If the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library is a hidden gem, president Betsy Schwartz says it’s time to make it more known.

With its own play space in the basement of the First United Methodist Church in Shadyside, the PTLL opened in 1973 when a local psychologist decided to start a community play spot to give kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds the stimulation needed for great cognitive and social development. The connection between play and learning was just beginning to be understood in its modern sense in that era. Today it’s an established principle.

But PTLL members – more than 200 families from as far away as Monroeville and the North Hills – likely come just to let their kids, up to age six, enjoy the place. It has daytime hours daily, except Sundays, and more than 400 toys that kids can borrow to take home. PTLL is entirely volunteer-run.

“It was just a great resource for me when my children were younger,” Schwartz says. “It’s a place to play and to interact with other kids and a place for me to interact with other parents.”

PTLL has many specialty nights, including:

  • New moms and dads’ hour weekly in a special infants area;
  • Weekly nights with Carlow University teachers-in-training, who help kids create a free art project;
  • A monthly special-needs night;
  • A “big kids night” for 6- to 9-year-olds who have technically aged out of the space but still want to come back and enjoy it; and
  • “Playtime and Ice Cream” with Brusters.

The Leche League, a post-Cesarean group and The Center for Women and others also use the space to meet. PTLL also brings in educational speakers occasionally.

“We don’t want to remain a hidden gem,” Schwartz concludes, “because it’s an amazing place to discover.”