The cold weather months always challenge me as a parent. How can I maintain an active, healthy lifestyle for my kids when it’s just too chilly to be outside? I suspect it’s a nagging question for many other Pittsburgh parents, too. Yet kids get cranky when they’re cooped up inside and statistics reveal that a frightening one-third of our children are considered overweight or obese. In the wake of this epidemic, we need to get and keep our kids moving!
In honor of NEXTpittsburgh‘s new Health section, I have created a guide to some very special Pittsburgh indoor play spaces. These spots offer a chance for the active, adventure-loving family to stay fit and have fun–even on the dreariest of Pittsburgh days. I hope you enjoy exploring them this fall and winter. Who knows? You might even pick up a new hobby to share with your kids.
Highmark Sportsworks at the Carnegie Science Center
Want to be active and learn some cool stuff, too? Head to the Highmark Sportworks building, a part of the North Side’s Carnegie Science Center. Its 30+ exhibits are entirely devoted to encouraging physical activity in kids. And it’s first on my list for a reason. It’s a centrally-located, all-around great spot to burn off some energy, try some unique adventures and learn some science, too.
Sportworks‘ exhibits are certainly one-of-a-kind. Some examples: a “You-Yo” exhibit where you can become a human yo-yo, oscillating up and down on cable-tethered handles, a “high-cycle” where you can ride a counter-balanced unicycle across a wooden beam suspended 15 feet off the ground and a bungee-harnessed trampoline where you can jump, flip and spin 20 feet into the air. There are also many sport-related physical challenges, such as an Olympic sprint track, a rock wall and a pitching cage.
The part I like best about Highmark Sportsworks? The exhibits have obviously been designed to nurture appreciation for the human body and the science behind it. And I think that’s cool.
The Wheel Mill
Did you enjoy biking with your kids last summer? There’s no need to give it up over the next six months. The Wheel Mill is Pittsburgh’s first and only indoor bike park located in a former warehouse building in Homewood. Buoyed by the support of local cyclists and organizations like BikePGH, Harry Geyer opened the Wheel Mill in April of 2013. Every feature of this 80,000 square foot park has been carefully designed to mimic organic trail conditions. The park is also committed to sustainability–nearly 75% of the lumber and material used in its design have been reclaimed.
The Wheel Mill has terrain for both the experienced and the beginner cyclist, including children as young as age 3. As Harry says, “We always knew that we wanted children to be a part of the Wheel Mill. After all, biking seems like such a natural part of the childhood experience. Plus, for many kids, it’s their first taste of freedom and the responsibility that goes along with it. We want to help them make that leap safely.”
Some kid-friendly highlights: balance bikes and youth bikes to rent for only $8 per day (or you can bring your own), children’s biking lessons, summer camps, birthday parties and family-friendly events throughout the year. Plus, a giant foam room where you can take your bike off a jump and land in four feet of foam–which sounds like a blast to me.
The Climbing Wall
Used to love rock-climbing before you had kids? Now you can bring them along! Located in the Factory Building in Point Breeze, the 14,000 square foot Climbing Wall is a locally-owned and family-friendly business, welcoming children as young as age 6. As General Manager, Andrea Bureau, says, “We think that learning to rock-climb can be a very important experience for some kids. In comparison to more competitive team sports, it allows them to be active and athletic–but in a more self-directed and individually-paced environment.”
The Climbing Wall offers several rock-climbing options for kids. The most well-known is their Kids Climb drop-in program where children can learn fundamental rock-climbing skills under the watchful eyes of trained professionals. During these two-hour sessions, parents are welcome to observe, do some top-roping themselves or even run some errands. Also, families can always explore the 8,000 feet bouldering area with designated trails suitable for climbers of all ability levels. Finally, parents can complete a special adult climbing class to become belay-certified. They can then take their children top-roping at any time.
If you’re looking for other kid-friendly rock-climbing options, check out Climb North and KinderKlimb at REI Pittsburgh. Please note: in general, children are required to be at least 5-6 years old to rock-climb, except at the Highmark Sportworks building where they only need to be 30 pounds or greater.
The Mellon Park Tennis Center
Want to introduce your kids to tennis? Citiparks runs the indoor Mellon Park Tennis Center. Built in 2002, the “Mellon Bubble” was initially supposed to be a temporary, cold weather-only structure. It was so popular they decided to keep it open year-round. The insulated and heated Tennis Center has five courts with on-site showers. The Center runs drop-in beginner tennis classes for families on Saturday mornings. For $10 per class, kids ages 4-15 year old can get a lesson with a tennis pro.
The Center is also the home of the Inner City Junior Tennis Program, a wonderful free mentorship program for inner city youth. On Friday evenings, children ages 5-18 can practice their tennis skills alongside some of the region’s best tennis players and develop healthy relationships with positive role models.
RMU Island Sports Center
Looking for a one-stop shop for your adventurous family? The RMU Island Sports Center is located on Neville Island about 9 miles from Downtown Pittsburgh. This 32-acre facility is owned by Robert Morris University and is used by its students and faculty. Thankfully, this indoor athletic haven is also open to the public as well.
It has a few claims to fame. First, it houses one of the region’s only indoor golf driving ranges. The “Golf Dome” is an absolutely enormous space with a state-of-the-art turf surface that makes it ideal for driving golf balls on those cold, bitter winter mornings. The driving range also happens to be a great place to introduce your children to the sport either through its a) all-ages Parent/Child Golf Class or its b) Junior Golf Academy for ages 8-14.
Also, the Island Sports Center is home to one of the region’s best indoor ice-skating venues. The Olympic-sized rink is the largest in the area and is known for being very well well-maintained. The rink offers public skate hours throughout the week and also open stick times for hockey enthusiasts. Finally, the Island Sports Center has an exceptional educational staff with world class skaters and even former Olympians teaching ice-skating lessons for children as young as 3.
Looking for other indoor ice skating rinks in the city? Check out Blade Runners Harmarville and Warrendale Ice Complex and the Ice Connection of Pittsburgh to the north, Ice Castle Arena, Iceoplex at Southpointe and Blade Runners Bethel Park Ice Complex to the south, Center Ice Arena to the east and Airport Ice Arena to the west.
Neville Roller Drome
Have fond memories of roller skating as a kid? The Neville Roller Drome is a favorite indoor roller rink in the city, also located on Neville Island. As owner Jim Park says, “Although the outside is unassuming–a little bit like Dr. Who’s Tardis–the Neville Roller Drome is Pittsburgh’s first and finest roller skating rink. We are committed to providing both a fun and family-friendly environment.”
Neville Roller Drome truly does cater to the needs of the entire family. For mom–a women-only skating aerobics class on Monday evenings. For date night–a Thursday evening Adult Skate Night. For family fun–skating lessons for kids and Radio Disney-infused Family Skates during weekends. There’s even special tween/teen skate times, roller derby and a soon-to-launch Tiny Tots Skate Session for the wee little ones.
Wanna bounce? SkyZone Leetsdale is a 10,000 square foot indoor trampoline park located west of the city. The facility features two open jump courts, two dodgeball courts, a foam pit and a Skyplane basketball hoop. SkyZone is very family-friendly with no minimum age requirement to visit. As the General Manager Justin Werth likes to say, “If you can walk, you can probably jump at SkyZone.” SkyZone offers open jumping hours, dodgeball birthday parties, skyrobics fitness classes, a special needs night and a weekly toddler time. Rumor has it that a new SkyZone location may be coming to Monroeville soon.