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A Mom's Guide to Jackson with Little Ones

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A Mom's Guide to Jackson with Little Ones

Guest Contributor

 

This piece was originally published in the April - July 2017 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Journal.


I’ve been a mom for over four years now. While there are few things that four years will make you an expert at, I’d say I’ve earned a mom badge or two. I’ve also had my fair share of epic mom fails. Whether you’ve put parts of your own life on hold to stay home with your children or you’re negotiating the difficult balance between being a career woman and a mabypasma (or maybe you’re like me with one leg in each camp trying to do both but mostly just doing an uncoordinated split), this article is for you. Sometimes all you need is a fresh idea, a new spot, or a break in the routine to move things in the right direction. Whether you’re looking for better time spent with your little ones or are just reaching for a lifeline until naptime, Jackson’s got you covered. 


Story time

Reading to your little ones is one of the most effective things you can do as a parent. So any time my kids’ “entertainment” is centered around a good book, I call it a win. Thankfully Jackson has weekly opportunities for story time!

 

Reading Time at the Casey Jones Railroad Museum

Location: 30 Casey Jones Lane
Time: Wednesday at 10:00 A.M.
Cost: Free & open to the public
Contact: caseyjones.com/museum | 731.668.1222

 Every Wednesday, Jackson kids are invited to story time inside the train museum at Casey Jones Village. Just get on the bypass and look for the big red caboose in the sky, and you’ll find your way. Kids can play on the train tables, send the model train around the track, or pay a quarter to bounce around in the stationary train ride as everyone arrives.

About fifteen minutes in, Mrs. Judy calls everyone over to the story time stage that’s painted in an elaborate Thomas the Train mural. Mrs. Judy is a retired school teacher with the sweetest voice you’ve probably ever heard, which makes her the perfect story time reader. She starts with a few songs to settle the crowd, then reads a book or two. Finally, everyone is invited to tables covered in drawing paper for a simple craft and light snack. 

All that sounds great (and it is), but the best part happens at the end. Right after snack time, they move the velvet rope and allow kids and their parents to slip out the back door. Stepping through that door takes you back in time. Suddenly, you’re at an old-fashioned train depot and there’s an antique train right in front of you. 

The kids can adventure through the different carts, taking on the role of conductor, coal scooper, and passenger. It’s all fenced in, so meanwhile you can sit on the bench and pretend you’re a fancy lady with time for a crossword puzzle while you wait for your train to take you someplace quiet where children never whine and noses never run.

Pro Tip: Climb the risers and sit at the top if you have a little one that might be distracted by the train table during the story.  

 
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Mommy & Me at the Augustine School

Location: 1171 Old Humboldt Road (in library)
Time: Last Friday of the month* at 10:00 A.M.
Cost: Free & open to the public
Contact: augustineschool.org | 731.660.6822

Augustine School is a classical Christian school known for its prioritization of reading. To that end, they provide a monthly story time for children ages 2-4 (siblings welcome). Don’t let the alliteration fool you—dads and grandparents are welcome at Mommy & Me, too!

It’s clear that the Augustine staff spends a lot of time choosing a great book with rich language, a memorable plot, and excellent illustrations. The craft is always on-theme and set up for parents to work with their child. Not only do they provide a healthy snack for the kiddos, but moms can always count on a hot cup of coffee and a seasonal treat just for them as well. Added bonus: Augustine School opens their playground for M&M-ers for half an hour after story time, making it worth the effort of getting yourself and your children dressed and out the door for the morning.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to register on your way in because they use the cards to give that month’s book away to one lucky child!

*Some exceptions.

 

Story Time at the Jackson-Madison County Library

Location: 433 East Lafayette Street | 8 Stonebridge Boulevard
Time: Tuesday & Friday at 10:30 A.M. (downtown) | Thursday at 10:30 A.M. (north branch)
Cost: Free & open to the public
Contact: jmclibrary.org | 731.425.8600

Chances are good that if you wake up looking for a spontaneous outing with the kids, the public library is hosting story time. One of the major benefits of story time at the library is its sheer frequency, offered three times a week at varying locations. The downtown library offers a great children’s section where parents and kids can spend an hour singing songs, participating in read-alouds, and making crafts. After story time, be sure to check out all the other resources the library has to offer including audiobooks, family DVDs, and more.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to get a library card while you’re there! You’ll need your ID and proof that you live, work, or attend school full-time in Madison County. 


Get outside

There is unending inspiration to be found and lessons to be learned in the great outdoors, especially for young children. Foster that appetite for discovery with some of Jackson’s outdoor gems.

 

Cypress Grove Nature Park

Location: 866 Airways Boulevard
Time: Open daily 8:00 A.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Cost: Free & open to the public
Contact: 731.425.8364

If you’re looking for a low-key outdoor adventure, Cypress Grove is your spot. The park offers an otherworldly atmosphere that’s sure to stir up a sense of wonder in your little ones. You’ll definitely want a stroller or carrier for anyone who might get tired along the over-a-mile-long walk. It’s easy to get in and out as you pass minimally-caged hawks, eagles, owls, and raptors (of the bird kind). There’s also a gazebo along the way that provides a great spot for a snack break.

The entire path at Cypress Grove is a raised boardwalk that winds through a thick forest of indigenous trees. The boardwalk comes to a head at a small lake where you can spot exotic birds from the pier or the two-story birdwatching pavilion. I find that this is a great place to relax, reload the snacks, and then head back the way you came when the kids are ready. 

Pro Tip: You won’t have to worry about sunscreen since the entire path is under thick shade, but do not forget the bug spray! It’s beautiful, but it can also be humid. 

 

Pine Hill Park

Location: 166 Three Way Lane (Three Way, 38343)
Time: Open daily, sunrise to sunset
Cost: Free & open to the public

Okay, technically this one is outside the Jackson city limits, but it’s definitely worth it. Head north on the 45 Bypass, and start looking for flag poles on your right as soon as you pass the Milan exit because this park can sneak up on you. Pine Hill Park has been described as a hidden gem, and that’s exactly how I felt the first time I took my kids there.

There’s a nice playground with partial shade, but what makes this park special is what you find beyond the playground pebbles: a serene nature experience. There’s a pond where stones can be skipped and frogs can be found, and it’s quiet—surprisingly quiet for being right off the bypass. Once you’ve had your fill of fresh air, take the paved walking path back up to the playground. (Or do a few laps on your bike or scooter. Hope you remembered your Fitbit, Mom!)

Pro Tip: The park has a large covered pavilion with picnic tables and restrooms right in between the playground and pond, making it a great place for meeting up with friends or hosting an event. 

 
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Pinson Mounds State Park

Location: 460 Ozier Road (Pinson, 38366)
Time: Open Monday - Saturday, 8:00 A.M. - 4:30 P.M., Sunday, 1:00 P.M. - 4:30 P.M.
Cost: Free & open to the public
Contact: 731.988.5614

Load up the children and drive just past south Jackson to enjoy our very own state archeological park. Pinson Mounds is made up of 500+ acres of natural preserves with long, paved pathways and Native American burial grounds. Much of the history of this place and the civilizations it represents will be lost on the little ones, but I always make it a point to start and end our trip in the museum, exposing my kids to the pictures, drawings, and artifacts (and restrooms!) inside. Parking is very convenient on the side of the building where you can pull right up to the trailhead. I’ll be honest, the trails can be somewhat tricky to follow once you’re out there, (maybe it’s my kids running in opposite directions that makes that difficult) so make sure you check the map on your way in.

Pinson Mounds is a nature park, and that is what it offers: nature. Much of its charm is in its simplicity. While I want my children to be completely satisfied with finding beautiful leaves, listening to unfamiliar sounds, and getting dirt under their fingernails, I also know that in a park like this they may need some extra-curricular activities, so here’s what I suggest: bring bikes, strollers, and scooters to ride the blacktop paths! Or stow some watercolor paints and pads so that you can spread a blanket in a pretty spot and paint what you see. Every mom knows to have snacks locked and loaded at all times, but Pinson Mounds is great for a full-on picnic lunch. Maybe they’ll notice that pretty little wildflower while they’re chowing down on the PB&J.

Finally, whatever you do, do not miss Saul’s Mound! It’s the tallest mound in the park and right at the beginning of the trail. Tell your kiddos about the Native Americans building it with basket after basket of dirt as you climb the stairs to the top. The last step opens up to a treetop pavilion that offers a scenic view. Hopefully you didn’t leave your snacks down below because this is a great place to linger for a bit and take it all in. 

Pro Tip: At the museum, ask one of the staffers if you can see their pet snake. She’s not on public display, but they get excited to show her off and let the kids pet her. Eeek! 


Rainy Days

For the days when the rain won’t go away, or if it’s just too hot or cold to play outside, or you just want the plain and simple containment an indoor space offers—Jackson won’t let you down. 

 

Open Gym at Glory Gymnastics Center

Location: 127 Bowling Drive
Time: Friday from 9:00 A.M. - 11:00 A.M.
Cost: $1 per age of child
Contact: glorygymnastics.com | 731.424.5437

Our family loves going to Open Gym at Glory Gymnastics. Every Friday, they open their doors for a co-play experience for parents and young children. You can pop in between 9:00 and 11:00 A.M. to swing on the ropes, use the tumble equipment, bounce on trampolines, balance on low beams, and more. There is a small fee associated with this one, but at $1 per the age of your child, it’s very affordable.

Glory Gymnastic staffers are on-site, but this is not a sit-back-and-watch kind of experience. You’ll need to be supervising your children as they play, but I’ve always been able to do this with an infant strapped on. There’s a good-sized crowd with lots of regulars at Open Gym, so it’s a great event to get out of the house, socialize, and wear them out (if you know what I mean). Don’t forget to stick around until the end when the Glory Gymnastics staff pulls out the giant parachute for a few organized games before saying goodbye.

Pro Tip: This is a shoes-off event, so make sure your kids’ (and your) socks match! (Not speaking from experience here.) 

 

Old Hickory Mall Indoor Playground

Location: 2021 North Highland Avenue
Time: Open daily 10:00 A.M. - 9:00 P.M.
Cost: Free & open to the public
Contact: shopoldhickorymall.com | 731.664.5319

I’ve doubled my Old Hickory Mall attendance this year, and it wasn’t even for the shopping! If you enter the mall through the Belk entrance and head toward the food court, you’ll run right into an indoor jungle ready for your little ones to jump, climb, and play all over. The soft, stationary structures leave ample room for creativity and imaginative play as children scale rainforest trees and tame lions in socked feet. The playground is well-maintained and entirely enclosed, so it’s easy for moms to relax on the booth-like benches without losing sight of the little ones. Don’t forget that Chick-fil-A is right across the food court waiting to reward everyone for their efforts with fried chicken and kids’ meal toys that you can trade in for ice cream. (It’s the little things in life!)

Pro Tip: Use the bathroom on your way in! There isn’t one terribly convenient to the playground.  

 

Sky Zone Toddler Time

Location: 65 East Park Square
Time: Tuesday - Friday at 11:00 A.M. | Saturday at 9:00 A.M.
Cost: $10 + $5 per each additional child* ($2 for socks)
Contact: skyzone.com/jackson | 731.868.4418

Looking to burn off some energy but can’t go outside? Why not head to Sky Zone for Toddler Time? If you’ve experienced Jackson’s trampoline park before, you know that it offers great physical fun as you play trampoline dodgeball, flip into the foam pit, and slam dunk like the pros. If you’ve ever brought your toddler or preschooler to free jump though, you know that it can be a bit like sending them off to war and praying that they make it out alive. Sky Zone has solved this problem by creating a special time just for parents and toddlers, free of those dangerous big kids! (Sorry, big kids.) Be advised: this one is a bit of an investment, but the long nap you’ll get out of it afterwards will pay you back in full. 

Pro Tip: If you’ve got an infant in the mix, you’ll want to find a babysitter. Toddler Time is meant to be a time for you to jump with your kids, and this is not baby carrier-friendly!

*Children 5 and under only


Abby Helms is a Jackson native, graduating from Madison Academic and then Union University in 2010 where she studied graphic design and art education. After college, Abby moved to New Jersey where she met her husband Paul and learned to speak without a Southern accent. After a few years in the Northeast, Abby and her family moved back to her hometown to raise their three children: Silas, Ollie, and Lewis. She currently works as the marketing director and art teacher at the Augustine School, and has started using "y'all" again.