So what do we do when the little blighters are left in our charge?
Our first choice, naturally, is the Pittsburgh Children's Museum (412-322-5058 or www.pittsburghkids.org). Housed in a pair of North Side architectural treasures -- the former Buhl Planetarium and the Allegheny Post Office -- the museum touts the motto "Play with Real Stuff." Kids can tinker beneath the hood of a Cooper Mini in the "garage/workshop," experiment with art-making in the studio, and engage with interactive artwork throughout. Currently, the museum is also presenting How People Make Things, which shows the origins of common childhood objects through hands-on activities as well as live demos and video tours.
Most other local museums have youth programming, naturally, and of course the dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (412-622-1950 or www.carnegiemuseums.org/cmnh) are a favorite -- fair warning, though, the exhibit is closed for renovations until fall 2007. Exhibits at the Carnegie Science Center (412-237-3400 or www.carnegiesciencecenter.org), meanwhile, seem directed at the little'uns almost exclusively.
But many cultural institutions you'll find elsewhere in this guide feature kid-friendly exhibits or performances: The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, for example, features a "Fiddlesticks Family Concert" series presided over by a giant cat who encourages a love of music in kids 3-8. The symphony is also affiliated with the Youth Symphony Orchestra (412-392-4872 or www.pittsburghyouthsymphony.org) for musicians ages 14-21. Similar school-age performance groups include the Pittsburgh Youth Ballet (412-835-1250 or www.pybco.com) and the Three Rivers Young People's Orchestra (412-391-0526 or www.trypo.org).
Several area theater companies also offer children's productions. The Gemini Classic Children's Theater (412-243-6464 or www.geminitheater.org) features stage adaptations of children's stories; it also offers summer camps in its Point Breeze home, the Factory. (The same facility houses a popular children's gymnastics center, Gymkhana -- 412-247-4800 or www.gymkhanafun.com.) South Hills families can attend performances at Little Lake Theater's Looking Glass Theater productions (724-745-6300 or www.littlelake.org/youth/lookingglass.htm).
Perhaps the best-known children's theater group, though, is the Pittsburgh International Children's Theater (412-321-5520 or www.pghkids.org). The group's keynote event is the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival, a five-day event held in May featuring performers, stage shows and other attractions from around the world. But the organization also offers children's theater productions all year round, performed at area high schools and the Byham Theater Downtown.
For kids too restless for theater, the East End offers parents with kids ages 6 and under a couple of options. There's Regent Square's Center for Creative Play (412-371-1668 or www.centerforcreativeplay.org), a huge indoor playspace which includes a two-story playhouse and indoor treehouse, as well as a music room and other activities. There's also the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library (412-682-4430 or www.pghtoys.com), a co-op that offers communal playtime activities in its Shadyside location, and that allows kids to borrow toys and take them back home too.
In the summer, the area offers its share of amusement parks as well. The best-known is Kennywood in nearby West Mifflin (412-461-0500 or www.kennywood.com), which has a full complement of rides for kids -- including a wonderfully restored carousel -- and which features some of the country's more storied wooden roller coasters. (One of Pittsburgh's unique pleasures is a ride on the Thunderbolt, which affords blurred views of the Edgar Thomson Works across the Monongahela River.)
Just downstream in West Homestead is Kennywood's sister facility, Sandcastle (412-462-6666 or www.sandcastlewaterpark.com). The park features more than a dozen water slides, a wave pool and inner-tube ride, plus a water playground for kids. Adults, meanwhile, can get soaked in a different fashion at a nearby swimming pool/bar.
Farther away is Ligonier's Idlewild Park (724-238-3666 or www.idlewild.com) which features a water park of its own, the "SoakZone." Younger children can also wander through Story Book Forest and meet characters from children's books ... or ride a trolley through a life-sized version of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
If none of this tuckers out the kids, it's time for a bedtime reading of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie ... followed by Frances Fox Piven's Regulating the Poor.