For many Pittsburgh families, January is a month to take a long deep breath and recenter. We try to regain a sense of normalcy to our lives after the craziness of the holidays and winter break. We also try to greet the new year with a fresh set of resolutions–perhaps getting healthier, spending more time with our families, embracing a new hobby. In January, we settle into a new reality. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s not quite as festive. But it can still be fun! From movie nights to live shows to winter sports, here’s our Top 10 family adventures this January in Pittsburgh.
Getting yucky at Mess Fest on New Year’s Day
Since its inception eight years ago, Mess Fest at the Carnegie Science Center has become a favorite New Year’s Day activity for Pittsburgh families. This unique event invites kids to embrace that inner voice begging them to get yucky–through interactive activities designed to be as goopy, gross and gooey as possible. They can plunge their hands into slime and savor the sweet satisfaction of letting it slip through their fingers. They can concoct a combination of tempera paint and plaster of Paris and watch it transform into sidewalk chalk. They can even experiment with “oobleck” a substance with some curious physical properties. Hint: it acts exactly like it sounds. When picked up, it has a solid form. After exposure to body heat, it transforms itself into a liquid that falls right through the fingers and nicely splatters.
Other activities at Mess Fest include finger painting for your littlest ones, an egg drop, a pudding “pi” -eating contest and special theater programs. All activities are included in the price of admission.
Hitting the slopes at Kids Safety Weekend at Boyce Park Ski Area
The first weekend of January is also the last weekend of winter break. So what? Well, I’m guessing your family might be getting stir-crazy and ready to try a new adventure. Fortunately, the Allegheny County Parks Department’s Boyce Park Ski Area offers a good option–a special kid’s weekend.
Located near Monroeville, the Boyce Park Ski Area is a favorite spot to introduce Pittsburgh children to the winter sports of skiing and snowboarding. It has many perks for families. It’s much closer than larger winter resorts. It’s also quite cheap with slope fees starting at $16 and group lessons starting at $13. With five slopes, several terrain parks and a Four Seasons Lodge, it’s small enough to be manageable with kids while still offering enough variety to suit different tastes.
On January 3-4, Boyce Park will host a Kid’s Safety Weekend. On Saturday, the park will be teaming up with the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Kohl’s to distribute 100+ all-sports helmets to kids free of charge. They will also be offering a DJ dance party, face-painting, balloon artists and magic shows. Finally, they will be hosting their annual Mini Junior Olympics in skiing and snowboarding for children ages 5-12.
Can’t make it to Kids Safety Weekend? Boyce Park Ski Area is open seven days per week, including New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day and offers half-price slope fees on Wednesdays. The nearby snowtubing area is also a big hit.
Gliding along the ice at Schenley Park Skating Rink’s Mascot Skate
Perched atop Overlook Drive, the Schenley Park Skating Rink offers a breathtaking view of the city in a wooded setting. With very reasonable admission passes and skate rentals starting at size 8 plus aids for novice skaters, many parents enjoy bringing even their littlest children to this rink. The facility also holds several special events during the winter season, including a Mascot Skate on January 10 from 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Now in its 28th year, the annual Mascot Skate has grown so popular that even the Nittany Lion is invited. He will be joined by over 30 other local and regional mascots including Steely McBeam, the Pirate Parrot and Pitt Panther. Most will take to the ice and play out traditional rivalries through good-natured teasing. Our frisky friends will also be available for photos with kids. The Mascot Skate event also features music, balloon artists and concession stands. Handy tip: the Mascot Skate is the only day of the year when children are allowed on the Schenley Skating Rink without skates.
Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. at East Liberty Celebrates MLK
With the tragedies of Eric Garner and Michael Brown looming over our heads, it’s been a sad time for many in our city. As if scripted to bring comfort, this month we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream of hope, peace, love and perhaps, most timely, strength in the face of adversity.
As King said, “there is no gain without struggle” and this year’s East Liberty Celebrates MLK event at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater celebrates that spirit of resiliency. Held from 12-4 p.m. on January 19, this free event will spotlight local organizations building a strong community including Repair the World Pittsburgh, the Center for Victims and the YMCA Westinghouse Lighthouse Project. These organizations will lead kid-friendly activities and also offer information on their services.
The event will also feature live performances by Dreams of Hope, 1Hood, Hope Academy and others. Finally, KST will bury Capsule 15206, a time capsule filled with community stories, pictures and crafts. I know many Pittsburghers join me in hoping that we will be much closer to King’s dream when the capsule is next unearthed 100 years from now.
Building the dream at the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Bash at the Mattress Factory
The Mattress Factory of Contemporary Art also hosts an event in honor of MLK Day. Their festive Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Bash will be held on January 19 from 12-4 p.m. and will feature all the accoutrements of a birthday party including cake, birthday crowns, activities and music. For many Pittsburgh families, this kid-friendly Pay-What-You-Can day is the perfect opportunity to explore a museum that may be off the beaten track for them.
The Mattress Factory also adds its own flair to the Birthday Bash. In keeping with the message of I Have a Dream, the event will invite children to collaborate in creating a dream city, a project inspired by the current Diaspora installation of Artist in Residence, Ryder Henry. Henry is a Pittsburgh-based artist who uses recycled cardboard and other salvaged supplies to create model cities based on real places in his own neighborhood. During the MLK Birthday Bash children can use these same materials to design their own ideal cityscape.
Diving under the sea at Disney’s The Little Mermaid by the Pittsburgh Musical Theater
The Pittsburgh Musical Theater is offering a real treat for Pittsburgh families this month. Its production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid will take to the stage on January 22-February 1. Colleen Petrucci, executive artistic director of the Pittsburgh Musical Theater, has gone to incredible lengths to recreate the underwater world of Ariel in the show–even snorkeling in tropical seas to get a look for herself. From the colors of a coral reef teeming with life to the glistening of the sun refracting on the ocean’s surface above to the swaying movement of plants in the tide, Petrucci has paid attention to even the smallest details in her set design.
For lovers of the classic Disney film, the storyline will be very familiar. Yes, the original music will be in there. Yes, Ariel will have red hair. And yes, she will appear to swim across the stage. Tickets to Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Byham Theater start at just $12.75.
Letting go at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Frozen Movie Night
If you have an Elsa or Olaf enthusiast in your life (and who doesn’t?), there’s a special adventure for your family this month. The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is teaming up with the Pittsburgh Filmmakers to host a Frozen Movie Night on Saturday, January 24. For just $5 for members ($6 for nonmembers), you can bring your sleeping bags, pillows and kids and camp out for a screening of a special sing-a-long version of Disney’s Frozen. Costumes are highly encouraged. The show is preceded by film-related educational activities offered by the Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Museum’s Big Red Room Cafe will be open starting at 5 p.m. for popcorn and dinner purchase. The movie begins at 5:30 p.m.
Also, the Museum will be holding its first ever Winter Family Overnight on the same night for children 5 years and older plus a caregiver. Families can spend the night exploring the first floor exhibits, participating in special activities in the MAKESHOP and Studio and enjoying a late-night snack and a light breakfast. And sleeping. Or maybe not.
Rocking out at Weather Permitting Winter Edition
For the many Pittsburgh families who enjoyed the laid-back vibe, music and refreshments of Weather Permitting at the Shadyside Nursery this summer, I have good news for you. Events producer and father Pete Spynda is back with a wintertime version of his popular family-friendly concert series.
Held at the New Bohemian, a former church on the North Side, the winter iteration of Weather Permitting will feature some of the best parts of its summer counterpart–eclectic live music, food trucks, craft beer and children’s activities. “Five years ago I would have never guessed I would be producing family-friendly shows,” says Spynda, “But after having my daughter, I couldn’t go to the live shows I loved anymore. Either they were too late, too packed or there was smoking.” Inspired to change this cultural norm, Spynda’s Weather Permitting shows are specifically geared toward parents who dream of rocking out with their kids in tow.
Weather Permitting Winter Edition will start on Sunday, January 25 from 3-8 p.m. The event will feature performances by bands The Working Poor, The Pressure and Charlie Hustle and the Grifters. Food will be available for purchase from Steer and Wheel Food Truck and beer will be provided Rock Bottom Brewery for a donation. The space is also BYOB. Tickets are $10 for adults and free for kids. Future concerts will be held one Sunday per month in February, March and possibly April.
Hitting the tracks at CHUGGINGTON LIVE!
The end of January brings another kid-friendly live theater performance, the North American debut of CHUGGINGTON LIVE! The Great Rescue Adventure on January 31 at the Benedum Center. Based on the hit British television show about young locomotives-in-training, this two act musical brings the series to life through giant train carriages with working mouths and eyes, familiar music and well-known animated locations projected on a large LED video wall behind the live action. The show will follow the adventures of Wilson, Brewster and other characters as they rescue Koko from danger. Tickets start at $21 and shows will be held at 3 and 6 p.m.
Getting festive at the East End Food Co-op’s Winterfest
Finally, the East End Food Co-op brings January to a festive close at its annual celebration of the winter season. Known as Winterfest, this year’s event will take place on January 31 from 1-5 p.m at the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg. This family-friendly festival features food and drinks, live music and activities for all ages at a very reasonable cost. For an additional $5, adults can purchase a wristband for access to an open bar offering wine and local craft beer provided by the East End Brewing Company.
Also on the docket for Winterfest–a plentiful spread of vegan and vegetarian food from the Co-op’s cafe, children’s activities with volunteers from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Assemble and the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, live folk and acoustic string music and a DJ spinning reggae, funk, jazz, hip hop and more. The best part about Winterfest? Every last cent raised at the event will benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and its noble mission.
For more events see the Top 8 events for January and check our events scroll on the homepage.
From all of us at NEXTpittsburgh, we wish you a January filled with warmth, new adventures and a bit of relaxation. We’ve earned it after the excitement of the holidays. Happy 2015!
Featured photo: Children’s activities at East Liberty Celebrates MLK at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Photo by Mark Simpson