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Castle Shannon's Seesaw Center grows its social, educational programs

| Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 3:45 p.m.
Erin Drozda and her daughter Leah, 3, of Mt. Lebanon, play with puppets at the Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon Friday, March 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Erin Drozda and her daughter Leah, 3, of Mt. Lebanon, play with puppets at the Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon Friday, March 6, 2015.
Nathan Graff of Bethel Park, plays with his daughter Lillian, 5, at the Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon Friday, March 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Nathan Graff of Bethel Park, plays with his daughter Lillian, 5, at the Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon Friday, March 6, 2015.
Melissa Graff plays with her son Max, 2, at the Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon Friday, March 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Melissa Graff plays with her son Max, 2, at the Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon Friday, March 6, 2015.
Alicia Frick of  Castle Shannon, plays with her son Jayden, 21 months,  at the Seesaw Center Friday, March 6, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Alicia Frick of Castle Shannon, plays with her son Jayden, 21 months, at the Seesaw Center Friday, March 6, 2015.

A place started by a group of mothers as a way to offer young children in the South Hills a place to play and interact during the cold months has expanded into a center for social and educational events as well.

The Seesaw Center in Castle Shannon opened in 1991 as a nonprofit indoor play place for infants through kindergartners from October through April each year. The center was started by a group of mothers who found they could not host large play groups in their homes. The nonprofit, which charges for memberships or by the day, has been set up in donated basement space at Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church since 2005.

“The Seesaw Center is a great place for parents and caregivers to come and just enjoy unstructured play with the kids,” said Thelma Zanone, the center's coordinator since 2008. “The ages we cater to is a fleeting moment in a child's life.”

The center will host a Superhero Day event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 28 to mark Child Abuse Awareness Month in April. Children are invited to “party like a hero,” dress like their favorite superheroes and enjoy snacks, crafts, games and guests such as Batman and characters from the movie “Big Hero 6.”

Throughout March and April, the center will collect donations for Court-Appointed Special Advocates For Children, a national network of programs that provide volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children. On the event day, a representative from CASA of Allegheny County will pick up donations and help children dress in their costumes.

“The well-being of children is something that The Seesaw Center values greatly, and sadly, approximately four children die each day in the U.S. as a result of abuse,” said Samantha Lee, a center board member.

Lee said she and other volunteers on the board coordinate activities and keep the center running.

“We plan social gatherings and educational programs for children as well oversee the cleaning, setting-up and tearing down of the center's toys during the off-season,” she said.

Unlike a daycare center or preschool, The Seesaw Center allows parents or guardians to choose how often their children attend.

Erika Schuster of Bethel Park has three children (Cogan, 5; Cate, 3; and Cara, 22 months) who are members of the center, which she calls a “lifesaver.”

Schuster, a stay-at-home mother, said she took her children to a playground in South Park one day and was referred to the Seesaw Center by another parent.

“It was perfect because it was just down the street from us at the time,” she said. “Cogan had just turned 1 and was very active, and I wasn't sure what I going to do to entertain him in the cold winter months.”

She said membership is less expensive than at other daycares or preschools, and while children burn off energy, parents can socialize. And her children can play with toys they don't have at home, such as the center's puzzles, slides, play kitchen and rice table.

“The Seesaw Center is also a wonderful place for parents to share the ups and downs of parenting, especially during the winter months when parents often feel a sense of isolation when cold weather curtails so many activities,” Lee said.

Chasity Capasso is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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