9 things to do with kids this week in Pittsburgh, from a Mars landing party to a maple sugar experience

Illustration: NASA’s Mars 2020 spacecraft carrying the Perseverance rover as it approaches Mars. Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This week, kids can travel 300 million miles out of this world or over 66 million years back in time. Their imaginations will be challenged by writing a story or concentrating on a fascinating children’s book. They’ll discover lots of cool outdoor activities, too. The sky is definitely not the limit for things to do with kids in Pittsburgh.

1. Witness the rover landing on Mars (at home and in person)

It’s a big week for NASA as the Perseverance Rover approaches its landing on Mars. Carnegie Science Center is bringing the experience to your family with a variety of programming. Preview the historic event during the virtual Bite-Sized Buhl program at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 18, and then join the live Mars Landing Party later in the day to witness NASA mission updates from the Jezero Crater on the red planet. Both events are free via Facebook Live. Visit the Buhl Planetarium for in-person shows like “Mission to Mars” and “Storytime Under the Stars.” Both programs are free with paid admission. Check the planetarium schedule here.

2. Write an award-winning story (at home)

Help kids shift their imaginations into overdrive to complete their entries for the 2021 PBS Kids Writers Contest. Kids in grades K-5 can submit original illustrated stories. Prizes include the opportunity to record their winning story for broadcast on SLB Radio. Kids will find lots of support and inspiration with online resources, including writing prompts, activity sheets and previous winning entries read aloud by their young authors. The deadline to apply is March 31.

Photo by Budgeron Bach.

3. Develop dance skills (at home or in person)

Tiny dancers from ages 3-7 will find their muse in a series of fairytale-inspired dance workshops offered by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. First up is the “Cinderella” session on Feb. 21. Choose from a virtual or in-studio experience to explore the dances of the fairies of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The workshop includes a ballet class and storytime featuring the “Ella Bella Ballerina” book series. Upcoming workshops include “Sleeping Beauty” on March 21 and “Swan Lake” on April 21. Cost is $35 per workshop, two for $60 or $75 for all three. Register here.

Photo courtesy of Jennings Environmental Education Center.

4. Learn the science behind maple sugar (in person)

Nothing says comfort food like pouring maple syrup over hot buttery pancakes. Kids can learn the science behind the sticky stuff at the Family Science Outside: Maple Sugaring event at Jennings Environmental Education Center offered from Feb. 23-25 and on Feb. 28. Families and pods of up to 12 participants can register for time slots to explore the math and science behind maple syrup in the outdoor living lab. The free experience includes a virtual introducation and guidance from Jennings staff, a loaner kit of measuring tools and tree ID guides, plus resources to continue lessons at home. This edition of Family Science Outside is geared to kids in grades 2-6 and aligns with state school curricula. Register here for one sweet time.

Screenshot from the Bald Eagle webcam in Hays.

5. Peek at critter cams (at home)

There are several ways kids can watch wildlife in Pittsburgh. Livestreams of falcons, bald eagles, cheetahs and penguins can be accessed to get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures.

Peregrine Falcon Nestcam: The National Aviary operates the livestream of falcons living in a nest high up on the Cathedral of Learning. The current female, Morela, has two male falcons competing to win her favor. Check out the history of the peregrine falcons at Pitt and cool info about the birds that can reach a speed of 200 miles per hour!

Bald Eagle Hays Cam: This livestream of a bald eagle’s nest in Hays comes from the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. Exciting news: The first two eggs of the season were just laid on Feb. 12 and 15. Kids will also find lots of details about these majestic birds, whose wingspans measure 6-7 feet.

Cheetah Cam: The Cheetah Cam at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium allows kids to watch them pace, run and play (they seem to love the snow) in their enclosure. Sometimes they are tricky to spot, but you can control the camera to search them out, zoom in and even take photos.

Penguin Cam: The Penguin Cam at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium offers the same technology to take control of the camera. Watch the penguins socialize and swim. Learn to spot the difference between the Macaroni and Gentoo penguins. And discover many other interesting facts.

Image courtesy of Mariposa Theatre.

6. Get chased by a wolf (at home)

The classic fairytale gets an update in Mariposa Theatre’s ”Red Riding Hood” musical adventure on Feb. 19, 20, 26 and 27. In this version, Bridget and Stephen are on an overnight visit at grandma’s house. Sleepless, they decide to dress up and act out their favorite story. Uh-oh! Suddenly they find themselves deep in the woods being chased by a wolf. What happens next? You’ll need to buy a ticket to find out. Admission to the virtual performance is $25 per household or pay-what-you-can pricing starting at $5.

Photo by Lum3n.

7. Take a sensory hike with a poetic finish (in person)

Families are invited to Hike-U: A Sensory Self-Guided Hike on Feb. 20 through Frick Park’s woodlands. Kids are encouraged to engage their senses to see, hear and touch nature. By the end of the hike, those observations will be used to write a haiku, the 17-syllable Japanese poetry form. Reserve a free ticket at a time slot that best fits you and your kids and get ready to fully immerse yourselves in the outdoor experience.

“Beautiful Blackbird” by Ashley Bryan.

8. Learn about the beauty found in differences (at home)

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy celebrates Black History Month through a virtual nature story, “Beautiful Blackbird.” Award-winning writer and illustrator Ashley Bryan uses his children’s books to tell African stories. “Beautiful Blackbird” helps kids find the beauty in differences. Register here for the free event scheduled for Feb. 23.

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

9. Take a tour of Dinosaur Armor (at home)

Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s world premiere exhibit, Dinosaur Armor, is perfect for the dino-loving kids in your household. Take a virtual tour of this fascinating exhibit on Feb. 20, then plan to visit in person later. Dinosaur Armor shows how the drive to survive pushed the evolution of these prehistoric creatures to develop protection from bigger and fiercer predators. The adaptations that developed over 500 million years include 14-inch spikes and clubbed tails. Registration is $10 for the virtual tour and activities.

Bonus: Looking for more cool things to do? Check out 23 ways to make the most of outdoor winter fun.