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Marbles, UNC-TV team up for great, free children's activities at N.C. State Fair

The Marbles Kids Museum and UNC-TV Kids Way tent next to Dorton Arena offers some low-key, fun and educational activities at the fair. Best of all, it's free.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
When I'm at the N.C. State Fair with the kids and I need a break, the UNC-TV and Marbles Kids Museum Kids Way tent is where we go.

The tent, all enclosed except for an entrance and exit, features hands-on activities that will keep young kids occupied. Because it's inside a tent, I feel comfortable letting my younger one out of the stroller (which she, by this point, is struggling to free herself from anyway). And I'm happy to have a place where I can say yes to all my older daughter's requests because it's all free.

That's right. It's all free.

There's nothing flashy here. No rides or carnival games. It's a lot like going to Marbles, the downtown Raleigh children's museum, except you're at the fair. You'll find some hammer and peg toys, a ring toss game with dinosaurs, hula hoops, a play car, canvas tunnels for kids to crawl through, an alphabet activity and, outside, the popular When Pigs Fly exhibit where kids use a mallet to launch a squeaky pig into the air. It's best for elementary school aged kids and under.

"We took a little piece of Marbles and brought it out here," Katy Burgwyn of Marbles tells me.

The entrance is a kind of beacon for my own kids. It features giant cutouts of some favorite characters - the Cat in the Hat, Clifford, Arthur, Curious George and Big Bird, among them. We have a whole series of photos with them posing in front of the characters.

You'll also find storytimes and visits from Clifford and UNC-TV kids mascot Read-a-roo throughout the day inside the tent.

UNC-TV has had a tent at the fair for more than two decades, Steve Volstad of UNC-TV tells me. There were always activities for kids, including storytelling and character visits.

But when UNC-TV teamed up with Marbles three years ago, they were able to build on the offerings, adding all the hands-on, educational activities. It's a nice oasis away from the busy, noisy midway for parents like me (though I'll add that it can get really busy here too).

"The last three years have been the best," Volstad tells me.

To hear more from Burgwyn and Volstad and to see some scenes of the tent, watch the video. The Marbles and UNC-TV tent sits next to Dorton Arena at the N.C. State Fair. Just look for the giant, inflatable Read-a-roo.

The fair runs through Sunday.

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