Gaining STEAM: Adding the Arts to STEM Helps Engage Learners


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Photo courtesy of Solis Images/Shutterstock.com

For most parents, the growing prevalence of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs makes sense. After all, our economy is driven by high-tech companies, and these companies have a high demand on employees with backgrounds in engineering, programing, data analysis and other STEM-related disciplines. It makes sense that schools would respond by taking a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching children these disciplines, mirroring how they’re integrated within many job functions in the real world.

In recent years, parents may have noticed a twist to the STEM acronym: the addition of an “A” to create “STEAM.” The A stands for “arts.” Advocates of the STEAM framework say the arts, especially visual art and design, can enhance STEM programs in a number of ways, including making these disciplines more attractive to students who don’t think they’re strong science and math students. They also note that art — especially design — with its problem-solving approach, is just as integral to creating and running high-tech companies as is math and science. Think of Apple.

Making STEAM

But just how do STEAM programs or schools work, and how do they benefit children? Although STEAM programs are too few and too young to have produced much data, many education experts believe the concept has the potential to not only engage more children, but to help them become better critical thinkers and problem solvers — skills that companies prize.

“Children will learn based on the context in which information is presented,” says Paola Sztajn, associate dean for research and innovation at the North Carolina State University College of Education. “When the disciplines are presented separately, they may learn only one way to address a question, and they may not see the connections (among the disciplines).”

But if students are exposed to subject matter via popular STEM and STEAM approaches, such as problem- or project-based learning, Paola says they can make connections that enable them to answer questions or address challenges using math, computer code, design, engineering or a combination of disciplines.

“We want students to develop the ability to say, ‘I’m a doer, I’m a thinker, I can solve this problem,’” she says.

Several schools in the Triangle, from pre-K through middle school, offer STEAM programs or approaches — or plan to in the near future. The longest-running such program is offered at W.G. Pearson S.T.E.A.M. Elementary School, a gifted and talented magnet school in Durham.

“Our students obtain an understanding of all components of STEAM at higher levels and are exposed to knowledge that can even be applied to help enhance their career pathways, as opposed to the traditional methods of learning that you would find in a traditional elementary school,” says Principal Christy Boykin of the school, which evolved from STEM to STEAM during the 2012-13 school.

Boykin says the school supplements the state’s standard course of study — which, for elementary school, already includes art/music and science — through a combination of STEAM electives and special programs. For example, an engineering elective on robotics previously offered to students identified as academically and intellectually gifted in grades three through five will now be offered to all of the school’s third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. A technology elective that teaches kids the basics of computer coding is also offered. And all students are given an iPad to help them work as engaged, connected learns.

The STEAM approach to education is paying off for W.G. Pearson S.T.E.A.M. Elementary School’s students. In addition to meeting growth targets on end-of-grade assessments, “We have seen so many students totally change their perspective and outlook toward school because of our S.T.E.A.M. program,” Boykin says.

Building STEAM

Meanwhile, on Durham’s Orange Factory Road, work continues on Discovery School, scheduled to open as a STEAM charter middle school in August 2018. The school, which will occupy five buildings on 60 acres, will revolve around four daily “blocks,” three of which will address the STEAM disciplines of humanities (social studies and English language arts), math and science, and arts and technology, according to Toni Shellady, the school’s founder and board vice chairman. The fourth block will be called Passion Hour, giving students 60 minutes each day to explore — on their own or with a small group — an activity, subject or discipline that sparks their interest, whether it’s yoga, knitting, chess — anything they can practice and master, Shellady notes.

Shellady was motivated to create the school after teaching for 10 years, most of those at Voyager Academy, a STEM charter school in Durham. Observing how technology served to engage students and drawing on her love of dance, Shellady felt a STEAM middle school would be appealing to a wide variety of students and parents. She, like other advocates of the arts and STEAM, points to a number of studies that show students who take four years of high school arts-related classes have higher grade point averages and higher SAT scores, including in math, than their peers who take one or fewer years of arts programming.

“Communication, collaboration and creativity — emphasizing these skills, as well as teaching kids how to think outside the box, will lead to improved student outcomes,” Shellady says. Such an approach will also prepare students for the multidisciplinary environment of the workforce, she says.

And in downtown Raleigh, a new school is providing a STEAM-focused approach to the youngest of learners, as well as older students who might otherwise be bored during their track-out periods. Little Makers Academy, which includes a preschool, pre-K program and track-out classes for kids up to age 12, is based on the “makerspace” movement, says Alice Nelson, the school’s owner and director.

Makerspaces provide individuals with access to tools and supplies to create, fabricate and produce crafts and goods that they wouldn’t have the resources or space to do on their own. At Little Makers, a large space filled with STEM-related toys, tools and games also features art supplies and flexible seating to encourage creativity, Nelson says. A former schoolteacher, Nelson was driven to create Little Makers in part to celebrate “the doodlers” — those students in her classes who, while often drawing in the margins rather than paying rapt attention, were her favorites.

Young urban parents — creative types and those working for high-tech, downtown-based companies such as Red Hat and Citrix — have been quick to embrace Little Makers, according to Nelson. “We’re emphasizing the same things that companies are: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication,” she says.


Suzanne Wood is a Raleigh-based freelance writer and mother of three.

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November 2019

Our seventh annual food drive will be held during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get...

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During harvest time, farmers often helped their neighbors to get hard work done during communal gatherings such as corn shucking. Learn about this fall tradition and make a corn husk doll to take...

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We will be conducting a food drive during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get involved...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Experience some of the best trail running the Piedmont has to offer in this unique trail marathon and 10 miler across Durham County, North Carolina. The course winds along the scenic Eno River...

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5253 Roxboro Rd
Durham, NC  27712
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Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

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Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
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Hike along Bolin Creek Greenway to the Adams Tract Red Trail to learn about the trees and wildlife in Carrboro.

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Wilson Park Shelter
101 Williams St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tour fee: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16),...

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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November is a time to be thankful! Celebrate the natural world and where our favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Investigate corn under microscopes and hand lenses, learn the difference between...

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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
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Bynum Front Porch
950 Bynum Rd
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Blackwell St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Fall Family Cookie Decorating. Enjoy a family outing…. Come learn a variety of cookie recipes suited for decorating. Then practice piping and flooding sugar cookies for the perfect look....

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The Studio School of Durham
1201 W Woodcroft Pkwy
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Search for salamanders, owls and more. Equipment provided. Ages 10-13. Register online. Choose course #128019.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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See horses compete and enjoy food trucks, children's activities and more. Admission is free; Saturday evening Grand Prix tickets are $10/person. Proceeds benefit Duke Children's...

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Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
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Our seventh annual food drive will be held during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

We will be conducting a food drive during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get involved...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Red, yellow, orange, and brown – leaves come in all different sizes and colors. Practice your color and shape recognition through centers, songs, and stories. For ages 18 months to 3 years (adult...

Cost: FREE. Registration is required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

See horses compete and enjoy food trucks, children's activities and more. Admission is free; Saturday evening Grand Prix tickets are $10/person. Proceeds benefit Duke Children's...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

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Our seventh annual food drive will be held during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

We will be conducting a food drive during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get involved...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. Choose course #127196.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Cost: $28.50 and up

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Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Our seventh annual food drive will be held during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

We will be conducting a food drive during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get involved...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See Happy Dan perform magic, comedy and more.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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We’ll enjoy poetry written in honor of the many holidays that occur around this time of the year. Following questions and discussion, those attending will have the opportunity to share by reading...

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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We will be conducting a food drive during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get involved...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Our seventh annual food drive will be held during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Join us in the Kidzu Front Yard Garden for a special off-season Junior Gardeners in honor of Chapel Hill Arbor Week. Get hands on and explore trees, and all the things they provide including...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Take the fast track to nature in this hands-on study of ecology. Ages 8-12. Register online.  Chose course #127203.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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The word philanthropy means love of mankind. From the earliest days, human civilization has depended upon kindness directed towards strangers. Explore the history of giving, then help to cut out...

Cost: FREE. Registration is required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675

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Join us to learn about 4H and then enjoy fall activities and crafts!  No registration is required. Grades 3-5

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
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Join Cary Lifestyle Magazine for a wonderful night of charity, fashion, decadent food and drinks and shopping. Proceeds go to Saving Grace NC,non-profit animal rescue, that since its inception in...

Cost: $75.00

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn
131 Columbus Ave
Cary, NC  27518
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Sponsor: Carolina LifeStyle Magazine
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Enjoy a family-friendly movie and a slice or two of pizza. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/person. $2 for ages 2 and younger

Where:
The Halle Cultural Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Ages 11 and older with special needs help support the Town of Cary's annual toy drive by donating an unwrapped toy for a child in need. Make cards for the holiday cards for these...

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
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Website »

More information

Transformative stories through the mists of time adapted from "1001 Arabian Nights" and performed by Emerson's 10th grade class.  Recommended for audiences age 10 and up. For...

Cost: $5-$12

Where:
Emerson Waldorf School
6211 New Jericho Road
Brown Wing
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
View map »


Website »

More information

It’s the summer before the 1904 World’s Fair and the three Smith sisters are filled with anticipation. But the year brings turmoil as family life interferes with their newfound chances...

Cost: Adults: $15 Seniors: $10 Students and children: $5 Family 4-pack

Where:
William Peace University, Kenan Auditorium
15 E Peace St
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Sponsor: William Peace University
Contact Name: Charles Machalicky
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Our seventh annual food drive will be held during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

We will be conducting a food drive during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get involved...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Celebrate collards at the State Farmers Market.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Come share the excitement as Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in The District. Kids of all ages will enjoy our Magical Winter Lights Paintscaping, featuring colorful holiday lights...

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Park West Village
Contact Name: Conner
Website »

More information

Talented dance students perform the lavishly staged holiday ballet alongside guest artists from Carolina Ballet. All ages. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $12-$27

Where:
Fletcher Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Waverly Place Shopping Center
302 Colonades Way
Cary, NC  27518
View map »

More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Transformative stories through the mists of time adapted from "1001 Arabian Nights" and performed by Emerson's 10th grade class.  Recommended for audiences age 10 and up. For...

Cost: $5-$12

Where:
Emerson Waldorf School
6211 New Jericho Road
Brown Wing
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
View map »


Website »

More information

It’s the summer before the 1904 World’s Fair and the three Smith sisters are filled with anticipation. But the year brings turmoil as family life interferes with their newfound chances...

Cost: Adults: $15 Seniors: $10 Students and children: $5 Family 4-pack

Where:
William Peace University, Kenan Auditorium
15 E Peace St
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View map »


Sponsor: William Peace University
Contact Name: Charles Machalicky
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

We will be conducting a food drive during the month of November. All donations benefit the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina (www.foodbankcenc.org). We encourage you to get involved...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

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Ages 5 and older move through yoga poses and show gratitude by writing a thank-you note for someone special. Registration required online. Choose course #127447. 

Cost: $19/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Moore Square, Downtown Raleigh
Raleigh, NC


Website »

More information

Learn about the state’s American Indian culture from musicians, dancers, craftspeople and storytellers from eight state-recognized tribes. Over 100 presenters will fill the museum and...

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Talented dance students perform the lavishly staged holiday ballet alongside guest artists from Carolina Ballet. Show times are at noon and 5 p.m. All ages. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $12-$27

Where:
Fletcher Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (60+ yrs), $3/Child (7-16yrs), Free/Child (6yrs & younger)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
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More information

Talented dance students perform the lavishly staged holiday ballet alongside guest artists from Carolina Ballet. Show times are at noon and 5 p.m. All ages. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $12-$27

Where:
Fletcher Theater, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Come share the excitement as Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in The District. Kids of all ages will enjoy our Magical Winter Lights Paintscaping, featuring colorful holiday lights...

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Park West Village
Contact Name: Conner
Website »

More information

East Cloud Kungfu hosts a Parent's Night Out event, featuring a safe environment for kids as they about the wide world of kungfu.   Check it out!...

Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

Where:
East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
5655-A Western Blvd
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: East Cloud Kungfu, LLC
Telephone: 252-646-7053
Contact Name: Imari Colon
Website »

More information

Transformative stories through the mists of time adapted from "1001 Arabian Nights" and performed by Emerson's 10th grade class.  Recommended for audiences age 10 and up. For...

Cost: $5-$12

Where:
Emerson Waldorf School
6211 New Jericho Road
Brown Wing
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
View map »


Website »

More information

It’s the summer before the 1904 World’s Fair and the three Smith sisters are filled with anticipation. But the year brings turmoil as family life interferes with their newfound chances...

Cost: Adults: $15 Seniors: $10 Students and children: $5 Family 4-pack

Where:
William Peace University, Kenan Auditorium
15 E Peace St
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Sponsor: William Peace University
Contact Name: Charles Machalicky
Website »

More information

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