Raising Confident Decision-Makers

Age-by-age tips to help encourage good decision making from toddlerhood through the teen years.


Published:

SHUTTERSTOCK

Whether you’re helping your toddler select a snack or your teenager choose a college, guiding good decisions is central to parenting. But raising kids who make confident, wise choices can seem like a challenge — especially when your 8-year-old insists on wearing shorts in freezing weather, or your middle-schooler repeatedly chooses junk food over veggies.

Rest assured that an occasional poor choice is normal, even expected. In fact, making bad decisions is an important way for children to learn. But it’s also possible to encourage good decision-making, from toddlerhood through the teen years. Here are age-by-age tips for helping kids choose well.


Early Years

Mirror, Mirror

For parents of toddlers and preschoolers, encouraging freedom of choice is a well-known parenting rule of thumb. Asking your child whether he’d like water or milk, or whether he’d like to wear the green shirt or the blue shirt, helps him exercise decision-making muscles, fosters confidence and squashes power struggles. Many parents, however, don’t know that simply mirroring a child’s statements can also help build and reinforce decision-making confidence, says Aida Vazin, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California. To put this into practice, listen for your little one’s statements about his opinions, then reflect those statements back to him without embellishment.

“For example, if a child says ‘I like green,’ the parent should repeat in a very matter-of-fact tone, ‘you like green,’ without turning the statement into a question,” Vazin says. “This gives the child the feeling of being heard and understood, and highlights the choices the child is already making — and it’s a great confidence-booster for the child.”


Elementary Years

Balancing Act

Grade-schoolers are beginning to want more control over their daily lives, but many parents struggle to let go of the decision-making reigns, which can lead to power struggles. It’s all about balance. Research suggests that a balance between independent decision-making and parental authority yields better outcomes for kids.

“As a parent, I often remind myself that it's my kids' job to become more independent from me,” says Meg Hill, a licensed professional counselor and parenting coach in Raleigh. “Between the ages of 6 and 12, it's important for parents to increase responsibility along with choices, within a framework.”

A child could begin to make her own lunches, selecting from a checklist of healthy foods provided by the parent. Other decision-making situations could be choosing which after-school activities to pursue, or deciding whether to do chores before or after school. Don’t let go of the reigns completely, though.

“Parents should still have significant oversight of time management, as well as online activity,” Hill says.


Teen Years

Cause and Effect

Flexing decision-making muscles helps teens grow stronger, so making choices on a regular basis is vital for this age group. Parents can foster long-term learning and growth by helping teenagers begin to recognize connections between present-day choices and future results. Encourage this type of personal reflection with a little Greek philosophy.

“For teenagers, the best approach to really boost decision-making skills is to do what’s called Socratic questioning: Asking questions that are neutral and do not give judgment,” Vazin says. “For example: ‘What was important for you about that decision?’ or ‘What have you learned from this experience?’ Rather then shaming, the parents are teaching the core life skill of understanding results and consequences of actions.”

When teens begin looking toward the future, more confident decisions will emerge — and your teen might develop a love of philosophy in the process.

Malia Jacobson is an award-winning health and parenting journalist and mom of three.

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September 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
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Due to inclement weather, this event has been canceled. Children make treasured memories while increasing their knowledge of plants and animals. Ages 7-10. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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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 a street arts festival located in Durham’s historic city center that showcases 145 juried visual artists from across the U.S. and 600 performing artists from North Carolina. Food,...

Cost: $5 suggested donation

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Step back in time with our 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Tours are offered every 20 minutes beginning at 1 p.m. Reservations are...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

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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Tour the farm, spend time with farmers who care about the environment and meet friendly animals. Tickets must be purchased online; the farm is not open for drop-ins.

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Hux Family Farm
1923 Shaw Rd.
Durham, NC  27704
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Sunday, Sept. 16, 1–5 p.m. Learn how farmers harvested crops such as wheat before the invention of mechanized harvesters, try threshing wheat by hand and make a craft to take home!

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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Celebrate Latino culture with live bands, food trucks, dance performances, face painting, a pinata giveaway, crafts and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
Garner Performing Arts Center
125 Avery St.
Garner, NC  27529
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Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Clayton
E. Main St.
Clayton, NC  27520
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Sharon O'Donnell discusses her new book and tell humorous and poignant stories of having a child at 38.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Children with special needs make a creamy vegetable curry. Ages 11 and older. Register online. Choose course #116721.

Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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Website »

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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Read the story by John Parker, sing a spider song and pretend to be a spider before taking a short walk to mist spider webs and to see who’s home.  Ages 18 months-3 years with...

Cost: $2/child

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

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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 10–11 a.m.** All great inventions start out as merely ideas, and some even happen by accident. Hear invention stories, including the story of Oliver Evans, who invented the...

Cost: $4/child

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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Do you have what it takes to be a History Detective? Come to Yates Mill and find out! Solve puzzles, hunt for clues, and investigate the mystery of milling with real historical artifacts inside the...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages16 & under)

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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See Happy Dan perform magic, comedy and more.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
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Join park staff for an informal fishing experience for the whole family. Take your own poles or borrow one from the park through the Tackle Loaner Program. Bait and basic instruction are...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Parkway
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Ages 1-5 and caregiver discover nature on a morning stroll. Register online. Choose course #117285.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Jack Smith Park
9725 Penny Rd.
Cary, NC  27606
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Get great bargains on gently used kids' clothing, toys, furniture, baby equip & more at the twice-yearly Kidz Stuff Consignment Sale. From strollers to jumpers, bikes to wipes warmers-if a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC
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Celebrate Raleigh's creativity under the beautiful lights and cobblestone streets of City Market. Find locally-made goods and enjoy a night filled with music and entertainment with over 30...

Cost: Free

Where:
City Market
306 Parham St
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
Contact Name: Sara Buxton
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
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Website »

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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
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Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Get great bargains on gently used kids' clothing, toys, furniture, baby equip & more at the twice-yearly Kidz Stuff Consignment Sale. From strollers to jumpers, bikes to wipes warmers-if a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC
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In celebration of the 151st anniversary of emancipation, MOJAA Performing Arts Company presents a theatrical experience that leads guests through Mordecai Historic Park to experience plantation...

Cost: $15/person

Where:
Mordecai Historic Park
1 Mimosa St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Website »

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Friday, Sept. 21, 6:30–7:30 p.m. Go on an Owl Prowl and discover the kinds of owls that are found in the Piedmont, what they eat, where they live, and what they sound like. Dissect an owl...

Cost: $1/Person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
Contact Name: Ashley Martin
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Join us for Scrappy Hour at The Scrap Exchange! This month at Scrappy Hour we will be upcycling mason jars! Join us to create useful and decorative items that will spruce up your space! We will be...

Cost: $25

Where:
The Scrap Exchange
2050 Chapel Hill Road
Lakewood Avenue
Durham, NC  27707
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Telephone: 919-213-1278
Contact Name: Anna Graves
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

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Take the family to see a movie by the lake. Movie begins at dusk. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC
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Website »

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Americana powerhouse vocal trio Red Molly has graced stages from Denver to Denmark. The "Mollies" bring audiences to their feet with their gorgeous harmonies, crisp musicianship,...

Cost: $24

Where:
Garner Performing Arts Center
742 W Garner Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: Heartwood Montessori
Telephone: (919) 465-2113
Contact Name: Virginia McCollum
Website »

More information

Show More...
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The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

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


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

More information

Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
View map »


Website »

More information

2018 marks 300 years since the notorious pirate Blackbeard roamed the Carolina coast and lost his life – and his head – in a fight with British soldiers. Learn more about the history of...

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Cost: $5 advance tickets; $8 at the door. Free for ages 12 and younger

Where:
Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27518
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Website »

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Tinkergarten brings early childhood education to a park near you. In our classes, kids enjoy the freedom of independent exploration through well-designed play-based activities that lend from the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hollow Rock Nature Park
692 Erwin Rd
Durham, NC  27707
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Sponsor: Ali Wolfe
Contact Name: Ali Wolfe
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Cost: Free

Where:
Hope Valley Farms YMCA
4818 S. Roxboro St.
Durham , NC  27713
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Sponsor: Hope Valley Farms YMCA
Telephone: 919-401-9621
Contact Name: Kelly Johnson
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Cost: $10 for ages 13 and older. Free for ages 12 and younger.

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

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Project Palooza benefits Project Enlightenment in Wake County and celebrates Project Enlightenment's service to children, families and educators. Enjoy games, crafts,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Project Enlightenment
501 S. Boylan Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Project Enlightenment
Telephone: 614-783-2507
Contact Name: Caitlin Howison
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Durham Public Schools Hub Farm hosts its biannual open house. This free event will feature music, food catered by DPS students, boating, tree climbing, tours, beekeeping demos, and is kid- and...

Cost: Free for general admission

Where:
The Hub Farm
117 Milton Rd.
Durham, NC  27712
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Cost: $3/child

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
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Taste the world while enjoying free music and dance entertainment, kids games and raffle prizes. Enjoy authentic foods from a dozen countries, live entertainment, games, inflatables and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
J. Ashley Wall Towne Square
Cyprus and Third Streets
Wendell, NC  27591
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675

More information

Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: $10 advance tickets; $15 at the door

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


Website »

More information

Get great bargains on gently used kids' clothing, toys, furniture, baby equip & more at the twice-yearly Kidz Stuff Consignment Sale. From strollers to jumpers, bikes to wipes warmers-if a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

In celebration of the 151st anniversary of emancipation, MOJAA Performing Arts Company presents a theatrical experience that leads guests through Mordecai Historic Park to experience plantation...

Cost: $15/person

Where:
Mordecai Historic Park
1 Mimosa St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Website »

More information

Many animals are active around sunset or shortly after. Take a walk with a park naturalist to explore the woods and fields at this special time. Look for deer, coyotes and owls. All ages....

Cost: $2

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson Nature Preserve
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PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
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120 Country Club Road
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Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
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