Archives for March 2013

Does Spring Break Have You Climbing the Walls?

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It is Spring Break here in Middle Tennessee. Our entire city has packed up the kids and headed out of town. A few of us survived the rapture and are still rattling around in the freezing cold and snow. The Artman family and the Bass family agreed to hang with us this week and we made a plan which included several fun, outdoor activities. Then we checked the weather … even I won’t bike in less than 50 degrees. We adapted and decided to climb the walls, literally.

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Ben declared that he wasn’t going to climb.

This lasted all of 30 seconds.

We headed to The Crag to do indoor rock climbing. We have to put on harnesses and sign a waiver?  I’m in!  

We had four kids and two adults.  The adults took turns belaying the kids.  They raced up the walls.  They encouraged each other to climb higher and try new paths.

 

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The kids climbed for two and a half hours, and are already begging to go back. If you have indoor rock climbing in your area, give it a try. It is a great way to establish trust and overcome your fear of heights. Plus, it is a darn fine workout.

On a side note, I texted Angie while we were rock climbing.

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Oops!  Texting while rock climbing can be risky.

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Crunch Time: How Do You Fill the Hours Between School and Sleep?

Whip my hair back and forth! #pjuniversity @photojojo

 We spend more of our crunch time doing goofy stuff like whipping our hair around

and less time whipping from one activity to the next. How about you?

I listened to a story on NPR the other day that brought me to tears.  The piece was titled “How ‘Crunch Time’ Between School and Sleep Shapes Kids’ Health.”  The crux of the piece was how the things American families do between the time kids get out of school and into bed affects their weight.  It’s specficially those hours between school and bedtime when families have the most control over choices that have a direct impact on their health.  The piece concentrated on food choices and exercise, but to me the issues raised over how families spend this “crunch time” encompasses so much more.

Parents polled and interviewed for the piece lamented how, after working, after-school activities and homework, there was little to no time to spend preparing a healthy meal and/or exercising.  Hours of homework meant no time for the kids to play outside.  Late hours at the office or running from one activity to the next meant pre-packaged meals or drive-throughs.  But it was Paige Pavlik’s response that made me cry, as it did her:

“It’s really hard,” she said, regarding the relentlessness of the work-eat-homework-bed schedule.  “This isn’t how I thought family life was going to be.”

And it’s not only our physical health that’s impacted, it’s our mental health as well.  Are we rushed, stressed, angry, frustrated, snippy, tired?  Do we have to be?

It involves asking some really hard questions about the things that fill our kids’ “crunch time,” those precious hours between 3 and 8 p.m.

Do both parents need to work full-time?  Can one parent cut back, or start earlier to get home sooner?  Are we working to pay for things we don’t need to fulfill our families basic needs – expensive clothes, new cars, big vacations?

Do kids really need to be involved in organized sports and activities at a young age?  Are they gaining valuable lessons and life skills that could just as easily be learned through tag and touch football with their friends?  Are we doing it for them or for ourselves?  And what benefits are younger siblings reaping by tagging along from practice to practice, or spending an entire Saturday at big brother’s hockey tournament?

Is an hour or more of homework really necessary after a full day of school?  Can we help our kids learn to manage their time better during school?  Can we work up the courage to challenge our schools to come up with a better way? Can we explore other schooling choices, such as Montessori, that do not put an emphasis on homework?

These are just a few of the questions I think of when confronted with this problem.  Of course, every family is different, and there are things about our lives that can be changed and others with must simply be dealt with as best as we can.  But I do encourage you and the Paige Pavlik’s of the world to really question whether or not this is the way family life has to be.

It’s a risky thing to do, to choose a different path.  I am a fairly confident parent, but every time I see the other kids my daughter’s age go off to their various extracurricular activities and sporting tournaments I feel pangs of doubt and guilt.  Should we make her do more?  Be involved more?  Are we protecting their free time and their childhood, or are we just cheap and lazy?  Despite the second-guessing, I always return to my conviction that we have to do our best to shield our kids from the busyness that will eventually take hold in their lives.  It’s a small window they have, to simply enjoy childhood.  Let’s do what we can to make that time be “free” instead of “crunched.”

 

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Risky Places We Love: Tap Root Farm

Last summer, I got a flyer in the mail for a summer camp at Tap Root Farm in Franklin, Tennessee. I looked at the calendar and realized that I had two weeks of summer left and enough energy and fun ideas for two days. I signed both kids up for a week of camp. The camp included creek play, horseback riding, animal care lessons and free play. There was a parent meeting on day one and that was when I fell in love with the camp and its leader, Susan. Susan informed us that our children would be:

  •  Packing their own lunch and water bottles for the remainder of the week. Gasp! 
  •  Earning points for doing service projects. A service project was anything helpful around the house that our kids don’t normally do and will now do without being asked. Wow!
  •  Returned to us on Friday more responsible than when we dropped them off. Do I hear angels singing?

This camp could not have come at a better time in our lives. I was on a one-woman mission to decrease our dependance on technology as entertainment. I had just instituted our token system that allowed the kids to earn tokens which they could trade for time with technology. The kids were learning the value of chores to earn what they wanted and feeling the sting of losing technology for unacceptable behavior. Susan’s message was exactly what my kids needed to hear.

This camp wore my kids out. It is the first camp that has ever done that. They played, they worked and they learned. At the same time, they had “Big Time Fun,” which is the motto of the camp.

Since camp, Ben and I both have started taking horseback riding lessons with Susan and her staff.

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I was surprised at how much horseback riding works your body and your brain. These horses are big and strong, and often act like toddlers. It forces you to be focused,  disciplined, respectful and consistent. The lessons have given Benjamin the opportunity to be a leader and even teach his mother a thing or two. He has already started jumping and can trot better than I can.

Tap Root Farm is a working farm. The cows on the farm are free range, grain fed and organic. And out of this world tasty. My kids now know where their beef comes from.

Susan is tough. She knows how to bring out the best in my kids. Tap Root Farm is certainly a Risky Place We Love.

Tap Root Farm is on the web at taprootfarm.com There is a wait list for freezer beef but smatter packs are usually available on a first come first served basis. In addition to camp and horseback riding lessons, they offer rodeos, a 5K and are available to host events.

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The Idle Parent: We Send the Kids Outside

This is the twelfth part in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids. Need to get caught up? You can do so here.

We push them into the garden and shut the door so we can clean the house.

 

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At one time, you would’ve been considered “odd” if your parents didn’t send you out to play.  I imagine for most of us, our childhood included many moments when our mothers sent us packing, giving us time to roam freely outdoors and them time to get some work done and collect their sanity.  What a gift we were given, and what a treasure this new generation has lost.

While I’m sure that my mother spent some time playing with me – helping me sew clothes for my dolls, board games here and there – she did not plan her days around how to entertain me.  She did not have Pinterest boards dedicated to being my cruise ship director.  I certainly don’t want to come off as one of those “in my day we walked 3 miles to school in the snow uphill both ways” parents, but it really was different.  We’ve made it harder on ourselves.

And here’s where I raise my hand sheepishly and admit that I’m as guilty as anyone.  We all have things we have to get done.  I work part-time, write for two blogs, and have the usual household/childcare chores we all have.  The laundry piles up, dinner needs made, toilets need scrubbed.  And lest you think my kids are always outside like free-range ninjas, or inside honing their Picasso or Einstein skills, let me assure you they are not.  That’s what I wish for, and strive for, and a huge inspiration for this blog, but it’s not what actually happens on a daily basis.

It’s hard to push them outside for a multitude of reasons.  The weather.  The lack of friends and appealing activities outside.  The lure of the screen.  And for many of you, fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of the worst possible situation, or fear of other parents and “helpful” adults.

Unfortunately, these undeniably difficult but relatively small hurdles are getting in the way of something bigger.  It’s paving the way for a new generation of kids.  Kids that don’t have the confidence to explore independently or the creative skill to engineer their own fun.  We’re raising a generation that doesn’t know how to organize each other into games and free play, or how to work out group conflict, because they’re never been given the chance to do it on their own.  The author, Tom Hodgkinson, writes:

Children are forgetting how to play.  Frightened by neurotic parents who believe what they read in papers and consider the real world to be fraught with danger, kids retreat into “safe” virtual worlds where there is no knee-grazing, no frozen water, no trees, no wood, no nails.  Just a screen and a mouse and splendid isolation.

And not only are they losing out on learning those valuable skills outside, many of us (myself included) are not using the time they spend indoors to teach them equally valuable life skills … like scrubbing toilets.

It’s easier to do it yourself.  I hear you … I know!  Lisa and I have talked at length about how we want our kids to grow up knowing how to do useful things.  We want them to leave the nest knowing how to do their own laundry, cook a meal, change a tire, balance a checkbook.  We’re not perfect, either, but we’re inspired to follow a different path.

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Put them to work or send them outside!

So let’s vow to help each other out, inspire each other, and hold each other accountable.  We’ll send our kids outside when we need time to work, but you have to promise to send your kids outside, too, so they’ll have someone to play with.  And when they’re inside, why not delegate and put them to work as well?  If they don’t like it?  Well, they can always go outside.

Do you easily send your kids out or put them to work inside?  Or do you struggle with this as well?

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Risky Reads: The Hobby Edition

It seems that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that I have a budding shutterbug in the house.  After years of seeing me snap pictures with my phone camera, Elena has turned into a mini-me.  While her photo library is filled with 101 more selfies than I’ve ever taken, it’s also filled with photos like mine – photos of food, her brother, nature, and friends.  We both love snapping those quick photos with our phones, and we both wanted to get better, so a few weeks ago I signed us up for an online iphoneography class through Photojojo.  It’s been so much fun to go through the lessons together. She has a great eye for unique shots!

The weather is still dicey here (just last week we had 4 inches of snow), and we’re still living amongst boxes (we move to our new house in a few days!).  Here are a few things I found while avoiding icky weather and towering boxes that I thought you might enjoy, too.

Soon we’ll have stairs and plenty of extra cardboard.  I think the kids need to make a cardboard slide. (via The Contemplative Creative)

In keeping with the cardboard theme, this DIY cardboard flyer looks super cool. (via Instructables)

Surely spring is just around the corner, but we still have quite a few chilly, wet days ahead of us.  I love this roundup of ideas for inside play. (via Modern Parents Messy Kids)

It’s that time of year when families start signing kids up for spring and summer organized sports.  Mike Lanza’s post on how they fit organized sports into their family life was really interesting, as I struggle with the benefits versus the hassle. (via Playborhood)

How do you raise successful kids?  Hint: it’s not with praise and overparenting.  Hallelujah.

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50 Dangerous Things: Spend an Hour Blindfolded

Task: “See” the world without using your eyes.

 

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Requires:

  • Timer
  • Blindfold
  • An hour

Possible Hazards:

  • Tripping
  • Frustration
  • Bumps and bruises

How it all went down:

Angie called me the other day and said that she was trying to find the time to blindfold her kids for an hour. I thought, “Hey, that sounds like fun. Maybe we should do it too.”

The opportunity presented itself earlier this week, as Thomas showed up for hair and makeup (I don’t really put makeup on my kid – that’s just what I like to call getting your face washed and hair brushed) with socks on his hands.  He said, “I just brushed my teeth with socks on my hands!” When I asked him if he’d like to spend the rest of the time before school with socks on his hands AND blindfolded, his face lit up. It was on. Benjamin politely declined and disappeared.

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Thomas got a drink from the fridge.

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He didn’t have much luck with the iPad … is there an app for that?

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He said the stairs were the easiest part.

He thought he found his fleece from the coat closet.   Actually, he found my coat. Turns out you can not tell fleece color from feel alone. I let him dance around in my fleece for a while. Payback is nice.

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He found his shoes by smelling them.  Scary, but he was right.

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He walked all the way to school blindfolded. I did let him change his coat, though.  I’m not that mean.

The only time he cheated and peeked was when he looked at the clock. He actually heard the train go by our house. The same train that goes by unnoticed every five minutes was noticed immediately while blindfolded. The neighborhood kids helped him get to school safely and the crossing guard stopped him from walking right out into the crosswalk. He won’t leave toys on the stairs ever again.

This was really fun, inexpensive and interesting. So grab a blindfold and and the kids and experience life without sight.  Or make it really fun and blindfold your significant other …

Tips:

  • The blindfolded person should have an assistant with them to intervene before they get into any serious trouble or stumbles.
  • An hour seems like a long time, but it takes at least that long for your brain to start relying on other senses.
  • Try to make your blindfold so that it prevents any light from reaching your eyes. Folding small squares of fabric in half and then in half again to act as eye patches under your blindfold work really well.
  • Other things to do while blindfolded: eat a meal, use the bathroom, try to catch a ball, or draw a map of the room you’re in.

Have you tried being blindfolded for any significant amount of time?  Can you think of any other activities we should try while blindfolded?

Want more?  Read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).

 

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The Games We Play

I'll trade you 3 sheep for some ore.

If there’s one thing the Six family can all agree that we love, besides cheez dip, it’s a good board game.  Nothing makes me happier than the four of us around the table, doing our best to reign supreme over each other.

Actually finding a good game that we all love is not easy, though.  For one, it has to be appropriate for a wide age range.  It also has to be somewhat challenging.  We are a competitive family, so none of those cooperative games for us.  And most importantly, it has to be fun.

Does a game exist that is appropriate for ages 5 to adult, challenges our competitive spirits, and is fun to play?  Yes!  It’s called The Settlers of Catan.

Now wait … I know what you’re thinking.  Oh, that’s one of those “gamer” games.  It’s hardcore.  It’s not for us.  No!  You  have to give it a chance.  Yes, it does require an initial learning period.  However we found that to be an awesome leveler for our family – for once the kids and the adults were on the same playing field as we tried to figure the game out.  Yes, it does take longer than your run-of-the-mill board game.  But it’s time where you’re having fun as a family and engaging with each other.  Yes, it is challenging, but the game is never the same twice, giving all of us equal opportunities to emerge the victor.  Or, as we like to call it, The King of Catan (wearing the awesome crown is not optional).

King of Catan

We thought Eli might be too young, but he’s surprised us with his logic and strategy.  I would explain the game in detail, but the best description comes straight from the source.

We also love Ticket To Ride, but we’ve yet to incorporate Eli into the game fully.  Reading skills are definitely a must for this game, but if you have kids that are 5 and older that can read, it’s a fun one.

If you’re looking for shorter, more spontaneous games, try Tenzi or Bananagrams.  Both games are small and easy to transport – they’ve come with us to the pool and on many a road trip.  Tenzi, a dice game with several variations, is good for ages 5 and up.  Eli has no trouble hanging with the rest of us on this game.  Bananagrams, a faster variation of word games like Scrabble, is suited for older kids who can read and have a grasp of vocabulary.

So here’s a risky idea … instead of a movie night or an evening where we all retreat to our various screens, how about a family game night?  What games does your family love to play together?

 

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The Anti-Playdate: Let the Day (and the Kids’ Plans) Unfold

Angie:

In our over-scheduled lives, it can be daunting for a parent to face a day spread out before you with no plans.  So daunting, in fact, that it rarely happens.  Weekends are filled with errands, organized sports and knocking things off to-do lists.  Breaks from school are packed with museum trips, camps and vacations.  My first reaction to a day with nowhere we need to be is panic: what are we going to DO?  Earlier this week Lisa found herself in that situation.  Her kids had a day off from school due to … not snow, but … wait for it … a manhunt.  What follows is her story of what happens when you simply let the day unfold.  The anti-playdate, if you will.  And it is awesome.

 

Lisa:

We didn’t have school yesterday and the weather was nice so we planned to spend the afternoon at the park. I was too lazy to cook so we pit stopped at Chick-fil-a for lunch. How is this a risky activity? I am glad that you asked.

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Thomas ate 32 chicken nuggets.

32!

This beats Elena’s current record of 21 chicken nuggets.

We got a text message from my friend, Heather, inviting us over to play so we rerouted and headed to her home.

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Lucky for Benjamin, we had packed the hammock.

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Emily was the slack line princess.

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Heather’s kids had already built forts.

 

 

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You know you want to say it … “You’ll shoot your eye out!”

The kids all got to shoot a real Red Ryder BB gun. It was the first time for my kids and they loved it. We wore safety glasses and shot at a milk jug hanging from a tree. I was surprised at how quickly the kids got the hang of it and how accurate they were.

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The adults even got to chill in the hammock.

I lost count of how many kids played yesterday.  We brought 3 adults and 6 kids. The neighborhood kids must have received some sort of bat signal because they showed up in bulk.

There were no tears, no fights, no questions about when we were going to leave, no pleas for technology, no snacks and no trips to the ER.  We had a yard full of activities ranging from the pure joy and solitude of hanging in a hammock  to grabbing a Nerf gun or a sword and defending your territory. Kids played on the slack line and gained  balance and confidence.   They shot a BB gun and were remarkably accurate.

None of these activities were particularly risky, although Michelle might disagree – Thomas rode in her car after eating all the chicken. This was good fun just like we did every day when we were kids. But yesterday was special. It was unexpected and the kids played. I mean really played.  I left feeling renewed and proud of all the kids. They made new friends and proved that getting back to the good old outdoors can be fun.

Angie:

Next time you have a day without plans, round up some friends for an anti-playdate.  No schedule, no set activities, just throw out a few things and let the kids figure out what to do.  Even riskier?  Cancel your plans and free up a day just because you can!

 

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