Baby Brain Power: How Much Do Newborns Really Know?


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When you bring your newborn home for the first time, it can be pretty scary. This tiny little creature is a mystery — and you’re completely in charge of her well-being. Communication seems out of the question. After all, she can’t talk and doesn’t even seem to realize you’re even in the room with her.

But take heart. Pediatricians and researchers say newborns and very young children actually can understand, sense and respond to much more than adults may realize. And that means you can start fostering a strong relationship from the very day you meet your new baby.

Dr. Kathleen Clarke-Pearson, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, points out that very early on, infants have the ability to interact based on basic perceptions. “They can recognize faces very early on,” she says. “They’re born with billions of neurons that immediately begin connecting as they grow.”

Clarke-Pearson says when parents come in to see her with their baby, she’ll often point this out. “I’ll coo at the baby and say, ‘See how she’s looking at me? She’s only two weeks old and she can already tell I’m different from you!’”

Budding Einstein

But facial recognition is just the tip of what infants can comprehend, according to Elizabeth Brannon, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Brannon says over the last five decades, experts have discovered that even in the first year of life, infants are extremely aware of the world around them.

“Every parent knows if you’re trying to keep a baby entertained, you might do something like shake a rattle for them to get their attention focused on that,” she says. “But then you find the baby gets bored, and what do you do? You find something else to show her to get her attention again.”

That doesn’t show that she’s not thinking — just the opposite. When that first rattle stops getting your baby’s attention, Brannon explains, it’s because your baby has studied it, comprehended it and is ready to explore something new. That’s showing that her mind is able to process information, make sense of it and file it away, ready for more input.

Babies can understand more than just a toy rattling in front of their face. Brannon cites a study during which researchers showed babies photos of different cats. The babies would study each picture with interest. But after the third or fourth picture of a cat, Brannon says, the baby would grow bored and look away or start fussing. Then, researchers would hold up a photo of a dog, and the baby’s interest would return.

“This shows even very young babies can differentiate between categories,” Brannon says, even something as similar as a dog and cat. After all, they both have four legs and fur. But the babies in the study could tell something was different between them.

“They also have abstract ideas about numbers,” Brannon says. When babies were shown images consisting of groups of eight objects, for example, they lost interest after viewing a series of photos with the same number of objects. But when those babies were shown an image with 16 objects? “They immediately showed more interest again,” Brannon says, indicating that babies can comprehend abstract concepts.

Emotional Awareness

Mother of three Lena Dyhrberg, a family health nurse for three-and-a-half decades and author of “Born Wise: New Information That Will Change Your View on Infants Forever,” believes newborns and very young children have a greater emotional awareness than adults sometimes acknowledge, too.

“Your child is born with a very fine intuition,” Dyhrberg says. “He feels everything around him.” So babies immediately have an awareness of the world that includes perceiving his parents’ emotions. If you’re feeling down one day, Dyhrberg says, you might find your baby to be fussy or crying that day, too. But when you’re feeling relaxed and comfortable, your baby will often respond in a similar way. Dyhrberg says he’s picking up on your signals and responding to them in a kind of emotional communication between you.

Basic Conversations

Experts say you can help nurture your child’s natural awareness every day. Around nine months of age, Brannon says, babies start showing “joint attention.” This means she’ll follow your gaze and even go so far as to point at what you’re looking at. “These are clues that the baby is beginning to pay attention to something that’s interesting to you,” Brannon says.

This is your opportunity to help build a connection between you and your baby and develop her future vocabulary, while also teaching her critical developmental skills that will help her interact with others in the future.

“When your baby points at something, you can respond by labeling it,” Brannon says.

So, if your baby is suddenly attracted to a bird at the bird feeder, you might say, “Oh, you see the bird! That’s a pretty blue bird, isn’t it?”

And while it’s perfectly OK to narrate your day to your baby to help her learn language and interaction skills by saying, “Let’s put this box of cereal in the cart,” or “Listen! You can hear the dog barking,” Brannon says research backs that parents who let infants and young children direct that line of narration themselves end up helping their child foster and refine language development even more. So, if you observe your child and see her attention is on that box of cereal on the shelf, you can say, “Oh, that’s a big box of cereal, isn’t it? It has a horse on the box!”

By letting your child lead the “conversation,” you’re talking with him rather than at him, even though he doesn’t have verbal skills yet. You’ll be helping build those connections in his brain, strengthening the bond between the two of you, and setting him on the best possible path for future emotional and intellectual growth.

Making that connection is what’s critical, Clarke-Pearson says. “I was at the park and saw parents on their phones, completely ignoring their little children,” she says. “It was a missed opportunity for both parent and child!”

Dyhrberg agrees. “Talk with your baby,” she says. “He understands you more than you think.”

Kathleen M. Reilly is a writer and mom in the Triangle. Visit her online at kathleenreilly.com.

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October 2019

The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough and Ayr Mount Historic Site presents a weekend of activities centered around Scottish heritage, colonial history and the wildly popular...

Cost: See website for ticket fees

Where:
Ayr Mount Historic Site
376 St. Mary’s Rd
Hillsborough, NC
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
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Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Take part in a 10k, 5k or 1-mile-fun-run to raise funds for local mental health research. Register online. The event also features food and kids' activities. Register online.

Cost: $30-$75. Free for ages 5 and younger.

Where:
The Angus Barn
9401 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
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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,...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

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Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Make witchy legs for the Halloween season. Ages 6-10. Register online. Choose course #126766.

Cost: $31/resident, $40/nonresident

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Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
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  Join us to celebrate the fall moon! During a full moon in October, the mystical powers of the moon are revealed in many ways, so be on the lookout for live scarecrows, werewolves and...

Cost: Free

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Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Ages 5-8 embrace science and nature while developing skills and knowledge about the natural world. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Ride a bike on the streets of Carrboro. Enjoy bike decorations, giveaways, healthy snacks and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Elementary School
400 Shelton St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Activities include large KidZone with fire engine, face-painting, giant games, inflatable obstacle course, and paint-a-pumpkin. Kids can enter their original pumpkin carving in the Carved...

Cost: $10/adult, $5/child. Free for ages 5 and younger

Where:
Commons at North Hills
4321 Lassiter at North Hills Avenue
Commons
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Midtown Raleigh Alliance
Telephone: 919-606-6068
Contact Name: Tara Robbins
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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We are starting the Halloween-time festivities early! Join us for some make-and-take craft time in the park and create a “monster” to take home. We will bring the materials if you bring the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Ages 11-17 learn how to make desserts perfect for Halloween. Register online. Choose course #127729.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. 

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
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

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Bring your budding naturalist to the park to learn about our eight-legged friends that call the park home. A craft, engaging activity or story and a guided greenway walk through the wetland will...

Cost: $2

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood

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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Read the story by Laura Numeroff and make brownies. Register online. Choose course #127716.

Cost: $23/resident, $30/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

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It's a Fall Homeschool Day at the JC Raulston Arboretum! Join us for a fun rotation through hands-on stations to learn about a variety of fall topics. Students will have a chance to interact with...

Cost: $5.00 per child for Arboretum Family members, $7.50 per child for nonmembers

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Road
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: 919-513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

It's a Fall Homeschool Day at the JC Raulston Arboretum! Join us for a fun rotation through hands-on stations to learn about a variety of fall topics. Students will have a chance to interact with...

Cost: $5.00 per child for Arboretum Family members, $7.50 per child for nonmembers

Where:
JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Road
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: JC Raulston Arboretum
Telephone: 919-513-7011
Contact Name: Elizabeth Overcash
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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124908.

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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This program is designed to move at a toddler’s pace: Run. Stop. Pick dandelions. Run. Climb on a rock. Find an interesting leaf! Join others for an easy-paced hike around the greenway...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Walnut Creek Wetland Park
950 Peterson Street
Raleigh, NC  27610
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Telephone: 919-996-2760
Contact Name: Stacie Hagwood
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Enjoy dinner with your family on us! On Thursday, October 17th, The School for Creative Studies PTSA will be hosting its 3rd Healthy Eating Tasting Night. Local Chef Carmen Settles of Full Street...

Cost: Free

Where:
The School for Creative Studies
5001 Red Mill Rd.
Durham, NC  27704
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Sponsor: The School for Creative Studies PTSA
Telephone: 919-560-3535
Contact Name: Tanisha Davis
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Just in time for your next dress-up event!  Join us to make a tutu.  Kids 8 and up and teens make one for yourself!  Adults make one for yourself or for a child!   Call to register,...

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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Homeschoolers of all ages enjoy a day of hands-on activities focused on the history of slavery and freedom in North Carolina. 

Cost: $4/student

Where:
Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy
Durham, NC  27712
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Telephone: 919-620-0120
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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Sip cider and enjoy a cookie while listening to music and a storyteller. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Weaver Street Market Lawn
101 E. Weaver St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
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Website »

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Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

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

More information

We think about bats this time of year for Halloween. Join us as we learn the truth about bats and their importance to the ecosystem. After a wonderful story we will take a walk to some places...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

We think about bats this time of year for Halloween. Join us as we learn the truth about bats and their importance to the ecosystem. After a wonderful story we will take a walk to some places...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Come join us for a party of spooky proportions! We will have classic monster mash games including a mummy wrap, Halloween Fear Factor eating challenge, Tarantula Toss, and other fun party...

Cost: Adults & Kids Over 14 years of age:$44; Kids 13 and under: $39

Where:
TreeRunner Raleigh
12804 Norwood Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27613
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Telephone: 919-410-7347
Contact Name: TreeRunner
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N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


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Join local bird expert Larry Zoller as we explore the different habitats of Harris Lake County Park to look and listen for our resident birds as well as fall migrants that have stopped to rest...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
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Join the Preschool Teachers at Chestnut Ridge for a fun-filled morning of nature inspired activities in the great outdoors at Camp Chestnut Ridge. This event is for anyone interested in learning...

Cost: Free

Where:
Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center
4300 Camp Chestnut Ridge Road
Efland, NC  27243
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Sponsor: Chestnut Ridge Camp and Retreat Center
Telephone: 919-304-2178
Contact Name: Becky Garus
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The World Beer Festival Durham features a sampling of local, national and international breweries. Adults can also enjoy food and live music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $15-$60

Where:
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
Blackwell St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Website »

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In honor of Cameron Village’s 70th anniversary,  play tunes and games. Learn how some incredible kid musicians play songs that capture the beat of life in Raleigh in 2019.  Cameron...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cameron Village
2108 Clark Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27605
View map »


Sponsor: Cameron Village Merchants' Association
Telephone: 919-630-2908
Contact Name: Amy Davis
Website »

More information

Make little pumpkins, a black cat and other Halloween creatures with polymer clay. Ages 5-10. Register online. Choose course #127352.

Cost: $19/resident, $25/nonresident

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


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Is your dress-up closet looking drab?  Discover a new costume at the library’s Costume Bazaar!  Every child can select one complete costume and stay to create new accessories to go with...

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
Website »

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Make a mini shadow puppet theater out of a file folder and mini shadow puppets. Please bring your own light source such as a flashlight for the full effect. Space is limited, advance registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Library
Inside McDougle Middle School
900 Old Fayetteville Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Orange County Library
Telephone: 919-969-3006
Contact Name: Jody Smith
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Enjoy a guided tour of the trees, shrubs and flowers that adorn the park, followed by an art activity using plant materials collected during the tour. All ages and abilities welcome. Registration...

Cost: Free

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Games, entertainment, vendors and kids activities await families in an event that celebrates National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month. All ability levels welcome.

Cost: Free

Where:
Community Family Life & Recreation Center at Lyon Park
1309 Halley St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Website »

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Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us for the seventh annual Canine Contests! We're looking for the best dog tricks and canine costumes in Wake County! If your dog has a special talent and/or a super cool costume, come and show...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

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Since the 1850s, North Carolina farmers have been going to the State Fair to learn about ways to improve their farming practices. Discover the origins of the State Fair and the history behind some...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Mark your calendars! Our annual Halloween event, Creepy Crabtree, will return in October! This free park wide event will investigate the darker side of nature. Join the freakish festivities,...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Enjoy a yoga session in costume, games and treats. Ages 5-10. Register online. Choose course #127452.

Cost: $19/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Park Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
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Shop with more than 40 businesses operated by local children ages 6-14.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Commons at North Hills
421 Lassiter at North Hills Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Discover what's happening as the sun sets and listen to stories around a campfire. All ages with adult. Register online. Choose course #127673.

Cost: $18/resident, $24/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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

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N.C. By Train and Amtrak are making it easier than ever for families to get to the N.C. State Fair through a special stop right at the fairgrounds in Raleigh from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday,...

Cost: See website for fees; prices vary based on pick-up location

Where:
, NC


Website »

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