Archives for August 2013

Playborhood: a Must-Have Resource for Playful, Vibrant Neighborhoods

While the kids are headed back to school, I’m headed back to the drawing board as well!  For the first time in my parenting life, I have both kids in school full time.  With the extra time this has provided within my daily life, I’m looking forward to putting more passion and effort into The Risky Kids.  What does this mean for you?  Well, not much other than you’ll be seeing more of us.  You can expect insightful content with more frequent postings.  I’m also looking forward to getting to know you better on Facebook and Twitter, as well as inspiring you (and being inspired!) on Pinterest.

It also means that I’m opening up The Risky Kids to sponsors.  I see it as a win-win opportunity – it gives me a chance to keep the lights on here at The Risky Kids and keep us supplied in batteries to lick.  At the same time it gives you a chance to meet some really great people, products and companies that believe in the same thing we do – that good, old-fashioned risky play is everyone’s business!

I’m so grateful for my very first sponsor, Playborhood!

Mike Lanza is the author behind the book, Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play, as well as the voice of the Playborhood blog.  Before I ever started The Risky Kids, Playborhood was an inspiration for the kind of play we wanted to encourage in our own lives.  My copy of his book is battered and worn, and will serve as the best resource you’ll ever read if you’re looking to foster independent play and build community in your own neighborhood.  It’s one thing to bemoan the fact that our kids are playing less outside.  Playborhood gives you the tools you need to move beyond complaining and take action!  It’s made such a difference in the quality of our lives, and I know it has the power to do the same for your family.

I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to visit his blog and purchase his book.  If living a more playful life is your goal, you won’t regret it!

If you’re interested in joining my wonderful sponsors, please visit my advertising page for more information or contact Angie at theriskykids at gmail dot com.  Thank you so much!

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Camping 101: a Brilliant Program from Camptown for Rookie Campers

Camping Gothic.

Earlier this week I wrote about how we checked yet another adventure off the list of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). This time around it was “Sleep in the Wild.”

Some of you may scoff at the idea that of all the things we do, such as ziplining, climbing trees, or letting our tween go to the store by herself, we’d find camping to be the riskiest things we’ve tried yet. But if you’ve never camped before, and especially if you’ve never camped with kids, it can seem both daunting and decidedly risky. What to pack? What gear is essential and what gear is silly? What do we eat? How do we cook it? What do you do with a tent once you unpack it?

Mike and I did not grow up in camping families and it was never something we felt called to try as adults before we had kids. The allure of camping is so appealing to children, though, and with each passing summer the kids lobbied passionately to include a camping trip in our summer plans. It wasn’t that Mike and I didn’t want to, we just didn’t know where to start. I’m sure there are a lot of you who feel like we did – wanting to try camping on for size, but not wanting to go it alone and risk the experience being an epic failure. Or maybe you kind of figure it out on your own, but decide camping just isn’t for you, the pile of gear you invested in for one weekend of camping now a source of frustration instead of fun.

Earlier this summer the answer to our camping conundrum came in the form of an email from a local organization called Camptown. Camptown is a not-for-profit that works with youth in central Indiana. Their mission is to challenge, mentor and teach youth through outdoor adventure and nature programs. While the majority of their programs cater to at-risk youth, they also offer programs that encourage youth and families to explore and become comfortable in the great outdoors.

Through the email, I learned about one such program: Camping for Rookies. The idea behind Camping for Rookies is to give families who want to try camping a chance to do so without having to worry about the gear, how to start a fire, how to pitch a tent … all the details that keep families from trying camping in the first place. Camptown collaborates with Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs to reserve campsites and provide families with everything they need for a weekend of camping.

Camping for Rookies via The Risky Kids

For a completely reasonable cost of $50, we were provided with tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and 3 meals. To ensure that the experience is as encouraging and fun as possible, volunteers are available the entire weekend, helping you set up camp, showing you how to start, maintain, and cook over a fire, and hosting programs and hikes. All we had to bring were our clothes, some bug spray, and an open mind.  We spent Eli’s birthday weekend at Paynetown State Recreation Area, on the shores of beautiful Lake Monroe.

Family Camping at Lake Monroe

We swam, we hiked, we feasted on s’mores, and we learned that we are, indeed, a camping family.

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

I can’t think of a better way to set families up for success … and some amazing memories. We knew we’d met kindred souls when the volunteers busted out the slackline! We had a blast and we now have the confidence to know that we can invest in some gear and plan our own great camping adventures.

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

If you live in Indiana, you can take advantage of this wonderful program, too! Camptown and Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs have two more Camping for Rookies programs coming up at various locations this year:

They are also offering a Day Hike at Shades State Park on November 16.  Spaces are filling up, so I encourage you to call Camptown at 317-471-8277 and make your reservation soon.  I have no affiliation with Camptown and wasn’t asked to post on their behalf – we just had an amazing experience that I want to share with as many people as possible!

In the near future I will share a few other resources that I think are invaluable to families who are new to camping but want to learn how to make it part of their family’s tradition.  If you know of any other similar programs where you live, or have some great camping resources to share with rookie campers, please let us know in the comments!

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Sleep in the Wild

50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Sleep in the wild

Task: Challenge your fear of the dark and sleep without the comfort of walls and electricity.

 

Requires:

  • Sleeping Bag or Blankets
  • Sleeping Pad (optional)
  • Pillow (optional)
  • Flashlight
  • Tent (optional)

Possible Hazards:

  • Bugs
  • Cold
  • Vermin

How It All Went Down:

I’ll begin by clarifying that in Gever Tulley’s book, his illustration and description of sleeping in the wild does not include a tent.   It’s pretty much just you and your sleeping bag in the great wide open.  A little background information for you:  Mike and I were not raised in camping families.  Neither of us has ever camped, let alone just spread a blanket outside to sleep with all of God’s great (and not-so-great) creatures.  No, we like our comfy beds, air conditioning, running water and critter-free abodes.  So when I saw this as one of the challenges, I knew we had a choice.  We could skip it altogether or we could do it as close to the wild as possible.  For us, this meant having a tent between us and the great outdoors.  Call us out if you will, but I think a thin piece of nylon between us and everything else totally counts as sleeping in the wild.

We spent a night at Paynetown State Recreation Area on the shores of Lake Monroe.  I’ll be writing in more detail about our very first camping experience in a few weeks, as it ended up being one of the best family experiences we’ve ever had.

We had two tents and the genius idea to put the kids in one and the adults in the other.  If we were going to have to sleep on the ground, the least we could do was spare ourselves the added discomfort of little arms and legs flailing about.  We had excellent weather – not too hot, not too cold, and dry.  Before sleeping outdoors you definitely want to look at the weather in-depth and prepare accordingly.  A tarp underneath your tent or sleeping bag will prevent dampness from seeping through.

We were not far from a restroom facility at the campground, but far enough that you wouldn’t want to walk there in the middle of the night.  We made a pit stop just before climbing into our tents, but kept toilet paper in the tent in case nature called before dawn.  A flashlight within arm’s reach is a necessity.

It’s amazing how quickly kids can fall asleep when they’ve been immersed in nature all day and when there are no distractions at night.  It took me a little longer.  Beyond noticing how dark it really is away from the cities and suburbs, I was amazed at how in tune you become to sound.  It felt like I could hear every bug, bird, leaf and breeze.  It’s disconcerting at first, imagining what’s making each of those sounds, but soon it became very soothing.  I found that instead of falling asleep with my mind going a hundred miles a minute rehashing the day, I fell asleep with a clear head.

The kids slept like logs.  We had to wake them up the next morning so they wouldn’t miss breakfast.  Mike and I slept more fitfully, but we are also old and not nearly as limber.

It’s definitely something we’ll spend more time doing together as a family.  Next time we’ll probably bring an air mattress instead of sleeping bags and pads.  So maybe it’s not exactly what Mr. Tulley meant by braving the wild, but we definitely conquered our fear of sleeping in the great outdoors.  I’ll call it a victory!

Are you a camping family?  A glamping family?  Or do you prefer solid walls and the comforts of home?  Would you try sleeping outdoors just for the sake of giving your kids the experience?

You can 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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Risky Reads: The Kindergarten Edition

Eli's First Day of Kindergarten

We hit a big milestone last week:  Eli started kindergarten at our local public school.  For the first time in my parenting life, I have both children in school full-time.  It’s wonderful and bittersweet at the same time.  The one aspect I’m not sad about at all is that for the first time in 7 years my kids do not need me to drive them to school.  The bus stop is a beautiful thing.  Someone please remind me of that come mid-January, when it’s frigid and dark.

I hope you can sneak a well-deserved quiet moment in to read a few things I found around the web that I thought were interesting.  Hope everyone has a wonderful start to their school year, no matter how or where your kids are schooled!

Science takes on a new level of fun when it requires lighting something on fire.  Check out these tea rockets on All For The Boys and the science behind it.

We fell in love with our National Parks this summer.  I can’t believe I’ve gone my whole life without realizing what a gem they are, especially for families.  Are you familiar with their Junior Ranger programming?  (via Go Explore Nature)

We all crave community, but if it’s lacking in our neighborhood it can be hard to know how to get it started.  I love this idea from Tinker Lab to encourage neighborhood interaction with sidewalk chalk.

Even though it’s still hot, my mind is turning to cooler weather activities and the holidays.  Trent from The Simple Dollar has been a great resource for board game recommendations – one of my favorite indoor family activities.  He has a good round-up of inexpensive board games that you probably aren’t familiar with.

For more risky inspiration, follow us on Pinterest and like us on Facebook.  And if you ever see anything you think we’d like, please share it with us!

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The Idle Parent: Down With School

This is the sixteenth 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.

Down With School

 

Idle Parent Manifesto: Down With School

Well, well, well … isn’t this a timely topic?  I promise, I didn’t plan for this particular nugget in the Idle Parent Manifesto to fall right at the time when most of us are headed back to school.  Funny how things work sometimes.

The author’s biggest complaints about school center around the rigidity of both the curriculum and the schedule.  He encourages parents to reject clock time and schedules whenever possible.  This make school, with all of its pesky enforced start times and attendance a bit of a thorn in a laid-back family’s side, and for that reason he’s not a fan.

We’ve had experience with two very different methods of schooling.  For the last seven years, I’ve had at least one child in Montessori.  Elena attended Montessori through 3rd grade and Eli through pre-K.  Now both children are attending our local public schools.

We definitely had a lazier life under Montessori.  Sometimes (okay, lots of times) we were late … and while it was frowned upon, we never received tardies on our permanent  records or were punished in any way.  If something came up that seemed like fun, or if we were just having one of those days, we might not go to school that day.  That was cool, too.  In the classroom, things were structured.  However the Montessori method allows and encourages choice and self-regulation, and so my kids never felt as if they were in a rigid environment.

We are at the very beginning of our public school career with Eli, but from our experience with Elena, we’ve not found public school to be smothering or rigid to the point where we loathe it.  Yes, we have set times, and yes, attendance is mandatory.  The school police have yet to come knocking.  Within the classroom I’ve found that the curriculum is a good mix of learning the standards and filling in with projects and discussions that are sparked by the students’ interests.  We’ve been blessed with teachers who don’t see the benefit of assigning hours of homework.  The nights when Elena has more than 30 minutes of homework are rare, and many nights she doesn’t bring any home at all.

For us, school has been a positive thing in our children’s lives … a place to make friends, to learn, and to practice life skills they’ll need in the real world.  We follow the rules 99% of the time and then do our own thing if I think it benefits our family, whether it’s to take a mental health day, leave the spelling words for another day, or skip town for Disney in the middle of the school year.  It works for us and keeps the balance between being responsible students and not losing our minds in check.  And if this outlook didn’t work for us?  Then we would do as many of you have done with great success, and homeschool to the beat of our own drum.

How do you feel about your school situation?  If it’s good, how to you balance the rigidity of school with the needs of your family?  And if it was sucking the life out of your family, how did you solve the problem?

 

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