Learning Studio & Play Café Teaches Toddlers to Flourish While Parents Observe & Socialize

Writer  /  Julie Yates
Photographer  /  Amy Payne

For someone who has recently become a parent or perhaps juggles working from home while keeping toddlers occupied, Urban Chalkboard, located at 452 East Carmel Drive, is a helpful resource.

At first glance, it looks like a café with a huge play area for children. It is actually an intentionally designed, high-quality play space for children age five and under. It provides an environment where parents feel free to check emails or get some work done while play coaches supervise and gently direct play designed to promote early childhood development.

Co-owners Jessica Beer and Tonya Bergeson-Dana met each other when they worked as research scientists at the Indiana School of Medicine in the Department of Otolaryngology, which focuses on treatment for diseases of the ear, nose and throat. Beer and Bergeson-Dana were specifically studying how young children adjust when receiving a cochlear implant after being born with a severe or complete hearing loss. Both women became fascinated by the process of how all babies and toddlers learn from input of the world around them.

“Birth to age five is a critical period in a child’s development,” Beer says. “The experiences they have drive the architecture of the brain in a way that doesn’t happen at any other time of life. At the same time, adults are going through the transition to parenthood. They are dealing with exhaustion, maintaining relationships and how their career is impacted.”

Beer and Bergeson-Dana took several years to explore the idea of opening a play café — a space with an environment that would not only promote learning for young children but would also support parents. In 2011, they reached out to the precursor of Launch Fishers, the Entrepreneurship Advancement Center (EAC) in Fishers. EAC assisted them by connecting them to resources they needed to educate themselves on how to start a business. The pair entered and won an EAC business plan competition. After securing funding, they started searching for a suitable location and, in 2014, they opened the doors of Urban Chalkboard for business. 

The front desk café portion of the space is the first thing patrons encounter when they enter. There, parents check in with a play coach, set up a tab for food and pay the price of admission of $12 per each child nine months or over. Reservations can be made online before coming to the café — at a reduced cost of $10 a child — ensuring a guaranteed space in the play café or for any class or activity going on that day. Most classes are included with the entrance fee but some, such as Babies Music Cognition, require an extra charge. Information about all the classes offered can be viewed online.

Each area within the café has different nooks which serve varying purposes. The Baby Play Area is designed for infants and non-walkers under the age of 18 months. Some of the other opportunities for exploration are a train table as well as dress-up, kitchen and playhouse nooks. A studio houses the café’s newest addition, the Beam. A 10 by 12-foot image is projected on a smart floor. As babies and toddlers move, the image changes and the children make a connection between their body movements and the world around them. All spaces are visible to parents as their children wander off while they can chat with other adults or do other tasks without feeling guilty.

“We encourage parents to be a little ‘hands-off’ and observe their children from a distance,” Beer says. “Parents then get a chance to see how capable their kids are. They don’t have to have total engagement with them all the time.

“Tonya and I are investigating forming some strategic partnerships so we can bring this concept to other Indianapolis area neighborhoods. We realize that not every family has the resources to provide such a learning environment for their children’s early years, and we hope to make that possible in the future.”

For more information on The Urban Chalkboard visit TheUrbanChalkboard.com or give them a call at 317-815-5711.