One of our favorite places to visit on the weekends is the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. We first visited when Nico was about 10 months old, and both Gabriella and Milana have been there within the first few weeks of their lives. It’s a magical, hands-on interactive area of exploration and imagination for the youngest of children through upper elementary.
The museum has three floors.
On the first floor, where you enter the museum, you have the MAKESHOP, Attic, Garage, and Exhibits. This floor is where we spend the least amount of time right now because it’s more suitable for older tolddlers and elementary students and, well, I have #3Under3.
The MAKESHOP is a space for kids to play using, as the museum describes it, “real stuff.” Oh bless my Montessori soul. In this space you will find physical materials such as circuit work, textiles, nuts and bolts, and woodworking. We visit this part of the museum’s first floor most frequently, as the kids of course love doing all the “real” stuff! It’s a little hectic as it’s right off the main entrance, but we usually manage to spend at least part of our visit here.
The next space on the main floor is the Attic. I find this room the most… interesting. It contains a Gravity Room tilted at an angle which makes walking quite challening. We have enough issues trying to walk without running into things in my house- we skip this at our current age! Then there is the Animateering virtual reality world, another interesting part where a puppet on a television screen mimics actions of those standing on the floor as they jump and spin around. I’m not a huge fan of this space, at least not with my kids at their current ages.
Then you can move on to the Garage, the largest open space in the museum. Here you will find a variety of fun things, such as the SmartForTWo car, rope net, corkscrew slide, pulley parachutes, and other fun aspects. There is also a wind room which, depending on the day, either thrills or terrifies my older two.
And lastly is the rotating exhibit halls, which rotate in the latest and greatest things to stimulate the children’s young minds.
The first floor also contains the cafeteria and gift shop. The cafe has a lot of choices and is reasonably priced, making it an easy and affordable stop during your visit.
On the second floor, you will find the nursery. This area is dedicated to older infants and toddlers. The space is filled with many natural materials, making this Montessori mom happy to have her children spend time here. My kids have several favorite areas here:
First- the Light Bright Board. I’m not sure what the official name of this is, but it’s basically a light wall with pegs of differing primary colors that the kids can move around in different shapes and patterns. To any family that has also been at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh emergency room, they also have one of these boards there in the waiting room.
Second- the Lighted Sand Table. Kids can use a variety of tools such as paintbrushes and combs atop lighted tables to sculpt and comb sand.
Third- probably the messiest of the areas for the museum staff and the most feared for parents that don’t want kids to get sick or swallow something they shouldn’t (oh wait, that was me a few weeks ago), the blue pebble pond. Here, the kids can sift, pour and empty small blue pebbles with spoons, measuring cups and bowls to work on hand-eye coordination.
Finally, the wooden train table! We run into lots of wooden train tables in our adventures, but the one at the Children’s Museum is the largest and always gets a significant portion of my kids attention.
There’s several other exhibits in this area. All in all, this is a fun space perfectly designed for the toddlers in your house!
On the third floor, you will find my children because it’s their very favorite part of the museum – the waterplay area. In fact, when we get to the museum, we usually head straight for the elevator and to the top floor to beat the crowds!
The waterplay area is truly spectacular. If you want to beat the crowds, arrive about 10 minutes before opening, get in line first, and then make your way straight to the third floor. Many attendees start at the bottom and work your way up, so you can have the waterplay area all to yourself for some time if you take this approach! This is always our strategy!
Waterplay is exactly as it sounds – all things water and play. There are over 20 different “exhibits” within this area – everything from pumping water, creating dams, spraying water, raining water, and building channels through varying shapes and sizes of piping.
Children usually change into their bathing suits and swim shoes for this area, as they get WET while interacting with the water. For those that wish to remain in their regular clothing, the museum has smocks of differing sizes to don atop clothing. The museum provides bathrooms (with child size toilet inserts built in- life saver!) nearby or you can change off to the side of waterplay in the above cubby area.
Never short of amenities or thinking of families, the museum provides a soft space for nursing mothers and mothers of young infants, complete with comfortable couches, beautiful artwork, and books. As a nursing mom myself who often has to feed a baby during a visit to the museum, I can’t tell you how convenient this is or how many times I’ve used it! Thank you for thinking of moms. I will say that both the Children’s Museum and the Carnegie Science Center (blog post coming soon!) do a great job in catering to breastfeeding parents.
Hands on experiences are the best kind of learning for kids, and waterplay at the Children’s Museum provides precisely that opportunity.
Water is an important natural material. It can truly provide hours of fun mixed with developmental opportunities. One thing that is always on my mind is how calming water is. It’s one of the reasons why our parents bathed us every night as children- helps us go to sleep. Splashing and kicking and pumping and diverting water is a great way to get rid of some energy. And be careful, moms and dads, my kids almost always fall asleep on the way home, which could interfere with daily nap schedules!
Waterplay is also great for hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills. Scooping and pouring or filling and emptying containers works all these skills in young ones without them even realizing it.
One of my favorite aspects of this area is watching the children interact individually and together. Certain parts of the waterplay exhibit are inherently designed for individual use, while others suggest social interaction in their design. As my son has come here over the last 2.5 years, it’s been fun to watch him move between the individual and group work and see how his interactions with others has changed.
My kids always seem to enjoy the painting chalkboard, where they can use paintbrushes of different sizes and widths, dipped in water, to draw on the chalkboard. They’re always fascinated watching it dry!
There’s also this ice/snow table, where the children can use kitchen tools such as spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, and cookie cutters to play with ice, although most of them refer to it as snow!
Currently, prices for admission are $10 for adults, children and seniors. Children under 2 are free, and guests of members are $3 off the regular admission prices. Military service members are free, with guests of military members being 1/2 priced. If you purchase tickets in advance online, you receive a $1 discount.