Nursery exhibit of the Museum. During a typical session, families can expect anything from puppet shows to parachute play, from nature walks to dance parties. Activities are designed to nurture all axes of early childhood cognitive development including gross motor, fine motor, sensory and verbal. Tickets to Tot Discovery are $6 per child for members and $8 for nonmembers. Adults are free. Preregistration is encouraged and purchase of admission to the museum is not required.

Other local facilities that offer working parent-friendly general early childhood educational programs include the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, the Little Gym of the South Hills in McMurray and Gymboree in Mt. Lebanon and Wexford.

Book Babies at Shaler North Hills Library, Photo courtesy of Shaler North Hills Library
Book Babies at Shaler North Hills Library, Photo courtesy of Shaler North Hills Library

Story times

Winner of a National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the Shaler North Hills Library (SNHL) has received considerable attention for its commitment to the community. For Pittsburgh parents, SNHL is known for much more. “The Shaler North Hills Library is by far the most family-friendly library I have come across in Pittsburgh,” says parent Abby Rizk of Morningside. With an entire floor devoted just to kids, a toy-filled indoor play area and a huge range of programming for children of all ages, SNHL draws families from across the city.

SNHL goes above and beyond in its programming for working families offering unique evening and weekend story times. For example, Yoga Story Time is held once per month on Thursday evenings for children ages 2-6 and their parents. This program invites families to listen to stories and then bend their bodies into yoga poses complementing the books.

Little Learners Full STEAM Ahead is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) integrative program where families listen to stories and then apply them to projects. For instance, in a recent session librarians read Billy Goats Gruff and then helped families build bridges to learn engineering principles.

Looking for a more traditional story time, but can’t make the usual daytime classes? The library also offers Book Babies at Night, which gives parents the chance to spend learning time with their babies (up to 18 months) in the evenings.

Not sure about making it to an evening storytime? Check out other family classes at the SNHL that fit any schedule. Also, the Carnegie Library Main Branch in Oakland offers lots of evening and weekend programming for working families.

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Strong Families Power Yoga at Yoga Innovations, Photo courtesy of Yoga Innovations

Yoga

Although I love doing yoga with my family, it’s difficult to find local studios with classes that suit my schedule and are open to all  members of my family, including my husband and older kids. Enter Yoga Innovations  in Bethel Park, “an athletic yoga studio with a focus on family,” says owner Claire Bauer. The studio offers a weekly Strong Families Power Yoga where children of all ages plus their caregivers can participate in a 45-minute Vinyasa Flow-style class. Jennie August, the Family Yoga instructor, “is the real gem of our program,” says Bauer. August uses her educational background in therapeutic yoga to teach children to “regulate emotions and behaviors and expel energy in appropriate, healthy ways.”

The Strong Families Power Yoga is fun for the entire family with animal-themed poses, a toy box for restless little ones and a glorious savasana period for parents while children listen to stories and sing at the front of the room. “We started the Strong Families yoga program to show parents that they can continue their practice of yoga even after they have kids,” says August. “Whether the kids actively participate in the class or not, it’s about giving parents peace and also bringing children into a very calming environment that is also fun for them.”

Strong Families Power Yoga is held on Tuesday evenings and only costs $10 per family for children ages 0 and up. Bring your yoga mat (although some are available to rent for class) and dress to move! No sign-up is needed, but you can pre-register online or by calling the studio.

Another option for yoga with your family is the Saturday afternoon class at Metamorphosis Spa in Lawrenceville or Family Yoga at the Alloy School of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater on Penn Avenue.

My Grownup and Me Ballet Class, Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
My Grownup and Me Ballet Class, Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Dance

With the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre‘s The Nutcracker fresh on the brain, taking a dance class with my little ones sounds like a lot of fun. Fortunately, the Children’s Division of the PBT offers a working parent-friendly Saturday morning Grown-up & Me class for children ages 18-24 months and their caregiver of choice (yes, dads, that means you, too!). During this class, children learn ballet basics with their grownup’s help. Instructor Kaila Jendrzejewski also incorporates fun props like scarves, ribbons and parachutes to keep the children engaged. Families can try out one of these classes for $15 before registering for the full session.

Worried because you never did ballet yourself as a child? Just slip on some yoga or workout clothes and come ready to assist your tiny dancer. At this age, children are able to walk on their own and follow some basic instructions so the caregiver is just there to help give direction. “Children learn by example,” says Jendrzejewski. “So when parents are participating in the class kids are more likely to follow.” She adds, “In the beginning a lot of interaction is needed between the parent and the child. As the class progresses, the child will slowly start to become more independent, which prepares them for the other offerings at the Ballet Theatre.”

Cooking with Kids at Crate, Photo courtesy of Crate Kitchenware and Cooking School
Cooking with Kids at Crate, Photo courtesy of Crate Kitchenware and Cooking School

Cooking

Located in Green Tree, Crate Kitchenware Store and Cooking School has been in the business of food for over 30 years. Besides selling some of the region’s finest kitchen equipment, Crate also has a renowned cooking school. Using both a demonstration and a hands-on kitchen, Crate offers over 200 cooking classes per year including a Cooking with Kids series. Intended for children 6 and up with a caregiver, Cooking with Kids “inspires a new generation of foodies,” according to Jen Clark, co-owner.

These classes are generally offered on weekend afternoons or school vacation days and teach families to be more comfortable in the kitchen together. “We want parents and children to feel good about eating and cooking together,” says Clark. “At Crate, we want to show families that it can be easy to prepare yummy dishes from scratch that are both fun and have good nutritional value.”

Crate’s Cooking with Kids classes are approximately 2 1/2 hours and are offered at least once per month. Each class includes an instructional demonstration, a hands-on portion and a sit down taste-testing at the end.

Gymnastics

Started in the 1970s by two gymnasts from the University of Pittsburgh, Gymkhana Gymnastics has become a staple of the city’s parenting culture. Over the years, many Pittsburgh children have received their very first introductions to the balance beam, rings and floor mats at Gymkhana. Originally located on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside, Gymkhana now has four regional locations including Point Breeze, Monroeville, Wexford and Bethel Park.

Starting at six months of age, Gymkhana’s classes engage children in age-appropriate tasks that foster gross and fine motor development. As parent Hayley Entabi says, “My son was a physically timid child who didn’t like going down the slide, was scared of the swing, etc. Gymkhana gave him a safe, encouraging environment to learn to trust his own body.”

Many of Gymkhana’s classes also integrally involve caregivers in the learning process. Each class begins with an instruction period for parents, who then serve as the primary facilitator of the activities for their children. “Instructors are there to help if needed,” says Liza Barbour, administrator of the Point Breeze location. “But the focus is really on creating a bonding experience for families while children are learning basic gymnastics skills.”

With an increasing number of working parents over the years, Gymkhana has adjusted its offerings to provide weekend and evening options for all of its caregiver-and-me classes. Check out their full schedules here.

Family art time at Paint Monkey, Photo courtesy of Paint Monkey
Family art time at Paint Monkey, Photo courtesy of Paint Monkey

Art

Love painting with your children but don’t want the mess on your dining room table? The folks at Paint Monkey in Lawrenceville and Cranberry understand and have a solution–their Family Fun Time painting sessions. They provide the supplies and the space so your family can create masterpieces and share a fun outing together.

Prior to each Family Fun Time painting session, the staff at Paint Monkey outline paintings on canvases. Families then fill in the outlines with paint while artists provide step-by-step guidance. Creative license is full and free. Don’t like the duck yellow? Make her pink and no one will judge. Staying in the lines is also optional.

Paintings vary by session, are based on availability and typically follow a theme while letting kids pick their choice of a few options. Fees are $35 per painter unless you are assisting a child younger than 6 years old.

This article should give you a good start at finding something entertaining to do with your kids over the next few months. Even better, we hope it helps broaden your horizons as a working parent. Just because you’re occupied during the workday, doesn’t mean you can’t find unique opportunities to spend quality time with your kids and help them learn something new.

Featured Photo: Family yoga at Yoga Innovations in Bethel Park, Photo courtesy of Yoga Innovations

Becky Willis