Reintroducing Traditional Childhood Games

The value of skinned knees and other life lessons


Published:

Photo courtesy of Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

There’s a shallow spot in the Eno River with a small rapid, a sandbar and a wide stretch of water that never gets over 3 feet deep. As the weather gets warmer, I often walk there with my dog and remember never-ending summer days I spent with my sons teaching them to swim, building dams in the rapids and racing stick boats through the channels of the rocks. Most of all, this will always be known as the place of the Monster House.

Across the river is an old cabin maintained by the North Carolina State Parks service. The doors and windows are gone, but it is otherwise well-maintained. A monster lives there. If you are touching the wall on the front porch you are safe — but if you venture into the house, or off the porch, the monster can catch you. If he catches you, you become the monster.

We played this simple game with tireless delight. To this day, just the mention of the Monster House brings smiles to our faces, and I occasionally take a picture of the house and send it to my boys, who now live far away. This, of course, is one variation of the traditional game of “tag” that fills many a childhood. All over the world children play the same games — slight variations to the rules, and maybe a different focal point — but otherwise identical.


Teaching Traditions

For the past 15 years I have had the pleasure of teaching workshops on traditional games to children and parents both here and in Asia. It seems strange somehow that games once passed from child to child for hundreds of years need to be taught. Yet, this is the case as TV, computers, smartphones and T-ball leagues have pushed these gems to the brink of extinction. Still, the games persist. “Peekaboo” will never perish. The phrase, “I’m going to catch you!” will always bring joy and laughter to a 3-year-old.

A few years ago I was in Shanghai when I noticed two 3-year-old children chasing each other around a field. They were laughing so hard they almost fell over, and when one did catch the other, they tumbled on top of each other like little puppies. A few months later I was in a park in upstate New York and saw the same thing: Three young girls chasing each other back and forth between two trees that served as bases. When I saw this, I wished I could still experience the uninhibited joy I saw in them.

Luckily, I still get to play these games with children, and I get to watch adults experience the joy of traditional games as I teach them. During these workshops, adults become like children again. I’ve seen Chinese military officers skipping around a circle holding hands and singing, “Go In and Out the Windows,” howling with laughter. I’ve watched “too cool” teens giggle with delight trying to figure out who is hiding the “Key to the Castle” in their hands. Kids who don’t think of themselves as athletic sprint away from a wolf, or spin and twist to avoid the dreaded sea serpent.


Metaphors of Life

These games resonate deeply in us and I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like a good game. But why? “It’s just a game,” we say to console a child who may have been on the losing end. But it wasn’t “just a game” for me when I was that age. It was life.

Maybe that’s why these games have always been played — they are pictures, metaphors of life in forms children can understand. Dogs play to learn how to be dogs; lions play to learn how to be lions. Maybe, just maybe, traditional games teach children the skills they need to become successful humans.

Having played these games for many years I can guarantee two things will eventually happen: injuries and arguments. Injuries teach us to be careful and aware of our surroundings. They teach us self-control. They teach us to be respectful of others. Injuries allow us to experience healing; to understand that what hurts now won’t hurt forever. Skinned elbows heal. So do broken hearts. Arguments teach us social skills, emotional control and conflict resolution. The arguments almost always concern agreed-upon rules, which someone is deemed to have violated. They are about not respecting boundaries, either of another player’s personal space or of the game.

Now, reflect on many of the issues we face today. We deal with people who are too easily offended or overreactive, who aren’t respectful of other people and social boundaries, and who are overwhelmed by small setbacks. We all will experience heartbreak and disappointment. Have we learned the process of healing and recovering? Have we endured the experiences in childhood that teach us to learn from our mistakes? These lessons, I believe, are the greatest gifts of these traditional games.


Connecting With Humanity

There is one more thing: connection. Every traditional game is about connection. That is what “tag” is — a connection. More than the joy of playing “Monster” with my sons, it created a deep bond we will share forever. What young children want and need most of all is connection with the people who love them. This is the foundation of who they are, and sets the base from which they will venture out into the world. That’s where my boys are now, and I am proud they are finding their way. I miss them dearly. We will rarely have time to play “Monster” anymore so I’m really glad I took the time to play it when they were small.

I remember, also, when they were young that the struggles of parenting seemed endless. There were times my wife and I were frazzled by the demands of guiding our sons through various challenges. I know now that it’s not endless. By age 14 or so they want to be with their friends. By 18 they are off to college — and then they are off into the world.

So play a game when you can. All it takes is a little space, a base, a few rules and some characters to make it exciting — wolves, foxes, pirates and, of course, monsters.


20 Traditional Games to Play With Kids

  1. Tag
  2. Freeze Tag
  3. Hide-and-Seek
  4. Capture the Flag
  5. Red Light, Green Light
  6. Mother May I?
  7. Simon Says
  8. Kick the Can
  9. Hopscotch
  10. Marco Polo
  11. Red Rover
  12. Blind Man’s Bluff
  13. Heads Up, Seven Up
  14. Musical Chairs
  15. Telephone
  16. Parachute
  17. Hand-Clap Games
  18. Double Dutch Jump Rope
  19. Jacks
  20. Marbles

Need help remembering the rules? Check out “30 Classic Outdoor Games for Kids.”

Source: wired.com


Whitney MacDonald lives in Hillsborough with his wife, Amy, and works nationally and internationally as an educational consultant. He runs workshops on topics ranging from traditional games to parenting, rites of passage for teens and conflict resolution. Learn more at creatingmen.com.

 

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November 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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RJR hosts the Sirens from Savannah, Georgia, for a sanctioned junior bout, followed by an adult scrimmage. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Allstar bout begins at 10...

Cost: $7 at the door. Free for kids 3 and younger

Where:
United Skates of America
2901 Trawick Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Sponsor: RJR
Telephone: 919-438-6066
Contact Name: Maureen Fennell
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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
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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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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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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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The Durham Art Walk Holiday Market is a festive fine arts and crafts event that kicks off the holiday season in downtown Durham. The Holiday Market invites art lovers of all ages to experience...

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Arts Council
120 Morris Street
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2720
Contact Name: Margaret DeMott
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Join NC State Parks, Recreation and Tourism students and discover how the world around you transitions from fall to winter. From meeting a live snake to creating a fall craft, participants will...

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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Visit the display table to learn about this fall tradition and make a corn husk doll to take home. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
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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Join harpist extraordinaire Laura Byrne as she and several of her students, Kate Twiss (8th grade) and Jocelyn Bowns (10th grade), serenade audiences with beautiful...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sarah P. Duke Gardens - Kirby Horton Hall
420 Anderson St
Durham, NC  27708
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Sponsor: Mallarme Chamber Players
Telephone: 919-560-2788
Contact Name: Suzanne Rousso
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Walk back in time with a park naturalist to learn about the original Americans. Discover edible and medicinal plants. Play games like Native American children and make a fun craft. All ages with...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC  27539
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. Choose course #117109.

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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Enjoy food, inflatables, games and prizes (for adults and kids), a silent auction and a haunted house.  Cost: $5 ($3 for kids 6 and younger) Concessions and the haunted house...

Cost: $5 ($3 for kids 6 and younger)

Where:
The School for Creative Studies
5001 Red Mill Road
Durham, NC  27704
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Sponsor: The School for Creative Studies PTSA
Telephone: 919-560-3535
Contact Name: School for Creative Studies PTSA
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The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle presents a concert featuring UNC’s Carolina Choir. Concert highlights include Samuel Barber’s Prayers of Kierkegaard, Nino Rota’s Bassoon...

Cost: $30/adult, free for children

Where:
Carolina Theatre of Durham
309 W. Morgan St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Search for owls, salamanders and more. Equipment provided. Ages 10-13. Register online. Choose course #117111.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/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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Young adults with developmental disabilities enjoy a book club featuring "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."  The group meets most Sundays at 4:45 p.m.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
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Logs provide great habitat for many animals. Join us as we read Wendy Pfeffer's A Log's Life, explore a real log and create a log craft to take home. For ages 1-6 with accompanying adult. Meet at...

Cost: $4 per child

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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Children with disabilities learn the basics of meal preparation, cooking and clean-up with easy-to-follow recipes. Ages 11 and older. Register online. Choose course #116723.

Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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Children with special needs make gyros, a popular pita wrap. Ages 11 and older. Register online. Choose course #116723.

Cost: $19/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC  27513
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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

More information

Learn Sarah Hale's story and make fun Thanksgiving-themed crafts. All ages with adult. Register online. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Ages 11 and older with special needs learn basic outdoor survival skills. Register online. Choose course #116958.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Ages 6-10 enjoy art and yoga. Register online. 

Cost: $45/child

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue
Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-720-4921
Contact Name: Jen Fisher
Website »

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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

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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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Learn about the first Thanksgiving. Play 17th-century games, learn to talk like a pilgrim and create a first Thanksgiving food collage to take home. Ages 7 and older. Registration required.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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A playful elf, sent by Santa to confirm the naughty and nice list, stumbles upon the best place to find holiday cheer—the North Carolina Symphony! This family fun concert includes music from...

Cost: $28/person

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Take part in a 5K Thanksgiving morning. Proceeds benefit the Wake County Boys & Girls Clubs. Register online. 

Cost: $15-$30

Where:
Downtown Wake Forest
, NC  27587


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Competitive or Recreational 5K at Garner's White Deer Park Thanksgiving morning.  1 Mile option also available Register at https://fsseries.com/event/turkey-day-5k/register/

Cost: $20 - $30

Where:
White Deer Park
2400 Aversboro Road
Garner, NC  27529
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Sponsor: TeddyRox Foundation
Telephone: 919-608-5658
Contact Name: Nancy Cawthon
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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

More information

Take the family to enjoy the animated movie at Marbles IMAX. Playing November 22-25 only.  See the website for show times and to purchase tickets.

Cost: See website for fees

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


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 6-10 enjoy art and yoga. Register online. 

Cost: $45/child

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue
Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-720-4921
Contact Name: Jen Fisher
Website »

More information

Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

More information

Bring the family out for a fall wagon ride along the back roads of the park to enjoy the fall colors and the beauty of Harris Lake County Park.  Staff will interpret the natural and historical...

Cost: $1 per person

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
Website »

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The original television classic comes to life! The beloved TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season. See favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey...

Cost: $15-$50

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-886-4591
Contact Name: Box Office
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This class is a chance for adventurous women to get together for a fun-filled workshop where we explore the basics of aerial silks. No need for a background in aerial yoga, this is a workshop...

Cost: $25

Where:
Cary Hot Yoga
952 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Cary Hot Yoga
Telephone: 188-858-79530
Contact Name: hoa bui
Website »

More information

Gather the family together for this fun-filled, heartwarming spectacular featuring seasonal favorites plus a sing-a-long, falling snow, and a chorus line of dancing Santas. Visit Santa...

Cost: $35-$65

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to enjoy the animated movie at Marbles IMAX. Playing November 22-25 only.  See the website for show times and to purchase tickets.

Cost: See website for fees

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


Website »

More information

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A Perch, a local coworking space is pleased to announce their annual indoor/outdoor Holiday Handmade Pop-up. The market will showcase a diverse range of work by local makers including,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Perch Studios
106 S. Greensboro St.
Suite E
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sponsor: Perch Coworking
Telephone: 919 260 5313
Contact Name: Betsey Elbogen

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Come for a tour and try out a Music or Creative Movement class. Any child who will be preschool age (ages 2-transitional kindergarten) for the 2019-20 school year is invited to participate in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: Saint Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Nora Duran
Website »

More information

The beloved TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season. See favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster,...

Cost: $15-$50

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-886-4591
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

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Ages 8 and older 8 learn aerial yoga poses. Great opportunity to have fun for the entire family. No prior aerial yoga experience is required.  24 Hour Pre-registration: $40 one parent+one...

Cost: $40 child+adult or $20/child $25/adult

Where:
Cary Hot Yoga
952 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Cary Hot Yoga
Telephone: 188-858-79530
Contact Name: hoa bui
Website »

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Celebrate the holiday season with goats, farm animals, a new hay ride and tractor ride, holiday treats and a Christmas Market. Santa will be at the farm on all weekends giving you the perfect...

Cost: $13.50/person

Where:
Spring Haven Farm
5306 Homer Ruffin Rd.
Chapel Hill , NC  27516
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Sponsor: Spring Haven Farm
Telephone: 919.407.1806
Contact Name: Andrew Crihfield
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Take part in a fun and playful aerial yoga and movement class for parents and children age 5 and older. Stretch, move, play and learn aerial yoga poses. Breathing techniques will be taught to...

Cost: $35 child and adult pair, or $15/child and $25/adult

Where:
Cary Hot Yoga
952 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Cary Hot Yoga
Telephone: 888-587-9530
Contact Name: hoa bui
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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
View map »


Website »

More information

The beloved TV classic soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season. See favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster,...

Cost: $15-$50

Where:
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
Telephone: 919-886-4591
Contact Name: Box Office
Website »

More information

Gather the family together for this fun-filled, heartwarming spectacular featuring seasonal favorites plus a sing-a-long, falling snow, and a chorus line of dancing Santas. Visit Santa...

Cost: $35-$65

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Joshual Lozoff combines amazing illusions with mental feats that explore the possibilities of the human mind. All ages. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $20/person

Where:
The ArtsCenter
300-G East Main St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Sponsor: The ArtsCenter
Telephone: 919-929-2787
Contact Name: Patrick Phelps-Mckeown     
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More information

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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Marbles Kids Museum
201 E. Hargett St.
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