The Urban Chalkboard offers relaxed atmosphere for kids and parents

Tonya Bergeson-Dana and Jessica Beer, co-founders of Urban Chalkboard in Carmel. (Submitted photo)

Tonya Bergeson-Dana and Jessica Beer, co-founders of Urban Chalkboard in Carmel. (Submitted photo)

By Chris Bavender

When Jessica Beer and Tonya Bergeson-Dana met at Riley Hospital for Children the focus of their work was research on speech, language and cognitive development of children with hearing impairment in the Department of Otolaryngology. The idea of a play café never crossed their minds until they were working on a grant proposal.

“Most grant proposals we wrote were theoretical, but in this one we were proposing a music-based intervention for children with hearing impairment. We started thinking more and more about how families of all children need greater access to research and science along with some debunking of misinformation in the popular press,” Bergeson-Dana said. “Around this time I read an article in Cookie Magazine about a play cafe in Manhattan called Moomah. We thought a play cafe might be the perfect platform to bring research and science to families in a relaxed, fun setting.”

And that’s exactly what The Urban Chalkboard is. The approximately 2,500 square foot facility is divided into the cafe, play area, library space – with a 12′ maple tree we call the Dream Tree installed by local artist C. Thomas Lewis – and the Paul Dana Learning Studios (named after Bergeson-Dana’s late husband, an IndyCar driver who died in March 2006).

“Our toys, activities and classes are targeted for children ages birth to 6-years, although older children are also welcome. Our comfy seating and free Wi-Fi are targeted for grown-ups,” Bergson-Dana said. “When someone walks into our ultra-modern space, we want them to feel cool, comfortable, relaxed, welcome and happy, regardless of whether they are a 3-year-old child or a grown-up. This is a place where kids can be kids but parents can also feel like valued individuals.”

Locating The Urban Chalkboard in Carmel (452 E. Carmel Dr. – between Range Line Road and Keystone Avenue) seemed like a natural fit.

“Besides the fact that I live in Carmel and have raised two children here, our market research showed a high proportion of families with stay-at-home parents, work-from-home parents and everything in between in the Carmel area,” Beer said. “These parents are the most likely market to enjoy our play spaces, classes and events.”

The Urban Chalkboard offers free drop-in activities and grab-n-go arts.

“Our drop-in activities, such as Book Club, Page to Stage, Urban Beats and Storytime, are designed to be fun for the children but also include elements of foundational child development skills” Bergeson-Dana said. “The children will be having so much fun they won’t even realize they’re learning at the same time.”

“Our incredible and dedicated staff engage children in all our daily activities and we all try to get to know each of our families,” Beer said. “We will host birthday parties, baby showers and other private parties beginning in the spring.”

Bergeson-Dana and Beer chose Black Friday to open the doors of The Urban Chalkboard. They expected it would take some time to build awareness but have been pleasantly surprised at the response.

“We thought there would be a few curious families coming in throughout the day and we would have to grow our client base by showing them what a play cafe is all about, but we have been packed to capacity nearly every morning since we’ve opened,” Bergeson-Dana said. “There is a real need in our community for the services we provide.”

Bergeson-Dana and Beer also plan to have community leaders and child development professionals come to give Chalk Talks at least once a month.

“These are talks for grown-ups, and we will have child care available for their children ($10 per child). The TEDx style talks are opportunities for parents and others in the community to learn more about child development or other community topics they might find valuable and meaningful,” Bergeson-Dana said. “We have a series of child developmental professors from IU and Purdue scheduled for February through May of 2015.”

The cost for The Urban Chalkboard ranges from a drop-in price of $8 for one child and $6 for additional children, to a 10-Day unlimited pass for $20, and monthly memberships (with unlimited visits) at $70 for the first child and $10 for each additional child. For more information visit or call 815.5711


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