Happy New Year! It’s time to take a deep breath after the holidays and look forward to a fresh start. January offers plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy quintessential winter activities like ice skating (with mascots), snowshoeing (for $5 at several Allegheny County parks), ice fishing, dogsledding and skiing (try them all for free!).

This month we also celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and our Top Family Adventures guide for January gives you several awesome ways to honor him. Plus, find out about amazing children’s theater, messy science fun, a whole weekend devoted to trains and a family-friendly event supporting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Getting messy at MessFest 2016. Photo courtesy Carnegie Science Center.
Getting messy at MessFest 2016. Photo courtesy Carnegie Science Center.

Make a mess on New Year’s Day at the Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center’s MessFest 2016 kicks off the New Year in style on January 1st by encouraging kids to make gooey, yucky, slimy messes without worry of needing to clean up anything. It’s liberating, extremely fun and also educational. Bonus: all activities are free with admission.

MessFest will feature four floors of messy activities: experiment with Oobleck, a strange substance that literally changes from solid to liquid in your hands; build a rocket ship for a raw “eggstronaut” and see if it avoids a big splat when you send it careening over a ledge; enter a pie-eating contest; plunge your hands in slime; finger-paint a picture and more. New this year is a meter impact activity (which involves dropping a variety of different objects) and hand print-making at Highmark Sportsworks. Also, consider attending “Kaboom!”, an explosive science demonstration in the Works Theater.

Whatever you do, don’t wear fancy clothes – we guarantee you’ll get a little messy.

Join in a Mascot Skate at Schenley Park

Assuming the Schenley Park Skating Rink isn’t a big puddle of water due to this unseasonably warm winter we’re having, the 29th Annual Citiparks Mascot Skate will go forward as planned and it will be a not-to-miss event your kids will love.

On January 9th starting at 1:30 p.m., more than 30 local and regional mascots will lace up their skates and hit the ice with your kids for two hours of fun. Favorites like Iceburgh, the Pirate Parrot and Steely McBeam will be there so make sure to bring your camera to capture all the special photo opportunities. Admission is super affordable at $5  for adults, $3 for youth ages 17 and younger. Bring your own ice skates or rent them for an additional $3.

Train displays at Locomotion Weekend. Photo courtesy Carnegie Science Center.
Train displays at Locomotion Weekend. Photo courtesy Carnegie Science Center.

All trains, all the time during Locomotion Weekend at the Carnegie Science Center

If you have a train fan in your family, then you probably already know about the Carnegie Science Center’s Locomotion Weekend, presented by Lionel Trains. This year’s event promises a display extravaganza with operating train layouts and hands-on activities for visitors. Exhibitors from local model train associations and clubs will be on hand to answer questions. Does your own model train need repairs or cleaning? “Loco Doctor” to the rescue, just bring in your trains for a free checkup.

Take time to visit the Miniature Railroad & Village (its newest feature is the historic Crawford Grill) and look through a display featuring 115 years of Lionel’s advertising art. All activities are free with admission.

Cast from Junie B.'s Essential Survival Guide to School. Photo courtesy Theatreworks USA.
Cast from Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School. Photo courtesy Theatreworks USA.
Cast from Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School. Photo courtesy Theatreworks USA.

Catch a showing of Sesame Street Live or Junie B. Jones’ Essential Survival Guide to School

January is a stellar year for enjoying theater with the family. First up is a chance for even the littlest kids to enjoy a show when Sesame Street Live “Let’s Dance!” comes to the Benedum Center from January 8th to 10th. This will be no “sit still and be quiet” experience as the audience is invited to dance along with beloved characters like Elmo, Cookie Monster and Ernie. Because this event is perfect for younger children, babies under 12 months old can attend for free if they sit on an adult’s lap.

Have your kids outgrown Elmo? No worries. There are two more great options this month. If your children are fans of the Junie B. Jones book series by Barbara Park, then they’ll love seeing the characters come to life on stage in Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School. This one-hour musical is part of the Citizens Bank Children’s Theater Series and here’s a very convenient aspect for parents: the show is offered at various locations around the city so you can pick one that’s close to you.

The EQT Bridge Theater Series, which is geared toward children age 7 and older, continues this month on January 22nd and 22rd with TetrisPlus, a one-hour show that combines acrobatics and lots of movement in creative ways. The show actually combines two separate works that together inspire kids to stay true to themselves while still being able to fit into a group. Think the classic video game Tetris – but on stage with people. Sounds very cool!

Carriage rides during Winterfest at Moraine State Park. Photo courtesy Teri Whelan.
Carriage rides during Winterfest at Moraine State Park. Photo courtesy Teri Whelan.

Experience snowmobiling and dogsledding at Moraine State Park

If there’s a winter sport that you’ve always wanted to try, then plan to be at Winterfest at Moraine State Park on January 16th where you can do so for free. Now in its 6th year, this event, sponsored by Moraine Preservation Fund, is a celebration of winter activities like ice fishing, cross-country skiing, dogsledding and snowmobiling. Families can strap on snowshoes, ice skate on a frozen lake, and play hockey together. For a small fee, you can even take a leisurely horse-drawn carriage ride.

Don’t worry about getting cold, there will be a heated tent and fire rings to keep everyone warm. If you work up an appetite, you can purchase food and then take a walk through the craft vendors as you listen to the live bands.

Go snowshoeing in a winter wonderland with Allegheny County Parks

We will eventually get some snow this winter and when we do keep snowshoeing in mind as a great way to get outdoor exercise. Several Allegheny County Parks are holding free Snowshoeing in a Winter Wonderland events this month to make it easy for you. No equipment? No problem. Rentals will be available for just $5. No snow? As long as the temperature is above zero degrees, snowshoeing will be replaced with a winter hike so bring your boots just in case and dress in warm layers.

These events will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon at Settlers Cabin Park on January 2nd, Deer Lakes Park on January 9th and Boyce Park on January 16th. Pre-registration is required at www.alleghenycounty.us/parks.

If you can’t make any of the Winter Wonderland events, check into Family Snowshoeing through Venture Outdoors on January 31st.

Freedom Corner activity for MLK Day. Photo courtesy Childrens
Freedom Corner activity for MLK Day. Photo courtesy Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
Freedom Corner activity for MLK Day. Photo courtesy Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Honor the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. at various events across the city  

It’s important to remember Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings all the time but on January 18th Pittsburgh will join the nation in celebrating MLK Day. School’s out for most kids so if you’re looking for special events to help your kids understand and honor his vision, here’s a rundown.

First, at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh kids of all ages can put themselves in Dr. King’s shoes by stepping up to a podium and reading his speeches through a microphone, hosted by The Saturday Light Brigade Radio Show. Then, kids can participate in a beautiful Many Hands activity with Union Project where they will work alongside others to create clay birds that symbolize their dreams. At the end of the day, there will be a flock of birds representing the dreams of many children and visitors are invited to take home a friend’s bird and give their own to someone else. Lastly, children can learn about Freedom Corner, an historic area at the intersection of Centre and Crawford Streets which is the symbolic home of the Civil Rights Movement in Pittsburgh. They can create collages using images from the local and national movement and consider ideas that they may have written on a picket sign if they had participated.

Celebrating MLK Day. Photo courtesy Kelly Strayhorn Theater.
Celebrating MLK Day. Photo courtesy Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater will once again host the East Liberty Celebrates MLK event with live performances and activity tables that highlight the legacy of Dr. King’s work. The Pittsburgh Glass Center will host a Family Day with glassblowing demonstrations and activities to honor MLK Day. Glass artist-in-residence Therman Statom will lead some activities that highlight his belief that “art is a tool for empowerment and education.” Families can enjoy the final days of Statom’s exhibit, Indagare. The Mattress Factory on the Northside will hold its Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Bash event where visitors can make a dream collage, dance to a DJ, eat birthday cake and generally celebrate the life of MLK. Admission is pay-what-you-can.

Finally, the Union Project will hold its 14th Annual Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. Day Celebration. The day’s events will include discussions, group art activities and a free community meal. It is the hope of event organizers that visitors will “come listen, share, and create with an open mind and a peace-filled heart.”

Winterfest festivities for the whole family. Photo courtesy East End Food Co-op.

Support the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank at East End Food Co-op’s Winterfest

The East End Food Co-op — a gem in our community — is a member-owned natural and organic foods grocery store and vegetarian café. Again this year, the store will host a Winterfest celebration at Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg to bring the community together and raise funds for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

The event is very family-friendly including face painting, a fun photo booth and children’s activities by Grow Pittsburgh, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Assemble and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. DJ Nice Rec will keep everything upbeat and Legume will host a sundae bar which the kid in everyone will enjoy. The best part? While you’re enjoying the festivities and all the delicious offerings, you’ll have the satisfaction in knowing that all proceeds from tickets to the event are going to the Food Bank so that others in the community can be nourished in body and spirit as well. Last year, Winterfest raised nearly $3,500, which helped to provide over 17,000 meals to hungry families in the community.

Attend a lecture at Carnegie Library (no, it won’t be boring)

If you’re looking for something interesting to do with your older child, you can’t go wrong with hearing children’s author Kevin Henkes speak on January 24th as part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures series for kids and teens. Held in the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, these lectures are always fascinating because kids can ask specific questions about their favorite books and get thoughtful answers directly from the author. Henkes has several popular books to his credit including Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, which was performed on stage last year in Pittsburgh through the Citizen’s Bank Children’s Theater Series and Kitten’s First Full Moon, his Caldecott Medal-winning picture book. Stick around after the lecture for a lemonade reception and book signing.

snowfest 2015 Boyce stanley (7)
SnowFest at Boyce Park Ski Area. Photo courtesy Allegheny County Parks.

Enjoy the thrill of winter sports during SnowFest at Boyce Park Ski Area

Last year Boyce Park Ski Area held a Winter Safety Weekend for kids but that event has been incorporated into an even bigger weekend of fun for the whole family at SnowFest. Held from January 29th to 31st, this event will feature more fun than you can shake a ski at including the Peak Ski & Board Quarter Pipe Championships, the Mini-Junior Olympics Ski and Snowboard Races, a cardboard box snow tubing derby, mascot snow tubing races and a laser light show in the evening.

The slopes will be open for skiing and snowboarding but there will be plenty of fun off the slopes, too. Free activities will include favorites like face painting, a strolling magician, a stilt walker, live music and a balloon artist. Plus, there will be areas to simply play in the snow. Bonus tip: on Sunday, January 31st, Kohl’s Hard Heads Helmet Program, in partnership with Children’s Hospital, will give away a free winter sports helmet to the first 150 kids in attendance (ages 17 and younger). If you can’t make it to SnowFest, try visiting Boyce Park on Wednesdays to get 50% off regular-priced lift tickets.

Finally, here’s a winter deal you need to know about: if you have a 4th or 5th grader who wants to learn to ski and snowboard, do yourself a favor and get a Snowpass from the Pennsylvania Ski Area Association. When you spend just $35 on a processing fee, your child will get one free Learn to Ski/SnowBoard Package and three coupons for a free children’s lift ticket at one of over 20 participating ski resorts in Pennsylvania.

Happy New Year! See you back here in February with more ideas for family fun in Pittsburgh.

Looking for adult events? Check out 10 Pittsburgh Events Not To Miss in January.

For January music events, check out our 10 can’t-miss Pittsburgh concerts in January (besides Bruce Springsteen) feature.

Mandy moved to Pittsburgh for grad school and fell in love with the city. She is contributing editor of Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Bridges of Pittsburgh. Her freelance work has appeared in a variety of publications including Parents Magazine and Blue Ridge Country. She blogs about Pittsburgh family fun at mandyyokim.com.