Maria Montessori said “play is the work of the child.” She understood that, through play, children are able to develop a variety of important skills, process their feelings, and learn about their environment.

Montessori style play allows the child to work on important skills such as fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving skills, concentration, independence, and so on. The play space is typically minimalistic so that children can easily see what options they have for play, keeps things within reach of the child, and has open space for movement. Many Montessori style play spaces use wooden and fabric toys, free from batteries and flashing lights or computerized sounds. Many Montessori style play spaces also create a familiar environment by having things from everyday life accessible. Maybe there is an area set up like a kitchen or restaurant, a garden area, a post office, a market, or even a fire station. Toys enable children to act out the life they see played out in front of them.

nido montessori play mount juliet tennesseeAs more and more parents get exposed to this style of play, they see the benefits that these simpler spaces have for their children’s development. And when the children are able to socialize with peers in these spaces, we see even more growth.

In Mount Juliet, many local moms are seeing the benefits of this style play for their children through their play experiences at mom-owned small business, Nido. Geared for children 5 and under, this play space — formerly the Rumpus Room — is a great example of a Montessori-style play space. I spoke with owner, Haley Dunkin, for more insight into what Nido offers to local parents and their young children.

Haley, let’s start off by you telling me about yourself….
I am from Upstate NY, was the 1st person in my family to graduate High School, and even college. Out of high school I joined the Army and was stationed here in TN at Fort Campbell, where I met my husband Mitchell. 10 days after being married I was sent overseas to Afghanistan and spent 9 months deployed during operation Freedom. When I returned home, medical issues qualified me as a disabled veteran. From there I finished my degree in Health and Wellness, with a Nutritional Science degree, joined a massage therapy school, and then after years of trying to get pregnant, we were set with a due date for our little Rory. I had her in January 2019 and our whole world changed.

What inspired you to open Nido?
Being a new mom was exciting, scary, and just a big roller coaster of emotions. So, like everyone these days, I went looking for a safe space to make friends and allow my baby to grow and play. I found a great mom group, but was missing that space. So I started my business plan and right when I was getting ready for funding, Covid hit. We moved back to TN and found Rumpus Room, and knew that was my path. Here we are a year later in business and under a new name. I love this community, my husband grew up here and I knew I could grow this to help support this community and all the families with littles.

What benefits have you seen in your child, and in the children who visit the space, of having this space available?
I love watching our littles grow, our toys are selected after hours and days of research. Our toys help build hand eye coordination, communication, imagination, cognitive and fine motor skills. Children learn through play, and this is why we really love Montessori based play. We love to support other local small businesses. We have used Stone Willow for our toys, Stitchin Sprinkles for our handmade food, Creation Station play kits for our sensory play needs and classes. I love to change out our toys and keep everything as current as possible.

Do you have any recommendations for moms who may want a Montessori-style play space in their own home?
I tell all my moms that too much research is never too much. Everyone’s home is different and what works for one family may not work for another. I found so much wonderful information in the Toddlers Montessori book, this helps us understand what our littles are feeling and how to help them in each phase of their lives, not just the toddlers. It gave me great recommendations on how to add more independent play and self-care in our home. There are so many amazing businesses now that sell Montessori type products, but just taking a trip to your local Dollar Tree, you will find so many wonderful things to bring into your home to help with self-care, or cleaning.

What are the most popular things kids are gravitating towards?
My most played toys are our pretend food/kitchen/our cleaning set and our magnetic blocks. Children, or littles as we call them, want to just do the things they see on a day to day basis. From cleaning, to cooking and even brushing our hair. To them it’s so much fun, when in reality they are building lasting life skills. I have found so many great tricks to help my now 3-year-old be more independent, from getting dressed on her own, to getting her hair brushed and teeth cleaned.

indoor play place mount juliet tn montessori play nidoYou just celebrated a year of being open. You were previously the Rumpus Room. Can you tell us about the name change?
I knew when I took over the business I wanted to change the name. I purchased it because of the name, my daughters 1st birthday was where the wild things are and Rumpus was a big phrase in the book. As that drew me towards it, I knew it didn’t say who we are or what we are. I came up with Nido from a friend, just looking for Montessori based names and I fell in love with Nido. The meaning of Nido in Italian and Spanish means nest, when someone goes to look at a Montessori school the toddler and baby room will be called the Nido room. They do this because they want it to be a warm, cozy and home feeling space for them. This is very much true for myself with the space I am trying to create. The sloth is a symbol to show my daughter’s side, she loves sloths and had a lovey named AJ for a while. I love them because sometimes in life we move to fast and when we have littles, we just want to slow down those times to enjoy. Our rainbow symbolizes something more personal to our family, Rory is our rainbow baby and without her we would not be in business.

What are the hopes you have for Nido as you move into another year of providing a Montessori-style play space for your community?
We are working so very hard for a larger space, we would be more of a kids cafe, offering coffee and some food options. I would love to have a private party area and open play going on the weekends together. With a larger space our party area would have its own set up for our littles to enjoy and even our older homeschool friends during the week time. We would love to offer more classes and events for our community and build a sensory room to offer free play time once a month for children in our community with disabilities. I want our space to be that wonderful home feeling for everyone in our community. Littles that have to go to therapy sometimes find it hard to master their skills because they know they have to, with our sensory room it would be a therapy based play but to them it’s just fun and play. I have so many things I would love to do for this community and just keep pushing every day to get us a little closer to doing that.

Stay tuned to Nido and what they are doing! With a goal to move into a larger space, there may be fundraising plans in the near future. Plus, Haley donates current items that are ready to be rotated out to Nido families whom she knows will care for them. She noted that it makes her so happy to give back to their community that is so supportive of them.

Want to visit Nido? Schedule a playtime at So there is enough space for everyone to have fun, reservations are highly encouraged for daily play. While walk-ins are welcome, they often sell out so reservations help guarantee your space. Whether you are looking for a daily hang out space, a birthday party venue, or just someplace new to explore, Nido is sure to fit the bill.

Nido is located at 13260 Lebanon Rd, Mt. Juliet, TN 37122.