Tending to Your Special Needs Child’s Sibling

Common challenges and how to approach them


Published:

Above photo courtesy of Jaren Jai Wicklund/Shutterstock.com

When you have a child with special needs, all the typical challenges a parent faces are magnified, including tending to the needs of typically developing siblings. Many of these challenges can easily be foreseen, while others can hit from seemingly out of the blue. While no two family’s experiences are the same, experts and a veteran parent discuss some of the most common challenges parents face when tending to the needs of their special needs child’s sibling(s).


Explaining What’s Going On

Siblings are going to notice if their brother or sister behaves differently, or can’t do the same things they are able to do. That’s only natural, but Shannon Erklin, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices with Family Psychiatry & Psychology Associates in Cary, says it’s important for siblings to understand their special needs sibling’s condition, if telling them is age-appropriate.

Some of the questions siblings may ask include: “Why does he have so many doctor’s appointments?” or “Why does he have meltdowns and we have to leave the store or restaurant?” Another one may be, “Why do therapists come into our house to work with him and not me?”

Erklin cautions that if parents avoid talking about these issues, siblings may think “something bad or something contagious” is wrong. “Kids are going to go there mentally,” she says. If they have the information they need, that allows them to feel more comfortable with the situation.


Parental Attention and Resources

Children with special needs almost always require more parental attention, which, in turn, may reduce the amount of attention a parent can pay to a typically developing child. Erklin acknowledges that this is “a very felt challenge for a lot of siblings.”

It’s also something Durham mom Robyn Sipe feels strongly about. She has three children: Turner (12), Will (15) and Riley (18). Will has Down syndrome and Sip says she and her husband try to treat each child equally, and focus on all three children in at least some capacity.

“We praise them equally and we punish them equally,” she says.

This often requires being more intentional on their part because it’s simply harder for Will to do certain things. That means they’re often praising him for little things Turner can do with no problem. When Turner and Will went to the same camp this past summer, Sipe and her husband realized how much they were asking Will about what he had done at the camp, and had made sure they also asked Turner the same question.

Because Will “is afforded a lot of really cool opportunities that Turner doesn’t get,” Sipe and her husband encourage their other two children to enjoy and excel at what they’re interested in doing as well. 


Riley (18), Turner (12) and Will (15) Sipe

Photo courtesy of the Sipe family


Managing Negative Emotions

Even when parents try their best to be equitable with both or all of their children, it’s almost inevitable that siblings are going to feel negative emotions toward a special needs brother or sister at some point. Sipe says Turner has admitted that when he was little, he would say that he wished he had Down syndrome. This reaction is completely natural.

“They’re going to have negative and conflicted feelings about their special needs sibling — caring about them but resenting them,” which often leads to feelings of guilt, Erklin says. “A lot of siblings are really struggling with complex emotions and oftentimes feel like nobody understands what it’s like for them.”

Therefore, it’s important that parents make sure their typically developing children know it’s okay to have these kinds of feelings — and to not shame them for feeling that way.

Parents should also encourage typically developing children to communicate their feelings, either with themselves or someone else. The Sibling Support Project’s “Sibshops” are group therapy programs specifically designed for siblings of children with special needs. The programs are located in Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary. Learn more at siblingsupport.org/about-sibshops.


Fostering Healthy Sibling Relationships

One of the most important foundations parents of special needs children can provide for both or all of their children is to foster healthy sibling relationships. Erklin says she really works with parents to “try to avoid defaulting caretaking and responsibility of their special needs child to their siblings.” In some situations, that may be unavoidable, but for the most part, she advocates for letting the sibling relationship develop naturally. 

Tiffany “T.R.” Goins is a physical therapist and co-owner of Abilitations Children’s Therapy & Wellness Center, Inc., which has offices in Raleigh and Knightdale.

“There’s a special language I see over and over between a child with special needs and their sibling,” she says. “Siblings do not always see the special needs. They see their brother or sister who, yes, may have autism, but they also took their toy. And then they fight, which is a beautiful thing.”

She says this connection can be helpful, especially if a special needs child is nonverbal, because the typically developing sibling can talk to her special needs brother or sister about what motivates him or her.

Sipe says Will can speak clearly, but if he’s talking fast, it can be hard to understand him, so Turner will often translate if there are new people around.

Another tip: Try to identify physical activities or play that a special needs child can do with his or her typically developing siblings to help nurture that natural relationship.

Sipe says when Riley and Will were at the same school last year, Riley drove him to school and walked him to class every day. In anticipation of Will starting high school and wanting him to feel included, she started a club called “Best Buddies” that pairs special needs students with typically developing students.

Erklin says Riley’s actions exemplify the positive impacts typically developing children can have on a special needs sibling in an educational setting. They “have this amazing understanding of diversity and often really become leaders and advocates for individuals with special needs,” she says.

On the other hand, if a special needs sibling is verbally or physically aggressive, or if there is general chaos in the house, the stress, anxiety or depression a typically developing sibling may experience can impact how he or she performs at school. This is something parents need to alert teachers to and be on the lookout for.

Sipe says having a special needs child has profoundly and positively impacted every member of her family. Riley and Turner are “kind, loving, compassionate, tolerant and considerate,” and for much of that she gives credit to Will being in their lives.


Robyn Kinsey Mooring is a Durham-based writer and mom to two teenage boys.

 

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Calendar

November 2019

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: See website for fees

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Southpoint Mall and American Tobacco Trail
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Cost: $29/person

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Whole Brain Escape
410 Upchurch St
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Whole Brain Escape
Telephone: (919)355-2714
Contact Name: Heather Chandler
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Cost: $35

Where:
Halifax Mall, downtown Raleigh
, NC  27601


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Cost: Free

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Lower Haw River State Natural Area
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (60+ yrs), $3/Child (7-16yrs), Free/Child (6yrs & younger)

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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Cost: $15 per girl scout; no charge for troop leaders or other accompanying adults

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JC Raulston Arboretum
4415 Beryl Rd.
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View map »


Website »

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Cost: See website for fees

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

More information

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

Cost: Free

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


Website »

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

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Cost: $70

Where:
Bach to Rock Music School
958 US 64
Apex, NC  27523
View map »

More information

Whole Brain Escape, the Triangle’s newest escape room, is debuting its 4th room! Located in Apex, Whole Brain Escape is excited to unveil The Curse of Dr. Conundrum on Friday, November 8th....

Cost: $29/person

Where:
Whole Brain Escape
410 Upchurch St
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Whole Brain Escape
Telephone: (919)355-2714
Contact Name: Heather Chandler
Website »

More information

Discover Historic Yates Mill – a place of business, community, and exciting local history! Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of...

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

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Nature Peekers: Owl Babies Tuesday, November 12, 10:30-11 a.m. Three baby owls awake one night to find their mother gone, and they can’t help but wonder where she is. What adventures will they...

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Website »

More information

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Cost: For all ages (adult accompaniment required for all children); FREE. Registration

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850

More information

Whole Brain Escape, the Triangle’s newest escape room, is debuting its 4th room! Located in Apex, Whole Brain Escape is excited to unveil The Curse of Dr. Conundrum on Friday, November 8th....

Cost: $29/person

Where:
Whole Brain Escape
410 Upchurch St
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Whole Brain Escape
Telephone: (919)355-2714
Contact Name: Heather Chandler
Website »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Ages 11-17 create old-fashioned taffy and hard candy using ingredients like caramel, marshmallow and chocolate. Register online. Choose course #127043.

Cost: $18/resident, $23/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Please join Admissions, Division Directors and our Head of School as they talk about Duke School’s unique program, specifically for Preschoolers (3-4 year olds) for the 2020-21 school year. A...

Cost: $0

Where:
Duke School
3716 Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Duke School
Telephone: 919-416-9420
Contact Name: Logan Blaylock

More information

Whole Brain Escape, the Triangle’s newest escape room, is debuting its 4th room! Located in Apex, Whole Brain Escape is excited to unveil The Curse of Dr. Conundrum on Friday, November 8th....

Cost: $29/person

Where:
Whole Brain Escape
410 Upchurch St
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Whole Brain Escape
Telephone: (919)355-2714
Contact Name: Heather Chandler
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. 

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

Whole Brain Escape, the Triangle’s newest escape room, is debuting its 4th room! Located in Apex, Whole Brain Escape is excited to unveil The Curse of Dr. Conundrum on Friday, November 8th....

Cost: $29/person

Where:
Whole Brain Escape
410 Upchurch St
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Whole Brain Escape
Telephone: (919)355-2714
Contact Name: Heather Chandler
Website »

More information

November Story Time, Puppet Show and Art Activity Puppet Show Incorporated https://www.puppetshowinc.org/ presents the classic folk story Stone Soup. Activities include a story time, puppet show...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hillsborough Main Library
137 West Margaret Lane
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Library
Telephone: 919-245-2525
Contact Name: Beth Hawkey
Website »

More information

Don’t miss one of the Triangle’s most popular fundraisers, benefiting Urban Ministries of Wake County. Stone Soup Supper, presented by Bank of America, that features 15 local...

Cost: $25-$45/person

Where:
McKimmon Center
1101 Gorman St.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Learn the basics of Stop Motion Animation then make your own movie.  Call to register, 919-245-2532. Space is limited. Best for kids ages 8 and up. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Orange County Main Library
137 W Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
Telephone: 919-245-2539
Contact Name: Libbie Hough
Website »

More information

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

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

When Possum sees the full harvest moon, he decides to throw one last party before the long winter. But everyone is too busy preparing for winter and it looks as if nobody will come to Possum's...

Cost: FREE. Registration is required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Discover all things sweet potato at the State Farmers Market. 

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

Whole Brain Escape, the Triangle’s newest escape room, is debuting its 4th room! Located in Apex, Whole Brain Escape is excited to unveil The Curse of Dr. Conundrum on Friday, November 8th....

Cost: $29/person

Where:
Whole Brain Escape
410 Upchurch St
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Whole Brain Escape
Telephone: (919)355-2714
Contact Name: Heather Chandler
Website »

More information

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Cost: $125

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Read and Feed
Website »

More information

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

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

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
View map »


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

More information

Yates Mill Associates invites you to their annual holiday sale. Browse an array of gifts including crafts handmade by talented volunteers; Yates Mill souvenir mugs, T-shirts and hats; and cookbooks...

Cost: Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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+ yrs), $3/Child (7-16yrs), Free/Child (6yrs & younger)

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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Cost: $5/child

Where:
Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver delight in the discoveries of nature. Register online. 

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

Ages 4-12 enjoy free arts and crafts. Registration not required. Children must have adult accompaniment. 

Cost: Free

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


Website »

More information

November Story Time, Puppet Show and Art Activity Puppet Show Incorporated https://www.puppetshowinc.org/ presents the classic folk story Stone Soup. Activities include a story time, puppet show...

Cost: Free

Where:
Carrboro Branch Library
900 Old Fayetteville Road
Inside McDougle Middle School
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Library
Telephone: 919-969-3006
Contact Name: Beth Hawkey
Website »

More information

Take a walk in the woods and discover the animals and plants that call our park home. Help collect data for our Natural Resources Inventory Database and other citizen science projects. All...

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Whole Brain Escape, the Triangle’s newest escape room, is debuting its 4th room! Located in Apex, Whole Brain Escape is excited to unveil The Curse of Dr. Conundrum on Friday, November 8th....

Cost: $29/person

Where:
Whole Brain Escape
410 Upchurch St
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: Whole Brain Escape
Telephone: (919)355-2714
Contact Name: Heather Chandler
Website »

More information

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+ yrs), $3/Child (7-16yrs), Free/Child (6yrs & younger)

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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

Cost: FREE. Registration is not required.

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Usher in the holidays with a tree-lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Carolers, a visit from Santa, a dance scene from the Nutcracker, special performances from local schools, and dozens of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lafayette Village
8450 Honeycutt Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Website »

More information

All evening and into the night, 3000 pounds of molten iron will be poured into molds, in an exciting fiery display. Additionally, there will be Liberty Arts artists’ work for sale, scratch...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Central Park
501 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Discover what's happening as the sun sets and listen to stories around a campfire. All ages with adult. Register online. Choose course #127674.

Cost: $18/resident, $24/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
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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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Join the Studio School of Durham team to sip, tinker, and create on Saturday, November 16th at 7:00pm for this FREE event!  We will provide the food, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Studio School of Durham
1201 W Woodcroft Pkwy
Durham, NC  27713
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Sponsor: The Studio School of Durham
Telephone: 984-377-4502
Contact Name: Danielle Sunde
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The EWFL carries a unique experience in youth football to play in a “big game” atmosphere.  Our games begin in the afternoons on Saturday and play into the evening “under the...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Durham County Stadium
750 Stadium Dr
Durham, NC  27704
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See horses compete and enjoy food trucks, children's activities and more. Admission is free; Saturday evening Grand Prix tickets are $10/person. Proceeds benefit Duke Children's...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.