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May 18, 2024

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Science of Play for Little Ones

Learning fun? Kids are wired for it! Check out these hand-picked programs for tots.

Little ones from babies to preschoolers learn about the world around them through play. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) says guided play at young ages boosts language development and spatial skills. “Play provides a natural, comfortable setting for young children to develop,” says Kyle Snow, Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Research at the NAEYC. “All the greats in our field have said that play is children’s work, but it is also adult work. We in early education must better understand the role of play in the lives of young children,” he adds.

Research Backs it Up

Just observing your baby with blocks shows you that he's learning as he plays. But the latest research shows that play exercises the brain even more than that. Hundreds of scientific studies show that babies and young children think, draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations, and even do experiments. Always have plenty of play time at home for your little ones — without electronic devices on. And if you'd like to get your child out in the community (fun!) check out our handy list of local activities.


These unique offerings for wee ones offer educational fun in playful environments:

Fall Mini Makers

Little Art House 2104 Acklen Ave., Nashville 615-933-9644 This class lets ages 10 months – 4 years hear a story, create a work of art and then have time for sensory play. Each $8 class takes place Tue/Wed/Thu from 9 – 9:45 a.m.

Family Fun Labs

Adventure Science Center 800 Fort Negley Blvd., Nashville 615-862-5160 The new Family Fun Labs on the last Saturday of each month offer opportunities for you to go into deeper explorations. There are monthly themes with no registration required (included with museum admission). These casual, hands-on science labs allow you to drop in alone or with friends and family to enjoy a variety of activities in a range of levels to provide every guest with a chance to engage, create and learn something new. 

It Looks Like Play

Brentwood Library 8109 Concord Road, Brentwood 615-371-0090 Every Thursday from Sept. 6 – Oct. 11, ages 9 months – 4 years can engage in this free sensory program that delivers tactile experiences. Little ones can mix, pour, shape, tear and squish a variety of materials and substances. The program targets larger concepts of math, science, language and social development.


Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music 2400 Blakemore Ave., Nashville 615-322-7651 Blair’s Kindermusik fall classes are 45-minute sessions that run Sept. 5 – Dec. 13. Offering fall and spring classes for newborns, infants, toddlers and preschoolers (with Mom & Dad), little minds get lots of stimulation through songs, stories, dance, instrument play and more. Semesters are $435 per family.

Nature Play Days

The Wilderness Station 697 Veterans Pkwy., Murfreesboro 615-217-3017 These free play dates with Mother Nature are for little ones ages 1 & older with a parent. The program helps stimulate your child’s interest in learning to play with objects found in nature, and children have fun getting muddy along the way! It takes place Wednesdays, Sept. 12 – Oct. 10 at 11 a.m.

Preschool Song & Storytime

Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum 222 Fifth Ave. S., Nashville 615-416-2001 Taking place the third Sunday monthly, each installment gives ages 3 – 5 the opportunity to hear a story and create art inspired by the artists, artifacts and music featured in the galleries. Admission is free for kids, parents pay regular museum admission.


Discovery Center 502 S.E. Broad St., Murfreesboro 615-890-2300 SPARK (STEAM Play Achieves Real Knowledge) is a parent/tot program every Monday and Tuesday at 9 a.m. It includes art activities, music and movement, stories and hands-on activities for toddlers and preschoolers. Each week covers a different topic. Admission is $2 for the program in addition to the $8 gate.

Tuesdays for Tots

Cheekwood 1200 Forrest Park Drive Nashville • 615-356-8000 Ages 3 – 5 with parents can craft art projects every Tuesday from September – May. Ages 2 & younger are welcome and can have fun coloring. The drop-in class runs 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., and projects change weekly. Themes often tie to the museum’s or gardens’ current exhibits. Included with gate admission.

Wishing Chair Productions

Nashville Public Library 615 Church St., Nashville 615-862-5785 The Children’s Division of Nashville Public Library is a magical experience for little kids. Every Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30, 10:30 & 11:30 a.m. is perhaps the most popular storytime for tots who love joining the Professor, Library Pete and Mary Mary for 30 minutes of singing, juggling and book-reading delight. Little ones also love appearances by puppet pals like Tommy Dog and Jimmy Giraffe. Admission is free.

Zoo Tots

Nashville Zoo 3777 Nolensville Road, Nashville 615-833-1534 This six-week program in the fall and spring is for ages 2 – 5 years along with a parent. Kids learn about different animals like birds, furry friends, amphibians, invertebrates, reptiles and more. Furthermore, sessions include play experiences, art, songs, live animal encounters and more. Cost is $100 members, $125 non-members. The fall session is underway. Check back for dates for the spring session.      

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