Author Archives: meg1rl

Feb 06, 2017

Dental Excellence opened in December at Del Ray Towers located at 3116 Mt Vernon Ave. and I was happy to have the opportunity to see their office and meet with Dr. Sheri Salartash. Neighbors are invited to stop in to meet the staff and get a tour. Dr. Salartash is an experienced dentist that wanted to open her practice in a progressive neighborhood that would embrace her desire to practice holistic dentistry. The office provides comprehensive dental care such as ortodontics, cosmetic dentistry, soft tissue laser, implants, whitening along with preventative care. Dental Excellence offers treatment for children as young as newborn that are tongue tied who may be experiencing problems feeding.  Dental treatment begins for children as young as two. Dr Salartash notes that screenings for traditional & physiological orthodontics screens should start early since between the ages of 2-6 years is a critical age. For orthodontics, Dr Salrtash notes that the best results happen before the age of 12.

Dr Salartash focuses on patient education and wants patients to understand and work as part of the team to create a treatment plan. There are numerous things that set this dentist office apart. I was impressed with the massaging chairs, parafin wax treatment, heated blankets, digital x-rays (that are low dose), mercury free dentistry, advanced water filter system and use of NU Calm instead of nitrus. Bonus points go out to this office for having changing stations in the restrooms! Dr Salartash is a new mom herself and dedicated to providing a full range of services to make your child and your experience positive.

The office sees patients on Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri. and Saturday and they work will all major PPOs. They also offer yearly membership rates that include 6 month cleanings and discounts on treatments for those that do not have dental insurance. Be sure to check them out soon!

Jan 08, 2017

Looking for a place to have your child’s next birthday party? Alexandria has plenty of options no matter what your child is interested in.

Alexandria Neighborhood Recreation Centers
Multiple Addresses
• Charles Barrett Recreation Center
• Charles Houston Recreation Center
• Cora Kelly Recreation Center
• Mount Vernon Recreation Center
• Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center
• Patrick Henry Recreation Center
• William Ramsay Recreation Center

Each Rec Center has it’s own amenities that can be rented out for party use.

Alexandria Fire Department
Contact your local fire station to find out if they have availability. Many fire stations in the city host birthday parties and they can be booked by contacting the fire station.

Chinquapin Rec Center
3210 King St, Alexandria
The home of the city’s only public indoor pool and a soft play room that can be rented for parties. The city has pool party and soft play room party packages.

Lee District Recreation Center
6601 Telegraph Road, Alexandria
The Lee District Rec Center located in Fairfax County also offers pool parties, soft play room and gymnasium rentals.

Our Special Harbor
6601 Telegraph Rd., Alexandria
There is no fee to use the public use spray ground located beside the Lee District Rec Center. The fully accessible complex features Chesapeake Bay-themed attractions including a spraying osprey nest, Chessie the sea serpent, misting sunflowers and a lighthouse. The beach area is quieter with softer bubblers and interactive water tables. The computerized water maze and dumping crab basket provide more lively activity. There are adjacent covered picnic facilities that can be rented for party use.

The Little Gym
291 S Van Dorn St, Alexandria
Named Best Gym Party by Parents Magazine, an Awesome Birthday Bash at The Little Gym gives your birthday kid and their friends the full run of the facility, filling the celebration with instructor-led games, music, and fun LEGO Juniors or LEGO DUPLO building activities created especially for your birthday boy or girl. And you don’t have to worry about setup or cleanup, making it totally awesome for you too!

Paint This
1013 King St, Alexandria
Paint this is a ceramics, mosiac and glass fusion studio. They offer birthday parties and give you 10% off your pieces if the party is 10 or more.

6625 S Van Dorn St, Alexandria
This facility offers both Mini-Golf parties or Driving range parties. The facility offers a full kitchen and bar that can add food and drinks to your party package.

Great Waves
4001 Eisenhower Ave, AlexandriaGreat Waves waterpark is a great place to host your birthday parties in their exclusive birthday party areas. Call 703-960-0767 ext. 100 with any questions.

420 East Monroe Avenue, Alexandria
Their parties include a birthday team member to host the party, awesome activities, basic decorations, water, and paper products. Each party is approximately 2 hours long: 1.5 hours of fun structured activities with 15 minutes of set up and 15 minutes of time to clean up.

Sport Rock Climbing Center
5308 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria
Sportrock has a dedicated party area for hosting birthday parties. From a couple of hours to all day (or night!) – they can custom build your event. To discuss options and pricing,  submit a Special Event Request on their website.

Flight Trampoline Park
7200 Fullerton Rd, SpringfieldMultiple party packages include exclusive use of a Flight Party Room after flight jump time. Party Attendant to assist with check-in, set up, and clean-up.

1712 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria
Have a creative birthday party with Upcycle. Party guests participate in hands-on art experiences in their studio. Parties are scheduled on Saturday afternoons from 1:30 – 3:30 pm. The fee is $250 for a maximum of 15 children.
The party format is generally:
Gathering Time – 15 minutes – Children preview materials and have a snack (provided by you).
Art Activity – 1 hour and 15 minutes – UpCycle staff educate children about reuse and facilitate a 2-D mixed media project.
Birthday Treat – 15-30 minutes – Children have cake or cupcakes (provided by you).

Ultra Zone
3447 Carlin Springs Rd, Falls Church
Ultra Zone Laser Tag and Family Amusement Center birthday party package includes a private party room just for your party, a party host that stays with you the entire time and is completely dedicated to your party, laser tag games, unlimited soft drinks for all of your guests, pizza, place settings.
For your convenience, they can provide additional items such as cake, cupcakes, balloons, and gift bags. They’ll take care of every detail. There is no need to bring anything but your guests. Of course, you are also welcome to bring your own food, cake, and other items if you prefer.

Dave & Busters
6655 Spring Mall Dr., Springfield, VA
Dave & Buster’s birthday parties are perfect for kids of all ages. With kid-friendly food to keep them fueled for fun and hundreds of games, there’s something for everyone. We’ll do the work—they’ll have a blast. Put some play in your day!

Chuck E. Cheese
6301 Richmond Highway
Two hours of fun, your own table space, and the help of one of our host/hostesses.  Your birthday star gets a Birthday Shout Out and the awesome Ticket Blaster experience. It’s their choice of party outfits: Superhero, Princess or Chuck E. T-shirt. Fun and easy-to-personalize invitations view email invitations.

Huntley Meadows Park
3701 Lockheed Blvd, Alexandria, VA
Parties are scheduled for a two hour block. Families will have the outdoor classroom to set up their party food and decorations. Supervision of children in the outdoor classroom and straightening up post-party is the party host’s responsibility.
The $225 fee covers 20 or fewer children. Parties are for ages 4-12 years. An additional $12 fee is assessed per child over 20, up to a maximum of 30 children. Siblings ages 12 years and under count as party participants. The children will be seated for cake and ice cream, provided by the family, at the tables. Food and beverages may only be consumed at the tables.
Party participants enjoy a 60 minute naturalist-led presentation including a craft and a nature walk.

Buddy Ford Nature Center
5750 Sanger Ave.
The Jerome “Buddie” Ford Nature Center offers birthday parties for children ages 4 to 12. Each 2 hour birthday party features live animals, a nature-oriented activity, and use of a private room. Fee for City of Alexandria residents: $165 for a party of up to 12 children (Nonresidents: $200). $10 for each additional child (up to 17 total children). To secure a party date, prior registration and payment are required. For booking information and forms, please call 703.746.5525Some of their most popular themes include:
Amphibians (Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, etc.)
Reptiles (Snakes, Lizards, Turtles)
Turtles and Tortoises

Fairfax Sportsplex
6800 Commercial Dr., Springfield, VA
Our birthday party or team party packages are perfect for your child and his / her friends. For $110 you get the use of one of our courts for 1 hour and then you may use the tables on our observation deck to have the party for the second hour. You provide the decorations, food, drinks that your child would like. There is no per child charge. (NOTE: Due to indoor leagues, the Sportsplex is unavailable for parties on the weekends and after 4pm Monday – Friday)

Hidden Pond Nature Center
8511 Greeley Blvd., Springfield, VA
NOW OFFERING TWO PARTY TYPES TO MAKE YOUR CHILD’S DAY EXTRA SPECIAL. Choose from Nature Birthday Party or Campfire Birthday Party

Lake Accotink
7500 Accotink Park Road , Springfield, VA
Choose from Two Packages:
*Lucky Duck Premier Package*
WEEKENDS & HOLIDAYS (May 3 – October 19, 2014): $139 for 10 children (required minimum)
WEEKDAYS (June 23 – August 29, 2014): $129 for 10 children (required minimum)

  • 2-Hour Private Party Tent Reservation (seating for 30)
  • Private Tour Boat Ride (hour following tent rental)
  • 2 Rounds of Mini-Golf per child (18 holes)
  • 2 Carousel Rides per child
  • Tickets for additional children may be purchased for $5.95 on the day of the event.

*Standard Package*
WEEKENDS & HOLIDAYS (May 3 – October 19, 2014): $99 for 10 children (required minimum)
WEEKDAYS (June 23 – August 29, 2014): $89 for 10 children (required minimum)

  • 2-Hour Private Party Tent Reservation (seating for 30)
  • 2 Rounds of Mini-Golf per child (18 holes)
  • 2 Carousel Rides per child
  • Tickets for additional children may be purchased for $5.95 on the day of the event.

Animal Welfare League of Alexandria
4101 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria
Great for kids aged 5 to 95, AWLA Birthday Parties provide the opportunity to celebrate a birthday our favorite way—with animals! Children and parents alike enjoy these fun, informative shelter visits which include animal-themed activities and a visit with one of our Animal Ambassadors. Best of all, children learn animal welfare themes in a fun way—from our animals themselves.
AWLA Birthday Parties can be booked on Fridays at 4pm, and last 2 hours. Due to staff and schedule restrictions, this is currently the only time we can offer parties. Parties must be scheduled at least 30 days in advance, and we cannot guarantee all dates will be available.
*We are unable to offer birthday parties during the months of July & August*
Each party includes:

  • Downloadable party invitation template.
  • Up to 15 party guests (including birthday child and siblings).
  • Use of our classroom, tables and chairs for 2 hours.
  • A tour of our adoptions facility.
  • One shelter enrichment activity.
  • Meet and greet with an Animal Ambassador.
  • Special gift for the birthday child.

Please remember to bring decorations, food, drinks, cake and candles, cups, plates and all utensils. Also, if the group plans to do an activity, remember all necessary activity supplies (supply list is provided by the Youth Program Coordinator). Food may be delivered to the shelter.
Pawties cost $200 for a maximum of 15 children (including the birthday child). A $50 non-refundable booking fee is due at time of booking, and parties will not be considered booked until this is received. The Birthday Party fee of $150 is due prior to the beginning of the party.

Bubble Bounce
6553 Springfield Mall, Springfield, VA
Bubble Bounce is an indoor play center specializing in inflatable play.

Local Motion Studio
2377 S Dove St, Alexandria
Parties can be scheduled between 4:00-6:30 on Saturday and 2:30-5:00 Sunday afternoon, depending on availability.  Call soon because spaces fill quickly!
Parties Include:

  • 2-3 staff members to set up, clean up and provide a movement class
  • 1 1/2 hours of fun (15 minutes open play, 1 hour class, 20-30 minutes of refreshments) – (times are approximate and can vary based on requests)
  • Up to 12 children: $295
  • 13-20 children: $345

For Parties with children turning 3 or younger, the class is with a caregiver. We can only accommodate the “up to12” option. You provide, food, napkins, plates, drinks, utensils and any decorations. Local Motion is happy to assist in ordering pizza and cakes to make it that much easier for you.

JW Tumbles
3223 Duke St, Alexandria
JW Tumbles birthday parties are especially popular among Tumblers and parents alike. Providing the birthday child and his or her best friends with action-packed excitement, everything is included from games to music, swinging to sports, dancing to zip lines! The parties are private and parents love that they can relax while JW Tumbles takes care of everything.

Friendship Firehouse Museum
107 South Alfred Street, Alexandria VA
Does your child love fire engines? Then experience the historic Friendship Firehouse and become the newest “member” of the fire brigade. The Friendship Fire Company was established in 1774, and was the first volunteer fire company in Alexandria. The current firehouse was built in 1855 and remodeled in 1871.
See hand-drawn fire engines, water buckets, and other historic fire-fighting equipment, as well as ceremonial uniforms and banners. Kids will take part in role-playing games and activities to help them earn their fire hat and badge. Wrap up the party with a parade using a banner the kids designed themselves! Ages: 4 and above (limit 10 children). $250 for 10 children

Gadby’s Tavern Museum
134 North Royal Street, Alexandria VA
For children ages 6 and up (20 children maximum), this charming historic space offers a choice of two themes. You child can host an afternoon tea party or entertain friends with tavern games. The 1.5 hour party includes a costumed guide, a hands-on tour of the museum, a craft, games, and even a gift for the birthday child. $250 and up.

318 South Pickett Street, Alexandria VA
Choose your child’s favorite theme and they’ll create a private, personalized party experience filled with kid friendly activities guaranteed to be 100% fun with zero clean up! They specialize in 1st birthday parties all the way through to 5th birthday parties. Gymboree Play & Music Parties are available to members and non-members. Birthday party themes are suitable for babies, infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream
109 King Street, Alexandria VA
Who doesn’t love the idea of an old fashioned ice cream party?

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
105-107 South Fairfax Street, Alexandria VA
Perfect for those who love science! This party is designed to teach students to become an
apothecary apprentice.The Apothecary served local customers, including the Washingtons and Robert E. Lee, between 1792 and 1933. The shop was t r a n s f o r m e d into a museum shortly after its closing and visitors can still view the original bottles, ingredients, products, and documents left behind by this 141-year-old family business.
Learn the basics of making and marketing your own brand of medicine. Then mix your own special “potion” to take home. Ages: 7 and above (limit 15 children) All parties are 90 minutes and include a museum party leader, hands-on tour of the museum, special themed activities and crafts, as well as tablecloths, plates, napkins, and forks. All you need to bring is the cake and kids! $250 for 10 children, with a $100 deposit due at time of reservation.

 Tiny Dancers
621 South Washington Street, Alexandria VA
Fairytale birthday party themed parties for your little dancer. The package features a 90-minute themed party with costumes, props, and crafts. $375 and up for up to 10 children.

6328-C Richmond Highway, Alexandria VA or 3217 Duke Street, Alexandria VA
Bring in your birthday party or any group of kids to learn how to make their own pizzas and become certified “junior pizza chefs.”

Mount Vernon Recreation Center
2017 Belle View Blvd., Alexandria VA

Ice Skating Party
Mt. Vernon RECenter’s indoor ice rink is the perfect spot for your next birthday party/event. Open year round, and with public sessions daily, we are the coolest place to celebrate yet. Skates are available to rent in all sizes. Parties must be scheduled during a public session time. Available for groups of 12-50 with advanced booking.

Pool Party
Mt. Vernon RECenter’s pool is a great spot for your next party! A beach area, tumble buckets, fountains, and diving board are all waiting for you. Pool is open year round and parties must be scheduled around open swim time. Open Swim times on Saturday and Sunday– after 1pm. Swim time must be scheduled before serving food.

Shadowland Laser Adventures
5508 Franconia Rd, Alexandria
ShadowLand’s laser adventures are exciting “whole-group” activity where all the kids share in the same experience at the same time. A ShadowLand birthday party includes either one or two adventures, a private events room, a sponsor (our staff) to assist in the event, soft drinks for the party, plates, cups and utensils for the event, clean up and prep for the event and a ShadowLand Gift for the birthday child.
To reserve an event or if you have any questions, contact the ShadowLand Adventure Center you wish to visit for complete details. An events coordinator is available to discuss your event Monday-Friday 11am to 6pm. Springfield: 703-921-1004

Bowl America
6450 Edsall Road, Alexandria
Kids love their parties–and it’s a piece of cake for the parents too! From set-up to clean-up, they do it all so that the whole family has time to enjoy the happy occasion. And with their all-inclusive “Birthday Party Plans,” all you do is pick a date and select your food plan; they’ll handle everything else! Party Plans include bowling, a Bowl America Birthday T-Shirt for the birthday child, eight video game tokens for each child, bowling-themed paper products, party invitations and the food plan of your choice.

Regal Theater
3575 Potomac Ave., Alexandria
Looking for something special for a Birthday party? Head to the movies at a Regal Entertainment Group theatre! Make your favorite person a “Star For A Day” with their own party at the movies!



Sep 28, 2016

When my husband and I moved to Del Ray, the last thing on our mind was the school system. We had two dogs and no children on the horizon. Thirteen years later, we have two children in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and we are thrilled with our experience. I frequently have new parents ask how my children are doing in Mount Vernon Community School and now GW Middle School. Both have proven to be excellent schools and my children’s education has been top notch. I’m happy with the teachers and administrators, but I also think a crucial factor to educational success is a high level of community and parental involvement. This brings me to introduce my guest author for this post!

I first met Karen Graf as she spearheaded the organization of the MVCS bookroom. Karen’s tireless dedication ensured that ALL children at MVCS have access to books that were at their reading level. Karen has catapulted on from the MVCS bookroom to become the Chair of the Alexandria City Public School Board.

I asked Karen recently if she would do a guest post on ‘Why Alexandria City Public Schools’ since it’s such a common question. Without further ado, here is her piece:

The first month of school has passed. I’m often asked by new and prospective parents why people send their children to ACPS and why they choose to stay. Based on the last several years, we know that something has shifted in a positive direction in the City of Alexandria. In fact, I have heard the dialogue change around ACPS. This benefits the whole community in many ways.

I informally surveyed a group of parents who have children in the division between kindergarten and eighth grade. I ask them why they send their children to ACPS. Most everyone gave “community” as the reason.

A common story is that they moved to Alexandria City before their children were at school age. Many were interested in living in neighborhoods where they could meet neighbors, walk to school and participate in their community. The community connection is strong in Alexandria City and they were betting on that being in the schools. They found that the schools served as a community gathering place. Playgrounds were seen as a way to meet people and many felt that that were make lifelong friends through participating in the schools.

Many parents felt strongly about wanting to be in a functioning, urban school district in a city that felt like a small town. They welcomed ACPS’ diversity. The workplace is global and having kids experience diversity at such a young age helps them develop skills for adapting to the world at-large. There was a belief that this helps them build resilience and grit, which are emerging concepts in the education community.

They also like that each school has a different “personality” and they felt that this led to similar values in the school populations. When I asked them to clarify values, they said that most people have a deep believe in the public education system and enjoy the benefits of a diverse staff and student population.

There’s also a strong time and money investment in the schools. Many community partners, nonprofits and parents across the city are giving their time, money and energy to better our school system. This serves as a capstone to divisions becoming high performing.

All of these reasons might be enough for someone to start at ACPS, but why do they stay? The general thought was that people want to help their city and their neighborhoods progress. They also recognize that TC Williams has some of the best offerings in the state. The high school provides the most AP courses in the Commonwealth, has a robust Career and Technical education program and the counseling department is committed to assisting students towards realizing their college goals. With such a large student population, there are exciting opportunities for students to experience successes and science, arts and music.

The parents also cited the dedicated, committed staff. As I listened to them, I realize that education is complex. Every student learns differently and every teacher teaches differently. However, through the differences, ACPS is committed to creating equitable opportunities for every child in the school system. What struck me was that these parents have pride in their children, their school experience and the city of Alexandria. And this combination is what is helping the focus on high-performance.

I’m excited for this school year. And I’m really eager to continue to observe the successes of our staff and our students in the coming year. With a community like ours, success is defined by those making a difference in people’s lives. And in our city, Alexandrians give and receive that in bucket loads.

May 13, 2016

La Bella Strada: Del Ray’s First Annual Street Painting Festival
​​Hosted by The Del Ray Montessori School
Sat. May 14, 2016, ​9.00 am — 3.00 pm

La Bella Strada is a family friendly modern street painting festival that originates from an ancient Italian art form. We believe it will become another signature event to continue making Del Ray one of the most sought-after neighborhoods and shopping venues in Metro DC.

Organized by the parents of students who attend The Del Ray Montessori School, this unique event takes place along Mt. Vernon Avenue throughout the day on Saturday, May 14, 2016​. The festival brings artists, energetic volunteers, and local businesses together to enliven our cottage neighborhood with vibrant colors, crowd-drawing masterpieces, and a one-of-a-kind experience of witnessing the creation of large-scale chalk paintings directly on the sidewalks. Similar festivals have successfully brought splendor and visibility to communities around the world.

La Bella Strada in Del Ray will also feature a Casa de Bambini (“Children’s House”) area to provide a space for young artists to create a collective chalk masterpiece of their own, as well as designated sidewalk squares where families and individuals can participate in making their own colorful work of art​.​

All proceeds will help fund The Del Ray Montessori School’s capital campaign for a larger, more permanent home. We invite you to share our passion for Montessori education in Del Ray, and hope you will join us.

Check out their Facebook Page for more info and updates


Jan 17, 2016

I recently connected with Cynthia Raso with The Smithsonian Early Enrichment (SEEC). With two locations in the National Museum of Natural History and one in the National Museum of American History, SEEC serves children aged two months – six years. Priority enrollment is given to Smithsonian and federal employees. For more information about enrollment in SEEC  visit
SEEC also offers part-time and weekend programs that are open to the general public. Family workshops run Saturdays and serve infants – Kindergarten. They also host the Smithsonian Early Explorers for caretakers and children aged 18 months – 2 years. This program meets twice-a-week for the duration of the school year.
I asked Cynthia to write a guest blog post introducing parents to the experience of visiting The Smithsonian Museums with you kids, toddlers and babies. Below is Cynthia’s post. We hope you find it helpful.

The animals at the Natural History Museum or airplanes at the National Air and Space Museum might feel like safe bets with your infant or toddler, but many parents opt out of visiting other venues like the National Gallery of Art or the Hirshhorn. In reality though, any museum is ripe with possibilities for your young child.
At the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC), we have been teaching infants, toddlers and preschoolers in museums and in the community for over 25 years. In fact if you are out on the Mall, chances are you will run into one of our classes seated before an object engaged in meaningful learning and of course, fun. Part of SEEC’s mission is to support and encourage families to take advantage of the Smithsonian’s amazing resources, so here are a few helpful hints that will make your next family museum visit a successful one!

Mother and daughter attend an infant workshop exploring the sense of touch at the National Museum of Natural History

Mother and daughter attend an infant workshop exploring the sense of touch at the National Museum of Natural History

Infants and Toddlers: Practical Advice
Talk To Them – Go ahead, don’t be shy! They will benefit from hearing you form sentences and use new vocabulary. Describe what you see, tell them what you like, ask questions – even the ones to which you don’t know the answer.
Observe Them – Non-verbal children understand more than you often realize. Watch your child. Where are they pointing? What captures their attention? At what are they looking? Respond to their body language by acknowledging what they show interest in, moving in for a closer look or providing more information.

One of the SEEC infant classes visit the Hirshhorn.

One of the SEEC infant classes visit the Hirshhorn.

Sing – Children love music and they respond to it. Use a favorite song and find a corresponding object. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a great book that matches children’s songs with artworks. Alternatively, parents can choose a familiar tune and make up your own words. I did this on a recent visit to the National Museum of African Art when we looked at Jacob Lawrence’s Blind Musician. The theme of this infant class was sound, so when we got to the museum we sang:
To the tune of Frere Jacques
Where are my fingers, where are my fingers.
Here they are, here they are.
Strumming the strings, strumming the strings
Hear the notes, hear the notes.

After we sang the song, each child got the opportunity to touch the strings on a small, toy guitar, which leads me to the next helpful hint.

Bring an Object or a Book –Bring an object with you! It can be a toy or something real. For example, use a flower while looking at Monet or take a favorite train to the Transportation Hall at the American History Museum. If you are feeling ambitious, make a sensory bottle out of a small water bottle (hint: hot glue the top closed for safety). Sensory bottles can correspond to museum objects in countless ways. Take a look at our Pinterest page for some ideas.
Maybe you have one of those fun board books with touchable pages featuring different animal skins. Consider bringing something like that to the Mammal Hall at the Natural History Museum. Recently I visited the iconic Andy Warhol featuring Marilyn Monroe’s lips at the Hirshhorn and paired it with The Big-Wide Mouthed Frog by Ana Martin Larranaga.
Follow Your Child’s Interest – Whether they are dinosaur fanatics or fascinated with the falling leaves, plan visits to museums where you can expand topics in which they are already interested. Most museums feature their collections on-line so it’s easy to find out what is on display before your visit.
Use your Imagination – Perhaps you are visiting Henry the Elephant at Natural History – get into character and pretend to feed him. I have made pretend jam with pictures, a pot and a wooden spoon at the American History Museum while looking at canning jars. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
Timing – Museum visits do not have to last a whole day. The length of the visit should be appropriate for your child – you know when they are done. Bring a snack and take a break outside for some fresh air and exercise if you want the day to last a little longer. Consider the galleries like your local library. You should visit over and over to discover all that they have to offer.

3.Father and daughter walk over to the National Gallery together during one of our weekend workshops, providing a break before the museum visit.

Father and daughter walk over to the National Gallery together during one of our weekend workshops, providing a break before the museum visit.

PreK and Elementary
Using similar tactics with PreK and elementary children will work. But now that they are a little older you can begin to add additional components to enrich the experience.
Sketch – Most galleries allow you to bring pencils, so take a small book and do some careful looking. Encourage your child to interpret the artwork in their own way and not recreate exactly what they see. Otherwise, they can feel easily frustrated.

A quiet moment at the Hirshhorn while a child sketches.

A quiet moment at the Hirshhorn while a child sketches.

Write a Story – Behind every museum object is a good story. Make up your own narrative and then go home and research the real story. Let your child narrate the story to you or if they are ready, have them do the writing.
Conservation – Pose open-ended questions like: How do you think the man in the painting feels? or, I wonder what it felt like to live during this time. Or suggest theories about how something works or what something might have used for. Listen to your child’s answers and share your own thoughts. Notice how your perspectives might change during the course of the conversation. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something and look at it as an opportunity to search together for the answer.

Take It Home
Extend your museum visit to your home by posting photos you took of your visit. Think about how you might introduce content from the visit into their play and other daily activities. A day at the art museum can be followed by an afternoon playing with some paint. A visit to botanic gardens can be extended by providing little one some dirt, bucket and a shovel with which to play. A visit to an aquarium or zoo might offer chances for water play in a table or big Tupperware.

Infants spin paint in a salad spinner.

Infants spin paint in a salad spinner.

Cynthia Raso, Mother and Manager of Community Outreach at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center

Cynthia Raso teaching a PreK class at the Hirshhorn

Cynthia Raso teaching a PreK class at the Hirshhorn


Dec 04, 2015

DTH 2011-3There is something about Santa and little cherubs dressed in their holiday best that is just so irresistible! This year, the ever-energetic Junior Friends of the Campagna Center have brought the magical music, crafts and sugar spurred festivities of Deck the Halls to a more schedule friendly time and in a soul-warming setting. Sunday at 1pm and again at 3:30 volunteers will treat children to a visit from Santa straight from the North Pole to the heart of the programs itself, the historic Campagna Center of Alexandria. I’ll be bringing my camera to catch our girlies sneaking candies from their gingerbread construction sites and hopefully some candid shots of their sugarplum dance moves. While they craft and play I’ll be scouting out the raffle options. Last year they had their sites on the American Girl doll while I was focused 100% on a cornucopia of local boutique gift cards and goodies. Mama needs a little something in her stocking too! While we’ll enjoy the frivolity of this special celebration, and the knowledge that our ticket price and raffle going to the fundraising efforts, there is another very direct way we’ll contribute Sunday. Deck the Halls is also a drop off site for The Campagna Center’s holiday toy drive. You can help to brighten the holiday season for many more children participating in the early childhood programs by bringing a gift of an unwrapped toy. We cherish this chance to shop for gifts other children will love this season. Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend is full of so much energy and tradition, and what better way to wrap it all up after the greenery, Scotch, shopping, parades and touring than a little quality time with the littles. Deck the Halls with Santa is presented by TTR Sotheby’s and while the 3:30 section is sold out, tickets for the 1pm can be purchased at TCC today and tomorrow, any of the weekends’ events as well as at the door Sunday while supplies last.
Hope to see you there!
All proceeds benefit The Campagna Center that offer educational and social development programs to 2,000 families and children in Old Town Alexandria.

Oct 27, 2015

I had the pleasure of sitting down to meet with Cathy Canfield recently from Counseling of Alexandria to discuss her practice located in Old Town Alexandria. Cathy has been in her new space at 709 Pendleton St. for a year and a half now and I loved that the space really feels warm and inviting. ca office pics

Cathy’s practice specializes in working with children and also sees adult patients suffering from anxiety and trauma. Cathy uses play therapy and EMDR in her practice with children. She has expanded the practice and has brought in Jackie Sargent who provides art therapy.

I asked Cathy if she could answer some common questions that she gets from parents when they are considering having their child see a counselor.

How do I know my child needs counseling?
I get this question a lot, whether I’m chatting with friends or talking on the phone with a parent interested in services. I hope you keep these tips in the back of your mind in case the need ever arises. Below are some questions to ask yourself or talk to a professional about.
Have their been any significant changes in your child’s life (i.e. divorce, moving, new sibling, loss of someone close, natural disaster)?
Has your child’s moods or behaviors changed drastically for a couple of months-they just don’t seem like themselves?
Do they say things about themselves such as “no one likes me, I hate myself, I’m stupid” that indicate a low level of confidence?
Are they suddenly not interested in activities they used to enjoy? Are their grades at school in decline?
Is your child unable to fall asleep and stay asleep at night?
Do they have fears that don’t seem to make sense?
My child is not old enough for counseling, right?
Counseling for children looks a lot different that what we imagine for adults. I have personally worked with children as young as 3. Some therapists have training working with infants and toddlers. When working with a child this young, you absolutely want someone with specific training in child development and play therapy. Children express their needs and feelings through play, which is why play therapy is essential for young children. They don’t have to talk about what is wrong to feel better. Your child can heal without even knowing what is wrong. Don’t wait for your child to be the right age to talk about it.
The other great thing about children is the sooner, the better. I often see children that parents have waited and hoped for their child to grow out of something, only to find that 3, 5, even 7 years down the road the problem hasn’t been resolved. Kids change quickly and heal at sometimes astonishing rates.
I don’t like the idea of a counselor confronting my child on their issues for years, they’re too young and vulnerable for that. Won’t they be more damaged by going to a counselor?
Counselors trained specifically in working with children will not use this approach with children. Actually, many counselors that work with adults do not use this type of approach with a client. Play therapy is great because while children have an awareness as to why they are coming to see a counselor, the healing process is often painless and even fun. Another option is parent coaching and training. With this option, a child may never enter the counselor’s office. Also, most of the time counseling with children is short-term (4-6 months) because they adapt and change at a more rapid pace that adults often do.
I don’t want to take my child out of school to get to an appointment. Won’t they be behind at school?
Another real challenge is scheduling. It can be a stress getting the kids to school, their after school activities, doing homework and feeding your children. I’ve been there! Counselors that work with children get this. We often work before and after school and sometimes on weekends to accommodate busy schedules. If possible, some counselors will also come to schools or homes for sessions.
I am really against medicating my child. Won’t that be the first thing a counselor wants to do?
I often clarify that counselors and psychotherapists (which are fairly interchangeable terms) do not have the ability to prescribe medications. Only medically trained professionals, such as psychiatrists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are legal able to prescribe medications. As far as recommendations, I will refer someone for a medication assessment as a last resort. Most of the children in our practice are not prescribed psychotropic medications and some children are able to stop taking medication they were previously prescribed after participating in counseling.
I’m still not sure about this. I think my child will grow out of their issues anyway. How do I know this is anything serious?
Children will often go through phases and can grow out of issues, but that’s now always the case. Often, in a short period of time with the support of counseling, children “grow out” of something much sooner than they would without. Psychotherapists (myself included) are in this field to help others and to help you decide if your child needs counseling. We are happy to offer free consultations, answer any questions you have and help point you in the right direction. Feel free to contact us by phone or email if you are curious about the potential benefits of counseling for your child.

Sep 22, 2015

Going to the dentist has a bit of a stigma, perhaps. Add a small child to that equation and you may start to feel your anxiety climb. I know that I used to dread taking my kids on their first dental visits. We would have to load the kids up, drive way outside of my beloved Del Ray community and hike across town to get to a dentist that “got” kids. Fast forward six years and now there’s a Pediatric dentist office in Old Town that REALLY gets kids! Parker-Gray Pediatric Dental Care opened last year and has really made waves in our community.

Parker-Gray-Pediatrics-Hi-Res-6Every parent knows that the key to a successful dental visit for your kid is to make the child comfortable. Parker-Gray gets an A+ for creating an office space that can capture kids’ imaginations and help them to feel at ease. Their waiting room has play equipment for younger kids, video games for older kids and a massive fish tank to mesmerize the kid in all of us! The treatment area is just as inspired and has a sink area where kids can train to master good oral hygiene and get educational support for good dental health. The staff provides compassionate and complete oral care and is trained to work with the youngest of clients.

Dr V and Dr S The owners, Dr. Heidi Vatanka & Dr. Kesha Stephenson met while studying dentistry at Howard University and a shared passion for pediatric dentistry led them to open Parker-Gray Pediatric Dental Care.  (You may recognize Heidi as a mom that lives in Del Ray!)

Parker-Gray-Pediatrics-Hi-Res-4The office is located in a great historic building that was originally constructed in 1944 as a school for African-American children during WWII. You may recognize the newly remodeled building as you go through Old Town; it’s at 224 N. Fayette St. situated right next to a park – how perfect for a Pediatric Dentistry!

The office provides routine and emergency dental care and plans to expand into orthodontic care in the future. The staff recommends that children be brought in for their first dental visit as soon as their teeth start to come in. Call today at 703-519-7275 and set up your appointment to tour their practice. I promise you’ll be glad you did!

Sep 14, 2015

The Alexandria YMCA has a long history of serving local family. This past year they took another step forward and began offering daycare services. The YMCA has had a relationship for many years First Assembly of God, Alexandria at 700 West Braddock Road offering summer camps at their location. The preschool is located on the lower level of the facility. YMCA Camps are offered on upper levels of the facility. The YMCA Academy offers preschool for children 18 months through pre-K. They currently offer three classrooms with a low ratio of students to teachers.IMG_6856

The Academy’s goal is to provide a pre-school program designed to stimulate the natural curiosity of our kids. Through hands on fun learning activities, the Academy aims to lay the foundation for the future so that children grow to be caring, respectful, honest and responsible lifelong learners. IMG_6851The classrooms are large, spacious and colorful. Every quarter, the Academy offers either a parent lunch or special activity for the children. Children have the opportunity to take swim lessons and ballet lessons through the YMCA programming as a part of the program.

IMG_6852Access into the Academy is monitored via key code. Daily activity logs are given to parents and important information is communicated via email. Children have lots of outdoor space on First Assembly’s large lawns, a new outdoor leaning space is being designed that is set to officially open in October of this year and they have use of a large indoor space to play in the church during inclement weather. Hours of the Academy is from 7 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks are provided as part of student tuitions.IMG_6857
New for this school year the academy has expanded its age groupings from 6 weeks to preschool.

Be sure to check out the YMCA Academy. Call 703-838-8085 to get further information or contact Paloma Jimenez at

Jul 30, 2015

Do you have a child that loves to sing? The Del Ray Kinderchoir is launching it’s 2015/16 season and registration for children in grades 1 – 4.kinderchoirlogo

The choir was founded in January 2015 by Del Ray residents Kay Sidahmed and Paula Thomas. They have fond memories of their first childhood choir experiences, which led to a life-long love of singing.

From January through May of this year the 21 young choristers rehearsed out of Kay’s home and had a lovely recital at The Del Ray Artisans Gallery at the end of May. They were proud to present what they had learned and performed selections in six different languages.

The choir provides an opportunity for children in grades 1- 4 to experience the joy of group singing in a non-competitive environment, while striving for musical excellence. Children will sing from the rich offerings of American and international folk music as well as from classical repertoire.

Rehearsals include vocal exercises, sight singing, general musicianship, choral language and discipline, singing and dancing games. The Del Ray Kinderchoir rehearses every Thursday, starting September 10, 2015 form 4:30pm-5:30pm at Del Ray United Methodist Church.

The choir will be performing at Del Ray’s beloved Art on the Avenue festival on Saturday, October 3, 2015.

For more information and registration please visit