I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
May 28, 2013
If you live in Nashville, chances are school is now out for summer and you’re wondering to yourself, WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH MY KIDS FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS?!!
Fear not, my friends. I started working on this list for my own family and figured I’d share it with the rest of you. We’ve either personally tried everything on this list or I’ve heard great things and WANTED to try it. I’m convinced there’s something on this list (probably LOTS of somethings) for absolutely everyone, on any budget.
Enjoy– and please add your own ideas in the comments- I’m always looking for fun new activities. And if you don’t live in the Nashville area, use this list as inspiration to find out what’s going on in your own town!
1. Make a picnic dinner and enjoy live family entertainment on Thursday nights in June and July during Cheekwood Botanical Garden’s Family Night Out program. (Here’s Cheekwood’s listing of upcoming family performances.) This is one of our favorite summer activities.
2 CHEAP: Take the kids to see a $1 family film, offered Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am, starting June 4 at the Green Hills Regal Cinemas. G-rated and PG-rated films are both available- Check the cinema’s website closer to the start date for movie listings. PRO TIP: Get there early (the theaters fill up fast) and choose the PG option if you can– The theater is typically at least a little quieter than the G-rated theater.
3. Drive an hour and a half from Nashville to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. It’s enormous and includes a wide range of inexpensive tours that are REALLY fun and interesting. Your kids will never forget visiting Mammoth Cave, and you won’t either. No need to beat the heat- It’s always nice and cool in the cave!
4.CHEAP: Do not miss the Nashville International Puppet Festival, June 21-23 at the downtown library. Tickets are only $2.50 each and must be purchased in advance- These puppet shows are amazing (the puppeteers come from around the world) and incredibly popular.
5. Load up the car and head to Watertown to see a movie at the Stardust— Middle Tennessee’s only authentic drive-in movie theater. It’s just like it was when you were a kid!
6. FREE: Sign up the kids for a Vacation Bible School. My friend Kelly has a list of some of them on her site. I can personally recommend the ones at Bellevue Presbyterian Church, Bellevue Baptist Church, Bellevue Church of Christ (keeping it local, y’all), and Grace Community Church. I’ve also heard Forest Hills Baptist Church’s VBS is fabulous. PRO TIP: Sign up in advance- Some of the more popular VBSs fill up completely. We learned this the hard way.
7. FREE: Visit the Nature Center at Warner Park. It has lots of nature-related games, toys, books and activities for kids to enjoy, and it’s a great way to get them out of the house for an hour or two on a hot or rainy day.
8. Cool off at Nashville Shores, a fantastic water park the whole family can enjoy.
9. Spend a few hours painting pottery at Brushfire Studio. It can be pricey, but my children really enjoy it and we generally end up going once or twice a year. Brushfire is also offering weekly day camps all summer long.
10. Take a day trip to The Discovery Center — an interactive children’s museum in Murfreesboro– It’s well worth the drive. Your kids can look at animals, learn about tadpoles, do all kinds of arts and crafts and play at countless indoor learning stations. My children absolutely LOVE this place. Check the Discovery Center’s schedule online to see what kinds of special programs are happening.
11. CHEAP: Get Happy Meals at the Green Hills McDonalds, which has a Play Place my six-year-old son LOVES.
12. Are you a YMCA member? The Y at Maryland Farms has an AMAZING, full-size kids pool that looks like a children’s water park. The pool includes a grill for lunches and snacks and on weekends, a DJ plays kid-friendly tunes pool side and holds contests and games throughout the day.
13. Take the whole family to a Nashville Sounds baseball game. Tickets aren’t terribly expensive and there’s lots of fun family entertainment between innings.
14. Sign your child up for a summer day camp— Here’s a great listing of what’s available. There are hundreds of day camps in the Nashville area- Some are full, but many still have a few spots open. We’ve done summer camps at Cheekwood, Nashville Children’s Theatre (love their Ensworth campus options, which save me a trip across town!), the Nashville Zoo, and Belle Meade Plantation and the kids had a blast!
15. FREE: Check out a loaner backpack at Warner Park’s Nature Center and hit one of the park’s two kids’ hiking trails. The backpacks are filled with all kinds of things to make your child’s hiking experience fun and informative. We’ve hiked the kids trails since my children could walk and it never gets old!
16. Read an age-appropriate biography of Andrew Jackson, then take the kids to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home. It’s amazing!
17. Spend a day at the Nashville Zoo– Keep cool with periodic stops at the playground, where a splash fountain will keep the kids wet and happy. The zoo has plenty of shady spots- On a super hot day, avoid the giraffe and elephant exhibits and you’ll be able to stay in the shade for most of your visit. Get more info at the zoo’s website.
18. Go to one of the many pick-your-own fruit farms in and around Nashville. My kids LOVE doing this and for us, it’s a great way to get them to try new fruits. Here’s a full listing of pick-your-own farms in Middle Tennessee.
19. Rainy day? One of our favorite things to do is head over to Cheekwood’s historic mansion for an indoor scavenger hunt. Grab directions at the front desk (they have an outdoor scavenger hunt map, too) and hunt through the house to find all the items on the map.
20. Spend the day exploring at the ginormous Opryland Resort. Travel the many paths through three elaborate atriums, take a riverboat ride, watch the stunning Aqua Fountain Show, feast on ice cream, and enjoy lunch at one of the hotel’s many restaurants (With kids in tow, we like -‘Stax’– a build your own burger joint. We get our meals and walk over to tables right beside the fountain show.) PRO TIP: Wait until your children are old enough to walk on their own- This hotel is not stroller friendly! Also, valet parking is super expensive here- Self-park if you possibly can.
21. FREE: Take the kids to the downtown library Tuesday or Wednesday at 9:30, 10:30 or 11:30 for the best storytime EVER. It includes puppets, songs, juggling, and stories and it’s totally free! On Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 or 11:30, head to the downtown library for a weekly marionette show, featuring puppets from Tom Tichenor’s extensive collection. Check the library website to see what’s playing each week.
22. CHEAP: Make reservations to attend a Telescope Night the second Friday of each month at Dyer Observatory. This summer, Telescope Nights are June 14, July 12, and August 9. No admission cost, but there is a $10 parking fee. Make your reservations and learn more about Dyer Observatory here.
23. Head to Opry Mills for a very special lunch at kid favorites Aquarium or Rainforest Cafe and an IMAX movie. Plan ahead by checking out the mall’s website.
24. For indoor fun, take the kids to Adventure Science Center. Climb the Adventure Tower, check out the human body exhibit, or check out the new Mazes exhibit, which includes more than 60 puzzles and full-body games.
25. FREE: Head downtown to the brand new Cumberland Park by the riverfront, which includes a creative play experience for kids and adults like you’ve never seen before. Features include play equipment for children, spray-grounds and water jets, bridges, climbing walls, and unique paths winding through landscaped gardens.
26. Got a budding artist in your family? Don’t miss the Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery, which includes 30 interactive stations designed to give kids a hands-on appreciation of art. It’s super fun!
27. Keep the kids moving with a trip to Sky High Sports, an amazing indoor trampoline gym that you just have to see to believe. It’s $12 for an hour of jumping, but I’m guessing from experience that your children will be completely exhausted after just one hour!
28. FREE: Put the kids in swimsuits and head to Bicentennial Mall, where the Rivers of Tennessee fountains have FINALLY re-opened!
Once the kids have had their fun, stroll through the outdoor Farmer’s Market next door and pick up local fruits, vegetables, bread, meat and cheese for your family meals. We like to do this several times throughout the summer!
29. FREE: Sign up for one of the many special programs on the summer schedule at Warner Park in Bellevue or Beaman Park in nearby Fairview. Events on the summer schedule include night hikes, an owl prowl, International Mud Day, and a fishing expedition where kids make poles out of bamboo and learn how to fish on the banks of the Harpeth. PRO TIP: Spots fill up fast for these programs- Mark your calendar for the day registration opens and call that day to ensure you get a spot.
30. Relax while your kids play at Monkey Joe’s in Cool Springs. They’ll have fun bouncing around in the inflatables while you read, watch TV or work on your computer (Monkey Joe’s has free wi-fi). This is a great place to get a little work done this summer without feeling guilty.
31. FREE: Head to your local library branch and let the kids check out a few DVDs. I only allow my children to check out DVDs in the summer, so that it’s a treat. Then we spend the afternoon watching what we’ve brought home.
32. Take a day trip to historic Lynchburg, home of the famous Jack Daniels Distillery, a quaint and charming downtown, and my favorite, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House restaurant. Now in its 100th year of operation, you’ll sit at a large table with a hostess and enjoy the most amazing family-style southern food EVER. (You must make reservations in advance.) We took my older girls when they were 8 and 10 and had a great time enjoying lunch, window shopping downtown, and going on the distillery tour, which even they found interesting.
33. FREE: Load up the bikes and go riding on one of Nashville’s Greenways. There are more than 190 miles of trails in Davidson County.
34. Enjoy a nature cruise on the Cumberland River with Blue Heron Cruises in Ashland City. Cruises depart from Riverbluff Park three times a day.
35. Rent canoes or kayaks from Tip-a-Canoe and enjoy a lazy 2 or 4-hour float down the very tame Harpeth River. You’ll see some amazing wildlife!
36. FREE: Hike the forest trails at Radnor Lake State Park, which are filled with interesting wildlfe. Be sure and print out the park’s educational brochures on amphibians and reptiles before you go, so that your kids can be on the lookout for them.
37. Tour historic Mansker’s Station, where your kids can experience what life was like on the Tennessee frontier during the 18th century. Tours run daily Monday-Friday and cover two areas: reconstructed Mansker’s Fort and the historic Bowen’s House, which was built in 1787. Got small children? Come Fridays from 10-11 for Pioneer Pals, special activities geared toward younger kids. PRO TIP: Got a AAA card? You’ll get a discount on admission!
38. Go old school at the Brentwood Skate Center, which looks exactly like the skating rinks we went to as kids. Don’t worry if your kids aren’t skaters- The skate center has walkers on wheels, which help them get the feel of skating without hurting themselves. Got little ones? Opt for the Saturday morning skate for kids 8 and under, from 9:30-11am.
39. Introduce your children to the stars and planets at one of the fun daily shows at Sudekum Planetarium. My kids have just started becoming interested in the night sky, so this is a must-do for us this summer.
40. Take a kid-friendly walking tour through historic Franklin. The ‘I Spy Tour’ is a scavenger hunt where kids count objects and find dates, make a brass rubbing, learn about and draw historical doors, and look for architectural details on buildings around the Square and down Main Street. And the family-friendly Haunted Franklin tour is offered nightly and sounds right up our alley!
41. FREE: Find a creek and let the kids cool off in it. We’re partial to the one at Warner Park.
42. Cool off at the ice skating rink at Centennial Sportsplex.
43. Introduce your kids to mini-golf at Grand Old Golf, near Opryland Hotel. My children are just now at the age where this would be really fun, so I think we’re going to have to do it one evening this summer!
44. Check out a kids movie every Saturday at 10am at the historic Belcourt Theatre in Hillsboro Village. Afterward, head over to Hot & Cold across the street for a deliciously unusual Las Paletas popsicle.
45. Give each of your kids $5 to spend (or bring their old books to trade in) at McKay Used Bookstore, then take them to a coffee shop for a cold drink and some reading time.
46. Spend a Friday night at Cheekwood this summer and enjoy Bruce Munro’s amazing LIGHT display. Friday nights, the gardens are open until 11pm and live music will be playing in several locations throughout the garden.
47. Enjoy what’s got to be the best ice cream IN THE WORLD at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in East Nashville (1892 Eastland Avenue). There’s usually a line, but there’s also a place for kids to sit and draw on a chalkboard wall while they wait.
48. Let your little ones blow off some steam while you relax with a book or iPad at The Monkey’s Treehouse in Cool Springs.
49. CHEAP: Get crafty on Saturday mornings at Michaels Kids Club arts and crafts. Did you know that Michaels stores have a special craft for kids to make in the store’s classroom every Saturday morning? For just $2 per child, you can drop in between 10am and 12pm and let them create– and I have to admit, the crafts are pretty awesome! See what your local store is making this month by checking the schedule here.
50. FREE: Got dogs? Round them up for a trip to one of Nashville’s dog parks, and get the kids AND the pets some exercise!