WHO: Ginessa (Mom) and her six children: Simeon (10), Judah (8), Eden (6), Elias (4), Selah (2) and Tobias (3 months)
WHAT: Storybook Houses
WHERE: Cheekwood: 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville
WHEN: Through Sunday, Sept. 1 (Tue - Sun 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.)
ADMISSION: $20 adults, $13 ages 3 - 17, free ages 2 & younger; parking is $5
INFO: 615-356-8000 | cheekwood.org

Summer is officially here, and if your kiddos are like mine they are looking forward to more time spent in the great outdoors. Cheekwood Estate and Gardens is the perfect place to take advantage of those long summer days with it’s unique mix of education, nature and interactive play.

From now until Sunday, Sept. 1, your children have the opportunity to explore and take in an exciting, brand-new exhibit called Storybook Houses.  Each house has been creatively designed with children in mind to reflect and celebrate five of the world’s most lovable children’s books and their illustrators.

As soon as you drive through Cheekwood’s gates, you’ll immediately take in the serene atmosphere of the gardens. Parking is convenient and there is a designated parking lot located directly to your right, or you can try finding additional parking spaces along the sidewalk as soon as you pass the Visitor Services building.

We had no trouble finding a space on a weekday afternoon and carefully unloaded our kiddos along with our stroller for our infant. Our children were quick to spot the large  houses as we drove in and were eager to go explore their first one.

All five of the storybook house exhibits are conveniently located toward the Visitor Services building and not far from the main entrance to the gardens. This was especially helpful for my crew when it was time for restroom breaks. My husband and I alternated taking our children back and forth, while the others continued playing at the houses.

HILL TOP GARDEN

Our first home to explore was “Hill Top Garden” inspired by Beatrix Potter. Upon seeing it for the first time, I quickly realized that the construction and attention to detail is not only fascinating for children, but for parents and caregivers as well. I fell in love with all of the beautiful details, craftsmanship and fun props used to bring the Peter Rabbit story to life.

My children played a good 20 minutes at this first house before being prompted to go explore the next one. I really felt like they could’ve stayed even longer had we not been so excited to see the rest. During our time at “Hill Top,” the kids pushed the wheelbarrow around, “cooked” plenty of imaginative meals in its adorable kitchen, took turns riding the wooden seesaw, and crawled in and out of the rabbits’ tunnel. It was just that good! 

CHARLOTTE'S BARN

The second house we explored was “Charlotte’s Barn,” drawing inspiration from Garth Williams' illustrations in Charlotte's Web. The darling, large red barn with its huge, curvy green slide and climbing “web” net was a huge draw for all of my children. My older boys raced over to it to see who would make it to the top while our younger kids took turns “riding” a large, lovable statue of Wilbur the pig. It is so fun to see how the architects and designers incorporated so many themed-elements into the actual design. It really makes all of these stories come to life!

WE ARE WILD

Next up, is one of my children's favorites! “We Are Wild” based on Maurice Sendak's extremely popular book, Where the Wild Things Are. This was an easily recognizable exhibit that once again allowed my children to reflect on one of their favorite stories. There were two designated play spaces to this particular exhibit including a fun, wooden boat that my younger kids especially loved. All of the houses feature a safe play space with plenty of mulch and lots of activities for children of all ages. They are also built to foster hours of adult-child interaction and are large and sturdy enough for adults in case you need to assist your child.

OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL PLAY

Down a short path from "We are the Wild" is a bright, colorful play space dedicated to the one and only Dr. Seuss. The “Oh, The Places You’ll Play”  house is complete with a climbing wall and many musical elements such as bells and cymbals that add to this house's whimsy. If your child has sensory needs, like some of our children do, in which loud environments overwhelm them, it's important to note that this particular storybook house can get loud. Depending on how many children are playing at the time, you may need to consider some respite nearby at the quiet, peaceful Herb Garden, then revisit the Seuss house when it is less crowded. All in all, this house provides lots of fun while allowing children to actively engage the play space using their energy climbing, crawling and enjoying the area.

TRAINS!

Finally, we took a stroll over to Cheekwood’s long-standing and extremely popular Trains! exhibit. We have had the opportunity to take our children to this exhibit a number of times over the years, and there is no question that it is woven into the heart and fabric of all imaginative play at Cheekwood. It is the one exhibit that year after year remains the same and has found an endearing spot in the minds and hearts of visitors of all ages. The beautiful, intricate wooden train tracks now have an additional adjoining play area that is part of the Trains! exhibit. A wonderfully constructed large wooden train is the perfect place for little conductors to explore. My kids love the Trains! exhibit no matter the season. It consistently remains a feature they look forward to whenever we visit Cheekwood. The addition of the life-sized Storybook Houses train is definitely icing on the cake!

MORE TO EXPLORE

We finished up our visit with a snack, following a brisk walk to the Robinson Family Gardens and Ponds. If you are in the mood for lunch, check out Café 29 on the grounds.  You can also bring a picnic lunch to enjoy. There are plenty of garden benches, tons of shade and picnic tables near the pond. It was there that I was reminded of just how much Cheekwood has to offer. Seeing our children get excited about the discovery of a frog or turtle, or watching them sit with each other on the edge of the pond, was proof of how beneficial such a beautiful and engaging environment like Cheekwood is to their development.

With Storybook Houses running through the summer months up until September, our family is seriously considering a membership at Cheekwood. There are so many gorgeous seasonal offerings, and it will be fun to plan some designated days to explore not only the wonderful Storybook Houses but the beautiful museum and gardens as well.

Cheekwood has outdone itself with this new exhibit! I cannot recommend the Storybook Houses exhibit enough. What a wonderful way to foster a love for reading with some of our own childhood favorites while watching our children fall in love with them, too. Cheekwood's Storybook Houses certainly brings out the “kid at heart” in each visitor. The experience allows you to re-imagine and experience the magic of timeless classics through the eyes of your child.