Propelled by the belief that thriving, connected families are key to vibrant communities, the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance fosters and promotes family life in Baltimore’s city center.

...Join DBFA!


If you are living or working in Downtown Baltimore and have a blog you would like added to our Downtown Baltimore Blogs section, please contact us!



This is a Flickr badge showing public photos and videos from DBFA. Make your own badge here.

Benefits of Music Education

Guest Post by Kelly AJ Powers.

When my sons were ages 4 and 5, we decided music classes were in order. What we realized later is that we had signed up the whole family for lessons as well.

Because the program used the Suzuki Method, the expectation was that the parents learn with the child. At their first class, my husband received his cello, and I received my violin. After a few lessons on proper hold for the bow, and position of the instrument, only then did our children receive their miniaturized versions, and begin.

By learning some of these basic but essential techniques ourselves, integrating the practices into our daily life was easier. Once you know how to hold a bow, you can practice anywhere: brushing your teeth, using a pencil in the carpool line, and tapping out this week’s open string rhythm at the dinner table.

The Suzuki Method is just one of the “newer” – developed in the 1950s – updates to the way children learn music. Traditional methods often isolate the child’s progression with music: one lesson per week, usually individual even at introductory levels, and with an emphasis on home practices that do not include the parent. The assumption is that since the child has talent, only minimal encouragement from the parent will be needed. Well, raise your hand if the phrase, “Oh, just go practice your lessons before you’re punished” sounds familiar.

Music lessons, at their essence, are a tall order for our children still trying to prioritize tying their shoes. By making music development a part of the household as regular as a family meal, can make these practices a joy rather than a burden.

That’s one of the reasons I’d advocate for starting lessons earlier than later. For one, music education opportunities are rare in Baltimore City Schools, and often can’t include sequential instrument instruction. For another, at a younger age, children reap benefits from music like a second language with powerful effects on early literacy, time management and critical thinking skills. The Suzuki Method as taught at the Baltimore Talent Education Center starts violin and cello lessons at age 4; other instruments have age eligibility starting at age 6. Violin and cello can start earlier because these are instrument easily sized down without loss of sound.

The family that plays music together is indeed a sweet song. As for my own family, my sons, now grown, still play instruments. One stuck with cello, and the other used violin as the gateway to several other instruments. I can still peck out a decent Twinkle Little Star on violin!

Kelly AJ Powers is director of the Baltimore Talent Education Center, which offers several downtown locations. Through BTEC’s long-standing commitment to the highest quality in arts education, BTEC holds the honor of being one of the oldest and most successful community music schools in the nation. Our students achieve as musicians and scholars, parlaying elements of their BTEC experience to state orchestras, conservatories, science competitions and universities.


Favorite Playground: Riverside Park & Playground

Guest Post by Heidi Vorrasi, DBFA Executive Director.

Since we moved to Baltimore more than three years ago, Riverside Park and Playground have been our backyard.  We love the wide, smooth walking paths, the big grassy hill, the pool, the soccer fields and baseball diamond, and, of course, the playground.

We always start our visit off by doing a few laps around the park to exercise the dog (and myself!).  There is no shortage of friendly four-legged friends to feed treats or Cheerios.  On more than one occasion we’ve had a puppy jump into the stroller with the kids!

Next up, the playground! There are many reasons the playground is my favorite in city—it has plenty of shade, play structures for all ages, picnic tables, and a fence to make sure the fun doesn’t wander off.  We visit almost daily, and an impromptu playdate is almost always guaranteed.

After we’ve had our fill of the playground, we usually head down to the soccer field and baseball diamond.  There is plenty of room to run and kick a ball or chase each other around.  For a quieter activity, we’ll draw shapes and letters in the dirt of the diamond.  (I’m sure the SOBO Sports teams have wondered about the pint-sized dust angels!)

It’s wonderful to have such great open space just a hop, skip, and a jump away from our house.  What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon relaxing outside! 

Heidi Vorrasi lives in Federal Hill with her husband, John, and children Ethan and Claire. She currently serves as the chair of the Clean and Green Committee for the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association and she successfully started South Baltimore's first community garden. Heidi is the executive director of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.


Time For Dinner: Afters

We've heard your requests loud and clear. In our series, Time For Dinner, we feature favorite family-friendly restaurants throughout the city.


Guest Post by Jacqueline Stone.

Ever since moving to Federal Hill in 2006, I’ve been wandering around the neighborhood in a shameless attempt to find frozen yogurt. The problem became substantially bigger during my pregnancy last year. Time and time again I’d ask my husband to chauffeur me somewhere outside of the city or to Mr. Yogato in Fells to satisfy a dessert craving. So when Afters opened up in early June on the 1000 block of South Charles Street, my husband and me were both thrilled.

For quite some time, there was an unfulfilled niche for a café-meets-pastries-meets-frozen-yogurt in Federal Hill. We were able to make do by walking to Harborplace for soft serve, but finding a family-friendly place that served coffee after 6 pm among the plethora of bars seemed impossible. Enter Afters, the perfect concoction, complete with a toppings bar, pastries from Patisserie Poupon, Illy Italian coffee and even Wifi!

Afters offers a lounge area, complete with magazines, soft couches and even baby books to read to your kids as the whole family chows down on something indulgent. Six flavors of yogurt and sorbet are offered daily. What’s even more magical is the option to mix it up.  Everything is self-serve and pricing is done by the ounce.  My personal favorites are the regular frozen yogurt with the tart taste and the cookies ‘n cream. My hubby also loves the cookies ‘n cream and here, mixed it up with some French vanilla yogurt and fresh fruit.

My seven-month old had never tried frozen yogurt until now. I made plans to keep him away from dessert until his first birthday, but you know how plans and kids go! After screaming and reaching for a few minutes, we decided it was only fair he indulge along with his parents. He couldn’t get enough of the tart frozen yogurt!

I sat down with the owners of the store, Peter and Andrew, who were nice enough to talk to me about their business. They recognized not only the need for a family gathering dessert place in the neighborhood, but also a late-night spot where young locals can study, read or do work. Afters is open until 10 pm Monday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Right now they’re looking to hire more locals to join their team as they are getting quite busy.

Decadent dessert, coffee all day long, six flavors of yogurt to choose from, books and toys to entertain the little ones, all within walking distance of our home– my only complaint is they weren’t open when I was pregnant!

Jacqueline Stone lives in Federal Hill with her husband Darren, son Colton who was born in January 2011, and Huck the cat. Jacqueline works for Nuance as a system administrator, and also teaches Body Attack and Body Step classes at Merritt Athletic Clubs in Federal Hill and Canton. The Stones love taking long walks along the promenade and exploring the diverse food choices offered here in the city. Read Colton's blog here:

DBFA Member’s Pool Party: Typical Baltimore Family Living

Guest Post by Jay Pendell Jones.

When we arrived at the Patterson Park Pool to locked gates, I was certain we’d just get back in the car, turn around, and go home. To my surprise, the event was unstoppable. 

Thanks to careful preparation food, craft tables, and tents were set up in a matter of minutes.  Kids and parents alike stood on the wrong side of tall wrought iron-fences and you would have thought everyone would be miserable having to stare at the pool only feet away.  However, parents and kids were enjoying the great weather and loads of inflatable DBFA beach balls, drinking lemonade, and enjoying some sandwiches.  I even heard someone say, “this [the lockout] is actually nice, I can talk with other adults for a few minutes because there’s no trouble for the kids to get into.” 

So I started out saying to myself, “typical Baltimore”.  It really doesn’t even faze me anymore.  Despite the copious amounts of preparation, (I mentioned how quickly things were set up, and I know, from experience, the level of detail to which the event coordinators work) there were no lifeguards and we were locked out of the pool for an hour after the event was supposed to begin. 

Thirty minutes later, I suddenly realized myself saying the same thing, “typical Baltimore”.  Parents pitched in to call anyone and everyone who might know how to get in touch with city officials to open the pool.  Families were happy to get a chance to see one another, and as soon as the ice cream showed up, the kids magically forgot about the unattainable pool.  I was pretty sure this was going to be the best pool party with no pool, but soon enough someone, on his day off, came to the rescue with the keys and some lifeguards.  I even heard the rumor that the Mayor changed her schedule to drop by and make sure things were being addressed.  I did see her, and, in pearls and a smart church-going suit, she sure wasn’t dressed for a pool party. 

I guess my theme here is “typical Baltimore”.  There’s good and bad, but I really enjoyed myself today and it felt good to see the group of families like myself that can roll with the punches and make the best of it. It felt good to see the city workers and officials making it happen even when they had other plans. If you too rolled with the punches at the pool party yesterday, DBFA would like to hear your comments, especially if this was your first time visiting Patterson Park Pool.


Favorite Playground: Thames Street Park

Guest Post by Miranda Wulff Altschuler, DBFA Graphic Designer and E-Marketing Manager.

We live just a couple blocks from Thames Street Park in Fell's Point. We love that it's small, manageable and fenced in. It's close to our favorite restaurants and coffee shop. Best of all, every time we go, we run into friends. When the weather is nice, we are there almost every afternoon. The kids burn off energy...

Work on new skills...

Explore nature (yes, if you look hard enough, there is nature in the city!)...

And relax in the shade.

We celebrate birthdays...


And we gather with friends...

Thames Street Park truly is our urban version of a backyard and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Miranda Wulff Altschuler lives in Fells Point with her husband, Sheldon, daughter, Fiona and stepson, Elijah. She is the Graphic Designer and E-Marketing Manager for the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance. You can learn more about Miranda's adventures in mothering and crafting on her personal blog at and view her graphic design portfolio at


Do you have a favorite downtown park or playground? Email us to be a guest contributor!


Time for Dinner: Geckos, Southwest Cuisine in a Cool Casual Atmosphere

We've heard your requests loud and clear. In our series, Time For Dinner, we feature favorite family-friendly restaurants throughout the city.


Guest Post by Richard Hastings, DBFA Board Member.

"Family Restaurant"  There, now, what comes to mind?  Menus with pictures of food?  I would posit that a family restaurant is one that works for your family at various stages, occasions, etc.  Geckos is one of those great neighborhood gems that keeps welcoming us.  When Amy and I were dating, it made a great launching pad to meet up with friends for a night out - when we have a sitter, it still does.  After settling together in Butchers Hill, Geckos made for a great weeknight dinner to catch up with each other's days - or discuss baby names!  Both sets of in-laws even love it!  Life continues to change... now we need a table for four with a high chair and room to park the stroller and Geckos continues as a casual favorite.

It's about leadership:
Nick, the owner, is always ready with a smile and a warm welcome.  He also tends to remember your favorite drink and actively supports the community.  The casual hospitality and personal service describes Nick, his staff, and the overall feeling of the place.  Consistency, often a challenge for neighborhood places, is a strength here.  Margaritas? Consistently great.  Sangria?  Always top-notch.  And two Mango Chipotle BBQ Chicken Enchiladas ordered months apart?  Strikingly similar and super tasty.

So what about the food?
The house made chips and salsa are a necessity. Some of our favorites are the Southwestern Caesar, the Grilled Portabella Salad, and the Southwest Cobb.  Salads are definitely entree-size and always fresh and crisp.  Entree favorites in addition to the aforementioned are the Wild Mushroom and Cheese Enchilada and the Jerked Chicken & Sweet Potato Quesadilla.  Consistent, yes, but there is also an ever-evolving list of specials to keep you coming back.  The food is always freshly prepared and always interesting.

And the kids?
Sometimes previously warm and friendly places cool a bit when your family grows, right?  Not Geckos.  We stopped by early on a weekend night with our daughter a few months after her birth, received congratulations delivered with a genuine warmth normally reserved for family.  Our now one-year-old in her stroller are always greeted with smiles by owner, staff, and patrons alike. But be smart.  Lunch or early dinner works great for our little one and the others we see there.  Past bedtime on weekend nights, the place gets crowded.  There are a few high chairs but not a fleet.  Until high chair age was upon us, having our daughter join us at the table in her stroller worked well.  A lift over the entry threshold is necessary for that stroller and there are several steps up to the dining room.  There is no space in the restrooms for a changing station but, when diaper changes have been necessary, we have been able to find a discrete corner on one of the four levels.

Going for playtime in Patterson Park?  In need of a casual date night? Looking for a unique neighborhood place out of town friends will enjoy.  Geckos fits our family. 

Richard Hastings is senior associate director of external affairs for the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University. Richard credits longtime friends in Fell's Point for introducing him to Baltimore, to his lovely wife Amy and to Johns Hopkins. Amy and Richard reside in Butchers Hill with their daughter Eliana, who they welcomed in the summer of 2010. Richard is chair of the Resource Development Committee for the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.


Favorite Playground: Hampstead Hill Academy

Guest Post by Lauri Doody

Before I had my son, Ryan, I thought of Canton as a playground for adults.  Bars and restaurants littered every corner of the neighborhood I live in, and I couldn't imagine how children fit in.  I assumed that once we started a family, we would pick up and move to the suburbs. 

However, after Ryan was born in October 2007, I began noticing that there were just as many families as single twentysomethings scattered through the neighborhoods of the city.  Sometimes I even thought there might be more.  Everywhere I went, I noticed moms pushing jogging strollers, families walking hand in hand to eat dinner in the square, and kids playing catch at Patterson Park. 

Once my son was mobile, we started venturing out to local playgrounds and I realized that the city was also one giant playground for kids!  We began frequenting these playgrounds on weekend mornings and late afternoons - from Patterson Park to the Thames Street playground to Dypski Park.  But the one that we keep going back to, time after time, is the playground at Hampstead Hill Academy. 

Ryan and I both love going there for many reasons.  It is close enough that we can walk without putting him in a stroller.  It is small enough that I can easily keep an eye on him without being on top of his every move.  The play structure is safe and manageable for his age and skill level.  And when he tires of the slides, suspension bridge, tunnel and monkey bars, we step down into the schoolyard where he can run free to his heart's content, burning off energy along the way.  It is a space that we think of as our own backyard.  We have been known to bring his scooter, motorized 3 wheel vehicle, soccer ball, and street hockey sticks and ball, to take advantage of the wide open space. We have introduced our favorite playground to local friends as well as out of town visitors. 

I think part of the reason I like it so much is also that it is part of a school, and a great school at that.  It is a reminder to me that there are education options in the city for families who choose to stay.  I have even been known to crawl through the tunnel and run over the suspension bridge with Ryan, and the this reminds me that Canton can be a playground for both kids and adults!

Lauri Doody has lived in Baltimore for the past 11 years, first in Federal Hill, then Brewer's hill, then settling in Canton where she has lived for the past 6 years with her husband, Tim and son, Ryan, 3 1/2.


Fresh and Local: Community Supported Agriculture

Two weeks ago, we brought you the Downtown Farmers' Markets Guide. This week, we're keeping it fresh and local by covering another great option, Community Supported Agriculture.


Guest Post by Michele Esch.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  What does that mean?  Basically, you – the community – purchase a share of the harvest from a farm.  It usually is a box or bag of vegetables but can also include other types of farm products, such as eggs, meat, honey and even bread.  The size of the weekly harvest depends on how things are going on the farm – some years you get great tomatoes and other year’s great eggplant and other years things don’t go so well and you don’t get any tomatoes!  It is one of the risks of participating in a CSA.

Several years ago, I had been contemplating joining a CSA for some time but had missed the early purchase deadline (most farms will offer a discount price the earlier you buy – they are able to use those funds to buy seeds and other supplies to prepare for the upcoming season).  Luckily, someone on the SEBaltkids listserv was selling a half share and I jumped at the chance.  I had decided to join a CSA because I couldn’t always get to the farmers' market on the weekend and wanted a way to get some fresh vegetables on a regular basis.  Plus they usually equate to great cost savings.  Splitting a share is about $8/week!

I have always been interested in my food and where it comes from (full disclosure - I work in the agriculture field) but my interest in what I eat took on a new meaning when I was pregnant.  I remember the doctor telling me “eat a rainbow on your plate.”  After I had my daughter, it became even more important not only for me but also my whole family.  We cook most of our meals at home and try not to eat a lot of processed food.  If I can’t say it, I don’t want to eat it!  The CSA turned out to be a great way to get consistent, fresh, organic vegetables once a week.

But what was I going to do with all of those greens?!  Well, I got creative.  I make a lot of spinach and Swiss chard enchiladas and we eat a lot of sautéed greens.  My daughter even ate the sautéed spinach after watching several old Popeye videos on YouTube.  I started making my own roasted tomato salsa and this fall, I’m going to try kale chips.

There are a lot of farms to choose from when selecting a CSA.  You will have to decide if you want only organic and what is the most convenient place to pick up.  A lot of the CSAs allow you to pick out a certain number of items at the farmers markets but others just give you a basket with pre-chosen items.  You will have to decide what works best for you.  The recently redesigned Maryland’s Best is a great resource for selecting a CSA.  You can search by CSA or any other farm commodity to see where the farms are and their options.  You can even find your local pick your own farms!

So, enjoy your fresh produce while it is still in season.  Before we know, it will be freezing out again.  And don’t forget to eat your vegetables!

Michele Esch comes from a farm family in Georgia and currently works for the US Department of Agriculture.  She lives in Canton with her husband and four year old and is a Board Member of DBFA.


We asked, you answered, we listened!

In our recent Life in Baltimore Survey, more than 67% of respondents listed walkablity as a primary reason for choosing to live downtown. Families desire safe walkable streets for their children to get to school, the park, or even the local ice cream shop. Kicking off right now and during the next year, the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance will be focusing heavily on improving the pedestrian culture in Baltimore City.

A few weeks ago DBFA sent a survey request to ask residents to name intersections that they felt could be more pedestrian friendly. More than 60 people took the time to tell DBFA which intersections they wanted improved and why, and we created a list of the top most cited intersections. This past week, DBFA Advocacy Chair Keith Losoya took this list to the Baltimore City Department of Transportation for review, and the result was that the DoT will begin to apply their “5 Es” to the identified intersections. The Es are:

  • Evaluation: A traffic professional determines the exact problem at the cited location
  • Engineering: Any necessary structural changes are made
  • Education: Pedestrians and drivers are made aware of the changes
  • Enforcement: Traffic control officers enforce any violations of the new traffic pattern
  • Encouragement: Correct use by all parties

Over the next few weeks, traffic professionals will be evaluating the top ten intersections and determining which changes need to be made. After this information has been collected, the DoT will begin to make the structural changes to improve them.

Stay tuned for notice of these changes. DBFA volunteers will be out to ensure drivers and pedestrians notice the modifications!

We also need your help to keep the momentum going.  If you see an intersection that needs attention, please follow the steps in our “How to” guides, How to Get Law Enforcement to Address Traffic Violations Affecting Walkability and How to Get Infrastructure Improvements Affecting Walkability. Both documents are also located on our website. 

DBFA will be continuing to work with the DoT and other local groups to make Baltimore City more pedestrian friendly. Our goal is to change the culture of Baltimore to ensure that pedestrians are able to use and enjoy our streets safely. To get involved, please contact DBFA Executive Director Heidi Vorrasi at

DBFA’s Top Intersections

  • S. Patterson Park Avenue & E. Pratt Street
  • Light Street & Key Highway
  • William Street & Key Highway
  • S. President Street & Eastern Avenue
  • S. President Street & Exeter Street
  • Andre Street & E. Fort Avenue
  • S. Linwood Avenue & E. Lombard Street
  • S. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard & W. Pratt Street
  • S. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard & Washington Boulevard

Time For Dinner: Bagby's Pizza Company

We've heard your requests loud and clear. In our  series, Time For Dinner, we feature favorite family-friendly restaurants throughout the city.


Guest Post by Stephanie Neufeld.

Blending a love for the inner harbor, pizza, and a kid-friendly eatery will land you at Bagby’s Pizza Company.  This local pizza spot, across from Whole Foods on Fleet St, is great for a family outing that will leave everyone happy. A large patio on the side of Bagby’s provides space for the little ones to move around, and the welcome option of BYOB decreases the pressure on your bottom line!

Opening in 2009, Bagby’s has become a local favorite known for fresh ingredients, mouthwatering thin crust, and unique toppings to create a pizza to remember!  I personally recommend the “Sour and Spicy” specialty pizza which is loaded with fire roasted red peppers, lots of other yummy stuff and then drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette! However, I am told Bagby’s most popular pizza is a draw between the gourmet meat pizza which is covered with a sweet fennel sausage, sopressata, mozzarella, provolone, and asiago cheese; or the gourmet vegetable pizza boasting a fresh herb oil base, sautéed wild mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, roasted artichokes, grana padano, all smothered in cheese. For those who are not pizza affectionatos, Bagby’s menu offers great salads, sandwiches, and pasta. Beer and wine can be bought at the restaurant if you forgot to bring your own. However, if you do not see a bottle you would enjoy simply run across the street to the Bin 604 Wine Sellers to grab a spirited drink of choice.

Couple the great food, and perfect patio for kids with a certificate, and you can feed the whole family on the cheap. My sister and I enjoyed a lunch at Bagby’s with our combined 4 children ranging in age from 1 to 4 years old. One small cheese pizza, one large specialty pizza, and 5 drinks satisfied our crowd at an unbelievable out of pocket cost of $12.97 plus tip. How did I swing this great deal? Simple...

Our order of 2 pizzas and 5 drinks brought our bill to $35.97. I paid with a certificate for $25.00 off a $35.00 bill, (the $25.00 certificate/saving I purchased for $2.00), allowing me to only pay a $12.97 ($10.97 at Bagby + $2.00 to = $12.97) out of pocket plus tip! Access more of these tips for savings in Baltimore at my website where I give more details and options with similar deals.

A few parting tips to make a Bagby’s a great family outing for you include: Bring your own sippy cups. There are no options for kids drinks and the cups are HUGE. Not to mention you are paying for an adult drink for a 1 yr old! Only two high chairs are available at Bagby’s. During our lunch I put my youngest in her stroller with the tray attached. This worked perfectly for my family.  Also, It is a lot of self-service here, so you might not want to go solo with the kids. My sister sat with the kids while I got the drinks. It would have been very difficult by myself with the kids. Go for lunch or early dinner: The wait is longer the later in the day you go, especially if you want to sit inside. Seating inside is limited and will fill up quickly.

In conclusion, Bagby’s Pizza Company is a laid-back atmosphere that I recommend brining the family too for lunch on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, or with the movie theater around the corner enjoy an affordable and tasty date night with your spouse.

Stephanie Neufeld is a blogger who encourages others to explore the charm of Baltimore. She is a mom of two little city-kids, soon to be three.  She writes a blog,, that equips, informs, and connects the reader to the fun and amazement Baltimore has to offer. She loves connecting with others who also seek more from Baltimore, and who are focused on making their experience here a great one.