South Hills Mom

a mom's guide to kid-friendly resources in the South Hills

Gymsport Athletic Center – Bridgeville

One of my favorite places to take my little ones to blow off steam is Gymsport Athletic Center in Bridgeville.  With all the open space and opportunities for running, climbing, swinging, hanging, and jumping, it practically guarantees a nice, long afternoon nap!

We frequent Gymsport during Preschool Playtime, which is for ages 5 and under, Monday-Friday, 9:00am-noon.  There is also a Mini Open Gym, for ages 9 and under on Friday from 4:00-5:00pm, and Open Gym for ages 6 and up Wednesday 8:00-10:00pm and Friday 5:00-8:00pm.  The rate is $5/hour per child to play.

The first place my little girl always wants to go is up the stairs to a play area designed for toddlers and preschoolers.  There are tunnels to crawl through and a small trampoline built into the floor.  There’s also a balance beam and a small bar with a mat under it to practice hanging from.  But the best part of this room is obviously the slide and zip line…which dump kiddos right into a foam pit!  It took my daughter about 10 visits to Gymsport before she got the hang of the zip line, but now that she knows what to do, that’s ALL she wants to do!

This play area is in a slightly elevated room (accessible by stairs or a ramp).  Below this room is more room to play, with a rock climbing wall, tunnel, and miscellaneous toys like stuffed animals, hula hoops, scarves, beach balls, etc.

Other than this room, it’s an actual gymnastics gym!  For preschool playtime we have access to the floor area (which is great for running off energy, or playing with the aforementioned toys), the trampoline track where kids can jump into yet another foam pit, and an area with beams and bars designed for young children.  Children SHOULD NOT venture into the other parts of the gym with uneven bars, high balance beams, etc., since that equipment is meant for much older children.

My daughter really likes the beams and bars area, too.  There are rings to hang and swing from, a ladder to climb to access another bar to dangle from, balance beams of all kinds of thickness, and mats for tumbling.

We’ve been coming to Gymsport for over a year now.  As soon as your kiddo can walk there is something for him or her to do!  My son just turned one and isn’t walking yet, and while he enjoys crawling around on the different mats and chasing balls around the floor, I’m usually just scooping him up and keeping him away from things that he’s just too little for.  My daughter has always enjoyed running around like the crazy little girl that she is, but now that she’s just turned two, she’s really started to figure out how to use the equipment more meaningfully.

Be warned, though…your kids won’t be the only ones worn out at the end of your visit to Gymsport!  Like I mentioned before, this is an actual gymnastics gym, and children require a lot of attention and support to make sure they are using the equipment correctly.  Moms and Dads should expect to run around, lift kids to reach bars or zip lines, spot kids while climbing, and dig kiddos out of foam pits.  Dress appropriately – yoga pants and sweatpants are perfectly acceptable here (and socks, since you can’t wear shoes in the gym)!

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Lilliput Towne Center

A few weeks ago we visited Lilliput Towne Center with some friends.  I’ve always noticed the storefront (located in the same shopping plaza as Panera in McMurray, right off of 19), but I had NO IDEA until recently that there was an indoor play area for children!  So we set up a playdate to check it out.

Oh my gosh…this place is the cutest!  It’s set up like a mini town, with play stores and shops for children to explore and make believe.  There’s a grocery store with play food and a cash register, which my son enjoyed since he could easily knock food off shelves and remove fruit from their baskets.

My daughter and her buddies LOVED the salon, where they dressed up in dresses and took turns doing each others’ hair in the salon chair.

Fire Station

Another favorite was the fire station, which had a play fire truck the little ones loved “driving” as well as a long hose to unravel and fireman coats and hats, to really look the part!

There was also a post office with a mail box to deposit mail into, a garage with a car and gas pump, an ice cream shop with pretend tasty treats, and a doctor’s office to make pretend boo boos all better!

Trolley

In the center of the “town” is a trolley with a slide inside.

My kids happily played here for a couple of hours until it was time to leave.  Next time I will plan ahead for lunch; there is an eating area at the back of the store for families to enjoy lunch or a snack (food and drink must remain back on this tiled floor area).

I would recommend Lilliput mainly for kids who are 18 months and older.  That’s not to say that younger toddlers and babies wouldn’t enjoy it, but that’s the age that I noticed my daughter really starting to enjoy pretend play.  My son enjoyed “driving” the fire truck and car, rolling the play oranges around like balls, and pulling himself up to look in the different windows of the “stores,” but he didn’t truly appreciate all Lilliput had to offer.  My daughter and her friends ranged in ages from 18 months to almost 3 years old, and they all really enjoyed and appreciated their playdate here.

The rate for a day of play is $10 for the first child, $6 for any siblings, and non-walking infants are free (with a paying child).  The hours are 9:30-4pm, Monday-Friday.  Call for weekend hours; they offer play time on weekends if no birthday parties are booked.  (Oh yeah, they have BIRTHDAY PARTIES here, too!)

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Indoor Birthday Parties

Do your kids have a birthday coming up? Both of my babies have December birthdays, so an indoor party is a must.  And if you’re like me, the thought of hosting a children’s party in my home is a little overwhelming! Luckily, there are plenty of great indoor birthday party destinations in the South Hills.

Here are some local venues to help get the party started:

Upper St. Clair Community & Recreation Center – Is your winter baby set on having a pool party?  It’s possible, thanks to the USC Rec Center!

Gymboree – You pick your theme – they do the rest!  Includes activities led by a Gymboree teacher.  For ages 0-5.

The Little Gym – Trained instructors will lead birthday party activities for children ages 1-12.

Snapology – For the block-lovers out there, play time in the Discovery Center is made even better with cake and presents in the party room!  **If you’re having an in-home party and looking for entertainment, Snapology will bring the party to you!**  (Read how much we love Snapology here.)

Build-a-Bear – No cheap goodie bags here!  Party guests make their very own bears to take home at a Build-a-Bear party.

Seesaw Center – A space designed just for the little ones – find a new favorite toy at the Seesaw Center, then celebrate with cake in the party room!  (Read about how much we love the Seesaw Center here.)

Gymsport Athletic Center – Trampolines, foam pits, jungle gyms…and if that isn’t enough trained instructors will lead party guests through games and activities appropriate for their age level.

E2 Toys 2 Try – Exclusive use of their indoor playground and a party assistant to lead games and keep the party running smoothly – sounds good to me!

AMF Mt. Lebanon Lanes – Who doesn’t love a bowling party??  Very affordable and fun for everyone!

Ice Castle – Enjoy skating on the ice rink, then warm up in the party room with cake and presents.

Oogles and Googles – A very unique party for those who love to dress up and play pretend!

Fired Up Pottery Studio – Kids who love to create can take home a handmade piece of art from a Fired Up Pottery Studio party.

Lilliput Towne Center – Lilliput’s adorable play town is the perfect setting for your child’s birthday party!

And, if you don’t mind the hike, some venues around the city:

The Children’s Museum
Carnegie Science Center
Pittsburgh Zoo
Color Me Mine
The National Aviary
Sweetwater Center for the Arts

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Seesaw Center

First, I apologize for the infrequency of my posts lately.  We have had a series of colds and illnesses that have kept us home for a couple weeks!  But we’re back on our feet (for now, at least) and I’ve got some great material planned for this fall and winter!

Today I’m excited to share our recent experience playing at the Seesaw Center.  The Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon is one of our favorite indoor play destinations for a cold or yucky day.  This is a great indoor play space for children from birth to age 5.  The Seesaw Center is open seasonally, October-April, from 9:30-3:00 on weekdays, with evening hours 5:00-8:00 on Tuesdays and Thursday, and 9:30-12:30 on Saturday.  The cost is $5/child over the age of 6 months old for a day of play, but you may purchase a 5 pass card for $20 or a family membership for $75.  You must stay with your child (no drop off), and there is a coffee station for parents who need it!

There are so many different play areas for children of different ages and with different interest!  I won’t be able to describe everything the center has to offer, because every time we go we find something new, but I hope to give a good overview.

Recently my daughter has become very interested in dolls and playing pretend, so this season we’ve spent a lot of time in the dramatic play section.  There are baby dolls, clothes for dressing up, puppets and a puppet theater, a cash register, play phones, and so much more!  It’s sweet to watch the little ones pretending to be little mommies and daddies!  We never visited this section last year, so it’s cool for me to see my little girl growing up and becoming interested in new things.  And I REALLY love going to places like the Seesaw Center because otherwise she wouldn’t have access to so many new toys and activities, which helps me when it’s time for holiday shopping because I know the things she is (and isn’t) interested in.

baby areaMoving on, my little guy really loved that there was a space just for babies!  There’s a small gated area with toys for prewalkers to enjoy without having to fight with the bigger kids.  My son is 10 months old now, and enjoyed other parts of the center, too, but this was a good spot that was just for him.

 

infant/toddler play areaAdjacent to the baby area is an area with toys that both of my kids enjoy, like Little People, stacking cutes, activity cubes, and more.  This is a great spot for kids of multiple ages, and again, a great way for kids to explore with different kinds of toys from what they have at home.  My son liked the bubble mirror, and how funny his sweet little face looked in it!

music

 

Also in this area is a music section, with a little piano, drums, cymbals, bells, keyboards…pretty much anything that makes noise!  Obviously, a very popular spot.

 

 

 

For active players, there are balls and basketball hoops, all kinds of ride-on toys, and two play structures to climb on and slide down.  A favorite spot is the castle, where children enjoy popping up in the tower and locking the door to keep dragons out (no worries, mommy and daddy dragons can see in through the open top).

A puzzle and block corner is a nice place to calm down a little bit.  There’s a nice selection of books over there, too, to take a break from all the playing.  Also in this section is a fishing game that I was surprised my daughter enjoyed, as it took more refined fine motor skills than I thought she had!  The volunteer working the front desk told me that even when that game is broken, it’s still one of the most popular things in the center!  (The fish spin around opening their mouths while the kids use plastic fishing poles to try to catch them.)

There’s so much more to the center…a rice table, Duplo building stations on the walls, a Plinko-style ball maze, a tool bench, every truck you can imagine, train tables, car tables…and more!  This is a favorite meet up place for our moms group, and a great place to go when you need to get out of the house but don’t know what to do.

The Seesaw Center has frequent events, too, like the Halloween party last week and a librarian who comes to read.  Check out their Facebook page to keep up with what they’re doing!

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“Tot Time” at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Our family loves the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.  Every visit we find something new to try, enjoy, or marvel at.  Last week was our first time attending “Tot Time,” which is a class offered for toddlers aged 18 months – 3 years.  The class is $8 for non-members, and doesn’t include museum admission.  The classes are themed, and since we attended the first class in October, our theme was “Orange October!”

DSC06352We entered the classroom promptly at 11:00 to find craft tables, a fall-themed sensory bin, and several play areas set up for children to explore.  My toddler bolted for the paint (of course) while I parked the stroller and settled my 9 month old on the rug with some baby-friendly toys (siblings under 18 months may attend the class free of charge).  At the first craft table my daughter used different textured brushes to paint a paper pumpkin.  This activity was fun, but required a lot of support from mom!

 

After the pumpkin painting my daughter checked out the rest of the room, saying hi to her brother on the rug and checking out his toys as she went along.  She really liked the sensory table with leaves, gourds, and pine cones.

Next we checked out the second craft table, which was making a glitter pumpkin.  We were given a real mini pumpkin to paint with glue and use glitter shakers to cover with glitter.  The idea was great, but for this age it required a lot of support from mom, and even then glitter got EVERYWHERE.  And I mean everywhere.  Like, my daughter covered her glue-covered hand in glitter then touched her face.  Then licked her hand.  Then put her gluey glittery hand in her hair.  Glitter alone is hard enough to clean up, so I fought a losing battle trying to clean glued-on glitter off a toddler.

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After crafts the children were called to the rug for singing and dancing.  My daughter mostly observed, but the kids who have attended the class before sang along and played along with the teacher.  My favorite part was when the kids were given ribbon shakers and made a parade around the room.  It was a sweet sight!

Following the singing and dancing was another craft; creating an orange collage of different textured materials.  Kids glued textured paper, ribbons, leaves, etc. to a piece of paper.  There were tons of materials to choose from and my daughter enjoyed checking them out.  She wasn’t happy with my gluing them down, though!

The last part of the class was a snack and a story.  The children enjoyed some goldfish while listening to some pumpkin-themed stories.

My overall impression of the class is that it was well-planned, prepared, and organized.  The kids who have been there before knew the routines and were comfortable going through all the different stages.  However, as newcomers, it wasn’t always clear to us what we should be doing.  We kind of just did what everyone else was doing, which turned out to be fine.  The instructors sought us out as newbies and welcomed us quickly, which I thought was nice.

I don’t know if we will attend another class soon, though, because it was very overwhelming with two little ones.  My toddler required my full attention at the crafts, which I wasn’t able to give since my son was doing his own exploring on the rug (and under tables, and under people’s feet…).  I rarely get overwhelmed taking my two little ones out on my own, but this was a little much!  I couldn’t wear my son in my Beco carrier because I had to keep bending over at the craft table and I wasn’t able to sit on the rug for songs and stories with my daughter because my son was crawling away.  Both my kids seemed to fully enjoy the class, but at the end I needed a nap from running back and forth between the two of them!  When we attend again it will be when my son is old enough to participate, or I have an extra set of hands.

I do plan to check out some of the other Tot classes at the Children’s Museum this fall and winter, like “Tot Moves” or “Tot Yoga.”  The October calendar is full of events for little ones!

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Snapology

We recently visited Snapology in Bethel Park.  We are so lucky to have this play center right in the South Hills!  I recently included it on a guest blog at The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog as one of the top ten places to take your kids in the South Hills.  It’s worth checking out!

Snapology is located at 70 Fort Couch Road, in between McDonalds and GetGo.  The center is on the second floor of the building and is accessible by stairs only (so no strollers…I carried my little guy up in a sling).  The Discovery Center is open for Lego Lab (free time to explore the materials) the following hours:

  • Monday 10am-2pm
  • Tuesday 5:30-7:30pm
  • Wednesday 10am-2pm and 5:30-7:30pm
  • Friday 10am-2pm
  • Saturday 12-5pm

The cost is $8/hour to play.

The Discovery Center consists of DSC06037three rooms for kids to play in and explore.  The first room you see upon entering has a Duplo train table – complete with dinosaurs and airplanes!  This was pretty exciting, as it combined two of my daughter’s favorite things – blocks and trains.  After pretending to be shy for about 45 seconds, she got down to business and played with the train for a few minutes before setting off to explore the rest of the facility.

Next we checked out a room that I think my husband would never want to leave!  Future inventors, engineers, or architects are BORN here.  We watched a Ferris Wheel made of K’Nex spin for us, which really enchanted my daughter.  In this room there are three different Lego tables, a station with K’Nex pieces, a ramp to try out cars you can build, a wall with Lego boards so you can actually build on the wall, and so much more.  The Ferris Wheel was a hit, but my daughter really enjoyed the ramp in this room.  She pushed the car up the ramp, saying “beep beep, choo choo” (because everything says choo choo these days), then laughed when she let it go and it would roll down the ramp again.

The third room was my favorite, and definitely the most age-appropriate for my children.  There were tons of Duplo sets, including a farm and a set to build Bert and Ernie!  There were also large blocks that were perfect for my 8 month old to bang together and crawl over.  There was a table with different kinds of blocks to play with, including a magnet board with shape magnets that my daughter really enjoyed.  In this room there was a Duplo wall, a Wii with Lego games, a bookshelf with idea books (and just regular books), a magnet wall with gears and animal building magnets…and just so much more.  Plus the center manager brought out Bristle blocks, which I haven’t seen in about 20 years, and my kids both LOVED them.  They both sat and played with them contentedly.

I was so impressed with how engaged my kids were with the materials.  Even though they are very young, each of them fully enjoyed our time at Snapology.  My 8 month old enjoyed the Duplo dinosaurs, the large blocks, and being able to crawl around and explore at his own pace.  My daughter enjoyed interacting with different kinds of materials, having the freedom and encouragement to explore and touch everything in the center, and sending the car down the ramp over and over again.

In addition to Lego Lab, Snapology also offers more structured activities, too.  They have themed classes, Lego League, and have a curriculum they can take into schools to enhance student learning.  I used to teach first grade and got to see the kits for kindergarten-2nd graders, and I know my students would have really enjoyed them.  I really enjoyed speaking with the staff at Snapology and you can tell how excited they are about the hands-on learning experiences kids get when they use materials in this way!  The center also hosts birthday parties, or you can have Snapology bring the entertainment for a party in your home, too.

The South Hills Snapology is growing and expanding, so check back in late fall for an exciting update!

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