Best of Nashville 2009: Kids 

Best Alternative to Saturday Morning Cartoons:
Olde World Theatre Company
There are a number of wonderful children's events on Saturday mornings, but perhaps the brightest of options are performances by the Olde World Theatre Company at The Belcourt. The local theatre troupe performs their take on classic children's stories such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty, bringing a zaniness worthy of Looney Tunes or Animaniacs to their performances with funny asides and knowledgeable, on-target local references. (In The Wizard of Oz, for instance, when the grouchy apple trees refuse to share their fruit with Dorothy, the Scarecrow threatens to call NES.) But in addition to being sharp, funny and clever, the performances are full of heart. Although there really is no place like home, the Olde World Theatre Company makes it worth leaving early on some Saturday morning. Tickets are just $6 per person and the shows are rollicking events, including both adult and children performers and calling for plenty of audience participation. Hansel and Gretel is up next for the company; the show opens Oct. 24. Call 300-0374 for more information. GALYN GLICK MARTIN & LINDSAY FERRIER Best Free Program for Kids:

Best Free Program for Kids:
Children's Classes, Warner Parks Nature Center
The park offers several programs each month for children ages 3 and up. Led by enthusiastic park naturalists, kids go on hikes, do craft projects and are introduced to everything from hummingbirds to snowflakes to skunks, depending on what's seasonally appropriate. Call 352-6299 for more information or pick up a program schedule at the Warner Parks Nature Center. LINDSAY FERRIER

Best Place to Take an Emergency Nap:
The Monkey's Treehouse
For just $7.50 per child, you can let your rugrats play to their hearts' content while you doze, read or work on your computer in one of the indoor playcenter's many overstuffed armchairs. Neurotic mommies will be pleased to note that toys at The Monkey's Treehouse all are educational and top of the line—and I don't think I've ever managed to leave the place without at least one of my children bursting into tears, even after hours of playtime. The Monkey's Treehouse is located on Hwy 100 in Bellevue. Call 646-5002 for more information. LINDSAY FERRIER

Best Way to Get Kids to Eat Their Veggies:
Farmers' Markets
Forget Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious cookbook with tips on how to sneak vegetables into children's mac-n-cheese or mashed potatoes. A regular trip to the Franklin Farmer's Market (or any local farmers' market for that matter) is the best solution, and you don't even have to be tricky. Outside of the grocery store setting, kids are drawn to the rainbow colors in local produce—purple Muscadine grapes, yellow and green zephyr squash, indigo blueberries, scarlet tomatoes—and they develop relationships with the farmers and their families. After visiting the Delvins' farm and seeing where the vegetables come from, or getting to know Jim and Julie Vaughn's young boys, who have "helped" their parents' farm since they could walk, children connect those pleasant experiences to food and community, and their world is a bigger place. And while you're at the Franklin Farmers' Market, be sure to feed them one of Mrs. Norton's chocolate zucchini muffins—they'll never know the difference. GALYN GLICK MARTIN

Best Plan B When the Babysitter Cancels:
Pied Piper Eatery
My husband and I had no idea what a treat we were in for when we took the kids to Pied Piper Eatery for dinner. As soon as our children spotted the restaurant's train table, books and toys in one corner, they deserted us, and Hubs and I found ourselves with some unexpected peace and quiet while waiting for our (absolutely delicious) Monte Cristo sandwiches to arrive. Now, the kids are begging to go back—and so am I. Pied Piper Eatery is located at 1601 Riverside Drive in East Nashville. LINDSAY FERRIER

Best Photo Op (Whole Family):
Cheekwood Botanical Gardens
If you haven't been to Cheekwood, you're missing out on what's undoubtedly the most beautiful outdoor spot in all of Nashville. It's filled with magical gardens, extraordinary sculptures, fairytale forests and a grand stone mansion, and you and your kids will love exploring all that Cheekwood has to offer. Whatever you do, don't forget the camera. All my favorite photos of the family were taken at Cheekwood. For more information, check out www.cheekwood.org. LINDSAY FERRIER

Best Photo Op (Kids Only):
Fannie Mae Dees Park
Images of Minnie Pearl, mermaids, ships, crabs, clowns and countless other objects and animals festoon the the sea serpent (now known as the Dragon) in Fannie Mae Dees Park (now known as Dragon Park). In the 1970s, when Pedro Silva was commissioned to create a sculpture on the playground at Fannie Mae Dees, the park was nothing. Silva’s work involved the community, and all the local kids wanted to put a mosaic on the sea serpent. Now those children’s children clamber over and under the vibrant sculpture, happily at play in one of their favorite settings. Photos taken here have a dreamy quality—you can almost capture imagination in pixels. GALYN GLICK MARTIN

Best Hands-on Art Encounter:
ArtQuest Gallery, The Frist Center
Take the kids in for a couple of hours and leave with a dozen mini-masterpieces. The ArtQuest Gallery for children has multiple hands-on stations where kids can paint, sketch, make collages and try their hand at other artistic activities. Best of all, you get to take everything home with you at the end of your visit. Children under 18 always get in free at the Frist, and Sunday, Oct.18, is the museum's next Free Family Day. LINDSAY FERRIER

Best Alternative to The Nutcracker:
Centennial Youth Ballet's MiniNutcracker
If you can't get (or afford) tickets to the Nashville Ballet's lavish production of The Nutcracker at TPAC each year, Metro Parks' Centennial Youth Ballet features some of Nashville's best and brightest budding dancers in a Nutcracker performance created specifically for its young audience. Go once and I guarantee it will become an annual family tradition. Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 dollars for children, and go on sale starting Nov. 10; the show runs the first weekend of December in Harpeth Hall School's auditorium. Call 862-8439 for more information. LINDSAY FERRIER

Best Local Children's Book:
Mark North's The Day Anthony Counted to a Googol
Next time you catch sight of Mark North on a televised Metro School Board meeting, see if you can tell if he's quietly counting. School Board rep North recently self-published a children's book about a boy who counted to a googol—that's a 1 followed by 100 zeroes. How long would it take to count to a googol? Just ask Anthony, the title character, who counts and counts and counts until—he says—he finally gets there. But author North, an ever-pragmatic attorney by day, points out that a googol is so high that there's not even anything in the world of which there actually is a googol. Not even blades of grass or fire ants or grains of sand. The book seems to spark the curiosity of little boys, who want to count and count and count...until next thing you know, they're reading! CARRINGTON FOX

Best Bilingual Children's Activity:
Chinese Summer Blast
Lion dancing, origami, language lessons, calligraphy and art classes are just a few of the activities at the Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville's intensive weeklong summer program for young kids, co-sponsored by Nashville Chinese School and Metro Nashville Arts Commission. Don't expect your first grader to come home chattering in fluent Mandarin, but, hell, if a 6-year-old says anything with as much enthusiasm as Chinese Summer Blast sparks, who cares what language he's speaking? CARRINGTON FOX

Best Employer-Sponsored Daycare:
Vanderbilt Child Care Center
Vanderbilt is the largest private employer in Middle Tennessee, and one of its best benefits is its employer-sponsored daycare. In addition to potty-training and social niceties (no hitting or biting allowed), children at Vanderbilt Child Care Center learn about everything from Caldecott and Newbery Medal winners to world geography. On any given day, teachers might give an in-class performance of Green Eggs and Ham, or teach children how to make applesauce, or let toddlers fingerpaint with shaving cream. An added bonus is the families whose children attend. The international mix of students adds to imaginative play—4-year-old Hindu gods and goddesses play with Spidermen, SuperGirls and Cinderellas, and the family-night potlucks provide some of the best food in town. GALYN GLICK MARTIN

Best Way to Relive Your Nashville Childhood:
Centennial Park/Elliston Soda Shop/Phillips Toy Mart
Visit Centennial Park with a loaf of white bread to feed the ducks. Try not to be too petrified when 8 million ducks, seven ugly geese, 20 pigeons and four calling birds swarm around clamoring for your Bunny Bread. Remember, you are no longer 3 feet tall—and you can run if necessary. All that work has made you thirsty, so drive to the Elliston Place Soda Shop, where you must order a milkshake. Then head over to Belle Meade's Clarendon Avenue, which dips down into Richland Creek. Pause in the road in the middle of the creek. Open the doors for a minute and watch the water run under the car. A road! In a creek! That you can drive through! (Disclaimer: Only do this if the water is less than 6 inches deep.) Coooool. Last, but certainly not least, visit Phillips Toy Mart, where you can watch the model train race around the track—and if you're really, really good, maybe get a toy. GALYN GLICK MARTIN

Best Way to Burn Energy:
The Allée, Percy Warner Park
Children won't care that Bryant Fleming, a renowned landscape architect (who also designed Cheekwood's gardens), designed the steep allée that overlooks The Boulevard. But they will marvel at his work. And they will burn countless joules of energy climbing—no, bounding—up the long, oddly spaced steps that lead to the top of the hill. The allée is mysterious, worthy of exploring, and a grand gesture at taming the aesthetics of the natural world. And hiking to the top to see the view will tame the wildest child—though you might have to do it one or two more times. GALYN GLICK MARTIN

Best Place for Old-Fashioned Childrens' Clothing
Helen's Children's Shop
Not quite ready for that Gap denim jacket or a bedazzled princess onesie when baby's only 8 months old? Get pretty, modest, well-made clothing in classic looks of yore, like smocked dresses and jon jons for about what that Ed Hardy diaper bag cost. Plus grab perfect last-minute, oneupmanship kinds of baby gifts, too, like handmade angel pillows and monogrammed blankets. Dresses for special occasions and overcoats may run conveniently up to size 16, but good luck getting an 11-year-old girl into a smocked dress once she hears the Jonas Brothers are moving to town. Hey, it's just a rumor. Nicki P. Wood

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