Talking is Teaching: an early literacy initiative

Neighborhood North is part of the Pittsburgh Peer Learning Collaborative, a cohort of nine organizations in Pittsburgh focused on boosting the early learning and brain development of children from birth through age five. This cohort was tasked with learning about the Clinton Foundation's Too Small to Fail, Talking is Teaching program and plan how to implement this initiative in our local contexts.

“Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” is a public awareness and action campaign that aims to motivate parents and caregivers to talk, read, and sing more with their young children from birth. The campaign partners with trusted messengers to share information with parents about the critical role they play in their child’s development, as well as concrete tools to help them engage in language-rich activities with their children.”  Neighborhood North invited our local McDonald’s restaurant to partner with us on this program, as many of our young families spend time there.  Both the store leadership and Tri County Management were enthusiastic to team up with us on this initiative. This program will include signage in the restaurant, table activities, and information and books distributed to families. 

Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” aims to give parents and caregivers the tools to talk, read and sing more with their young children from birth, increasing meaningful interactions that are critical to healthy brain development. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 60 percent of American children start kindergarten unprepared, lagging behind their peers in critical language, math, and social-emotional skills. Research shows that during the first years of life a child’s brain forms one million new neural connections every second and absorbs information like a sponge. This is why simple, everyday interactions with young children—like describing objects seen during a walk or bus ride, singing songs, or telling stories—can better prepare them for school, and lay a strong foundation for their social-emotional development, health, and lifelong learning.

We asked our Geneva College intern, Ainsley Arrington, what excites her about helping with this project.  Here is what she shared: “In partnering with the local McDonald’s restaurant, we hope to incorporate posters, books, and other media into the dining room and the diaper changing stations to create a sustainable way to learn about literacy! ...Not all children have access to programs that help to foster this early childhood intervention, so they may fall behind other children within their grade or age group. This is where Neighborhood North comes in! Our goal is to give children the opportunity to learn with their families in a common place. Another study found that environmental writing, like the text on menus, street signs, and posters helped children to build their reading skills outside of school settings. This partnership with McDonald’s will allow children to receive literacy education with their families in a new, comfortable context.”

As part of our “Talking is Teaching” campaign, Neighborhood North and McDonald's are committed to training McDonald employees to be trusted messengers in the community, and share information with parents and caregivers about the critical role they play in their child’s early brain development. These trusted messengers will distribute language-rich Talking is Teaching materials—including books that encourage parents to talk, read, and sing with their children.

For more information about the Talking is Teaching campaign, visit

Fall Maker Opps!

“Maker education offers a transformational approach to teaching and learning that attends to the real and relevant needs of learners and humans. It is an approach that positions agency and student interest at the center, asking students to become more aware of the design of the world around them, and begin to see themselves as people who can tinker, hack and improve that design.” (

Girl playing in cardboard box

We jumped into the fall with some maker programming at Neighborhood North and had a blast creating using both high- and low-tech methods!  In September, our friends at the Carnegie Science Center’s Mobile Fab Lab set up their high-tech camp in our Maker Space for three days and gave our learners the opportunity to design, fabricate, and experiment with STEM-based making.  Every fourth-grade classroom from both local elementary schools was able to come for a field trip, and both the teachers and students loved the experience.  Our afterschool program had the opportunity to dig into a two-hour workshop and experiment with the earthquake table. Our Program Coordinator, Karissa Collins shared, “The after-school program students through Trails had their first program on Thursday and were able to build houses that needed to withstand the earthquake table. At first, the kids were struggling to understand but once the FabLab instructors showed them, they loved working with the Inkscape and Laser printers to build their projects. I was not here for other projects throughout the week but know they also make gliders and keychains with the laser printer… the instructors were fabulous!”  In addition to the weekday programs, families were able to explore a variety of making activities during an open maker workshop on Saturday, and this was a time of high creativity, energy, and community. We look forward to future opportunities to bring digital making into our space.

The Neighborhood North Team went low-tech the following week to celebrate the Day of Play with a Cardboard Challenge of our own.  Thank you to everyone who donated cardboard boxes to be used for this event- they were put to incredibly good use.  We set up stations in the museum and invited families to create any part of a city that they could imagine- from a skyscraper to a house to a castle to a bridge.  We had a fabulous turn-out of young artists and engineers who created ingenious and beautiful structures.  At the end of our time, we constructed a city using all of the buildings designed by our families.  Our team has voted that The Cardboard Challenge will become an annual Neighborhood North event, so make sure to start saving that cardboard for next year!

University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) Study on Learning Pod

In the Spring of 2021, Neighborhood North was invited to participate in a study being conducted by the RAND Corporation’s Pittsburgh office and the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education to learn from families, educators, community-based organizations, and school districts as they work to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic through the small learning communities known as “pods” or “hubs.” The study aimed to capture the experiences of our learning pod staff and families and understand what was helping or hindering our work during this time by conducting individual telephone interviews with selected Neighborhood North staff and partners and selected parents/guardians of learning pod students. Through Neighborhood North’s participation, along with the study of a variety of other learning pods across the nation during this time, RAND and CRPE hope to identify emerging trends, best practices, and sticking points.  The desire is to help create an informed and nuanced conversation about how to support families, educators, community-based organizations, and school systems as we navigate the ongoing pandemic, as well as to inform public reports that synthesize the experiences and insights of participants and the lessons learned across the study so others can learn from the work we are doing into the future. 

You can download and read the report here.

ED Field Trip...

A perk of being the parent of college-aged children means getting to visit the fun places they decide to study!  One of my twins has recently begun a doctoral program in sunny California, and I had the opportunity to spend a beautiful 10 days soaking up the West Coast. 

Of course, during that time, I visited museums.  From Santa Monica to San Francisco, I had the pleasure of exploring art, science, and children’s museums, meeting with directors, educators, and exhibit designers passionate about their work. 

One of the things that especially resonated and affirmed the work we are doing here in Beaver Falls was the vision of each museum to create spaces that would nourish the entire person as a learner and social being through play and interdisciplinary experiences.  Additionally, the historic beginnings of many of the spaces I visited were not dissimilar to our own story, growing up out of their community's need for more equitable and progressive educational places for underserved families, often by a group of community members.  Knowing that some of these now robust and flourishing museums had begun with the same humble beginnings as our project was equally encouraging to us in our phase of our journey.

Meeting with museum colleagues who care deeply about their communities and the way their work can be an influence for good is always an energizing experience for which I am grateful.  There is something uniquely special about the collaborative spirit of folks in the children’s museum field which allows newcomers like me to be both learners and innovators in this space.  As always, I am thankful to be part of the work of this creative learning ecosystem.

Christine Kroger
Executive Director

Memberships @ Neighborhood North

Did you know that Neighborhood North now offers Membership subscriptions? 

Annual Membership Pricing:
$55- Family Plan ( 3 people)*
$75- Group Plan (4-5 people)*
$115- Neighborhood Plan (6+ people)*
*Each plan includes one free pass for up to two children for Parents’ Night Out.

Starting March 18th, this Membership is an even sweeter deal, as we will be expanding our Open Play hours to include Fridays!  

Our new Open Play hours will be:
Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays 10:00 am- 2:00 pm. 

Daily Play Passes are also available for purchase for General Admission to Open Play online or at the door. 
Daily Adult Play Pass- $5
Daily Child Play Pass- $5
Seniors/Veterans- $3
Family Max (for immediate family members)- $25
Infants 12 months and under- FREE
Access- $3 (Any guest who presents their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) card upon arrival will be given an admission price of $3.00 per person for up to 5 adults or children)

Kids at a globe

Parenting Musically

Parenting Musically will begin in-person programming on Tuesday, April 5 at 10:00 am!

Neighborhood North Museum of Play is pleased to expand our parent engagement programs with the addition of Parenting Musically. You may have seen posts about Parenting Musically and perhaps, viewed the Facebook Live Events or Parenting Musically Playlist on our Facebook page. But what is it and who is Michelle Muth?  When will it be in-person?
Parenting Musically is an early childhood music and movement program for adults AND the children who love them. It is focused on helping parents learn how music combined with parenting creates a dynamic and robust parenting tool. Classes are filled with active music-making with instruments, movement and songs aimed at enhancing important skills such as communication, social interaction, and self-organization. It is an inclusive environment and all families with children under 5 years of age are welcome. In the midst of all the fun and music making, parents will be given tips on how music can be used at home to enhance their child’s development, increase their bond and be supported as a parent/caregiver.
For a number of years Michelle offered Sprouting Melodies® programs in Beaver County. What she loved most in class was seeing the parents become more comfortable singing, making music and interacting playfully with their children. Second favorite, was hearing from parents about how they used music at home and how it helped with a transition, calming a child and small moments of togetherness.  This focus on parent versus child outcomes is what spurred Michelle to create Parenting Musically. The program utilizes the Sprouting Melodies® framework, an award winning early childhood music and movement program, created and offered by board-certified music therapists with the designation MT-BC. This framework and the required MT-BC credential guarantee a foundation of knowledge not available with other early childhood music programs. Michelle has the same requirement for Parenting Musically.
Who is Michelle Muth, MT-BC?
Michelle is a child at heart often self-identifying as a 7-year old in an adult body. Children tend to be drawn to her with her playful nature, her innate ability to connect and always ready to have fun and laugh. Michelle loves creativity in all its forms with music being a foundation to her creativity. In fact, she has quite a musical instrument collection at home with her main instruments being piano, guitar and world percussion. She lives in Center with her husband Richard; two cats, Minerva and Godric; and American Dingo dog, Samwise. You can often see her hiking in the woods with Samwise at Brady’s Run Park and around Beaver County.
Michelle’s Montgomery Muth’s, official credentials are that she is a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC), music educator, drum circle facilitator and founder of M3 Music Therapy. She has advanced training in Neurologic Music Therapy and Early Childhood Music Therapy and is a HealthRHYTHMS® facilitator. Michelle studied drum circle facilitation with Arthur Hull, Christine Stevens, and Jim Donovan.  Above all, she is passionate about music’s ability to create positive change to help people connect, engage and thrive in their lives.
What’s Next for Parenting Musically
NNMOP and M3 Music Therapy, out of an abundance of caution, have provided samples of Parenting Musically via FB Live Events on Saturday mornings at 9:45 am. The hope is to move to in-person classes in the spring. While COVID numbers continue to decrease in Beaver county, children under 5 are our most vulnerable. We want to be sure to offer the safest environment manageable once in-person. Stay tuned for more information.

OT @ Neighborhood North

Hi, everyone! My name is Katie Caspero and I am a pediatric occupational therapist that supports conducting needs assessments for non-profit organizations. Throughout this past spring, I was honored to be able to support Neighborhood North by spending time learning about the space, meeting the kids, and working alongside the wonderful staff. I was able to hear the stories of how much this community meant to everyone and I saw how tight-knit and supportive everyone was to one another. I loved being able to walk the kids from Soma to Neighborhood North and hear the beeps and see the waves of familiar faces recognizing one another.

 During my time, I talked with parents, community members, teachers, educational administrators, staff at Neighborhood North, and the kids themselves. I learned so much about what their daily lives looked like and I was able to complete a broad picture of strengths and barriers based on those conversations. I used the analogy of a river to demonstrate what obstacles (or rocks) may be in their way and what supports (or driftwood) help their days (or river) flow more smoothly. This is called the Kawa River Model and here is one example of what part of those conversations showed us. If you would like to review the entire presentation you can find that here.

Here are some of the recommendations that came from this assessment:

1.     Offer parent training related to specific curriculums being used in school

for math and reading

2.               Create a resource binder of activities so that any staff (volunteer, staff, leadership) could fill in and support activities

3.               Offer training for both parents and staff on the development and age-appropriate activities that support social-emotional and educational learning.

If you have any questions about this assessment or what information we found feel free to reach out to me at or Christine Kroger at

 It was so great working with such a committed and engaged community and I feel confident that Neighborhood North will continue to be a vital, invaluable community space and resource for the Beaver Falls area.

Scribble Stones

Our Scribble Stones project was inspired by the namesake book authored by Diane Alber.  According to the author, “ This story starts off with a little stone who thinks he will be become something amazing but then soon realizes he had become a dull paper weight. He's on a mission to become something greater and in the process meets scribble and splatter and they all come up with a creative way to bring joy to thousands of people. “

Last year, we had the opportunity to participate in an RMU Covestro Center for Community Engagement SkillShare Day. We were matched with a museum expert as well as a team from Howmet Aerospace to build an initial pre- and post-survey as well as an initial distribution method.  There was incredible opportunity for learning and some great outcomes, one of which was the idea to distribute the survey via painted rocks and QR Codes. We loved this idea and thought it was creative and playful.

Although we weren’t able to connect our survey to the painted rocks this year, we loved the idea of getting our name out via a creative and accessible means.  So, we decided to follow the example of #beavercountyrocks and use the hashtag #NNMOP (Neighborhood North Museum of Play).  We have had hundreds of Scribble Stones painted at community events and by local families and afterschool programs.  We have also partnered with the Beaver County Library System to send out Scribble Stone Make & Take kits through each of the libraries.

Neighborhood North envisions our diverse communities strengthened by families through playing, making, and innovating together.  So CREATE, FIND, or SHARE a Scribble Stone today, and make sure to check out the #NNMOP.

The story of a bunch of ordinary folks connecting their powers to create something cool is the story of Neighborhood North-- and we welcome you to join in.

Playful Learning Design Workshop

Neighborhood North has been working with the folks from Playful Learning Landscapes (PLLAN) for some time now. The more we learn about their organization and the research behind their process, the more excited we are to bring this phenomenal resource to our community, especially as their mission intersects with some of the needs we were seeing emerge more prominently during covid. Connecting with our Teaching Artists program, we were awarded funding through PACE and the Arts Equity Reimagined fund to support the initial consultation and work with PLLAN in Beaver Falls.

When you are excited about something, it always seems like processes slow down and afford one time for deliberation.  It was no different in this case. We had ample time to reach out to a variety of artists and educators across the county and region to discuss the project and brainstorm possibilities. Those are always energizing conversations which remind me how much genius lives in this region!  We have also had opportunity to begin chatting about needs and desires with local families, both in Beaver Falls and in surrounding communities.  Those conversations affirm that we are going in the right direction.

 After much preparation, we finally held our initial Playful Learning Design Session and Training on September 30. The session was held at Neighborhood North and was offered virtually for those who were unable to attend in person. The interactive workshop was facilitated by PLLAN and Temple University’s Infant & Child Lab, and we had a truly phenomenal couple of hours of mutual learning and brainstorming with the dozen or so artists, community organizers, educators/administrators, and landscape architects. We ended the session energized and looking forward to the community input sessions in the coming weeks. Information about those sessions will be release soon, so check our website or socials. If you are a local artist and are interested in learning more about this project, please reach out for more information to:


Beaver Falls Car Cruise

Car Cruise- By Karissa Collins

Our Neighborhood North Car Cruise event on Saturday, September 11th was a success! Thank you to everyone who came out to the parking lot of the museum. We loved connecting with families in our community. It was awesome to see a glimpse of our vision for the museum come to life and take shape.

 It seemed like kids and parents alike were able to engage with and enjoy all of the festivities of the day. When the children first arrived, they each could pick a matchbox car to keep. Michelle O’Leary, one of the members on the educational committee, used chalk on the pavement to draw an obstacle course for the cars to drive on, complete with roads, lakes, mountains, and pastures. We had an interactive art mural where the kids could put powdered paint on a large canvas and then spray it with water guns. There was also a scribble stone station where kids could paint rocks that will be placed around the community. The day was beautiful and warm so we had a place for the kids to toss around sponge balls and try to rack up points by aiming them at a target on the ground. We had several of our museum exhibits brought outside, including large Lego blocks and an exhibit to race the matchbox cars.

 In addition to these stations, we had the privilege of having Rochelle Burks come to teach and play drums with the kids that attended. The kids really enjoyed playing the miniature djembe and following the rhythm that Burks played on her djembe. This was a great way to incorporate interactive music to the day.

 We were glad that several of our community partners could share the day with us. The Community Development Corporation was able to advertise for recruiting new members. One-5 BBQ was also there, serving delicious food.

 There were many hands that came out to help throughout the day. Several students from Geneva College came and had a lot of fun interacting with the kids from the community. Several members from the Educational Committee helped to make things run smoothly throughout the day. We are grateful to our volunteers and helpers for making this day possible!

 Overall, this was a great event where our community kids got to play, create, and innovate. This event made us even more excited for Neighborhood North to open this fall. Thank you for your support.