This article first appeared in Kidsburgh.org, a media partner of NEXTpittsburgh that focuses on making Pittsburgh a better place to raise kids.  

Ask anybody with kids and they’ll tell you parenting is the hardest job around. During the pandemic, moms and dads were working overtime. With the world shut down, they had to find creative ways to keep their kids educated, enriched and entertained. Let’s face it. We could all use a little help in that department with or without a pandemic.

These four Pittsburgh-based businesses are taking some pressure off caregivers nationwide by providing them with useful, kid-friendly products and services.

1. Yugo

Ali Popivchak is a parent, an educator and a yoga therapist. She combined these three passions into Yugo, an interactive card game that makes yoga accessible for kids of all ages. Not flexible? Go at your own pace.

Ali Popivchak

Ali Popivchak.

Popivchak designed Yugo with an emphasis on fostering positive communication and mindful play. The deck features animal characters — each with their own personality and story — to help participants learn poses in their own body rather than trying to mirror another person or instructor.

“As a yoga educator, I’ve found the game to be a wonderful way for family, friends and other groups to practice yoga together,” she says.

Yoga helped Popivchak – an instructor for UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital – harness her own energy to power through ongoing medical issues. The deck and its mindful mascots help people find their own Zen through more than 40 yoga-inspired activities.

Life doesn’t always deal us a fair hand, but with Yugo, Popivachak hopes we can learn to relax, find balance and re-energize to improve our situation.

Yugo sells for $24.95 on the website, where you can also download free color pages.

Photo courtesy of Pitch a Fête.

2. Pitch A Fête

Sometimes a pillow fort just isn’t enough to stir the imagination.

Pitch a Fête, a children’s party boutique based in Pittsburgh, delivers a rentable DIY teepee party experience to your door.

During the lockdown, makeshift tents went up in living rooms across the country as kids longed to change their surroundings even just a little bit. Pitch a Fête (that’s French for celebration) has multiple themes to choose from.

Hang with superheroes, go on a safari or chill in outer space. Some teepee parties are holiday-specific. Good Gravy is a Thanksgiving shindig. Teens will dig the Doomsday party, a skull-and-spider-heavy kit that creates the perfect setting for snuggling up with a scary movie on All Hallows’ Eve. The business provides the bones of the bash, you just have to put it together (although professional help is available).

Photo courtesy of Pitch a Fête.

Rentals include the “tipi” frame and fabric, an inflatable sleeping pad and foot pump, custom pad cover and coordinating pillows, bed tray table, battery-operated lantern and decorations and activities that take the creative play experience to a new level.

There are also eco-friendly cardboard playhouses that kids can color and ala carte items – like balloons, plates and napkins — to round out the fun. When the party is over, simply send the Fête Crate packages back to be laundered and stored for the next fiesta or rainy-day activity.

You can even ask about purchasing a tipi if your kids (or you!) want to pitch a fête every day.

Cassidy Adkins, aka Miss Cassidy Creates.

3. Miss Cassidy Creates

Theater artist Cassidy Adkins has been entertaining families for years as a performer and party princess … and she didn’t stop during the lockdown.

Her social media series, Miss Cassidy Creates, was — and continues to be — a go-to online resource for happiness. During the pandemic, Adkins gained more than 10,000 new followers on Facebook. She is now expanding her mission by launching a website and adding a series of in-person and digital private booking opportunities.

Adkins graduated with a theatre degree from Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts. She has taught for Bricolage Production Company, Pittsburgh Musical Theater and the Pittsburgh CLO Academy of Musical Theater.

Through Miss Cassidy Creates, she provides engaging learning opportunities for kids throughout the region. Adkins teaches art, science, history and life skills in a fun, interactive and accessible way.

“Working with kids has always brought me joy,” Adkins says. “By discovering and experimenting with their creativity, kids build confidence and start to see that their voice and perspective have power in the world. As Miss Cassidy, I create a space where kids feel empowered to find their inner weirdo and develop their sense of self.”

Photo courtesy of Picky Eaters.

4. Picky Eaters

Got a picky eater on your hands? Karen Krieger and Stephanie Fedro-Byrom can relate. Busy moms themselves, they were often overwhelmed by mealtime meltdowns.

The friends joined forces to create Picky Eaters, a company that sells two-pronged plastic picks that are topped by cute characters, such as a dinosaur, gopher, kitty and owl.

The BPA-free utensils, which are manufactured in Meadville, earned a Children’s Product Certificate by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Kids can skewer their fruits and veggies with the kooky characters and make dining a truly wild experience.

While the founders forbid children from using their products for “bullfighting, harpooning whales, spearfishing or sword fighting,” they say Picky Eaters make the perfect cane for a small fairy or gnome.

Picky Eaters start at $8.95.