Classes from Dance Alloy at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

With Labor Day behind us, my family will change gears this month. We will step out of free-spirited summertime mode and into another, busier lifestyle–complete with bagged lunches, school days and the beginnings of autumn. Although I’m sad to see this summer go, I can feel a morning chill in the air and it energizes me. Fall is a wonderful time for families in Pittsburgh!

Here’s my “Top ten family adventures this September in Pittsburgh.”

Apple Picking! 

The Western PA apple season will start by the first week of September. This quintessential fall fruit is a favorite of our family, especially when we pick our own. Thankfully, there are still several local farms that offer apple picking in their orchards.

Simmons Farm is located south of the city in McMurray, PA. It is a favorite apple-picking destination for our family for several reasons. First, they have semi-dwarf apple trees in their orchards–small enough for even the littlest hands to reach. Also, their farm is quiet, peaceful and remote, not commercialized in the same sense as some other local farms. They also have a large barnyard petting zoo where little ones can get up close to chickens, ducks, goats, pigs and sheep. Finally, they have a wonderful Fall Festival running 7 days per week starting September 20th.

Other local destinations for apple-picking include Triple B Farms (south), Norman’s Orchard (north) and Half Crown Hill Orchard (southwest).

2007 Pittsburgh Irish Festival
Irish Step Dancers at the Pittsburgh Irish Festival. Photo by All Points Images and Jim Hambrick

Celebrating Celtic Culture at the Pittsburgh Irish Festival

Started by two sisters in 1991, the Pittsburgh Irish Festival has become a favorite “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” celebration for Pittsburgh’s Irish and non-Irish alike. Drawing nearly 25,000 visitors during the weekend, this fun and educational festival celebrates the beauty of Celtic heritage through music, dance, food, games and activities geared toward the whole family. As festival co-founder, Maura Krushinski says, “The sustainability of the Celtic culture depends on involving the entire family in celebrations like the Irish Festival. For that reason, we have created an event that is fun across all generations.”

Some family-friendly highlights: numerous big-name musical acts like The Willis Clan, an Irish family band made up of 12 siblings ranging in age from three to early 20’s, a Children’s Irish Dance performance, traditional Celtic story-telling, an Irish dog tent and a dedicated Children’s Area with varied (and free) Irish-themed crafts, 25 cent games and a nearby playground. Oh–and a giant, life-sized chess board–which promises to amuse little ones.

The Pittsburgh Irish Festival will be held on September 5-7th at the Riverplex at Sandcastle. Adult tickets cost $12 in advance and $14 at the door. Children under 12 are free.

Alphabet Trails and Tales
Alphabet Trail and Tales. Photo courtesy of Citiparks

Wandering down the Alphabet Trail with Citiparks

Each September, Citiparks closes out the summer with their annual Alphabet Trail and Tales at Frick Park. This free event is an early and elementary-aged literacy adventure and–trust me–it’s a blast! Families are invited to follow the “Alphabet Trail” through Frick Park where gigantic, colorful letters serve as landmarks to guide them. Along the way, kids will also find handpainted storybook sets with book readings by authors, craft and activity stations, a petting zoo, pony rides, a trackless train, a puppet show by Pittsburgh Puppet Works and lots more. Kids will even get a healthy snack to fuel their explorations.

Alphabet Trail and Tales will be held on September 13th from 10am-1pm at the Blue Slide Park.

Trying a drop-in dance class at The Alloy School

With the cold weather approaching, I’m looking for indoor ways to keep my children active and healthy. I’m even considering registering them for an organized dance or creative movement class. That being said–I have my apprehensions about signing on for a semester’s worth of pricey classes when I’m not sure they’ll like it or not. For that reason, I was thrilled to learn about the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s The Alloy SchoolThe Alloy School provides an inclusive and high-quality introduction to the performing arts for children ages 3 to 12 years old at the very reasonable rate of $5 per class or $30 per six-week session (see top photo).

Held on Saturday mornings, the Alloy School classes are taught by professional dancers, musicians and actors. The fall semester runs from September 13-October 18th and will include creative movement, contemporary movement, ballet, hip hop, improv theater and steel band music programs. You can elect to register your child for the entire semester, or simply pop in for a single class (space permitting). At the end of the semester, the entire family can enjoy a fun recital.

The Gemini Children’s Theater. Photo by Gemini Theater Company
The Gemini Children’s Theater. Photo by Gemini Theater Company

Catching a show at the Children’s Gemini Theater

The Children’s Gemini Theater kicks off its 18th season on September 20th with its original production of Peter Pan.  Located at the Factory Building in Point Breeze and featuring a 100-seat theater, the Children’s Gemini Theater focuses on making the performance arts accessible to children through original music theater, acting classes and summer camps. This season they will offer three musical theater shows–Peter PanThe Gift of the Ice Queen and Beauty and the Beast. These performances are all interactive and include amateur child actors alongside professional adult ones. Also on tap: a variety of acting classes for children ranging from preschool to high school age.

Children’s Gemini Theater shows are held on Saturdays and Sunday at 1 and 3:30 pm. Tickets are $12 and can be bought in advance or at the box office.

Chatham Baroque’s Peanut Butter and Jam Sessions. Photo by Chatham Baroque
Chatham Baroque’s Peanut Butter and Jam Sessions. Photo by Chatham Baroque

Going Baroque at a Peanut Butter and Jam Session

Pittsburgh’s well-known Chatham Baroque will launch its kid-friendly Peanut Butter and Jam Sessions again this month. With the mission of giving young children a taste for 17th and 18th century baroque music, Peanut Butter and Jam Sessions combine music and movement in an interactive, educational and intimate environment. Plus, everybody gets a healthy snack and drink, always a nice bonus.

The first Peanut Butter and Jam Session will be held on September 20th and will be themed around the “The Tortoise and the Hare” story. The musicians will reenact this classic children’s tale through both movement and music, helping children understand the concept of a piece’s tempo.

“Peanut Butter and Jam Sessions” are held at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside on select Saturday mornings at 10 or 11:15 am. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children.

Penn’s Colony Festival. Photo courtesy of Penn’s Colony Festival
Penn’s Colony Festival. Photo courtesy of Penn’s Colony Festival

Celebrating our region’s history at the Penn’s Colony Festival

Each September, Saxonburg hosts the Penn’s Colony Festival, a celebration of our region’s role in the French & Indian War and a colonial-era living history experience reminiscent of the “Publick Tymes” fairs. The event recreates a bustling colonial village with battle reenactments, live Irish, English and Scottish music, historic magic shows and hands-on demonstrations of traditional Early American trades like spinning, weaving, pottery, blacksmithing, glassblowing and more. The festival also has many children’s activities including colonial-era art projects, games of skill and surrey rides.

The Penn’s Colony Festival will be held during the weekends of September 20-21st and September 27-28th. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children ages 8-15 and free for children under 8.

Getting creative at Garfield's Assemble
Getting creative at Garfield’s Assemble
Getting creative at Garfield’s Assemble

Getting creative at Assemble’s After School Program

Garfield’s Assemble is a community space and gallery run by Nina Barbuto, one of the city’s most talented and creative minds. At Assemble, Nina is working to empower the next generation of Pittsburgh makers. Connecting local youth with area artists and craftspeople, she provides hands-on, kid-friendly projects teaching science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) concepts in an inclusive manner.

Assemble will launch its fall After School program on September 22nd. Area youth (elementary-aged and above) are invited to visit from 4-6pm on Tuesday-Thursday for two hours of creative projects, homework help and a healthy snack. While the program is FREE to all, donations are welcomed to ensure its sustainability.

RADical Day at the Mattress Factory. Photo by Nadine Champsi
RADical Day at the Mattress Factory. Photo by Nadine Champsi

Visiting our museums for FREE on RADical days

Starting on September 24th, many of Pittsburgh’s most prized cultural assets will open their doors and invite the public to visit free of charge during select days. Each fall, the Allegheny Regional Asset District works with the region’s cultural institutions to host RADical Days, a “thank you” to the public for the 1% County Sales Tax paid by Allegheny County residents and visitors. RADical Days includes free admission days at many family favorites, including the Mattress Factory, Phipps Conservatory, the National Aviary, the Carnegie Museums, the Children’s Museum, the Pittsburgh Zoo and the Heinz History Center. RADical Days also includes special performances, workshops and nature hikes throughout the county. Check out this year’s full RADical Days schedule here.

A Trip to the County’s FREE Fall Festival

No September article would be complete without a mention of the beginning of autumn festivities in the Pittsburgh region. Although I will focus on Fall Festivals in more detail in my October article, let me note that Allegheny County will be holding its annual Hay Day Fall Festival at Hartwood Acres on September 27th from 11-4pm. This local fall festival is unique because it is completely free! From hayrides to pumpkin decorating to pony rides and a barnyard petting zoo, the County makes the fall experience accessible to all of its families during Hay Day.

Also, Hay Day 2014 is held jointly with the Allegheny Green and Innovation Festival, an opportunity to introduce your entire family to a more sustainable lifestyle through hands-on kid-friendly activities, exhibits and demonstrations.

Can’t make it to Hartwood Acres on September 27th? Allegheny County will also offer a second Hay Day in South Park on October 18th.

Have a wonderful September! We’ll see you back here in October for a run-down of Halloween activities, fall festivities and more.

Nadine Champsi

Doctor turned write-at-home-mom of two wonderful children. Founder of the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog. Editor of Kidsburgh. Contributing Editor at Next Pittsburgh. In love with the city of Pittsburgh and so excited to be raising a family here.