The great thing about the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is that it’s thoughtfully set up for kids of all ages to play openly and creatively, and it’s completely interactive from the time you enter the doors. Literally, I have trouble getting my son away from the huge glass bird at the entrance every. single. time. We never have enough time to get through the entire museum, which is why I especially love having a membership now so we can experience a new part or exhibit of the museum each time we go without feeling like we HAVE to do everything.
The one thing I’m finding as I’m exploring new attractions and museums is that there usually isn’t a guide for whether or not something is appropriate of your kid’s age, especially when they’re under 2. (At the time of writing this, Will is 17-months old.) With that in mind, below is our recap of the various exhibits and our favorite displays for little kids that keep us returning to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh again and again.
The Attic (1st Floor)
This exhibit looks just like it sounds, with older looking toys, artifacts and pictures on the wall and it’s a great mix of old and new. Our favorite displays for little kids include:
- The “color bouncer,” an intricate wooden ball machine that let’s kids put balls through the wooden wheel contraction and bounces them into the right bin based on their color. Our son was a little weary of this one at first but it quickly became his favorite and we ended up having to drag him away!
- The animated puppet show that allows even the littlest of kids to star in their own show, using a Kinect system to capture their movements and display them in puppet form on the screen.
- The wooden contraption that allows kids to put pegs in holes and spin the wheel around. It’s the perfect height for toddlers and we know how much little kids love fitting shapes into things.
- The “shy lights” next to the attic, which is a hallway of lights that move away when you step on the spots. Our son loved playing peekaboo here and running around to make make the lights move.
- Also in the hallway, you can flipping the light switches to change the paintings, and they’re also at the perfect height for little kids.
The Garage (1st Floor)
The Garage has a lot of fun things to build and move (just think of a car garage!) Most of the displays here require Mom or Dad’s assistance for the littlest kids but are still super fun, including:
- Pushing the orange bouncy balls up to the top of the machine and using a lever to pull them down. My son loves the sound it makes and could stand here doing it for ages, even though he’s still not quite tall enough to push the balls up himself.)
- Using the pulley system to pull balls up to a track along the ceiling.
- Building a race car with magnetic blocks and roller blade wheels to make a car and race it around.
- Picking from dozens of match box cars to race on a race track you can build yourself using magnetic tracks.
The Nursery (2nd Floor)
This part of the museum is specifically geared toward toddlers, with toys just their height and developmental abilities to inspire open play. The first time I went to the Children’s Museum last year with my niece, I literally thought it was a nursery, so we skipped this floor and totally missed out. I’m glad we finally checked this out, since it’s quickly become a favorite. Although I don’t necessarily need to call out the little kid friendly displays since is geared toward babies and toddlers here, our favorites are:
- Playing at the sand tables with various items to roll, brush and scoop the sand with.
- Using the colored pegs to make colorful pictures against the black background.
- Putting wooden balls in the maze contraption to roll them through to the bottom.
- Rolling the wooden trains around the tracks (it doesn’t matter where we go, this will always be a favorite.)
- Viewing the wooden shapes filled with various colorful objects.
I also love that this area is somewhat enclosed and you can let little kids freely play without feeling like you need to guide their every move. Tip: On Thursdays from 10:30-11:30, there’s a natured inspired program called Young Sprouts for kids under 5, which includes nature exploration, stories and songs.
Waterplay (3rd Floor)
Right when you step onto the 3rd floor, it feels like you’re in a little indoor water park. The entire floor also has a slip proof surface and is designed with small holes to allow the water to flow through, so kids can literally pour, dump and splash with water anywhere on the floor they’d like without you worrying about them slipping the entire time. Some of our favorite activities here include:
- Filling a bucket with water to play with water toys
- Use an elephant watering can to fill and dump water on the floor, in the running water or really anywhere
- Running under the rain shower to get soaked
- “Catching” water bugs with a net
- Using the hand pump to pump water out
Tip: Bring your kid’s swimsuit and save this one for last. It’s definitely better than worrying about them getting wet the entire time (a mistake I made the first time until getting this tip from a friend!) They do have aprons, but the reality is that an apron isn’t going to keep your kid from getting wet.
Rotating Exhibits (1st Floor & Basement Theater)
These can typically be seen on the first floor (past the garage) or in the theater room in the basement. Rotating exhibits we have seen in the past that were great for little kids included:
- Rube Goldberg™: The World of Hilarious Invention! (Current Exhibit until May 5, 2019): This was pretty cool for kids (and adults) of all ages who want to explore various inventions and contraptions hands on. Our favorite display for little kids was the table with dominos and various blocks so kids could create their own method to ring a bell. This exhibit is currently running until May 5, 2019 (a date I can’t forget since it’s my son’s 2nd birthday!)
- Native Voices (Current Exhibit until January 6, 2019): This was a pretty extensive exhibit covering a handful of Native American tribes from New England. It included everything from the landscape and wildlife, recreational activities, food and clothing, just to name a few. At 17-months old, my son loved the hands on displays like the toboggan and the various boxes uncovering different parts of nature and wildlife. He also had a blast watching (and dancing along with) the video of a pow wow.
- Thomas the Train (Past Exhibit): This was by far our favorite for kids under 2 (and really any Thomas fans.) They had Thomas and Percy models, a huge wooden train track with what felt like an unlimited supply of trains, an area to tune up the trains, another to stack the luggage, just to name a few. Our son was (and still is) going through a Thomas obsession so this was definitely a must-see when it was in town.
- Daniel Tiger (Past Exhibit): This was another hands-on, interactive play area perfect for little kids who wanted to see what it’s like to live in Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood.
The Studio, MAKESHOP®, Backyard & Gardens (Additional 1st Floor Exhibits)
We admittedly haven’t spent as much time at these exhibits since my son usually maxes out after about 2-3 hours and there are so many fun things to explore in the other exhibits that we can’t find anywhere else. That said, I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time in these spaces now that we have a membership and will be going back even more.
- The Studio offers a number of arts and crafts, including painting on easels, screen printing and clay making, all of which can be done with little kids with parental assistance. Plus there are art smocks available if you want to keep your little artist from completely covering themselves in paint.
- The MAKESHOP® is a cool space where children can build things using a variety of items and materials. At 17-months, my son’s favorite is the endless supply of blocks to stack and build whatever his little heart desires.
- The Backyard is a small outdoor space with a sand pit that’s great for little kids if you’re willing to let them get a little dirty (and once they’re past the sand eating phase!) Keep in mind that this is only open seasonally.
- The Gardens are located outside of the first floor, and I plan to explore these a little more in the future as my son gets older and it’s warmer again.
Know Before You Go
- Hours: Open every day from 10am- 5pm
- Admission: $16 for Adults/ $14 for Kids/ Children under 2 are free
- Membership: Packages vary. Family starts at $150 for a year and includes access to special events and discounts, including reciprocal membership with free or discounted admission at ASTC or ACM affiliated museums. There is also an option to get a joint membership between the Children’s Museum and the National Aviary, which we also love and is right down the street.
- Additional Tips:
- There are several quiet rooms throughout the museum, which are great for nursing mother’s to use or if your kids just need a quiet reading break from all the stimulation at the museum.
- You can pack your lunch and eat it in the Big Red Room Cafe (something I always appreciate with a little eater) or they have a great menu with reasonably priced food.
- Since the children’s museum of Pittsburgh is SO hands on, I wouldn’t recommend putting your kids cutest outfits on. Have them where play clothes, expect them to get a little dirty, and let kids be kids!
- The Children’s Museum has a field trip forecast on their website, which is awesome if you’re debating what day of the week to go and want to avoid the crowds. (I seriously wish every museum did this.)
- Don’t forget to bring your swim suit for the Waterplay area!
- Check out the museum’s website at www.pittsburghkids.org
Children’s Book Inspiration: Tap Tap Bang Bang by Emma Garcia
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