I’m not going to lie. Phipps Conservatory isn’t one of the Pittsburgh attractions our family frequents on a regular basis. There aren’t as many discounts as there are for some of the museums in the city, and while we have an amazing time when we do go once or twice a year, we haven’t been able to justify it as a regular, budget-friendly family activity.
Our opinion changed dramatically the other night. We were invited to an event at Phipps to learn more about the facility, specifically their education programs, and were blown away by all the free stuff they have going on.
Awareness is a huge thing. Until you know about something, you are incapable of allowing it to add value to your life. Now that we’re aware of all of these awesome programs, we’ll be having an amazing time at Phipps a lot more often.
The Greenest Building in the World
Seriously. In the entire world.
Our night started out in the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which is the administration and education center for Phipps. It also serves as a research facility.
The building itself is the greenest building in the world, producing more energy than it uses. The science of it all is incredibly interesting. You can either learn more in this video that was made while the structure was being built:
Or you can actually take a free tour of the place. Which I highly recommend. Just be sure to call first as tours usually run Thursday-Sunday at 1p, but you don’t want the day you plan your trip to be the one oddity.
If you can’t do a tour, you can visit at anytime. We had a great time at the gardens right outside, but you can also spend some time up top on the living roof, which is free and open to the public.
Free Family Fitness Events
Let’s Move Pittsburgh is an initiative modeled after Michelle Obama’s program. Run out of Phipps, they have a ton of great stuff going on, but of note are their family fitness events.
Held once a month at the conservatory, they encourage everyone in the family from grandma to toddlers to get moving. They just wrapped up their yoga series, but will be starting Zumba this month. The events are 100% free, but you do have to RSVP. You can learn more about dates and upcoming classes/events here.
Education Camps for Children
While we were there, we got a sneak peek into Phipp’s education programs for children, and I have to say, I was impressed. The focus of these courses is very much on healthy and eco-conscious living. And the price per person (at least for the younger children, whom you have to accompany) is cheaper than admission to the conservatory.
For $20 (or $15 if you’re a member,) you can accompany your 2-4 year old as they spend an hour learning about different aspects of nature and healthy living via hands-on, age appropriate activities.
We learned about the life cycle of a butterfly and camouflage as it’s found in nature. Our instructor was amazing with the kids, explaining things at their level and supporting her lesson with exciting visuals.
First, the kids learned about why camouflage is necessary. Then, they got to do an art project where they painted leaves to help their Dead Leaf Butterflies hide from the birds.
Then, they learned about how caterpillars start out as eggs, hatch, go into their chrysalises and then emerge as butterflies. All of this was demonstrated with grapes and apples. At the end, the kids got to make their own edible butterflies.
The Fall session is still going on. While the older kiddos’ sessions are full, the age 2-4 camps still have spots open. You can sign up for sessions on worms and their role in the environment, healthy eating and the fall harvest, and a course all about bees.
All of these happen before Thanksgiving. I’m pretty psyched to see what the next season will hold.
Phipps’ Discovery Programs are free, though you do have to pay for admission into the conservatory itself. This potentially makes it the most expensive per person option.
But if you have kids, these are also the most value-packed days to visit.
The night we went they were having a Halloween bash. The second we walked in, there was a magician performing, which seemed like it would have been pretty cool. But my child was all excitement as they screamed, “MOM, WE’RE IN THE JUNGLE!!!”
And proceeded to sprint away from me.
So we didn’t watch the magician, but we did see a lot of other cool things as we explored.
In the jungle, aside from regular features, there was also a table where the kids could pet real live, snakes. They got stickers from the booth, too, of their favorite jungle-dwelling animals.
We brought home an Eyeball Flower that my little one got to plant themselves. This is a regular feature every Friday mid-morning to afternoon.
Other highlights included a play shopping center (regular feature) where kids can “buy” their own healthy foods, face painting, visiting the train that they currently have set up in the middle of the conservatory, Chex mix snack bags and our very own Pittsburgh version of a Japanese garden.
We’ll be back.
I’m so glad we had this opportunity to learn more about what Phipps has to offer. We’ll be back for sure for the free stuff, and now we know how to get the most bang out of our buck for education sessions and Discovery day admission.