• Today is: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

PPS teachers strike: Mapping out childcare for Pittsburgh kids

teachers strike
Stephanie Hacke
February27/ 2018

With the threat of a Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers strike looming, moms and dads need to move quickly on childcare plans for their kids.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers gave notice on Monday that 3,000 professionals, paraprofessionals, and clinical workers plan to strike Friday if a tentative agreement is not reached. A strike will leave working parents of 24,000 kids from pre-K to 12th grade scrambling for childcare.

“You’ve got to make a plan starting today,” says James Fogarty, executive director of A+ Schools, even though “there is a slight chance this won’t end up going to the picket line.”

If your child already is enrolled in an afterschool program, your first move should be to contact that program and see if the care can be extended to full-day during the strike.

Another resource is to call the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania 2-1-1 line (or text 898-211) to be referred to an assisting agency.

Taking a proactive stand, A+ Schools, a community advocacy and educational equity organization in Pittsburgh, compiled a list of more than 20 programs offering child care resources during the strike. Garfield’s Brothers & Sisters Emerging, for example, could take up to 30 kids, while the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrenceville might have room for up to 150 kids. Some spots are limited to specific age ranges. Most options are free, but some charge a daily rate. The list continues to grow, so check back often.

You can view the Flexable Care map of locations here. But remember, these are not drop-off programs. Parents must call right away to ensure a spot for their kids.

For kids who receive breakfast and lunch at school, the City of Pittsburgh has partnered with Pittsburgh Public Schools to open a number of recreation centers to serve meals during the strike. Bear in mind, these centers are not open for childcare, just meals.

Another suggestion is for parents to communicate with each other. Utilize school and neighborhood Facebook groups to notify your neighbors of what you’re learning regarding childcare.

“If you have the ability to be flexible, please, let’s save the spots for the people who don’t have options,” Fogarty says. “There’s just not enough capacity.”

Candy Williams
February26/ 2018


Summer’s a great time for kids to try something new. Maybe test their acting skills, master a few tasty recipes, even learn how to sew.

These 10 summer camps in Pittsburgh open the door to exploring the arts.

summer camp
Kids discover the art of cooking with an Italian connection at Mondo Italiano.

Mondo Italiano Summer Camp

Kids will say “Buongiorno” to a fun week when they enroll at Mondo Italiano Summer Camp at Istituto Mondo Italiano in Regent Square, the first Italian culture and language institute in Pittsburgh.

The Roman holiday is a jam-packed week filled with creative activities. Kids will learn about the Italian language and culture through role play, skits, cooking and a puppet theater. They will visit a different Italian city every day on a virtual journey. And they will tend a small vegetable garden, where fresh ingredients grow for the cooking classes. Mangia!

Sessions are offered for ages 7-13 during the weeks of June 18, June 25 and July 16.

summer camp
This quilt offers plenty of fun objects to play ‘I Spy with My Little Eye’ at Cut & Sew Studio.

Quilting Camp

Summer camps at Cut & Sew Studio in Morningside are part of a complete lineup of Catherine Batcho’s sewing classes. Kids can focus on an introductory class and or venture into more advanced instruction devoted to creating doll clothes, vintage outfits or unconventional fashions.

One of the coolest classes is the “I Spy Quilting Camp.” Borrowing a theme from the “I spy with my little eye” travel game, kids in grades 3-9 make an “I Spy” quilt with colorful fabric squares. Kids learn basic piecing techniques, quilting and binding.

“It’s great for their self-esteem,” Batcho says. “They feel so much pride after they make something. It’s nice to see the smiles on their faces.”

summer camp
Budding interior designers customize their houses at Hatch Art Studio’s Dollhouse Camp.

Dollhouse Camp  

Kids who are into building and designing will learn how to “flip this house” in miniature at Hatch Art Studio’s Dollhouse Camp running July 30-Aug. 3. Campers have an opportunity to turn their two-story wooden structures into whatever they choose – a dollhouse, a fire station, a superhero hideout, even a house for pets. Kids will build furniture, print wallpaper, create characters and more to personalize their little houses.

“Instructors focus on helping children become creative decision makers, take risks and try new tools and processes,” says Shannon Merenstein, creative director and owner of Hatch in Point Breeze. The summer lineup includes Junior Fashion Designers, Clay Studio, and Puppetry camps.

summer camps
Campers will learn how to transform an actor into a creepy creature using makeup techniques.

Special Effects Makeup Camp

This camp works in harmony with blockbuster movies headed to theaters this summer. Kids can learn how a special effects artist transforms a human into a superhero or alien being. Armed with a makeup brush, they can create gruesome creatures for scary movies or change the appearance of actors in live stage shows.

This Pittsburgh Cultural Trust summer camp for is for teens who dream of working behind the scenes. Special Effects Make-Up Camp for Stage and Screen will be held June 25-29. Filmmaker Fred Vogel, a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and former instructor for Tom Savini’s special makeup effects program, will share tricks and techniques for creating realistic makeup.

summer camps
Nature and history are the backdrops for creating art at The Frick Art & Historical Center.

Frick Art History Nature Camps

Half the fun of attending summer camp at The Frick Art & Historical Center is the gorgeous campus that includes a garage full of vintage cars, a grand Gilded Age mansion, and shaded grounds complete with an orchard. The subject matter combines that background with art, history and nature with projects and activities geared to three age groups. The week-long day camps delight creative kids while allowing time to explore the Frick museums for a more visual arts appreciation.

summer camps
Kids manipulate metals to create custom-designed jewelry at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Metalsmithing and Jewelry-Making Camp

Forget macaroni necklaces! Kids can learn the fundamentals of working with metals in Pittsburgh Center for the Arts’ jewelry-making camp for ages 8-10 from June 18-22. Instructors in an open studio environment at the Shadyside center teach a wide range of skills, including construction and texturing methods like etching, embossing, and enameling. Kids will create one-of-a-kind masterpieces to wear or give as gifts.

Caution: Mattress Factory Mini-Campers at work.

 Mattress Factory Mini-Camp

In addition to its regular lineup of summer camps for older kids, the Mattress Factory will premiere a new half-day Mini-Camp for ages 4-6. Mini-Camp will focus on the five senses as young artists explore sound, touch, smell and body awareness through play and open-ended investigations. Kids will experiment with materials, meet artists and collaborate with one another to create an interactive, multi-sensory installation. On the last day of camp, families will be invited to tour the students’ exhibition and celebrate with a picnic.

summer camp
Teens tackle improv in a Prime Stage Theatre camp.

Monologues & Movement

Teens developing their acting chops can try their hand at improvisation and gain new skills as performers. Monologues & Movement camp at Prime Stage Theatre runs June 18-22. Led by professional actors with experience in dance, movement, and voice, the camp will end with a showcase performance. Could Second City be far behind?

summer camps
Chatham day campers display their Garden Art.

Music and Arts Day Camp

Kids from pre-K through grade 9 should find plenty of exciting challenges at Chatham University Music and Arts Day Camp this summer. Choose from one-week, three-week or six-week programs. Musically inclined kids can opt for private music lessons – from piano and percussion to woodwinds and brass instruments – to their schedule. Older kids can choose from a catalog of classes that include Art & Science Lab or a specialty focus in ceramics or filmmaking. This camp offers intensive learning balanced against daily swimming and other recreational activities.

summer camps
Carnegie Museum’s Art Cat will star in his own circus designed by campers.

Art Cat Circus

Even grownups love reading the kid-focused Art Cat commentary on exhibits at Carnegie Museum of Art. Our muddled brains sometimes need a more simplified explanation! Art Cat has his own specialty camp this summer with a week dedicated to creating the Art Cat Circus. Kids are involved in the planning and execution of a circus, building costumes and sets. At the week’s end, parents are invited to be wowed as the audience for this singular experience.

Need-based scholarships are available for the many Carnegie Museums summer camps until funds run out. Be sure to apply early.

Coming up: More Summer Camps 2018 stories will offer physical activities camps and STEM-focused camps.

Maker Monday: Bath Bombs

maker monday
Sally Quinn
February26/ 2018

A hot bath can be more fun by tossing in a couple of Bath Bombs and watching them fizz for a luxuriously scented soak. Kids can have fun making Bath Bombs themselves, measuring ingredients, mixing and molding.

We found lavender Epsom salt, so we skipped the lavender oil. Once dry, we wrapped our Bath Bombs in plastic wrap and added a ribbon for a pretty presentation in the bathroom. The main ingredients of Epsom salt and baking soda are great for soaking tired muscles and softening skin.

maker monday

1 cup baking soda

1/2 cup citric acid (Fruit Fresh)

1/2 cup Epsom salt

1 teaspoon witch hazel

1 teaspoon lavender essential oil

Food coloring


Silicone ice cube tray

maker monday

Measure all the dry ingredients and whisk together in a large bowl, making sure to eliminate any lumps.

maker monday

In a small bowl, stir together the liquid ingredients with a few drops of food coloring. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients 1/2 teaspoon at a time, Whisk the ingredients to fully incorporate the liquid as you go. You want the mixture to have the same quality as wet sand with the ability to clump together. Imagine the right consistency to make a good sand castle. If it is too wet, add a little more baking soda.

maker monday

Spoon the liquid into the silicone ice cube tray. It’s helpful to do this step on a cookie sheet to catch the crumbs. Press down as tightly as possible. Again, think of a good sand castle! Allow the Bath Bombs to dry overnight, then carefully remove from the mold. Give them another 12-24 hours to dry completely. Store in an airtight container. Or wrap individually for a pretty gift for Grandma or a treat for Mom. Then, run a tub and prepare for luxury!

maker monday

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

New strategies to get kids to create media, not just consume it

common sense
Common Sense Media
February25/ 2018

Our kids have the best imaginations, especially when it comes to storytelling. I love capturing my kid’s stories, whether on paper or using one of our favorite digital tools like Me by Tinybop. We also can’t wait to try Storybird and Toontastic 3D. Check out some of the other digital tools in this list, and your kids will be creating beautiful masterpieces in no time. – Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh Regional Manager at Common Sense Media. Common Sense has the largest, most trusted library of independent, age-based, and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, and books. Jennifer’s passion is to help families make smart media choices. You can find her on Twitter @Jehehalt.

By Christine Elgersma, Common Sense Media

During a typical day, kids and teens check out YouTube, watch TV, play video games, scroll through social media feeds, and listen to music. Overall, they’re passive consumers of the content they love — which is fine. But with a little nudging — and the right tools — they can be using that time to build creative skills while sharing their stories, opinions, and ideas.

Kids actually love to express themselves, but sometimes they feel like they don’t have much of a voice. Encouraging your kid to be more of a maker might just be a matter of pointing to someone or something they admire and giving them the technology to make their vision come alive. No matter your kids’ ages and interests, there’s a method and medium to encourage creativity.

If they have a story to share

As soon as kids start talking, it’s great to get them to tell storiesFor younger kids, encourage them to narrate their activities as they build, climb, and pretend by asking questions such as, “What are you building? Who will use it? Tell me about your adventure!” There are also apps that let kids record their stories as they play. With older kids, some will naturally put pencil to paper, but others take a bit more prodding. For those kids, digital book creation can make their writing process feel more grown-up and tangible. Having a real audience also shows kids that their writing can matter, so tweens and teens can use sites and apps where they can share creations, and they can even riff off their obsessions in the form of fan fictionFinally, if your tween or teen has strong opinions about issues or interesting people in their lives, they can use tools to document and share those stories, too.

Storytelling tools

If they have a directorial vision

For kids who love to watch television and movies (spoiler: Most do!), it can be exciting for them to get in on the actionWhen they’re younger, kids love to combine their toys with storytelling, which is not unlike directing a movie. To share those stories, they can play around with animated storytelling apps that let them record a mini-movie with movable characters, props, and settings. As they get older, stop-motion animation might be more their jam, and there are apps for that, too. And if you’d prefer tweens and teens to not have their own YouTube channels but you want to encourage the fun of making videos, there are tools that let kids record, edit, and share in a more limited way.

Video-creation tools

If they have an inner artist

When your kid is naturally artistic, it probably won’t take much prompting to get them to draw or paint. But sooner or later, they’ll want to expand their horizons. If your little kid loves to color, give them more inspiration with apps that introduce famous artists. Older kids who don’t claim to be artists but love superheroes, comics, or manga can create their own cartoons with panels, dialogue balloons, and unique characters. Even emerging fashion designers can find a tool to help them express their inner Versace. Of course, for tweens and teens, there are more advanced digital drawing and painting products to create sophisticated designs.

Artistic tools

If they have an ear for music

Most kids love music right out of the womb, so transferring that love into creation isn’t hard when they’re little. Banging on pots and pans is a good place to start — but they can take that experience with them using apps that let them play around with sound. Little kids can start to learn about instruments and how sounds fit together into music. Whether they’re budding musicians or just appreciators, older kids can use tools to compose, stay motivated, and practice regularly. And when tweens and teens want to start laying down some tracks, they can record, edit, and share their stuff.

Music tools

If they have the next big game idea

Learning to code may seem intimidating, but there are a ton of fun apps that teach programming basics in a way that doesn’t feel like work. Young kids who learn to code get introduced to ideas such as cause and effect, thinking ahead, and how little steps add up to a final product. When they’re older, they can make and share simple games using some basic block-coding tools. Tweens and teens can learn actual coding languages so they can create more complex games.

Coding tools

If they don’t consider themselves to be creative

Some kids are sure they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies — but they’ll play Minecraft for hours. Others will turn their noses up at art — but will jump at the chance to design a robot. If this sounds like your kid, rest assured that — no matter their age — their bones are actually brimming with creativity. Even if kids aren’t painting masterpieces, playing the trombone, or writing the next hit for Netflix, there are lots of ways for them to make things, especially using digital tools. Any app that requires kids to create a world or creature — especially those that allow them to test their designs — teaches the creative process. Even silly apps that only focus on the process and not the product can free up kids who might feel stuck.

Covert creative tools

Kristine Sorensen
February22/ 2018

Mo Willems is one of the most popular children’s book authors and illustrators and now, his books come to life in a new exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

He has many award-winning books, and you’ll find the characters from the books come to life in the exhibit he helped create with the Children’s Museum.

The entire exhibit was designed and built in Pittsburgh and the prototypes were tested by kids.

“We bring these ideas out on the floor in simple versions of them and test out the ideas and work out all the kinks,” exhibit designer Anne Fullenkamp said.

Fullenkamp is the director of design for the exhibit and worked directly with Willems.

“As we were inspired by him to create activities based on his books, he came here and we worked remotely talking with him every week, he was inspired by us,” Fullenkamp said.

Willems even created new artwork specifically for this exhibit, like the drawings for a praxinoscope.

Fullenkamp learned that the book “Knuffle Bunny” is actually semi-autobiographical. Willems’ own daughter lost her stuffed animal at the laundromat.

“I didn’t know that was a true story. And I think that’s part of the humor and appeal of books is that they’re true and things that parents and kids can really relate to,” Fullenkamp said.

Visitors can also follow Willems’ steps for illustrating his characters — starting with doodling, then tracing on a light board, then free form.

Willems wants parents to get involved too, whether it’s reading to their children, watching the new animated movie he created for the exhibit, stacking cartoon boxes, or flinging hot dogs at the pigeon and duck.

The exhibit is open until Sept. 2.