After-school activities in Pittsburgh help kids learn about themselves

After-school activities are an important way for kids to develop social skills and confidence, relieve stress and even help with their academics. There are many local organizations offering after-school activities in Pittsburgh that are affordable and aren’t focused on your typical sports.

Assemble, in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, is an unassuming storefront. But inside, there’s an explosion of ideas. Kids of all ages are exploring new concepts.

Nina Barbuto, founder and executive director of Assemble, says, “Providing that safe space to be like, ‘you know, what if I don’t get it that first time?’ Or if I’m like, ‘This is interesting. I don’t understand.’ But helping them to find their way to it.”

Once kids are learning on their own, Barbuto says, “please run with it.”

Barbuto says Assemble focuses on STEAM, while kids learn social and emotional skills along the way. She offers after-school and Saturday programs for kids grouped by age, and Assemble has full-day programs when kids are off school. Projects include photography, slime making, stop-motion animation, puppetry, learning about brains, circuits computer coding, robots and so much more.

“Having an array of options for us is really important because they’re still figuring out what they’re into,” Barbuto says, “and that’s one of the reasons why we offer so many different things.”  Exposure to different ways of learning “helps to reaffirm your own ideas of identity as well as what do I want to become.”

It’s free for kids from Garfield; scholarships are available for others, and teenagers can even get a stipend to come.

Queen’s Gambit chess classes are another after-school activity that kids of all ages can do, even online from home via Zoom classes.  Ashley Priore founded and runs Queen’s Gambit.

“We really focus on chess as a form of engagement and to teach life skills,” Priore says. “Our hope is that students not only come out of the program with interest for chess, but they also have other techniques that they learned about problem-solving and critical thinking.”

Queen’s Gambit has been teaching chess classes for kids at area community centers, and those continue with kids wearing masks. But they’re also offered online now, making them available to kids anywhere. Priore hopes it gives children one more chance to find something they love.

“My hope is that if students see all these opportunities presented to them,” she says, “then they can pick the one that they’re really passionate about and not feel like they have to be stuck in one space.”

The chess classes through the non-profit “Queen’s Gambit” are free for all Pittsburgh Public Schools students and at community centers and are thirty-five dollars for a ten-week session with scholarships available.