North Carolina Child Care Star-Rating System Explained


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Joyce Robinson, director of The Happy Face School in Raleigh, is proud that her center has earned five stars since the rating program started in 2000. "We've gotten our five-star license three times," Robinson says. "Child care is a lot different than it used to be, and this system helps ensure that the teachers are educated and able to work well with the children."

While Robinson's track record makes it sound easy, the requirements for achieving a five-star rating are pretty intense, and the ratings are important for day-care centers when it comes to attracting parents. "These days, the Internet is such a big factor in almost any sort of research, that when parents go to look for quality child care, they begin by searching for five-star schools," says Allison Frye, director of the Goddard School in Matthews, N.C. And that's just one reason why having a five-star rating is important. It's also a valuable tool when it comes to marketing a school, talking about the school to prospective parents and receiving public recognition.

While the rating system is extremely important for day-care providers, it's also an important tool for parents. If you've searched for child care for your kids, or are looking into day-care options as you anticipate the birth of your first child or plan to re-enter the workforce, you've probably used the star-rated license system as a guide. But what does it really mean?

The history of the stars

The North Carolina Division of Child Development instituted the star-rated licensing program as a way to offer parents more information on the quality of available child-care options. All child-care centers and family child-care homes that are licensed now also receive a star rating, with one star being the minimum.The license is renewed every three years. Religious-sponsored programs continue to operate under a notice of compliance, unless they request a star-rated license.

When the rating system was first introduced, the assessment looked at three areas: staff education, program standards and compliance history. After a revision in 2005, the compliance history was removed.

"They took this requirement off to make the ratings more weighted on staff education and program standards," explains Stephanie Rietschel, former director of the quality improvement project for Randolph Community College, a program that provided technical assistance to help centers improve their ratings.

The compliance history is assessed every six months by the health department, so centers are held to a certain standard even though it's no longer part of the star-rating assessment. Centers have to have at least a 75 percent grade in compliance history to remain open.

"Taking off the compliance history was just a way to eliminate the chance that a center would be meeting the program standards and have a really well-educated staff but overlook something simple in the compliance history and have their star-rating lowered," Rietschel says.

Since the revision, the two components give equal weight to staff education and program standards. For staff education, centers can earn more credit if employees have gone beyond the basic requirements of training. The program standards part of the assessment looks at aspects of the center such as the staff-to-child ratio, the square footage per child, the materials available for kids to play with, and sanitation issues such as how often kids and teachers wash their hands and if they wash them consistently.

Looking at the entire experience

While it's important to pay attention to the star rating of your child's center, it's not the only thing parents need to look at. "North Carolina provides the star-rated licensing program to us as a guide, and I think parents should look at it as just that, an indicator of quality," says Erin Reiter, director of family support for Child Care Services Association in Raleigh.

So what else should a parent consider when choosing a child-care center? Here is some advice from professionals around the state.

First, be sure to visit each center that you are considering. "Make an unannounced visit and ask for a tour," Rietschel says. "While you're there, make sure they take you through all the classrooms and watch to see if the teachers are happy and that the students are engaged, either with materials, the teachers or each other."

Katherine Davis, director of The Growing Place in Asheboro, suggests looking at the environment. "While you can't really change your building, whether it's old or new, you can make sure that it's clean and organized. And if it is an older building, check that current safety precautions have been met."

Staying up to code also is important. "When visiting a center, make sure they have a handbook for you and their license displayed," says Faye Anderson, owner of Faye's Daycare in Greensboro for 18 years. "You should also make sure they're following the rules as far as health and safety, and provide good, nutritional meals and snacks."

Resources for parents

There are plenty of resources in North Carolina to turn to for help when it's time to make that big decision of where your child will spend part of his days away from you. Most parents will start their search online, and the North Carolina Division of Child Development has a Child Care Facility Search, which is a good place to start. You can search by ZIP code, type of center and age of child, and the results will tell you the facility's rating, the services they provide and a link to a Web site if available. Carolina Parent also offers an online directory of child-care facilities and preschools.

It's also a good idea to visit your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (CCR&R). Child Care Services Association, which is a nationally recognized nonprofit agency working to ensure affordable, accessible, high-quality child care to all families, provides child-care resource and referral services to the Triangle.

"We want parents to come to us when looking for child care," Reiter says. "Our services are free, and we're here to help." In addition to resources, checklists and advice on what to look for, representatives at your local CCR&R have access to a database of all child-care facilities with the ability to do a more customized search, helping find quality centers based on factors such as proximity to parents' work, classroom size and services provided.

Of course, some of your best resources will be other parents. "When I was looking for child care for my now 1-year-old daughter, I talked with friends before calling the centers," says Kim Raper of Durham. "The biggest factor influencing my decision was finding the best quality day care for a good price, and while doing my research I found centers don't list pricing in their ads." Raper was able to use her friends to find centers within her price range before spending a lot of time visiting places she couldn't afford.

When it comes to choosing a child-care facility, the most important advice is to follow your instincts. "I tell people to go with their gut feeling," Frye says. "Star ratings are important, but they don't always tell the whole story. Once you have your rating, it's good for three years, but in this industry things can change quickly. For example, if you have a big turnover, the level of staff education could change dramatically overnight."

Be sure to visit, walk through the school, pay attention to how you feel about the place and talk with the teachers. If you feel comfortable, your child will feel comfortable, too.

Karen Alley is the Web editor for Piedmont Parent, a sister publication of Carolina Parent.

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December 2016

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5 E. Edenton St.
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5 E. Edenton St.
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4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
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4109 Guess Road
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Cost: Free

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theCoderSchool
201 Davis Grove Circle
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Cost: Free

Where:
theCoderSchool
201 Davis Grove Circle
Cary, NC  27519
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Cost: Call for prices

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Sacred Heart Cathedral
200 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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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
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Oak View County Park
4028 Carya Drive
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Telephone: 919-212-7695
Contact Name: Josh Ingersoll
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Cost: Free

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Greystone Community Indoor Park
7713 Leadmine Road
Raleigh, NC
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Sponsor: Mocha Moms of Raleigh
Contact Name: Lauren Massie
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Cost: Free

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Century Center
100 N. Green St.
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Rose of Sharon Baptist Church
4109 Guess Road
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Sponsor: Rose of Sharon Baptist Church
Telephone: 919-477-3993
Contact Name: Jonathan Hendrickson
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Cost: Free

Where:
Salem Baptist Church
1821 Salem Church Road
Apex, NC  27523
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Sponsor: Salem Baptist Church
Telephone: 919-362-7327
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Cost: Donation of a canned good or new toy for an area crisis ministry

Where:
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1300 Corporate Chaplain Dr.
Wake Forest , NC  27587
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Telephone: 919-570-0700
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More information

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Cost: $13-$85

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PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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1937 West Cornwallis Rd.
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Cost: Free with admission

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10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
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Cost: Free with admission

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10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Cost: Free

Where:
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4028 Carya Drive
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


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Cost: $5/child member, $7/child nonmember

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Cost: Free

Where:
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4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Rose of Sharon Baptist Church
4109 Guess Road
Durham, NC  27712
View map »


Sponsor: Rose of Sharon Baptist Church
Telephone: 919-477-3993
Contact Name: Jonathan Hendrickson
Website »

More information

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Cost: Donation of a canned good or new toy for an area crisis ministry

Where:
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1300 Corporate Chaplain Dr.
Wake Forest , NC  27587
View map »


Sponsor: Corporate Chaplains of America
Telephone: 919-570-0700
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More information

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Cost: Free

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Salem Baptist Church
1821 Salem Church Road
Apex, NC  27523
View map »


Sponsor: Salem Baptist Church
Telephone: 919-362-7327
Website »

More information

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Contact Name: City Ballet
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Cost: $13-$85

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


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More information

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Cost: $8/adult, $6 ages 16 and younger

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The Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


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More information

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Cost: $28-$33

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
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View map »


Website »

More information

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Help find candy canes hidden in Bond Park. Ages 6-12. Register online by Dec. 1. Choose course #97272.

Cost: $10/child

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC
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Take part in a 5K, 1-mile fun run and kids' dash. The event benefits St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School in Cary. Register online.

Cost: $8-$35

Where:
Wake Med Cross Country Course/Wake Med Soccer Park
201 Soccer Park Drive
Cary, NC  27511
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Shop more than 100 vendors, enjoy pictures with Santa and raffles prizes, and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Garner Magnet High School, South Campus
8828 Hebron Church Rd.
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: GMHS PTSA
Telephone: 919-559-6018
Contact Name: Shanna or Shalon

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Parent and child move from station to station crafting original holiday gifts and treats for friends and family. Work alongside a talented group of Makery Fellows and area artists to create...

Cost: $35/child, $15/adult

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Contact Name: Kidzu Info
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Take part in the preschool's annual Breakfast with Santa. Enjoy a breakfast of pancakes, sausage and fruit, as well as photos with Santa and doing Christmas crafts with your kids. Enjoy a...

Cost: $6 in advance, $8 at door. Free for ages 2 and younger

Where:
Windborne United Methodist Church
9121 Six Forks Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Windborne United Methodist Preschool
Telephone: 919.342.6075
Contact Name: Laura Bass
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Join Mrs. Claus for breakfast and a short story. After visiting with Mrs. Claus, enjoy a holiday craft. Register online.

Cost: Free

Where:
Garden Supply Company
1421 Old Apex Road
Cary, NC  27513
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Sponsor: Garden Supply Company
Telephone: 919.460.7747
Contact Name: Kathy Burns
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Take a walk in the woods and discover the animals and plants that call the park home. Help collect data for our Natural Resource Inventory Database and other citizen science projects. Ages 14 and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Create a keepsake gingerbread house. Register online.

Cost: $12/member, $15/nonmember; $20/house

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Learn, explore and play outdoors while doing a fun nature-based activity. Ages 18 mos-5 yrs with parent. Register online.

Cost: Free

Where:
Forest Hills Park
1639 University Dr.
Durham, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Tinkergarten
Telephone: 919-806-7502
Contact Name: Kate Macartney
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Beginner, amateur and advanced BMX riders take part in a competition. Register online. Spectators attend free of charge. Food available for purchase.

Cost: $30-$35

Where:
Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex
171 Tradition Trail, Ste. 207
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex
Telephone: 919-557-8088
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Enjoy an introduction to cloth diapering. This class includes information about types of diapers, accessories, and care of cloth. The class will include handouts to take home so that parents can...

Cost: Free

Where:
Grow, The Family Boutique
2885 Jones Franklin Rd
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Telephone: 919-803-3521
Contact Name: Heather Dickens
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See favorite Disney characters, including Olaf, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Dory and all the princesses, perform in dazzling ice skating show. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $13-$85

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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City Ballet Raleigh presents its 24th annual performance of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." The family-friendly, full-length ballet features guest artists from Carolina Ballet dancing...

Cost: $15-$30

Where:
NCSU Stewart Theatre
2610 Cates Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Sponsor: City Ballet
Telephone: 919-844-9799
Contact Name: City Ballet
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Make a holiday ornament with the Durham Arts Council.

Cost: Free

Where:
Northgate Mall
1058 W. Club Blvd., Ste. 132
Durham, NC  27701
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Make memories by creating a gingerbread house with freshly baked gingerbread, handmade icing and candy. This event benefits a community preschool. Register online for either the 11 a.m.-noon...

Cost: $40/house (includes a whole group of family or friends)

Where:
Family Preschool
4907 Garrett Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Family Preschool
Telephone: 919-402-1500
Contact Name: Ginger B. House
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Discover handmade treasures and wonderful treats at this years holiday shopping event of the year. Holiday refreshments will be enjoyed throughout the event. Door prizes will be given out every...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fuquay-Varina Woman's Club House
602 N. Ennis Street
Fuquay-Varina, NC  27526
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Sponsor: Ballentine-Spence House
Telephone: 925-399-1629
Contact Name: Anna Campbell
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This musical comedy is a holiday sugarplum for the whole family with just the right mixture of comedy and romance to add the sparkle of magic to your holiday season. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $28-$33

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Celebrate Computer Science Education Week in December. TheCoderSchool is joining the global "Hour of Code" movement. Be one of the tens of millions of students around the...

Cost: Free

Where:
theCoderSchool
201 Davis Grove Circle
Cary, NC  27519
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Sponsor: theCoderSchool
Contact Name: Ravisha Weerasinghe
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Visit with Santa at the birth center, and enjoy milk and cookies and storytime. Kids can talk with Santa about their holiday gift wishes. Santa will also be handing out candy canes. All attendees...

Cost: Free

Where:
Baby+Company Cary
226 Asheville Ave Ste 20
Cary, NC  27518
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Ages 6-10 enjoy nature activities and projects. Registration required.

Cost: $26/resident, $34/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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Decorate a gingerbread house. Participants receive an undecorated gingerbread house with royal icing and tasty toppings. Hot chocolate bar included. Ages 4 and older with family.

Cost: $25

Where:
Kidzu Children's Museum
201 S. Estes Drive
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Kidzu Children's Museum
Telephone: 919-933-1455
Contact Name: Kidzu Info
Website »

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Join Wendell Falls for its first Holiday Sip and Shop event, which is free and open to the public. Tour gorgeous model homes while picking up last-minute gifts from a variety of vendors. Tasting...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wendell Falls by Newland Communities
320 Vintage Point Ln
Wendell , NC  27591
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Carolina Ballet gets families into Christmas spirit when one of its principal dancers, Lara O'Brien, reads "The Nutcracker." Ages 4 and older.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Walk through the scenes of Jesus' birth in the maze. Take a flashlight if you plan to arrive after 4 p.m. The event also features Santa, storytime and cookies with Mrs. Claus, crafts and games...

Cost: $10/person at the farm gate. Cash only

Where:
Lazy O Farm
3583 Packing Plant Road
Smithfield, NC  27577
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Sponsor: Lazy O Farm
Telephone: 919-934-1132
Contact Name: Tami Thompson
Website »

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Take a hike with park staff to investigate animal lives and adaptations using your five senses. Ages 5 and older. Registration required.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-4330
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Enjoy the holiday story featuring elaborate scenery, a live orchestra, magical illusions, the entire Carolina Ballet company, and more than 100 local children. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $27-$112

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Carolina Ballet
Telephone: 919-719-0900
Website »

More information

Make creative gifts for friends and family using items found in nature. Enjoy hot chocolate. Ages 6-12. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Register online. Choose course #194798.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Durant Nature Preserve
8305 Camp Durant Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Telephone: 919-870-2871
Website »

More information

See favorite Disney characters, including Olaf, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Dory and all the princesses, perform in dazzling ice skating show. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $13-$85

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Santa for wagon ride to explore the back roads of the park. Listen to stories and sing Christmas carols. Take a blanket. All ages. Meet at the Loblolly Shelter. Register online.

Cost: $2/person

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-4342
Website »

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Enjoy "Christmas All Over the Place," "Ten Minutes Till Christmas" and "Bring On The Snow." Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $8/adult, $6 ages 16 and younger

Where:
The Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Website »

More information

City Ballet Raleigh presents its 24th annual performance of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." The family-friendly, full-length ballet features guest artists from Carolina Ballet dancing...

Cost: $15-$30

Where:
NCSU Stewart Theatre
2610 Cates Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Sponsor: City Ballet
Telephone: 919-844-9799
Contact Name: City Ballet
Website »

More information

Learn about nature as the sun sets. All ages with parent. Registration required.

Cost: $20/resident, $28/nonresident

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

More information

Enjoy a live nativity journey. This nonticketed event is open to all ages. Doors open at 4 p.m.

Cost: Free

Where:
Salem Baptist Church
1821 Salem Church Road
Apex, NC  27523
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Sponsor: Salem Baptist Church
Telephone: 919-362-7327
Website »

More information

This musical comedy is a holiday sugarplum for the whole family with just the right mixture of comedy and romance to add the sparkle of magic to your holiday season. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $28-$33

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Rose of Sharon Baptist Church presents "Christmas Plugged," a drive-up, synchronized, Christmas music light show to 90.1 FM. Enjoy  20,000 LED bulbs as they dance to familiar tunes...

Cost: Free

Where:
Rose of Sharon Baptist Church
4109 Guess Road
Durham, NC  27712
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Sponsor: Rose of Sharon Baptist Church
Telephone: 919-477-3993
Contact Name: Jonathan Hendrickson
Website »

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Celebrate the 20th birthday of Jellybeans Super Skate Center. Free skating takes place from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Where:
Jellybeans Super Skate Center
1120 Buck Jones Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27606
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Website »

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Kids ages 7-17 take part in a hands-on magic workshop. Learn the performance art of theatrical magic from local masters on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Details available at...

Cost: $10

Where:
The Magic Corner Magic Shop
3684 Capital Blvd.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: Ring #199,The Int'l Brotherhood of Magicians
Telephone: 919-272-6465
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

See favorite Disney characters, including Olaf, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Dory and all the princesses, perform in dazzling ice skating show. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $13-$85

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy the holiday story featuring elaborate scenery, a live orchestra, magical illusions, the entire Carolina Ballet company, and more than 100 local children. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $27-$112

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Carolina Ballet
Telephone: 919-719-0900
Website »

More information

Enjoy "Christmas All Over the Place," "Ten Minutes Till Christmas" and "Bring On The Snow." Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $8/adult, $6 ages 16 and younger

Where:
The Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

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