This month closes the year with a heady mix of holiday events, science activities and outdoor fun. Traditional family favorites compete with new happenings for a well-balanced diet of December activities for kids.
1. Dec. 3: Pittsburgh Detective Adventure, Heinz History Center
The game’s afoot! Kids can channel their inner Enola Holmes and sharpen their deductive skills on a Pittsburgh Detective Adventure tour. Heinz History Center docents will lead families through a guided tour of the Discovery Place and Special Collections exhibits. They’ll learn captivating tales from Pittsburgh history, explore the invention process and participate in hands-on activities. The tours are included with admission, which is free for ages 17 and younger through Jan. 8. While you’re there, be sure to enjoy the holiday winter wonderland and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception in the Sports Museum.
2. Dec. 3-Feb. 25: Penguins on Parade, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
The crowds gather at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to experience the joyful delight of Penguins on Parade. The penguin colony emerges from the upper entrance of the PPG Aquarium and waddles playfully along the way in red-carpet, tuxedo style. Penguins on Parade is included in general admission. For the safety of the penguins, the event is dependent upon environmental conditions. Check the event status before heading out.
3. Dec. 9-18: Highmark Holiday Pops, Heinz Hall
Fans of Christmas carols will be entranced by the fa-la-la programming at Highmark Holiday Pops. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra brings the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh into the glorious mix that also includes appearances by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre — and Santa Claus! A special Sensory Friendly Concert with pre-show activities takes place on Dec. 17 for attendees with sensory sensitivities.
4. Dec. 10: Glow, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
This special indoor/outdoor evening, Glow, celebrates light, kindness and community. The family-friendly evening includes hands-on art making, along with exhibits and performances that promise to spark, glow and light up the night. Cheer on artists competing in the Glow Down as they create glowing artwork. Participating neighborhood partners include the Moonshot Museum, City of Asylum and a musical performance from the New Hazlett Theater. Tickets are just $2.
5. Dec. 9-23: “A Musical Christmas Carol,” Byham Theater
What the Dickens? A seasonal favorite, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s production of “A Musical Christmas Carol” gift wraps up all the magic for the 31st time. Two-time Tony Award-winner and TV star Michael Cerveris (“Fun Home,” “The Gilded Age,” “Billions”) takes on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Follow his adventures through a night of ghostly appearances that lead to Scrooge’s ultimate redemption. Yuletide songs and special effects set the pace for an engaging experience. Tickets start at $15. A sensory-friendly performance is planned for Dec. 17.
6. Dec. 9-28: “The Nutcracker,” Benedum Center
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presents its distinctly Pittsburgh production set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score. “The Nutcracker” draws families year after year to its enchanting story, exquisite costumes (more than 150!) and stunning sets. To add to the experience, PBT includes education programs around the performances. The Nutcracker Family Workshop on Dec. 10 includes crafts and stories. It’s free with a ticket to the matinee performance. A free Artist Q&A is planned to follow the evening performance on Dec. 10. On Dec. 11, join the free Curtain Up! event to chat with PBT creatives about the ballet. The schedule includes an audio-described performance on Dec. 16 and sensory-friendly performances on Dec. 18 and 27. Tickets start at $29, with sensory-friendly tickets priced from $20.
7. Dec. 16: Cookie Camp, Assemble: A Community Space for Arts + Technology
Who doesn’t love cookies? Cookie-crazed kids in grades 3-5 will design and decorate holiday cookies at this half-day Cookie Camp. Three hours of sugar and spice — plus sprinkles and icing — sounds like sweet, sweet heaven. Registration is $50. Half-price scholarships are $25 for those with tight budgets. The camp is free for Garfield residents.
8. Dec. 17: Super Science Saturday: Light, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
December’s episode of Super Science Saturday: Light takes a seasonal look at how animals and people adapt to and thrive in winter’s darker days. Kids will explore qualities of light in nature, from glittering gems to the shimmer of an insect’s wing. Along with diminishing sunlight, winter’s freezing temperatures require adaptation. The program also compares the survival strategies of cozy critters and people. Super Science Saturday is designed for kids ages 7 to 12. Free with museum admission.
9. Dec. 17: Family Adventures: Red Planet Engineers, Carnegie Science Center
This experience gives families an in-depth look at Mars: Our Next Giant Leap, the Science Center’s newest exhibit. Through the guided tour during Family Adventures: Red Planet Engineers, kids will learn about the engineering skills needed to land, build and live on Mars. They will explore design principles in the FedEx Learning Labs to determine what it will take to get robots and astronauts to land on Mars. This outing is best for ages 6 and older. Registration is $14 (separate from general admission). Can’t make the Dec. 17 event? Discover Mars: Our Next Giant Leap anytime on your own. Entry to the permanent exhibit is included with general admission.
10. Dec. 17: Story Saturday: “Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems,” Carnegie Museum of Art
This month’s installment of Story Saturday focuses on “Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems” by Carey Sookocheff. The story takes a humorous look at everyday issues like a missing shoe, melted ice cream and getting caught in the rain. Creative ideas for practical and winsome solutions are offered, encouraging imaginations to work out even more. An art-making activity follows the storytime reading. Best for kids ages 12 and younger. Free with museum admission.
6 bonus events:
Through Dec. 18: “A Christmas Story, The Play,” O’Reilly Theater
Dec. 7 and 17: Preschool Adventures: Junior Rocket Scientists, Carnegie Science Center
Dec. 10: Puppets! Creation and Play, Trust Arts Education Center
Dec. 13-18: “A Lyrical Christmas Carol,” Gargaro Theater
Dec. 17: Holiday Community Day, August Wilson African American Cultural Center
Dec. 31: Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2023, Downtown