6 Sensory Fun Activities in the Triangle
Sassafras All Children's Playground in Raleigh was designed for children of all abilities and provides a variety of play experiences.
Photo by Adrian H. Wood
My name is Amos. I am 3 years old and have special needs. My family and I have been visiting fun places around the Triangle to check out sensory fun activities. Sensory play is anything that reminds me to use my five senses: touch, taste, sound, sight and smell. My mom says sensory activities help me learn to figure out how to keep myself balanced. I think that means learning to not have a great big noisy fuss when I get frustrated. Anyway, I’ll just share my favorites.
Laurel Hills Park
3808 Edwards Mill Rd., Raleigh
Since I’m not the kind to save the best for last, I’ll start with the coolest playground ever. Sassafras was awesome! We went after school one really nice day so it was super busy, but it was so big that I didn’t get overwhelmed. My big brother and I rode the zip lines; I sat in the one with the special seat that made me feel safe. It was fast, but not too fast. My other brother took a basketball and found some kids to play with while I tried out the ladders and slides. My favorite thing was the sandbox and there were even buckets and shovels, though my mom said she should have brought some just in case. I loved the roller table and climbing the big hill so I could wallow in the seagrass.
Accessibility and Sensory-Friendly Night
11 W. Jones St., Raleigh
This museum stayed open late so we could explore during a quieter time. There was a special live animal meet and greet, and even a quiet room for when I needed a break. Mom said there was a low-sensory viewing of the 3-D movie “Flight of the Butterflies,” but I’m not much into movies yet. I hope we get to go to the second sensory-friendly night on Thursday, May 25, from 5:30-8 p.m. in the Nature Exploration Center. It will be free for special needs families and we don’t even have to sign up ahead of time. That’s perfect for my mom. When I’m 5, Mom says she will sign us up for a guided tactile tour. I think that means you get to do a lot of touching, which is right up my alley.
1140 Parkside Main St., Cary
Like I said, I’m not much into movies yet, but once I am, Mom is going to take me to Frank CineBowl & Grille in Cary for its sensory-friendly movie series. These movies are shown with lights on and low sound. We’re even allowed to sing, dance and play while watching the movies! The first movie in the series, “Rock Dog,” aired March 4. Remaining showings include “Smurfs: The Lost Village” on April 8, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” on May 13, “Cars 3” on June 17, “Despicable Me 3” on July 8 and “Emoji Movie” on Aug. 12.
Apex Parks and Recreation Department
53 Hunter St., Apex
My mom checked this out by herself because it’s for children ages 5-11 with developmental and/or physical disabilities. Helpers can attend, too. She said it looked fun, was a pretty small group (only 10 allowed) and seemed like a good way to make friends while you learn acting or, as the teacher said, bringing your favorite stories to life through drama. Mom said it was a great way to build on social and communication skills for very little money — only $3 per class for Apex residents, provided registrant signs up for seven classes ($21; nonresidents pay $31 for seven classes). I can’t wait until I’m 5!
201 E. Hargett St., Raleigh
I’m a big fan of Marbles. It’s open every day and is $5 per person — or your family can buy a membership starting at $100. The museum also offers a Family Fun Night on select nights evenings the year for special needs kids and their families. It takes place from 5:30-8 p.m. and offers kids like me the opportunity to experience Marbles in a calmer, quieter environment. Plus, it’s free!
I adore most any place with an elevator, but my favorite place to start is the water area. Marbles has aprons so you don’t get too wet. My big sister tried to build a dam. There was also a dark room with pillows right beside it so you can get quiet and cozy if you need a break. Upstairs, my brothers built a giant Lego house and I tried to help. They made me a chair and a window so I could peek out at my mom. There was a cool gift shop, too. Mom said it had lots of good birthday ideas. Next door at Marbles IMAX Theatere, there are monthly sensory-sensitive movie screenings for special needs kids and their families. And like at Frank CineBowl & Grille, I’ll be able to get up and dance around during the movie!
433 W. Murray Ave., Durham
The Museum of Life and Science has been around a long time, but it has lots of new exhibits and two of my favorite things: neat hiding spots and farm animals. We rode the train and spent some time inside trying to get butterflies to land on us in the big atrium. They didn’t, but I loved running on the walkway through the pretend jungle. The barnyard was fun, too. There were cows, goats, chickens and even an alpaca. I practiced all my animal sounds. The tree houses were really neat. I went in the big one with my brothers and sister and then we found one for little people, too. There was a slide built right in the hill and a fort underneath it. My dad and I found a cozy hammock and then I played in the sandbox for a long time while everyone else went inside to make paper airplanes. I didn’t play inside because I fell asleep in the stroller. Playing is hard work.
Amos’ mom, Adrian H. Wood, Ph.D., is a North Carolina writer who lives in Edenton with her husband and four children, the youngest of whom has extra-special needs. Read more of her writing at talesofaneducateddebutante.com.