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Rainy Day Things for Kids to Do in Pittsburgh

Marty Levine
May30/ 2011

We asked the experts on kid entertainment (the mind-expanding, life-enriching kind) to tell us what’s new to do at their own venues for spring – and where else they’d recommend if the rain just won’t stop. Some of their picks for put a new spin on familiar places – and some aren’t even under a roof.

“We generally don’t sit still too long at our house,” says Pam Lieberman, executive director of the Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater and Festival, whose 25th annual edition came to the University of Pittsburgh campus last month.

“We often explore Frick Park in the rain,” says Lieberman, whose family lives nearby in Regent Square. “It is so easy for us to put on our rain boots and rain jackets and explore the forest as the rain sprinkles down. It is one of the best times to be in the woods. It is quiet, peaceful, and a muddy good time.”

Plus, she says, the excursion combines exercise, science, nature discovery and family time.

If it happens to rain on a Friday night, Lieberman sometimes takes the family to dinner at Phipps Conservatory, enjoying the glow of the setting sun and a family-pleasing café menu. Later, they explore the greenery. “We often seem to have entire rooms to ourselves during these special evenings,” she says. “It is a great way to start out the weekend and a great place to teach your littlest ones how to walk or your bigger ones all about plants, trees and flowers.”

Lieberman is also fond of the cozy window seats in the Carnegie Library’s Squirrel Hill branch, and the main branch’s children’s section, during downpours …

… which must certainly please Suzanne Thinnes, spokesperson for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Library activities in April and May are “fun and free,” she says, and include:

Programs in libraries citywide for One Book, Every Young Child, featuring Whose Shoes, about the different shoes people don for different jobs.

Springtime is gardening time, and Carnegie Library’s Allegheny branch will try to develop everyone’s green thumb.

Super Science and Imagination Builder programs at library branches in Hazelwood, Sheraden and Knoxville let kids explore the natural world and create their own structures.

“Looking for some gaming activity, other than the casinos?” Thinnes jokes. “Check out Game-o-Rama programs at the Library.” Homewood and Sheraden will offer Wii and board games for children, tweens and families.

Origami challenges kids to follow directions and test their small motor skills. Look for the Japanese paper folding art at Squirrel Hill and East Liberty.

Try yoga with your young ones in Lawrenceville’s new six-week series.

If April goes out with showers on Arbor Day (April 29), get in the tree-planting mood at Homewood and Hazelwood.

And after the programs? Thinnes’ suggestions are simple – head out into the lab of life. Take a walk, and see what each person must be doing, based on his or her shoes. Head for a garden center and grab the veggies and flowers – or seeds – you’ll need for your yard or porch. Learn to identify the trees and animals in your favorite park.

If you absolutely must stay indoors, family game night is always a winner, as are folding greeting cards for family members with special occasions coming up, or finally getting down to that exercise you promised yourself – and the whole family can benefit from.

There’s no lack of exercise for body or mind at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, particularly with their Dora exhibit running now.

Kids can sit in the cockpit of a Wright brothers-type plane … build little parachutes out of coffee filters and twist ties to shoot popsicle-stick people out a Plexiglas chimney and watch them float down … tape together paper rockets to launch from plungers at targets across a room … test the force of wind with windmills … and face the whirlwind room, like Dorothy in her tornado dream, except instead of farm animals and assorted housing there are kerchiefs and feathers flying all around them.

“If it’s wet outside, this is a nice way to dry off and still have some air experiences,” says the Museum’s Bill Schlageter.

“The next day, if it’s still raining, I’d come back to the North Side and go over to the Aviary,” he says. At the National Aviary, he enjoys standing nose to beak with the birds, seeing the trainers in action, watching the “WINGS!” show in the new Helen M. Schmidt FliteZone Theater, and catching the penguins in action – the ones who don’t need playoffs.

“I can’t stop staring at those parrots in the front window,” he adds. “It’s just wonderful to see them breathing right in front of me.”

So – when everyone else is sodden and sad, there’s no excuse for moping around – or even staying inside.

Captions: Children’s Museum; penguins and Flite Show at the Aviary; Phipps; Carnegie Library Squirrel Hill

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen

Marty Levine