Ah, spring! That glorious time of year when the birds start singing again, trees and flowers begin to bloom and blossom, and we somehow save daylight by losing an hour of sleep and throwing our kids’ schedules completely out of whack for what seems like ever.
I’m pretty good about getting outside with my son year-round, but even I get giddy when we can shed the extra layers of clothes and be outside for more than 15 minutes without worrying about frostbite. Spring is my favorite season – winter is a recent enough memory that you can appreciate being able to go outside in just a sweatshirt, but you still have the long days of summer to look forward to.
Spring is also a great time to meet other parents who, like you, are itching for opportunities to get their kids some quality time playing outdoors. So whether you’ve been adventuring all winter long or you’re just starting to emerge from your own version of hibernation, take advantage of the many cheap (or free) ways to get outside and meet other families around town.
If you start exploring now, you’ll be a pro by the time summer rolls around and you can make the most of your newfound friendships. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s where I’ve met some of my favorite people in town:
Hike it Baby
If it weren’t for Hike it Baby Pittsburgh (the local branch of a national non-profit) I would have exactly 2 friends in this town, one of whom is my sister. Volunteers lead “hikes” – a term that is loosely defined and includes everything from a coffee shop/playground stroll to a 2.5 mile strenuous, carrier-only hike in Emerald View Park to the top of Mt. Washington – all around town. Each hike starts with a
quick meet and greet where everyone shares their names and where they live. This is key for people like me who need to be introduced to a person no fewer than 17 times to remember their name. There is an annual membership fee ($10 per family) but you get a 90 day free trial to figure out if it works for you and they have fee waivers available. Check out their Facebook group or website for more details and to find a hike near you.
Fern Hollow Nature Center Play Dates
Every Wednesday throughout the summer, the Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley hosts a play date in its Natural Outdoor Classroom. There are tires reminiscent of a boot camp obstacle course, a large pipe to crawl through/on, plenty of logs for fort building, a huge wooden xylophone, and a sand pit replete with tiny treasures to dig up. It’s a bit far from the city, but if you have access to a car it’s well worth the trip.
Pittsburgh has amazing parks. Most people have heard of the major RAD-funded parks (Emerald, Frick, Highland, Riverview, and Schenley) but there are more than 100 smaller parks and recreation facilities scattered across the city. Throughout the
summer, more than 70 of these sites offer free breakfasts, snacks and lunches to kids up to age 18. Many of them also play host to the roving art cart – check the schedule to see when it’s coming to your neighborhood. Kids can paint, craft, build, sculpt, and sometimes even get a free book.
Any local park or playground
I love our local park, and not just because it also hosts the town library and the skate park that my son for some reason unbeknownst to me is obsessed with. I love it because it’s big enough that he doesn’t get bored immediately but small enough that I can sit in one place and have an adult conversation while he runs around and explores. It isn’t always easy to start a conversation the first or second or even third time you see the same person at the park. But eventually, if you spend enough time there, you’ll get to talking with the other parents. I’ve had some amazing conversations with people I met at the park, covering a variety of topics from our local mayoral race to potty training and most things in between. I don’t know who in our family loves our park more, and that makes it one of my favorite places in the world.
Your turn. Do you have a favorite spot around town that I’ve left out? Let me know!