Children’s Center opens new outdoor classroom

Betty BeanFeature

The Children’s Center of Knoxville is tucked into a woodsy setting on 301 Frank Street, a block off Sutherland Avenue on the Third Creek Greenway.

“In the heart of the impact zone,” said director Brittny Carroll.

This week, the center proudly unveiled the new outdoor classroom built for the kind of old-time playtime kids used to enjoy in their own back yards.

Old pots and pans and kitchen utensils hang on the fence within easy reach of a child’s grasp. There are stumps to sit on, dirt to dig, blocks to play with and a tarp on the ground so toddlers can crawl around. Toward the back of the space there’s an activity table with a clear plexiglass top that kids can get underneath to examine the bottom of objects above. It’s ten degrees cooler than the parking lot next to it.

“We believe that anything you can do inside, you can do outside,” Carroll said. “We believe in child-directed play – children learn best that way.”

Outdoor classroom at CCK

She credits Brad Burleson, who does double duty as a teacher and as marketing director at the center, with identifying the need in early 2017.

“We were seeing a trend of children who didn’t even know how to play outside,” she said. “So, we formulated the idea to encourage teachers and students to think outside the box.”

They started raising money through donations, and particularly through Pint Nights sponsored by River Sports, Hexagon Brewery and Pretentious Brewing, and ended up with the $7,000 they needed.

“It took a little bit of money and a whole lot of vision,” she said. “This is just a small drop in the bucket of what we want to do.”

The Children’s Center was opened in 1976 as the Knoxville Early Child Development Center Inc. by the United Way with help from Second Presbyterian Church, the Tennessee Valley Authority and Knox Children’s Foundation.

“The original board saw a need for quality child care for anyone who wanted to come,” Carroll said.

Today, the center serves 116 kids from two months of age to 5 years old and is open 52 weeks a year. Students come from all socio-economic backgrounds and fees are determined by a sliding scale. Additional funding comes from the United Way of Greater Knoxville, and food comes from the same USDA food program that Knox County Schools uses.

“We believe we are the best-kept daycare secret in Knoxville,” Carroll said.

Info:, or 865 523-2672.

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