Balancing After-School Activities with Free Time


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Parents consider many factors when selecting after-school activities for children, including managing the logistics and finding activities suited to each child's interests and developmental level. From individual and team sports to classes in areas such as art, music or cooking, there are many options for all ages. While these activities expose children to new experiences and support their social, emotional and cognitive development, it is equally important to incorporate free time into a child's daily routine.

Play, especially in the early years, is an important part of development that is sometimes pushed aside to make room for more-structured activities. Including opportunities for free play, however, may enrich children's overall development and add to their growing abilities to tackle and solve problems, persist through challenging tasks, and negotiate and compromise - all necessary for social and academic progress in later years.

What is open-ended free play?

Open-ended materials allow for countless possibilities that originate in your child's mind. Unlike structured activities with set rules and expectations, such as board games, soccer practice or music class, open-ended play requires children to develop and carry out their own ideas. Open-ended toys include dolls, action figures, blocks and everyday items that can be creatively used as symbolic representations of real-life objects. Think, for example, of the possibilities with a cardboard box. Does it become a family car, fire engine or mail truck? Or is it a house, school or castle?

Open-ended play generally follows the child's lead and interests. This type of play can occur independently, developing a child's ability to sustain investment in his own entertainment, as well as in small groups, developing the entire group's abilities to share, take turns, negotiate and compromise on issues such as the direction of play themes and creative use of materials.

Why is play important?

Open-ended play provides children with opportunities to use their minds to imagine, create and use objects symbolically. It also develops and refines their flexibility and skills negotiating, compromising and sharing in relationships with others. Independent play helps children develop an internal dialogue and ability to focus, which help with independently reading, writing and persisting through challenging academic tasks. Children who become independent players and collaborative playmates often carry these skills into their school and learning habits.

Playing with peers in open-ended ways provides children with opportunities to develop skills needed for all types of relationships, from close friendships to working as a group or team in school or extracurricular activities. When playing successfully with peers, children have to share ideas and listen to the ideas of others, sometimes convincing playmates to follow their lead and other times compromising and following the lead of others.

What role do parents play?

Of course, free play is not completely "free." Parents play an important role supervising and overseeing the play, helping children manage conflicts that become too big to manage independently. For younger children, structuring the free play, without controlling it, helps them acquire skills. Joining your child in cooperative play with the dollhouse, or playing alongside the young fireman or princess in the cardboard box, are early steps in the healthy development of play.

As you consider after-school activities for your child, keep in mind that open-ended play is an arena in which children develop and refine many of their strengths and interests. Taking time to notice developments in your child's play could provide clues about your child's most genuine interests. Creating a balance between structured activities and free time will enrich your child's ability to participate fully in both types of activity.

The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families.

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June 2019

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Carrboro Cybrary
100 N Greensboro St
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500 S. Salisbury St.
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Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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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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Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Orange County Main Library
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Cost: Free

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Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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White Plains United Methodist Church
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Cost: Free

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
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East Regional Library
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White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
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Cost: $5

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Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Cost: See website for fees

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Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Telephone: 833-202-7626
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Cost: Free

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IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
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Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Cost: $9/resident, $11/nonresident

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Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Cost: FREE

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Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: Free

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5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: Free

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Downtown Park
319 S. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
Website »

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Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124907.

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join Optimist Aquatic Center as thousands of kids and adults around the world unite for the world's largest swimming lesson. The World's Largest Swimming Lesson will celebrate its 10th...

Cost: Free

Where:
Optimist Aquatic Center
5902 Whittier Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

What do Historic Yates Mill County Park and the woodland faeries have in common? They both love nature! Take a short walk near the millpond to search for evidence of faeries (sightings are not...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Enjoy magic, storytelling and origami with Yasu Ishida. Grades K-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Pine State Coffee
1614 Automotive Way
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
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More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
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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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Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $12/person. Free for ages 2 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Cost: Free

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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Cost: Free

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2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
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Cost: Free

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2050 Chapel Hill Rd.
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (6 - under)

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

Where:
NC Cooperative Extension
721 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: March of Dimes/Duke Family Medicine
Telephone: 678-246-9027
Contact Name: Courtney Simpson
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: $12 advance tickets, $15 at the door. Free for ages 12 and younger

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Bunn, NC  27508
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Sponsor: Vollmer Farm
Telephone: 919-496-3076
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701 Harris Rd.
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