Help Kids Develop Healthy Exercise Habits at Every Age


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Have you ever wondered what your child can accomplish physically at certain stages in his or her childhood? Regular physical activity plays a vital role for all children ? from the pre-K to the teen years. But how much physical activity is too much? Here are some simple, yet practical tips for helping your child grow into a physically fit and healthy adult.

Stages and Ages of Physical Activities

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, based in Reston, Va., recommends school-aged children spend at least 60 minutes a day involved in some form of structured physical activity, with at least 60 minutes a day (up to several hours) of unstructured physical activities.

Before your child begins any kind of physical activity or recreational sport at any age, it’s always a good idea to speak with your primary care provider to discuss any concerns you may have.

Newborn to Preschool: Speedy Transitionso-stages-of-fitness-toddler.jpg

From early infancy through the preschool stage, your child’s physical growth and motor development occur at their most rapid pace. Families can play an important part in helping young children develop these vital motor skills that will serve as steppingstones for future motor adeptness.

Pedaling ride-on or push toys, for example, not only helps facilitate your little one’s balance and coordination skills, it also provides him with an expansive outlet for his growing imagination, since he can imitate mom, dad and other adults.

Leading by example, most especially at this tender age, is essential, explains Dr. Heath C. Thornton, M.D., assistant professor of the Department of Family and Community Medicine and Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Children are “much more likely to maintain and/or develop good habits of regular physical activity when it is part of their family’s dynamics,” he says.

At this stage of your child’s development, ensure that your preschooler’s active time remains enjoyable. With strong motivation on your part, your child will follow along on the path of your strong foundation.

Shannon Miller, Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast and the only female member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, established The Shannon Miller Foundation to help combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity cases diagnosed across the nation. During an interview with Carolina Parent, she suggested numerous age-appropriate, fun activities for preschool-aged children.

“Especially for younger ones, for example, think about recess activities: something as simple as playing tag or seeing who can do the most jumping jacks,” she says. “Integrate light rhythmic aerobic exercises and calisthenics  — power skips, high knee jumps, dancing — with some of your child’s favorite songs to pique their imagination. At this point, it’s no longer exercise, as it’s now a dance party!”

Ages 5-10: Social Settings

o-tips-keep-your-kids-healthy.jpgDuring the first few years of this age group, children are still attempting to become more proficient with basic motor/physical skills, which can include jumping, kicking and catching a ball.

“A common rule of thumb at this stage before your child begins any kind of organized sports or specific exercise training, is waiting until the child is able to understand and follow instructions specific to that particular activity,” Thornton explains.

Keeping physical activities and exercising fun is crucial at this stage. When a child discovers that an activity is fun, she’ll start to do it a lot, learn to devote more time to it and, most importantly, begin to develop a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment when she sees that she is becoming more proficient at her pursuit. Help your child develop and improve muscle/bone strength and endurance skills by teaching her to do simple pushups and stretching exercises.

Parents can also consider introducing their child to organized team sports such as soccer and baseball at this stage. Just be mindful of how much your child can handle on a physical and mental level. For instance, younger children sometimes are not emotionally ready to handle the pressures of competitive sports. If this is the case, find appropriate activities that help instill the importance of teamwork and being a good sport.

“Families should look into youth recreational sports teams and community programs to investigate what activities may be a good fit for their children,” Miller says. “Being social is a great motivator for exercise.”

Does your 7-year-old son lean more toward independent activities, or does your 8-year-old daughter thrive in group settings? Knowing the way your child socially gravitates can play a critical role when you are looking for the right recreational sports activity or league. “Parents should encourage their kids to take up activities that spark their interest,” Miller says. “As a mom, I think it’s important that we inspire our children to discover their own individual physical talents and help them build a strong sense of self and personal achievement with sports and exercise.”

Ages 12 and Older: Building Strength

Recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., paint an alarming picture. Nearly half of children ages 12-21 are not physically active on a regular basis, and an estimated 14 percent of children in this age range report no recent physical activity at all. Inactivity rates are more commonly reported among girls (14 percent) than boys (7 percent). Most striking in the CDC report is the finding that participation in all forms of physical activity starts to rapidly decline as a child ages.

“Inactivity causes several problems, the most alarming of which is the rising incidence of adult metabolic diseases in adolescents,” says Cameron L. Martz, president of Form Fitness in Raleigh. He emphasizes that we shouldn’t blame children for this because “they lead the lives that we set for them as parents. This isn’t to blame parents for the problem, either, but parents are definitely the source of the answer we need to solve this. Just like for inactive adults, exercise must become a priority for inactive kids in order to make this happen.”

Activities for teenagers that can help them explore their physical abilities range from competitive sports to supplemental weight training programs.

“As an Olympic gymnast, I understand the importance placed on muscle-building activities, although this doesn’t always need to be done through heavy weights,” Miller says. “In gymnastics, we used only resistance training and used our own body weight. We learned that there needed to be a balance between strength and flexibility.” Miller adds that strength and flexibility training for teens needs to be perceived as “another healthy measure for them to understand from early on, so they can begin to grasp the correct methods to prevent injury.”

How Much Is Too Much?

When children participate in moderately intensive physical activity, their hearts beat faster than usual and they will begin to breathe harder. Miller says sometimes we have the tendency to think that the “intensity of an aerobic workout can be seen through the amount a child sweats or how hard they’re breathing.” The reality, she adds, is this is not enough to gauge their child’s active output.

“When measured appropriately, heart rate can act as a clear indicator of the body’s response to exercise,” Miller says. “It can provide accurate insight into physical exertion and how a child’s body is adapting to the level of intensity.”

Although more children and young adults are leaving their sedentary habits behind in favor of a more active lifestyle, there has unfortunately been a substantial rise reported in the amount of overtraining injuries diagnosed across the country. Some of these injuries can include fractures, ligament tears and concussions. As children and adults maintain high levels of intensive exercise, such injuries can occur, especially if they stem from a lack of skill development.

Miller advises parents to make sure their children understand the importance of exercising at their individual intensity level, since some children may try to push themselves too hard — “to the point of burning out or risking injury,” she says. “Finding your child’s individual target heart rate will help you to know the type and amount of movement needed for your child to reach an appropriate and healthy intensity level.”

To prevent these types of injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in 2007 recommending sporting activities be limited to five days a week.

Taking Fitness Beyond the School Day

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that 150 minutes of physical education a week be provided to elementary school children across the U.S. However, only an estimated 8 percent of elementary schools across our nation provide daily physical education classes, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh. Even though the state mandates physical education in kindergarten through grade five and healthful living education in grades six through 12, it does not specify the required days or minutes per week of physical activity for elementary and middle schools. In addition, state and nationwide efforts to boost academic achievement have resulted in recess quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Thornton maintains that this is where parents can step up and overcome these obstacles by making physical activity a family priority. “Finding enjoyable, regular family activities that involve physical exertion is the key to making these healthy habits part of each child’s life,” he says.

o-fitness-shannon.jpgOlympic gold medal-winning gymnast Shannon Miller established The Shannon Miller Foundation to help combat the growing epidemic of childhood obesity cases diagnosed across the nation. Inactivity places the estimated one-third of all U.S. children who are overweight at risk for developing chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure — conditions once only diagnosed in adults. Miller says her foundation’s mission is to provide a better understanding of the benefits of an active lifestyle. (At left, Olympic gold medalist Shannon Miller encourages children to make fitness a priority. Photo courtesy of Renee Parenteau)

“We get parents and their kids involved in physical activity by making fitness fun,” she says. “This can take the form of our Walk-Fit Program or our annual Women’s 5K and Children’s Fun Run, which are all featured programs that we’ve created to promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Along with a focus on fitness, Miller’s organization offers nutritional tips for healthy eating habits and ideas on managing stress, which, she says, “go hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle.”

For more information about The Shannon Miller Foundation, visit shannonmillerlifestyle.com/about/the-shannon-miller-foundation.

Jennifer Lacey specializes in covering pregnancy/family health and lifestyle issues. She blogs at amodestmommasmusingsforlittlereaders.blogspot.com.

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August 2019

August 16th is National Tell a Joke Day. Come to the Finley Center anytime during the day to share some jokes with the park community. A large board will be set up in the Exhibit Hall where...

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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For almost 200 years, farmers brought their wheat and corn to what is now Yates Mill to have their grains ground into flour and meal. Today, you can stop by the Yates Mill visitor center to see a...

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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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Enjoy live music, kid activities, a taco eating contest and The Best Taco contest.

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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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),...

Cost: $5/Adult, 4$/Senior (60+), $3/Child (7-16), 6&Younger 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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See the Game Grumps play games, make jokes and more in this stage show. Purchase tickets online. 

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
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Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Ages 11-17 learn how to make foods inspired by Asia. Register online. Choose course #124729.

Cost: $35/resident, $46/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
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Stop in during one of our Back to School Open Houses!  Meet our instructors, tune your instrument, learn a quick song and more!. Aug 12th 7-8:30 Brass & Woodwinds Aug 17th 12:30-2:00...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
9587 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
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Sponsor: Bach To Rock Music School
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster
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Enjoy storytime with Amy Godfrey. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Locopops Dessert Cafe
2618 Hillsborough St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Dragonflies love to eat flying bugs, especially mosquitoes and gnats!  Discover the different parts of a dragonfly's body through a colorful craft, learn about its life cycle, and play fun...

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
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Join us at Harris Lake County Park as we explore the wonders of water through educational activities and some for just plain fun! We will dip for critters in our pond to discover what lives...

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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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Come to Learning Express Falls Pointe for an instructive class on how to make your very own Do-A-Dot Art creation.

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
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Enjoy tea time for the whole family. Samples of hot tea, cold tea, and kombucha will be provided, along with games and family fun.

Cost: Free

Where:
IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
Contact Name: Mark Poole
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Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Bring your own poles or borrow one of ours through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are provided. All...

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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Take the fast track to nature in this hands-on study of ecology. Ages 8-12. Register online. Choose course #124972.

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
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Design a T-shirt. Materials provided. Grades 3-5. Register at the library or call 919-245-2539.

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 are so excited for our next Durham Night Market at Pine & Poplar at The Wine Feed. Over 40 local makers will be selling their handmade products. There will be food trucks, live music...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Wine Feed
307 S Roxboro St
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
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Film to be announced. *Actual time to be determined by sunset. Bring your lawn chairs, blankets, and picnics to enjoy a movie under the stars in our beautiful garden!

Cost: Free

Where:
GREGG MUSEUM OF ART & DESIGN
1903 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Sponsor: Gregg Museum of Art & Design
Telephone: 919-515-3503
Contact Name: Gregg Museum
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Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Website »

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Personality Festival is a Roxboro tradition. Enjoy amusements rides along Main Street, food vendors, singers, dancers, craft and merchandise vendors, local businesses and more. Little Miss...

Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
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Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
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Bring your friends and family to Learning Express for a Family Game Night. There will be several games available to play including popular board games, card games, arcade games, and dice...

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
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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. Choose course #124903.

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
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Take the family for a night of jigs, reels and anything Celtic. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Shop for local handmade arts and crafts from local vendors. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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The North Carolina Boys Choir and Girls Choir Half-Day Camp and Music Workshop is open to public (all children in our community between 7 and 14 years of age). Register online. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Binkley Baptist Church
1712 Willow Dr
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: North Carolina Boys Choir and Girls Choir
Telephone: 919-239-9083
Contact Name: Robert Unger
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Hundreds of artisans from across the Southeast, festival foods, demonstrations, a kids' play area and live music highlight the town's signature arts and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Town Hall Campus
316 N. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27513
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Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Play children's games from the past. No registration rquired. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
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Celebrate North Carolina farming culture and history at Duke Homestead. Don't miss the looping contest and Hornworm Race. This event features live music, local arts and crafts vendors, hands-on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
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Celebrate North Carolina farming culture and history at Duke Homestead. Don't miss the looping contest and Hornworm Race. This event features live music, local arts and crafts vendors, hands-on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

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Personality Festival is a Roxboro tradition. Enjoy amusements rides along Main Street, food vendors, singers, dancers, craft and merchandise vendors, local businesses and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
View map »


Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
Website »

More information

Ages 18 months-5 years with special needs enjoy educational and therapeutic toys with caregiver. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Flaherty Park Community Center
1226 N. White St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn basic canoeing skills and a bit about the millpond's history, then head out to explore the pond's many features as seen only from the water. Canoes, paddles, and life jackets are...

Cost: Free

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Take the family for treats, music, art and more. See a special exhibit showcasing the work of Artspace's talented young artists.

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace
201 E. Davie St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30 & 3:00 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the...

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

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


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Come into Learning Express North Hills for a trading event. Socialize with others who collect Pokemon and/or LOL dolls and negotiate for rare cards.

Cost: Free

Where:
Learning Express Falls Pointe
9660 Falls of Neuse Rd
#130
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Learning Express Falls Pointe
Telephone: 919-325-6057
Contact Name: Stephanie Gillespie
Website »

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Children make treasured memories while increasing their knowledge of plants and animals. Ages 7-10. Register online. Choose course #124931.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

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Join Horne Memorial UMC & First Baptist Church of Clayton for an evening of Christian fellowship, inspirational music, free food and family fun. All proceeds benefit Clayton Area Ministries...

Cost: Free

Where:
Clayton Town Square
100 W. Main Street
Clayton, NC  27520
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Sponsor: First Baptist Church of Clayton and Horne Memorial UMC of Clayton
Telephone: 919-218-4010
Contact Name: Melissa Dooley
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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
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North Carolina State University celebrates the beginning of a new academic year with good, music and family-friendly activities. 

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC  27607


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Caribbean culture and cuisine showcase this 7th annual festival that features masqueraders, arts and craft vendors, live music and a kids corner. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
400 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC
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