10 sensory-friendly Pittsburgh holiday events
Photo above by Nathan Anderson used by permission via Unsplash.
December can be exciting for kids – the bright lights, loud holiday music, and bustling crowds trying to squeeze every ounce of excitement out of a busy month. For kids with sensory processing issues, though, that same buzz and excitement can be difficult to handle. Thankfully, some organizations and events around the city have created sensory-friendly events or provided tools to help kids navigate a hectic event.
We’ve found a few good ones happening in December.
Azure Pittsburgh free holiday concert with Chatham Baroque, Dec. 4
Azure Pittsburgh recognizes that autism and related challenges can present barriers to attendance and engagement in a formal concert setting. So they program high-quality performances, while taking care to consider and remove as many barriers as possible to create a sensory-friendly environment. On Dec. 4 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., they bring Chatham Baroque to the Tull Family Theatre to share the music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Don’t miss this celebration of family traditions from a range of countries. Details here. (Note: Parking is free in Sewickley on Sundays in metered municipal lots and on the street.)
Sensory-Friendly Hour at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Dec. 7
In partnership with Autism Connection of Pennsylvania, Phipps is offering a special sensory-sensitive hour when they open at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7. Registration and masks are required and details are here. During this hour, the use of lights and sounds will be reduced to make the experience less stimulating. Families can enjoy a self-guided tour of the conservatory, including engaging sensory-friendly Discovery Station activities along the way. Before arriving for the event, children will be emailed information about the visit so they know what to expect during their time at the conservatory.
Sensory-Friendly Morning at the National Aviary, Dec. 12
Beginning at 10 a.m. on Dec. 12, visitors can have a sensory-inclusive experience that includes interactive play spaces throughout the Aviary. You’ll also find a sensory-friendly version of African Adventure, presented by AAA Travel, at 11 a.m. During this immersive bird show, lighting is consistent and volume is low. And every day, the Aviary offers Sensory Bags from Kulture City that guests are welcome to check out. Details here.
Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s “A Lyrical Christmas Carol,” various times
Pittsburgh Musical Theater is excited to introduce a new performance by upcoming young artists. The performance is low-key and entirely family-friendly. While they do not have a specific performance that is adapted for those with sensory needs this time, they have a variety of accommodations they can provide to guests to make the performance accessible for those with sensory needs. For special accommodations, guests can contact Box Office Manager and Accessibility Coordinator Amber Kocher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets and more info can be found here.
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh Nursery Sensory Play, Dec. 6, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Families with kids of all ages are welcome to join Nora in the nursery area of the museum (located on the second floor) to make sensory calming bottles. While this activity is geared towards the museum’s younger guests, the team extends a welcome to anyone who would benefit from creating a sensory bottle. More info can be found here.
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh Sensory Friendly Afternoon, Dec.13, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The Children’s Museum has a monthly event (on the second Tuesday of every month) called Sensory-Friendly Experience, geared toward guests of any age who need a less stimulating museum day. The museum will provide softened lights and music, designated areas for sensory breaks, and sensory backpacks containing fidget toys and noise-canceling headphones. For further details about the event or to ask about specific accommodations, you can contact email@example.com.
Sensory-Friendly performances of “The Nutcracker,” Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, various dates
The iconic Christmas tale of “The Nutcracker” is told by the talented dancers at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, with two sensory-friendly performances as well as typical performances. The sensory-friendly events, which are on Dec. 16 and 27, offer muted lights and sounds as well as a laid-back atmosphere. “It is a judgment-free zone where theater staff and patrons accept (and expect) extra sound or movement in the audience and where we celebrate the myriad ways audience members can experience a live stage performance,” says PBT. For specific questions about the performance or tickets, check here for more info.
Highmark Holiday Pops Sensory-Friendly Show, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 17
This entirely free online experience can be streamed online or guests can attend the show in person on Dec. 17 (ticket required, $15). There are materials available in advance to prep participants before viewing, The performance limits surprising sounds and lights, and will be translated into ASL as well. Online streaming will begin on Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. and run through Jan. 18. More info can be found here.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History Sensory-Friendly Hours, Dec. 26, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
This dedicated time frame at the museum will feature plenty of quiet areas for breaks and guided tours. Since the museum is not open to the public during this time, the entire experience is less stimulating than the museum during business hours. Pre-registration is required and more info can be found here.
Ross Park Mall Sensory-Friendly Santa, Dec. 4 at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
In partnership with Autism Speaks, Ross Park Mall is offering a chance to see Santa in a calmer and more subdued environment. There will be photo opportunities and lots of fun to be had. Pre-registration is required for all participants.
Keep an eye out for a list of local sensory-friendly offerings in 2023, including a sensory-sensitive silent disco for adults. The best way to not miss a thing is to sign up for the Kidsburgh Newsletter here.