• Today is: Thursday, July 18, 2019

6 reasons to head to the (awesome) Pittsburgh Children’s Film Festival

Sally Quinn
July17/ 2019

The weeklong Pittsburgh International Children’s Film Festival brings a blast of colorful, inspiring and downright funny flicks to Row House Cinema from July 26-Aug. 1. Though the programming is intended to entertain kids, these movies will appeal to a wide range of movie buffs.

“Tito and the Birds” is a Brazilian animated adventure, while “Ana Y Bruno” is Mexico’s first animated Oscar nomination. Kid Flicks Shorts brings a worldwide collection of films from the New York International Children’s Film Festival. A documentary, “The Eagle Huntress,” gives a lesson in girl power with a story about a 13-year-old who’s training to be the first eagle hunter in her Mongolian family. See the complete schedule here.

Along with the terrific lineup of flicks, the schedule includes these special events and activities you won’t want to miss:

1. Opening night excitement

The Film Festival begins with a wacky screening of “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” a French/Belgian film that’s dubbed in English. As a fun barnyard tale, “Big Bad Fox” will appeal to all ages. Tickets include popcorn – and a few surprises!

2. Baby-Friendly Screenings

Have a baby or toddler who is a bit noisy? No problem! Check out the Baby-Friendly Screenings and avoid judgment. Film volume will be low to protect those little ears, and captioning will give you a chance to read the dialogue you might otherwise miss. House lights will be dimmed but not completely darkened to help keep track of binkies and lovies. Here’s the schedule.

3. Nostalgia Sunday throwback film fun

The Nostalgia Sunday lineup brings four American classics from the ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s an excellent opportunity for older generations to connect with kids on common ground. You can see all four for one price or pick and choose your favorites. From noon on July 28, “The Little Rascals” (1994), “Babe” (1995), “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981) and “Casper” (1995) will be screened back to back. Red Ribbon will be on hand with some delicious soda, too.

4. Maker sessions with Assemble

Assemble Pittsburgh sets up a maker shop at 6 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. July 27, when kids can create viewing glasses to watch the animated “Tito and the Birds” or David Bowie’s “Labyrinth.”

5. Storytimes paired with movies

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh partnered with Row House to offer special storytimes paired with movies. At 3 p.m. July 30, a baby-focused storytime is planned before the baby-friendly screening of “Tito and the Birds.” An all-ages storytime is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 1 before Kids Flicks 1, a compilation of international film shorts.

6. MuseumLab celebration

The Aug. 1 closing night moves the festival to the North Side for a celebration at MuseumLab. Expect an evening of musical performances and a screening of “Landfill Harmonic,” an uplifting story about a garbage picker, a music teacher and a group of slum kids, who began making instruments out of trash. At the event, kids can snack on complimentary popcorn and juice. Doors open at 7 p.m. but tickets must be purchased in advance.

Check out these winning stories from the 2019 WQED Kids Writers Contest

Sally Quinn
July17/ 2019

Looking to give your kids inspiration for summer creativity? Check out the winning stores from the 10th annual 2019 PBS KIDS Writers Contest.

These books, written and illustrated by kids, are worthy of acclaim for their storytelling skills, charming drawings and imaginative ideas. Click on each title and hear the writers read their stories as the book flips page by page. It’s a great way to get kids started on their own storytelling.

For the contest, kids in grades K-5 were invited to write an original story and produce at least five corresponding illustrations, including collages, photographs or other media.

Some stories delve into fantasy, like “The Walk Away House” that tires of winter weather and walks to a Florida beach, much to the surprise of the family sleeping inside. “Blades the Skate” figures out how to turn his home into an indoor ice-skating rink before his owner (spoiler alert), Sidney Crosby, shows up!

Other stories offer life lessons. In “Puppy Love,” for example, a spoiled, careless girl learns what it takes to be a friend and to care for animals. “Pen vs. Pencil” gives insight into understanding limitations and how working together with others can overcome weaknesses on both sides.

Four stories in each grade level received awards. Three more stories with STEM lessons – like “My Adventure Through the Water Cycle” – won awards, too.

The idea behind the effort is to promote children’s literacy skills through hands-on activities. There are lots of resources on the WQED website to continue to encourage kids to write stories. You can download cool activity sheets and graphic organizers for extra fun.

The EQT Foundation, West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB), PBS 39 (WLVT) and WPSU in State College, partnered with WQED for this year’s contest.  The winning stories, narrated by the writers, will be featured on Saturday Light Brigade (SLB) Radio throughout the summer.

But why wait? Read or listen to the winning stories with your kids as a jumping point for their own storytelling. And it’s not too early to begin thinking of next year’s submission.  Warning: Giggling – and big ideas – may occur.

This story, “The Walk Away House,” won Second Place in the Kindergarten category.

6 ways kids can defy gravity on Pittsburgh ziplines and ropes courses

Sally Quinn
July16/ 2019

This story was first published on June 30, 2017, and has been updated.

Flying along a cable or making your way through an elevated ropes course can be more thrilling than a roller coaster ride. Ziplines and ropes courses have been steadily growing in number and size, with many including scaled-down portions for the younger set.

With these adventures, there’s no high-tech mechanics involved, and no sitting back for the ride. It’s a physical and emotional rush of conquering fears and accepting the challenge. For kids, that sense of accomplishment is priceless. You can see kids transition from a sometimes nervous “Can I do that?” look in their eyes to the punch-in-the-air “Oh yeah!” excitement at the end.

Traversing ropes courses and flying along a zipline involve physical exercise that can improve strength, endurance, and flexibility. The triumph is as important as the jubilation of success.

Here’s where kids can zip and zoom throughout the Pittsburgh area:

The ropes course at Carnegie Science Center includes a scaled-down version for smaller kids.

Carnegie Science Center

Experience the ropes challenge course and zipline at Carnegie Science Center within the SportsWorks complex. The idea appealed to Science Center planners for the fun of it, of course, but they also considered the cross-over science lessons offered. Signage points out concepts like kinetic and potential energy, angles of momentum, and gravitational force.

The second-story part of the course offers 11 challenge elements before reaching the zipline. Plucky participants who are 48-inches or taller will walk the plank, balance on rolling logs, walk a rope bridge, and climb across a horizontal net. The free-flowing course gives kids the opportunity to decide on the direction they take.

Younger kids can do the same challenges on a smaller version of the course directly underneath. On Sky Tykes, kids are harnessed in, too, but the level allows Mom or Dad to walk alongside and offer encouragement.

The SportsWorks ropes courses are free with Science Center admission. Fun on the indoor course goes on without fear of nasty weather, making it a fine option on rainy days.

Go Ape sends adventure seekers through the treetops at North Park.

Go Ape North Park

Go Ape tree-top adventures in North Park is one of this national chain’s 16 locations. This forest canopy course takes adventurers through 41 crossings, two Tarzan swings, and five ziplines, the longest of which is 440 feet. Some of the platform elements allow you to choose between easy, advanced or expert, which can add a little more competition between siblings.

It is amazing how easily kids adapt to strolling along rope bridges at tree-top levels as high as 40 feet. The exhilaration of walking among the trees in the shaded forest is a terrific way to appreciate this beautiful county park.

The 2- to 3-hour escapade begins with a 30-minute safety class, so kids are prepared for the challenges ahead.

Ten-year-olds, at least 55 inches tall, are the youngest allowed to participate. An accompanying adult is required for every two kids between 10 to 15 years. Those 16 and 17 years need a parent-signed waiver, which can be printed at home, signed and brought to Go Ape.

Urban Air Adventure Park

Head to Cranberry for the Sky Rider indoor coaster at Urban Air Adventure Park. Billed as a “no skill” ride, the experience is a fun, gravity-defying thrill for kids. They strap in and are sent zipping across the play space. Urban Air includes a ropes course to challenge kids moving high above the ground. Everything is indoors, making it a terrific destination during bad weather.

Completing a ropes course offers a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

Fun is taken very seriously at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, where the adventure center includes some exciting ropes courses, ziplines and features not seen anywhere else in the area.

The QuickJump, for example, begins at the height of four stories. From 50 feet off the ground, kids in the QuickJump harness are released for a screaming free fall until they’re caught toward the end and gently lowered to the ground. Minimum weight is 40 pounds on this one.

The Little Tykes rope course is 6 feet off the ground and includes eight obstacles and two ziplines, including a 200-foot platform to ground zip. Kids can traverse a swinging log, a cable walk, swinging tires, and a suspended bridge. This course is suggested for ages 4 to 8 years.

The 40-foot-high Fatbird Canopy course finishes with the 3,000-foot Fatbird Super Flyer zipline, where you can reach a speed of 60 miles per hour. But before you get there, spend about 45 minutes working your way through challenges like the Burma Bridge and stationary log. The minimum height here is 52 inches.

Teens will enjoy the 20-foot-high Ropes Course. With obstacles carrying names like (gulp!) Walk the Plank, Leap of Faith, X-Factor, and Tight Rope, we can guess the levels of tension – and rewards.

Nemacolin’s activities are open to the public, not just guests staying at the resort, but there are some great packages if you want to plan an active family vacation. Reservations are suggested for most adventures.

Kids can develop a love of nature and adventure through canopy courses and ziplines like this one at Laurel Highlands River Tours.

Ohiopyle Zipline Adventure Park

The family-owned Ohiopyle Zipline Adventure Park offers two levels of zipline courses to allow kids as young as 4 years to enjoy the thrill. The Laurel Highlands company includes rafting, camping, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities. Packages can be combined to get the most out of your visit.

Ages 10 and older begin their zipline excursion by climbing up the 25-foot entry net. Balance is challenged on elements like the Tarzan Walk and Rickety Bridge. Make your way through the Spider’s Web and leap across the Swing Planks. The course ends with the Silver Surfer that zooms through the trees to the 200-foot zipline.

Ages 4 to 9 climb the entry net, then work through obstacles like the Taco Net and Big Foot’s Footprints before rocketing down a 90-foot zipline. Their flush of pride on the ground is no less impressive.

Adventurers on the Laurel Ridgeline Canopy Tour at Seven Springs Resort make their way across a swinging rope bridge.

Seven Springs

The Laurel Ridgeline Zipline Tour at Seven Springs begins with kids from age 10 and a minimum of 90 pounds. This rigorous 3-hour course includes 10 ziplines that range from 145 to 1,500 feet in length. The quest incorporates rappels and rope bridges, too. Expected to be anywhere from 2 to 175 feet off the ground. The tour begins with a chairlift to the top of the mountain, then gradually makes its way back down through graceful ziplines.

The 2-hour Screaming Hawk Zipline sends riders down nearly 2,000 feet of zippy goodness. Kids must be at least 10 years and weigh 70 pounds. The progressively faster ziplines will reach speeds as fast as 30 miles per hour.

Candy Williams
July11/ 2019

Approaching happy crowds, bright lights and lively music builds excitement – except for families of a child with autism or sensory sensitivities. For those kids, noisy venues with lots of people can trigger adverse responses.

A growing number of Pittsburgh arts organizations and entertainment facilities have responded to the need for sensory-friendly provisions with pioneering efforts. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, for example, was the first professional ballet company in the country to present a sensory-friendly performance of “The Nutcracker.” And the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh schedules Sensory Friendly Afternoons.

Joining the trend are these three Pittsburgh organizations, which are introducing groundbreaking sensory-friendly initiatives:

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Carnegie Museum of Natural History celebrated National Autism Awareness Month in April by launching its new Sensory Friendly Saturday program.

Families can enjoy a number of Sensory Friendly Saturdays throughout the year. Opening 90 minutes before regular hours, museum staff will provide tours of the exhibits and answer questions throughout the morning. Designated quiet zones will allow visitors to decompress and experience the museum at their own pace.

“We wanted to get our sensory-friendly offerings right,” says Dr. Eric Dorfman, the Daniel G. and Carole L. Kamin director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

To that end, the museum conducted focus groups and sensory-friendly trial runs. Feedback from families was both positive and constructive.

“One important goal that emerged was making sure we offered our programming on peak visitation days when our museum is most in demand,” Dorfman says.

Sensory bags help kids comfortably explore the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium in Highland Park is the first zoo in Pennsylvania to be certified sensory inclusive. The zoo teamed up with KultureCity to develop appropriate areas and events for those with sensory sensitivities.

Sensory bags are available for free at the Guest Services booth near the zoo entrance. The bags include noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools and verbal cue cards. Weighted lap pads can be requested, too, to help calm an anxious child.

The sensory certification process includes hands-on training to enable staff to recognize guests with sensory needs and respond appropriately.

“Our objective is to provide an inclusive and seamless experience for all guests for all events,” says Allan Marshall, the zoo’s vice president of internal affairs. “Through our partnership with KultureCity, we’ve been able to improve our ability to assist and accommodate guests with sensory needs.”

A sensory guide to the rides and attractions at Kennywood Park will help families plan their visit.

Kennywood Park

Just before the season opened, Kennywood Park earned designation as a Certified Autism Center. Work to enhance experiences continues.

The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) visited the park to assess its rides, attractions and general areas. That information will be compiled into a sensory guide to offer insight on each ride and attraction. The guide should be available here and at the park by the end of May.

Families can request sensory bags, which include earplugs, a fidget toy, squishy ball and coloring books and crayons. A limited number of noise-canceling headphones are available, too.

A quiet “room” for kids who need to decompress is designated at the Gazebo and Dancing Waters fountain area.

“This area is quieter than most of the park and has much less traffic through it as well, making it a great choice for a quiet spot to take a break,” says Marie Ruby, director of ride operations. For the time being, there won’t be a dedicated room, but park officials are looking to offer multiple options around the park.

For older kids’ personal needs, an adult changing table is being installed in a family restroom (opening mid-May) near the Star Refreshment Stand.

But the personal touch is the most important part of the IBCCES designation. Kennywood team members receive specialized training to ensure they can effectively cater to all kinds of needs. Instruction covers topics like emotional awareness, autism overview and motor skills.

Kristine Sorensen
July10/ 2019

Parents still take home the image but this is adding a layer of security and fun.

Two-day-old Maria Dalfonso is already described as “sassy” and her parents Kelly and Joe can’t take their eyes off her.

When they learned her footprint would be scanned and stored for her lifetime, they weren’t surprised.

“We expect everything to be technological, like my husband was like, ‘How can you not have a device of policy exactly when she’s going to come?’” Kelly asked.

Obviously, that was a joke, but digital footprints are not.

Nurses scan the baby’s footprint and can immediately see the result in the computer and can redo it if it’s not perfect.

Maribeth McLaughlin is the Vice President of Operations at Magee and a nurse.

“So, in prior to that, what we would do is, traditionally, you have to ink the baby’s feet, and then you have to press it to paper and it can be messy, it can smudge and it can fade over time,” she said.

Since footprint patterns never change, the scan can always be used to identify a child.

It will be stored in the database for missing and exploited children, should a child ever disappear or need to be identified in the case of a natural disaster.

“I think you hope that never happens,” said Kelly Dalfonso. “But to remember that, you know, as being a tool that if it ever did, that would be fantastic.”

With the digital footprint, parents now can get creative and Kelly and Joe can’t wait to show off Maria’s adorable little feet.

“I think that will really be neat too because we can make gifts for people and share her with everybody,” Kelly said.