• Today is: Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The goal: 1 butterfly for each child killed in the Holocaust

butterfly project
Candy Williams
June11/ 2018

Above photo: Trent Pinigis, 12, points to a butterfly he painted as part of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s Butterfly Project. Photo courtesy of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

A delicate hand-painted butterfly delivers a powerful message.

The Butterfly Project, a San Diego-based global initiative, has a goal of painting one butterfly for each of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust. Thousands of kids and their families around the world have participated in the project.

The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh brought the Butterfly Project to Pittsburgh last spring, with the painting of 870 butterflies by 20 groups from a variety of ages and ethnic backgrounds. The finished butterflies were incorporated into two original art pieces. One is on permanent display at the Holocaust Center; the other is a traveling piece.

And that was just the start.

This summer, a $50,000 award from the Heinz Endowments will enable the message to reach hundreds more Pittsburgh families as Holocaust Center educators challenge communities to embrace differences and fight against bigotry and intolerance.

From June 15 to Aug. 8, through a partnership with the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA), 18 libraries throughout Allegheny County will provide painting sessions where participants will be given the story of a specific child and then paint a butterfly inspired by that story.

butterfly project
Kids at the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood paint ceramic butterflies in remembrance of Jewish children who died during the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh goal is to paint 1,000 butterflies this summer. The finished butterflies will be displayed in participating libraries as part of a city-wide exhibit, and a free end-of-summer celebration is being planned to bring together all participants in the project. There is no cost to participate in this program.

“We believe that anyone who hears the story of a Holocaust survivor or victim becomes a witness,” says Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

“Participants will create objects of beauty while performing an important act of remembrance,” she says. “I hope that it will be a memorable experience that will encourage children and families to embrace difference and speak up when they see something that they know is wrong.”

The Holocaust Center chose to team up with the library association because of the importance of libraries in neighborhoods.

“We figured that by working with ACLA, we could reach many more kids than we would working school by school,” she says. “We are thrilled by the response and expect to reach at least 23 libraries by the end of the summer.”

By the completion of the project, the libraries will create a butterfly trail across Allegheny County, she says.

Butterfly Project
These ceramic butterflies were created by artist Alix Paul for the Butterfly Project at local libraries this summer.
Photo courtesy of Alix Paul.

“We have worked with the Holocaust Center in the past, and it was a natural fit to collaborate on this project,” says Carrie Lane, youth services coordinator for ACLA, who is working with libraries to set up the events.

“The libraries are very open to hosting programs offered by other organizations in Pittsburgh’s learning community,” she says.

So far, 18 area libraries are involved in the Butterflies Project. Check locations and schedules here.

Switch & Signal Skatepark opens Pittsburgh’s first indoor venue

Switch & Signal
Maya Henry
June11/ 2018

Photo above: Some of the regular crew at Switch and Signal’s 12 & Under Saturday Skate Session. Image courtesy of Michelle Newton.

When Kerry Weber moved back to Pittsburgh from San Francisco, he saw a real need for an indoor skateboard park in our four-season city.

On fair days, kids can enjoy the challenges of spots like Pittsburgh’s McKinley Skate Park, Pitcher Park Memorial Skatepark in Carnegie, Bellevue Skate Plaza and South Park Action Park. But when rain and snow buffet the region, it’s no go.

Happily, Weber’s dream became a reality with Switch & Signal Skatepark in Swissvale, the region’s only indoor facility for skateboarding.

Since the 12,000-square foot facility opened in February, more than 1,500 visitors have been through the thoughtfully designed park to skate the bowls, ramps, and ledges. Some of those features are replicas of popular Pittsburgh and San Francisco Bay Area skate spots.

In addition to the undeniable athleticism of skating, Weber says skating builds kids’ confidence and self-worth.

“It gives them pride and the skills to overcome challenges,” says Weber, noting that layering on tricks and exploring different environments gives kids new problems to tackle as their skills develop.

Parents agree. Michelle Newton of Wilkins Township, whose 7-year-old son has only been skating a few months, has noticed how skating has helped her son.

“Nico has the athleticism, but this has added focus to that,” says Newton, who loves the community at Switch and Signal, too.

“It is cool to see the perseverance of all the kids on their boards and how they encourage each other,” she says.  Check out 7-year-old Nico skating on mom’s Instagram account.

Switch & Signal Skatepark
Learning to skate at one of Switch and Signal’s events. Image courtesy of Switch and Signal Skatepark.

Switch & Signal’s busy 12 & Under Session demonstrates the local demand for this type of facility.

Skateboarding is an ideal sport for all kids because of the low cost to participate, says Weber, who aims to create an inclusive space for kids of all genders and income levels.

Boards are available as part of the $12 session price, and helmet and pad rental is $3. The annual membership is a money saver for frequent skaters, giving kids a free monthly session and a $2 discount on the single session price, making it  $10 per session.

Switch & Signal’s summer camp for kids ages 5-12 will run with weekly sessions through Aug. 17. Beginners and those with wicked cool skills are equally welcome.

Over the course of the week, campers will explore their creativity by designing their own skateboard decks, assembling skateboards, and learning basic filmmaking techniques through shooting and editing their skateboard videos.

Weber has clearly put a lot of thought into the curriculum, drawing inspiration from initiatives as far away as Skateistan in Afghanistan, as well a nonprofit initiative called Skate Like a Girl.

Be forewarned: Weber says when kids get into skateboarding, it sticks with them and becomes a touchstone. Why not make it a family affair with a beginner’s session for everyone?

The facility is located next to the Swissvale busway. Later this month, Lawrenceville’s Constellation Coffee will open a second location inside the skatepark, aptly named Satellite. A perfect spot for moms and dads to watch their skater girls and boys.

Maker Monday: Glow-in-the-Dark Balloons

maker monday
Sally Quinn
June11/ 2018

With summer nights come many after-dark family activities. Outdoor concerts. Watching movies in the park. Backyard cookouts with lots of neighborhood kids.

To make those nights even more special, add a bright element of fun with Glow-in-the-Dark Balloons.

They’re easy to make with inexpensive supplies from the dollar store. Use your Glow-in-the-Dark Balloons to play a game of keep-it-up or try a silly volleyball game. The Glow-in-the-Dark Balloon can double as a bedside night light once the evening’s fun comes to an end.

maker monday



Glow bracelets

maker monday

Choose three glow bracelets and snap each one along the entire length to activate, then shake.

maker monday

One at a time, fold a bracelet in half lengthwise and slide into a ballon. We used three bracelets for each balloon.

maker monday

Once the bracelets are inside the balloon, blow it up and tie off. Your Glow-in-the-Dark Balloon is ready for showtime!

maker monday

For more Maker Monday projects and other fun stuff for kids, visit the Kidsburgh Activities page.

Yu-Ling Behr
June08/ 2018

Yu-Ling Behr visits Pittsburgh Today Live to discuss what you can do to help your kids prevent summer learning loss.

Kristine Sorensen
June07/ 2018

School is letting out for kids everywhere, and while summer vacation is fun, summer learning loss is a real problem. One study cited by Brookings Institute found that kids in grades 2 to 9 lost 25 to 30% of their school year learning over the summer. The problem disproportionately affects low-income students who may not be able to afford camps and vacations that help prevent learning loss.

There are many free and inexpensive and easy ways to keep your kid’s minds’ growing this summer. When you can’t take a vacation to far off places, books can be a great way to travel to places real and imagined.

“Lots of fairy books,” is what Calliope Hollidge, an elementary school-aged girl from Pittsburgh plans to read this summer. “My favorite types of fairies are animal fairies,” she adds.

Zadok Gilson, also a student from Pittsburgh, was at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh looking for books. “I’m just gonna read pretty much anything… anything I can get my hands on,” he says.

When kids find books they like, reading doesn’t feel like schoolwork. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a summer reading program to encourage kids to read. They’re giving kids a free book to keep after they read their first book and another free book after reading four more. The main Carnegie Library in Oakland kicks off the summer reading program with an “Extravaganza” event this Sunday, June 10 from noon until 5 pm.

“There’s something for little ones, story time, toys outside, music outside. There will be live performances,” says Shannon Barron, Children’s Department manager at the library. There will also be food trucks, library tours, chess lessons, and a used book sale. You can sign up for the summer reading program there or online.

But don’t forget math, because math scores slide even more than English. Now, new apps are making math fun. Common Sense Media recommends the free app “Motion Math.” It turns math into a game for everything from addition and subtraction to fractions and graphing.

“Prodigy Math” is also free and lets kids choose an avatar, using math to defeat monsters.

 “Sushi Monster” is great for memorizing addition and multiplication tables.

For $3.99 a month, “Marble Math” uses mazes to encourage kids to solve math problems, and for $7.99 a month, “Dragonbox Big Numbers” creates a whimsical land called “Noomia” to master more advanced math skills.

Another way to keep math skills up in the summer is to work in math in everyday routines, like at the grocery store or cooking, and play games that involve math, like Yahtzee and Monopoly.

In the end, it often comes down to parents encouraging and rewarding children for taking a few minutes every day to keep their minds active over summer break. It’s something they’ll be glad they did when school starts up again.

“Books are the key to knowing and understanding whatever you’re interested in,” says parent Becky Spevack. “I’m a huge reader, and if I can pass that on to (my children), that will be one of my biggest successes as a parent.”