Fun things to do with kids over the holiday break

The holiday break is fast approaching: that magical time of year when parents enjoy the last of their annual vacation days at the same time as kids have a full week off from school. Whether you’re looking for a full-day program, a week-long camp, or just some outdoor activities you can enjoy together, there are plenty of options in and around Pittsburgh to keep everyone busy and entertained until school starts up again in January.

Check out our list of some of the most popular winter break activities in Pittsburgh, for families and kids with a little time on their hands.

Phipps Family Fun Days: Come for the plants, stay for the light show

Courtesy Phipps Conservatory/Paul G. Wiegman

Family Fun Days let kids explore the indoor gardens at Phipps with volunteer educators. This year’s theme is “Deck the Halls,” so each room in the conservatory will be adorned appropriately. In addition, Phipps’  Winter Flower Show runs through Jan. 11. Try to stay past 5 p.m if you can to visit the outdoor Winter Light Garden: The show is spectacular.

Carnegie Science Center: Perform some experiments

carnegie science center
A Carnegie Science Center visitor conducting experiments.

During the week after Christmas, Carnegie Science Center offers a wide range of both full-day and half-day Holiday Camps for children ages 4-10. The topics include everything from experiments with snowflakes, to learning about robots, to working with Scratch, a program that allows kids to create animations and stories. The Science Center’s holiday camps offer both before and after-care for the full-day sessions for an extra fee. These popular camps frequently  sell out, so register early if you can. For more information, call the Science Center at 412-237-1637.

National Aviary: Hang out with some penguins

Courtesy National Aviary.
Courtesy National Aviary.

If your kids are into penguins (and come on, who isn’t into penguins?) the National Aviary’s Holiday Camps will fit the bill. All camps include penguin meal preparation, educational activities and the chance to take home a work of art created by a penguin just for you. The one-day sessions run from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Dec. 28 (for ages 6-8), Dec. 29, (for ages 9-12) and Dec. 30 (for ages 13-18) For more information, call the aviary at 412-258-9439.

 Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium: Say hi to a tiger

tigers pittsburgh zoo
Amur tigers at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium’s Winter Mini-Camp for children ages 5-9 runs Dec. 28-30. Kids can participate in one, two, or all three days, with tours of the zoo and aquarium, live animal visits and craft projects, as well as a different animal theme each day. Owls, otters, Amur tigers (pictured) and penguins are all slated to make appearances. For more information visit the zoo’s website, or call 412-365-2528.

The Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum: All aboard!

Courtesy the
Courtesy the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum

For a trip a little outside the city, the nonprofit Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum in Gibsonia is only open during the holiday season. Its display features model trains traveling between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, MD past numerous well-known landmarks. It also has a Lionel toy train display and special activities for younger visitors. This attraction offers full-on fun (model trains!) with some historical info about the rail industry in our region.

Kennywood Holiday Lights

More than a million lights will transform Kennywood in the month of December and there’s still time to see it this weekend. Enjoy the dazzling light show choreographed to favorite holiday songs and don’t miss the local choirs performing, too. Other things to see during this extravaganza: Santa, of course, the Gingerbread Express which offers rides, and the spectacular 90-foot Christmas tree.

For the first time, Kennywood’s 4-D Theater will show screenings of The Polar Express: A 4-D Experience, based on the popular Caldecott Medal Children’s book.

Ice skating: Multiple locations

Courtesy PPG Place.
Courtesy PPG Place.

If your little adventurers want to get outside during their school break, there are plenty of options for ice skating in the area. Schenley Park’s family-friendly outdoor ice rink is undergoing renovations this year, so keep an eye on the Citiparks website for specifics about holiday week hours, which are subject to change. The Schenley rink usually has extended hours throughout winter break and offers skate rentals for a fee.

The MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink at the Plaza at PPG Place offers skating lessons  as well as open skate hours during the week and on weekends. Its reopening was pushed back slightly by warm temperatures in November, but it’s expected to be in full swing by the time the post-holiday break rolls around, bigger and better than ever.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve with kid-friendly countdowns

Courtesy Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Courtesy Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Pittsburgh offers many kid-friendly options for New Year’s Eve, most of which don’t require the kids to stay up until the clock strikes midnight.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium’s annual Noon Year’s Eve starts at 11 a.m. with a noon ball drop, and of course, there’s the annual First Night celebration Downtown, which features two fireworks displays (this is Pittsburgh, after all!) at 6 p.m. and midnight to ring in 2016.

New Year’s Day

Besides reveling in the exhibits, don’t miss Carnegie Science Center’s all-day Jan. 1 annual Mess Fest full of oobleck, slime, finger painting, pie eating contests and more.

Whatever your family is into, there’s plenty to do in the Pittsburgh region during the holiday break to keep kids from getting bored and parents from getting frazzled. Happy holidays!