Buzzword is back: This Pittsburgh art and literacy partnership is hosting live events for families again

An important Pittsburgh early literacy program, Buzzword, is back live and in person.

Prior to the pandemic, Buzzword was offered through in-person family events in the Homewood and Hazelwood communities that included a hot meal, creative activities and free books for families. 

The program pivoted during the pandemic to provide BUZZ boxes to families that were distributed through local community centers. It was an essential shift that allowed families to continue to focus on literacy while trapped at home. These boxes contained crafts to take home and complete as a family or with in-home visitors from community centers.

The effort to take Buzzword on the go allowed the program to remain vibrant throughout the last few chaotic years, but it’s time to gather in person again. 

Kids join in the fun at the Buzzword event in December.

Buzzword, led by Trying Together in partnership with Allegheny County Family Centers and local arts and sciences organizations, welcomed an eager group of kids and families to the Kingsley Association in East Liberty on Dec. 10 for their second in-person event in over two years. The room bustled with families enjoying a catered lunch from Moe’s Southwest Grill. Once everyone had full bellies, staff led kids and families in the infamous Buzzword theme song and then read a Pittsburgh-themed version of “The Nutcracker” aloud.

Students and teachers from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater led kids through various steps, stretches, and dances from “The Nutcracker,” followed by several short performances perfect for tiny attention spans. 

While the Buzzword program is aimed primarily at kids aged birth through 5, parents and older siblings are all welcome to participate in events. Even a few reluctant tweens were spied practicing a tendu. Each family was offered free tickets to a performance of the show at the Benedum Center. At the conclusion of the dance presentations, kids clamored around craft tables to create several winter crafts.

After a meal and some fun dancing, it was time for crafts. Photo courtesy of Buzzword.

Buzzword plans to host several other live events in 2023, says Katie Kohlmiller, the early literacy strategist at Trying Together. (Kidsburgh will have information about those events in our newsletter, so be sure to sign up, if you don’t already subscribe.)

Kohlmiller has a background in early childhood education and library work, and is excited about the books that Buzzword and their partners will bring to young kids. “I’m really invested in high-quality print material for young children. The book choices are done in a collaborative effort. What makes Buzzword special is this emphasis on partnerships and collaborations.” 

Each event has a specific “buzzword” as its theme, and materials related to each past word can be found on their website for families new to discovering this local gem. “It’s incredible that we are given the opportunity to engage with families and early learners,” says Kohlmiller. “We hope to set foundational skills before they are school-aged, knowing that early literacy happens at birth.”

Though Buzzword events focus on younger learners, older siblings are welcome to join in the fun.

Toni Beasley,  director of The Homewood Early Learning Center Hub and Family Center, said the focus now is on bridging the gap for kids ages 0-5 who had pandemic disruptions to their early learning.

“It is so important because it’s not just about the literacy. Now we’re talking about social-emotional skills as well,” Beasley says, “because our kids have been home for so long that they’re only used to being around the folks within their home, and not the kids in different environments.”

These live events offer Pittsburgh’s youngest readers a chance to learn and interact in a group, even if they are not school-age yet.

“This sets the stage for so many other things,” Beasley says. “We have the social-emotional component, we have the learning capacity, and we have the mental health focus.” 

To keep up with everything Buzzword has to offer, join their mailing list here

Buzzwords runs with the support of many community partners. These include Allegheny County Family Centers, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Festival Opera, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and Trying Together. Buzzwords is made possible through funding by PNC Grow Up Great® and The Allegheny County Department of Human Services.