Here at Spark, we often talk about topics that influence the education and lives of children around the world, but every once in a while we like to focus in on important Pittsburgh events. One of those events is happening right now in the heart of Oakland. It’s the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival and it’s celebrating its 26th year of success. The festival began yesterday, and while you may have missed Dave Crowley hula-hooping while covering the event, the festival will continue on until the 20th, giving you lots of time to get in on all the learning fun. Here’s what you can expect:

A Scottish Cinderella. Shona Reppe has been travelling the world for over 10 years, bringing audiences everywhere her unique take on the classic Cinderella story. With handmade puppets and a set inspired by 50’s-style kitchenettes, Reppe’s recreation puts a refreshing spin on one of the most popular stories in the world. Unlike some puppeteers, Reppe is always in plain view as she manipulates puppets and even addresses the audience directly. The result is a show that children can be engaged in and challenged by instead of one that simply retells a familiar tale.

Play with Plop! Theater can be a great way to make learning fun and enjoyable for children of all ages. Unfortunately, children’s first experiences with the theater can sometimes be scary, uncomfortable or, worst of all, boring. A bad first experience can turn many kids away from theater, causing them to miss out on valuable learning opportunities and a lifetime of entertainment. Australia’s Windmill Theatre hope to change that. The group’s show, entitled Plop! is a live-action interpretation of Ursula Dubosarsky’s popular children’s picture book The Terrible Plop. Every aspect of the show was created with the 0-5 year old audience in mind. In fact, its creators even consulted children throughout the development of the show, making adjustments so that kids stayed as engaged and entertained as possible. The result is a fun interactive play that’s a perfect choice for any child’s first theatrical experience.

Chill with Some Dudes. The Netherlands are different from Pittsburgh in more ways than one. For example, they label their guest locker rooms with a word that, in Dutch, means “dudes.” It’s that word, and the world of locker rooms that play a part in every childhood, that inspired Dutch theatre company Beumer and Drost to create a show called, you guessed it — Dudes. Part scripted, part improvisational, the show incorporates singing, dancing, puppetry, juggling and a unique blend of comedy that will keep kids laughing and playing along throughout the entire performance.

Be Amazed by Mirazozo. Most Pittsburgh events feature a headliner that’s a person. Not this one. The star of the show here is Mirazozo, a 150-foot inflatable sculpture brought to us from the Architects of Air, based out of Nottingham, UK. Drive by the enormous structure and you’ll be struck by the grey futuristic forms dominating Bill Mazeroski Field. But it’s once you step inside the sculpture that the magic really happens. Light shines through special colored sections of the sculture, and plays across the other-worldly corridors inside. Children who explore the sculpture have their imaginations take flight — comparing the experience to being inside a giant creature or traveling in space. Grown-ups can’t help but experience a sense of awe themselves. So even if you don’t have a child of your own, grab a favorite niece or nephew and go experience Mirazozo together. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Spark Showcase Tent

If you’ve made a promise to yourself, or to your kids, to attend more Pittsburgh events and have more summer learning fun this season, the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival is a great place to start. Remember, the festival will also feature interactive play stations, performers, local personalities and more. Be sure not to miss the Spark Showcase Tent smack dab in the middle of Schenley Plaza to see more than a dozen of our Spark-funded projects in action, like the Digital Discovery Room at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, an energy-generating see-saw from ReplayMyPlay, and music makers ZooBeats from WYEP.

Have you already made a trip to the festival? We want to hear your reactions. Stop by our Facebook page of tweet us @Sparkpgh to tell us your favorite part of the event.