Children might get scolded for pasting stickers on the wall, climbing tall heights, playing with mud and squirting water everywhere, but not here at Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, where all of these activities are not only allowed, but encouraged.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, the museum celebrates its 30th anniversary with hula hooping, music performances, free cupcakes, a parade and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" played on kazoos provided by the museum. Sponsored by the Jack Buncher Foundation, admission to the museum today is free.
The idea for the museum actually evolved in 1972, when community leaders established The Pittsburgh Children's Museum Project, a mobile traveling museum that started at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.
When the Junior League of Pittsburgh in 1983 established its permanent location in the basement of the North Side post office building in Allegheny Center, it was among the first wave of children's museums across the country.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation deeded the post office building to the museum in the 1990s. The museum expanded to the old Buhl Planetarium in 2004. The two historical buildings are connected by a modern steel and glass structure known as the Lantern Building because of its nighttime illumination.
"The variety we have now is astonishing," said Penny Lodge, director of museum experiences. "It used to be when we were just [in the post office] that people would come in for a couple of hours and then they would leave, but now with the expansion, you can come in and stay all day."
Among the newest improvements is the redesigned Waterplay area that opened April 27 on the museum's third floor. It added 20 new hands-on components, with significant technical improvements in its circulation and display, in the same 3,100 square feet of space.
Two years ago it introduced MAKESHOP, which allows children to work with circuitry, woodwork, fabric and animation -- expanding the appeal of the museum to older children.
"I have an 8-year-old and an almost 13-year-old, and they can both be happy," said Heather McBrier, a Children's Museum board member. "They're mostly happiest in this new MAKESHOP where they can build things."
Museum officials continue to look for ways to connect with the community. The Rookie of the Gear campaign is an ongoing project in partnership with the Pittsburgh Pirates to build a 12-foot trebuchet that will throw out the first pitch in PNC Park on Sept. 1.
Children are already drawing their ideas and will assist in building the catapult in MAKESHOP. A prototype will be tested in August. "In 20 years from now, I think baseball teams will all have trebuchets in the ball park," joked director of marketing Bill Schlageter.
The museum also has joined the Wonder Collective, a group of 21 prestigious institutions -- including the San Diego Zoo, the American Folk Art Museum and Mount Vernon.
"Our goal would be to have families consider Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and these 20 national attractions as important places for families to visit together," Mr. Schlageter said.
The museum, a nonprofit that operates on an annual budget of $5.4 million, sees roughly 260,000 visitors annually and about 500-800 daily. It has 42 full-time and 108 part-time employees.
It is a typical sight to see parents or grandparents pushing empty strollers as the children run ahead of them, eager for an adventure.
They can stir the bubbling mud in Backyard, climb up two stories in the Limb Bender, build fountains and run through "rain" in Waterplay, construct race cars out of magnetic parts in Garage, and play with gravity and puppets in Attic. They can also stop at one of the many interactive works of art commissioned by the museum.
"Nobody does history better than the History Center, nobody does science better than the Science Center, but Children's Museum of Pittsburgh does wonderful work in terms of offering families an opportunity to explore and learn by creating and imagining and playing with real stuff," Mr. Schlageter said.
Laurette Turner-Ford has been bringing her children to the museum for 10 years. "They can just run and be themselves," she said. "They don't have to worry about climbing on something or it being a problem."
In its 30-year history, the museum has always emphasized community. It rents 20,000 of its 80,000 square feet to like-minded partners that work with or on behalf of children, Mr. Schlageter said. Partners include Allies for Children, Reading is FUNdamental, the "Saturday Light Brigade" radio show, Head Start and University of Pittsburgh's Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments.
Another community project was the renovation of Buhl Community Park in front of the building. The museum reopened it in 2012, complete with Ned Kahn's "Cloud Arbor," an art piece that sprays out a cloud every five minutes.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Admission is $13 for adults, $12 for senior citizen and children 2-18 and free for children under 2.
Kitoko Chargois: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1088.