Archives for November 2013

The Risky Kids Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Screen-Free, Playful Gifts for Kids of All Ages

The Risky Kids holiday gift guide: screen-free, playful Christmas gift ideas for kids of all ages.

This post contains affiliate links, and includes some items I received for free. However all items are things we personally use and love!

This time every year the Internet is full of gift guides to fit every kind of recipient. While there are many wonderful guides out there, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t share with you some of our very favorite things. These are things that my kids play with year round, and best of all, none of them require a screen! We love them, and think the kids in your life will love them, too.

Kiwi Crate

1. Kiwi Crate subscription

We’re going on 2 years of being Kiwi Crate subscribers, and I’ve been so impressed with each and every crate. My kids love doing crafts, and I love it when they craft, but I’m not always so good with planning out crafts and having the right materials available. Kiwi Crate does it all for you, sending you everything you need to make at least 2 specially-themed crafts in every box. The crafts are well-thought out, the directions are easy to follow, and the art materials provided are always of amazing quality. A Kiwi Crate mail day guarantees smiles and fun!

Gibbon Slackline

2. A Slackline

We’re partial to the Gibbon Slackline, and they make several varieties, including ones specifically for kids and/or beginners. Put it up in your neighborhood and watch the kids flock to your yard, or pack it up and take it with you to the beach or camping!

3. Inline Skates

Last year we bought each of the kids these these inline skates, which have adjustable sizing – such a bonus when you have kids with growing feet! Soon every kid in the neighborhood was asking for skates! Fun for skating, family outings, or games of street hockey.

I'll trade you 3 sheep for some ore.

4. Card and Board Games

We like to gift ourselves a new family game every Christmas. This year it’s Carcassonne. Our family favorites include Ticket To Ride, The Settlers of Catan, Rat-A-Tat-Cat, Bananagrams, SKIP BO and Flash . When the kids were very little, Dancing Eggs was a huge hit. Make it a priority to have a family game night once a week and you have yourself the gift that keeps on giving.

5. Books

We always gift at least one book at Christmas. I especially like to gift books that encourage some kind of activity beyond reading, or that provide lots of detailed pictures and information that can be savored for a long time. This year Eli has especially enjoyed Unusual Creatures and Cool Creations in 35 Pieces. And while I usually find movie and TV character based books to be of terrible quality, I can’t say that for the Marvel Origin Stories. If you have a young fan of superheroes in your house, these books will be a hit. And if you’re the parent who has to read them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the content. Elena really enjoys Wreck This Journal (and its related books by the same author) as well as Craft-a-Doodle.

6. Stomp Rocket

The Stomp Rocket is such a simple toy, but yet so much fun. Be sure to buy an extra set of rockets, just in case you’re anything like us and get a little, uh, overambitious with your launching!

Penny Skateboard

7. Penny Skateboard

I balked a bit when Elena first asked for one. We had a skateboard already, and she was never very interested in it. But a Penny Skateboard is different. It’s smaller than a traditional skateboard, and made of plastic. It’s designed specifically for riding, as opposed to tricks. She opts to ride her Penny board over her bike and her scooter every time. I have to admit, with all the fun color combinations, I kind of want one myself!

8. Yo Baby

For those kids who aren’t quite ready for an actual skateboard, or for a fun indoor alternative during the winter, a Yo Baby Kick Flipper is a great choice. The Yo Baby is made to help you learn balance, coordination, and basic board skills. We use our indoors, but it can also be used on grass, sand or even snow.

Strider Balance Bike

9. Strider Bike

Skip the tricycle and the starter bike with training wheels and get your toddler or preschooler a balance bike. There are tons of different makes and models, but we loved our Strider bike. It had a metal frame, which seemed more durable than a wood frame, and it looks like a real bike. We got Eli one when he was 2. At 3 he was riding a regular bike without training wheels. Even when he could ride a bike with pedals, he still loved his Strider because he could go super fast on it.

10. Nerf anything

For such an inexpensive line of toys, I’m amazed at how much play time we consistently get out of them. The mini basketball hoop that mounts over a door gets all ages of kids playing in our basement. The Firevision line looks really cool. This year we’re upgrading our dinky guns (which have served us well for 3 years) to some bigger ones. Watch out when you come visit!

What are some of your favorite playful, screen-free toys for kids?

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We’re Thankful for You!

The Risky Kids

Dear Readers,

On the eve of this Thanksgiving holiday, we want to let you know how thankful we are for you each and every day.  While my very own risky kids were the inspiration to start The Risky Kids, you inspire us daily to write and play.  We are so grateful that you read us, comment, and share us with your friends.  Without you there is no community, and community is what it’s all about.  We hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends, full of good food and most importantly, time to play (maybe some turkey bowling)!

The Risky Family – Angie, Mike, Elena & Eli Six

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Minimalist Holidays: Do Less, Enjoy More

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care ...

Every year I become more and more adamant about simplifying the holidays. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Christmas season, and for that reason I have a hard time having realistic expectations about how much one can really pack into the season and have it still remain enjoyable for myself and my family. I want to do it all!

But it took a Christmas two years ago to realize my zeal for cramming every minute of the season with something to do was making us all miserable. We were decorating cookies on Christmas eve, the kitchen was wrecked with my last-minute baking and cooking dishes. Add to that two young children and too many options for decorating the cookies and what we really had was a recipe for disaster. Oh, and did I mention we had less than an hour before we had to leave for Christmas Eve services and none of us were showered? You can imagine the scene, more tears and harsh voices than happy holiday memory. I swore then that I wouldn’t let this happen again.

In years since, I’ve slowly pared our commitments down and worked hard to spread the work of the holidays out over November and December, instead of trying to cram it all in the 3 weeks before Christmas. We buy less, do less, and as a result? We enjoy the holidays more. It can be hard to cut back, to let certain traditions go that we feel are an essential part of the holiday experience. In hindsight, though, I realize this: you can plan 10 things to do and just go through the motions, or you can agree on 5 things that are most important to everyone in your family and enjoy every minute of those moments.

What did we give up? Breakfast for Santa. No one really enjoyed getting up early and getting dressed up on a Saturday morning. I love having cut-out sugar and gingerbread cookies beautifully decorated, but trying to involve the kids in the process made all of us upset. Now I make and freeze the dough in late November. I cut them out and bake them on my own. A few days before Christmas, we have a decorating session, but not before I get everything ready ahead of time (and portioning out a few decorations in muffin tins is genius).

I could go on, but what I’m really excited about is the new series that starts today over at Minimalist Parent. Beginning today, those who sign up for their free email series will get tips through New Years to bring back the joy to the holidays and lessen the stress and craziness we’re all too familiar with. Consider it a free, early holiday gift just for you and your family.

While I feel so much better about our holiday mindset than I did a few years ago, I’m always looking for ways to make the season even more meaningful without adding undue stress or busyness. I hope you’ll join me for Minimalist Holidays this year so we can all have the happiest of holidays.

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Every Step You Take: The Unintentional (and Dangerous) Consequences of Using Tracking Technology on Kids

Kids & Tracking Technology via The Risky Kids

Tracking devices: don’t let your pets or kids leave home without one.

 

It was only a matter of time. That’s what I thought as I read this article in the New York Times, which discusses ways in which GPS, Wi-Fi, and other tracking technologies are now being applied to parenting.

Specifically, the article mentions the Filip and the Trax. The Filip is worn like a watch, but acts as a tracking device. Beyond being able to map a child’s location, a parent can make voice calls to the device. And just in case things get real dicey, the watch comes equipped with a panic button that the child can push, which then activates the system to call parents or other authorized caregivers.

The Trax looks like a mini pager and clips onto the child’s clothing. Parents pair it with an app, which allows them to monitor exactly where the child is at all times. Parents have the ability to draw boundaries in which their children are free to roam. Wander outside the invisible fence and parents will be notified.  It’s not quite the same as micro-chipping our children shortly after they’re born, but I wouldn’t put it beyond anyone to try and sell us that “benefit” either.

As a parent who has experienced that sick, panicked feeling of not knowing where her child is, I can see the appeal of these technologies. And in certain situations, I can understand how devices such as these could be really helpful – the ability to rent one for a day while visiting an amusement park, for instance. But peer just below the surface and think about the ramifications of making tracking technologies a part of daily life. It’s murky, and the unintended consequences of tracking our kids’ every movement are swimming all around us.

Once such consequence is the undertone of anxiety it places on daily life. Sending a child into the world with a technology for “just in case” situations teaches them that the world is a dangerous place. We don’t have to say a word. By slapping on a watch or any other device, we’re implying that the possibility of something really bad happening is very real. When the CEO of Filip Technologies was asked about this very issue, he agreed that his product might increase a child’s anxiety, but said “… I would question whether that’s a bad thing.”  Kids need a lot of things these days – more free time, opportunities for open-ended play, unconditional love, good schools, safe and loving homes. They do not need anxiety added to that list.

Then there is the issue of trust. These devices imply to our kids that not only are we wary of the world around them, it sends a message that we don’t trust them.  In her independent endeavors, Elena has done a few things that haven’t been the best choices. She’s disappointed us, and yes, she’s broken our trust. But it is a far more memorable thing for a child to have experienced what it feels like to lose a privilege as a consequence of broken trust than to hear the implied message these Big Brother-type devices send to them: We never trusted you in the first place. Critics will ask if I’m okay with the possibility that these poor choices my child makes might result in injury or a dangerous situation. And my reply is always the same. Far better that she experience the negative consequence of a poor choice when the stakes are relatively small, and learn from it, than to wait for her to grow up and think she will magically know how to conduct herself as an adult when the stakes are high.

This kind of technology creates a false sense of security, and I’m afraid dependence on them will replace one of our most valuable and trusted human characteristics – our gut instinct. It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach that something just isn’t right … whether it comes from you or your child, that so often saves us from doing something potentially dangerous. When we let a device decide for us, what happens to that instinct? I fear that it’s like a muscle. When we don’t use it, when we fail to listen to it, it loses its strength.

If any of the above reasons weren’t enough to convince a parent that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the best idea we’ve come up with, let me point out that the makers of the Trax tout the dual benefit of the device … it can also be used to keep tabs on the family pet. Yes, son, we think you are about as responsible and capable of good judgement as Fido here. Don’t you just feel so empowered to make good decisions now?

Parents, when it comes to tracking devices for kids, save your money. Instead, choose to invest your time, effort and patience into showing your kids how to be independent and responsible … without someone or something watching over them every step of the way.

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Good Question: How old should my kid be to use public restrooms alone?

Good Question is a Risky Kids series where readers submit their burning questions in return for feedback from myself and the Risky Kid community.  If you have any Good Questions, please share them in the comments, on our Facebook page, or email them to Angie at theriskykids at gmail dot com. I’m looking forward to lots of Good Questions and more importantly, all of your Good Answers!

I get asked this question (or some variant of “How old were your kids when you let them do ________ by themselves?”) a lot. In regards to public restrooms, we’re talking about two scenarios. One, you are out with your child of the opposite sex. They need to use the restroom and have expressed dismay at having to use the restroom that is clearly not for them. In the other scenario, your child of the same sex expresses the same dismay at having you follow them around in the bathroom when they feel quite capable of handling it themselves. I’ll give you the short answer and the long answer.

The short answer is five. That’s the age when I start letting my kids go into a public restroom without me. Does that freak you out? Probably. And so let me go into my long answer …

In any of these types of “How old should my kid be” scenarios, I have to stress that there is no magic age or right answer. There is always an age range. I like to think of it as a scale. On one end you have absolutely not ready, which fades into possibly ready, followed by go for it, with let go, already on the other end of the scale. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, including your comfort level, the surrounding situation, your child’s maturity level, your child’s desire, and age. It’s only after looking at all the factors that you can accurately determine if your child is ready for a situation.

I’ll use Eli, who is 6, and the public restroom issue as an example. Six is an acceptable age (in our family) for using a public restroom alone. As early as five, his desire to do this task on his own was there. He is a rule-follower, and it deeply pained him to use a girls’ restroom when, clearly, he was not a girl! He was also capable of completing the task on his own (shutting and locking the door, dealing with zippers and buttons, flushing, washing and drying his hands). I saw him on the go for it section of the scale.

At this younger age, as each individual restroom situation arises, I check myself against the other factors to see what we need to do. What’s my comfort level? Are we at the Target we shop at all the time, where I can sit and wait on the bench for him just outside the door? Or is it an unfamiliar, and maybe somewhat shady, restroom situation? What’s the surrounding situation? Is it a single person restroom? Is there a family restroom available? Can I see who is entering and leaving the restroom easily? I look at these factors in combination with his age, desire, and maturity level and then decide if he goes alone or if he goes with me.

At this age, it’s a toss-up whether he actually goes alone or not. Some places are ok, others he needs to stick with me. In a year or two, he’ll always go by himself, as his big sister does.

How did you decide it was time for your kids to use the public restroom by themselves? Has anyone ever give you grief for letting your kids go by themselves? Or has anyone ever raised a stink (pun totally intended) about having your child of the opposite sex in the restroom with you?

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Risky Reads: The Leaf Pile Edition

Kids playing in leaves via The Risky Kids

The leaves are falling fast and furious now, which means the neighborhood kids are in heaven. Little helpers don’t have to look far for someone in need of extra hands to rake and fill bags. And every day new piles of leaves appear that are just begging to be jumped into. We also had an impromptu science lesson about decomposition when Eli and his friends dug into a large leaf pile and were astounded to find it hot and steaming.

While we’re making the most of the waning days of fall, we’re also turning our thoughts toward winter and finding things to do that will get us through the long winter days. Here are a few things I found around the web I thought were pretty cool:

How cool is this video tutorial to turn your smartphone into a microscope? Maybe it’s because I spent years peering into a microscope for my work before kids, but there have been countless times I wished we had one handy at home. Looks like I can make that happen!

This PVC pipe building kit would make a great indoor activity all winter long. Can you think of all the cool forts this could help make?

We love having family game nights, but it can be frustrating when they don’t go quite as the Norman Rockwell picture you envisioned. This is a great guide on having an enjoyable family game night for all ages.

Gift guides will be popping up all over the internet soon, but by far the best, most comprehensive guide I’ve seen comes from Modern Parents Messy Kids.  So many awesome suggestions from a very trusted resource.

Is it possible to be an ethical parent in this day and age?  Really thoughtful piece from New York magazine.

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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Baby Steps to Risky Play For Parents and Caregivers

Baby Steps to Risky Play from The Risky Kids

A while back I wrote about encouraging cautious children to try risky play.  But what about the opposite problem?  What if you have kids who are more than willing to take risks but you’re the cautious one?

First things first: you’re not alone.  Many parents and caregivers are understandably nervous about letting their kids engage in risky play.  And while we’re all familiar with the helicopter parent, what about those parents who find themselves in between hovering and free-range? The ones who would like to loosen up a bit, but aren’t sure where to start? That’s why I’m here – to encourage you by giving you some baby steps to risky play.

Here’s the thing – kids are going to engage in risky play (often behind your back) if you ban it in your presence.  By allowing them to dabble in risky play under controlled circumstances, you’re providing them with the valuable play experiences they need while minimizing the chance of injury.  In turn, starting out small builds your confidence as a parent as well, empowering you to trust yourself and your kids to slowly try new experiences and ways to play. Risky play is developmentally appropriate, and when it is allowed in an environment that allows for controlled risk, you’re helping kids to grow and develop important life skills.  That’s the key here – aiming for controlled risk.  It’s the sweet spot in between no risk and an unchecked free-for-all.

When talking about risky play, there are six main types of play that children naturally want to experience. By finding an activity that fits your comfort level, you allow your child to experience the risky play they crave without sacrificing your sanity or their safety.  Here are the 6 main types of risky play paired with suggestions for introductory activities that will satisfy kids’ natural desire for risk.

Great Heights 

Junior Monkey Bars

  

This includes climbing, jumping, balancing and hanging.  Some kids can’t get enough, others need encouraging, but I’ve yet to meet a parent (myself included) that doesn’t cringe when their kids want to climb up and jump off something.  Encourage kids to start small.  For a toddler, this means giving him the chance to jump from the small ledge of a curb or step without telling him to “Be careful!”  Small rocks are great to explore, climb and jump from.  Try to find a playground with monkey bars (this is getting harder and harder to do).  If the weather is bad or you’re having a hard time finding these elements in your local playspaces, try signing up for some climb time at an indoor climbing facility.

High Speed

 

Kids crave speed

My mind initially goes to race car speeds, but this isn’t the case at all!  It just means kids crave the wind in their hair and the element of feeling slightly out of control.  Encourage running, and find wide open spaces to run.  Have different types of ride-on toys available, such as bikes, scooters, and plasma cars.  Let them swing as high as they can.  Go sledding or ice skating in the winter.

Dangerous Tools

 

Kids Driving nails

No need to break out the chain saw!  Start small.  Hammering nails is the perfect introductory activity that can be tailored to fit any age.  From simple toddler-approved tool sets up to real hammers and nails paired with scrap lumber for preschoolers and up, every kid enjoys the thrill of working with tools.  Fall is a great time to practice hammering on pumpkins if you don’t have scrap wood available.

Dangerous Elements

 

Kids Using Fire

 

This includes elevation changes, water, and fire.  We’re headed into winter and this is the perfect time to introduce fire, as well as fire safety.  We often have candles going in the house during these cool months.  Let your older child learn how to strike a match and light a candle.  Let the younger children blow the candle out.  Let them observe and help as you light a fire in the fireplace or start a bonfire outdoors.  It’s also a natural time to discuss fire safety, and to remind them to never start a fire without the presence of an adult or to put anything into a fire without adult supervision.

 

Mock-Aggression

 

Boys wrestling

Parents of boys know this one all too well.  They seem to come hardwired ready to play rough.  Don’t squash it, just encourage it within certain parameters.  Let them roughhouse and wrestle on the floor with you.  Encourage superhero play with costumes.  Play fighting is a great way to work out real-life feelings.  Avoid injuries by providing kids with pool noodles,foam swords or Nerf guns.  I tell them where they can play (outside or in the basement) and they know the rules: no hitting faces or private parts.

 

Disappearing/Exploring

Kids playing with cardboard boxes

After fire, this is probably the one that incites the most anxiety.  Keep in mind that for kids, disappearing is mostly an illusion.  They don’t want to go far away, they just crave pockets of time away from your direct vision.  Keep a tent sent up in a distant corner of the house or the playroom.  Provide materials and supplies for indoor fort-building.  Outdoors consider building a playhouse.  My kids love to visit a local wooden playground because it has all kinds of spots for hiding.  If you’re feeling especially brave, allow your child to play outside by themselves in the front or back yard.  Start small – even 5 or 10 minutes can make a child feel very big and responsible!

The key to feeling more comfortable in any of these circumstances is to start small.  Try something that is just a teeny bit outside your comfort zone and see how it goes.  In time, you’ll make great strides in both your confidence and your child’s, and you can feel good knowing you’re providing experiences that will build wonderful lifelong skills, as well as happy childhood memories.

If you have suggestions of further activities families can do to start out small in any of these play categories, please share! And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re all here to learn and encourage each other in play!

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The Idle Parent Manifesto: We Embrace Responsibility

This is the nineteenth 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.

Embrace responsibility via The Risky Kids

We embrace responsibility.

 

What a crazy idea, right?  And why on earth would any parent not embrace responsibility?  We all want to raise responsible kids, but the burden lies in between the wanting and the doing.  There are four main areas in which I focus my efforts to raise responsible kids.  I want my kids to be responsible for:

Themselves

I want them to know how to take care of their health, their home, their happiness.  Before they leave the nest, they need to know basic living skills – how to cook, how to clean, how to wash their own clothes.  They need to self-regulate the kinds of foods they put in their bodies, the amount of sleep they get to be functional.  They need to learn who they are and what makes them happy, so they don’t depend on people or things to fill a void only they know how to fill.

Others

I want them to honor commitments, treat others with respect, think before speaking, empathize.  I want them to realize that everything they do creates a wake, with ripples that touch everyone around them.

Finances

My favorite nugget from financial author and radio host Dave Ramsey is to “act your wage.”  I want my kids to understand personal finance.  I want them to be good stewards of the money they have, to spend less than they make, to save, and to not let money rule their life or ruin relationships.

Their Virtual Self

It’s a brand new technological world for our kids, one we never had to worry about ourselves.  I want my kids to know what it means to be responsible in the world of social media – what they share, who they share it with, how they portray themselves online.  I don’t want to scare them, but I want them to realize the permanancy of the virtual world, and how nothing they say or do online is private.

How do we accomplish these things?  We model what responsibility looks like.  Not only should we show them how to be responsible, we should be transparent when we mess up.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes good ol’ responsible grownup Angie does some really stupid stuff.  A lesson in responsibility is even more impressive upon kids when you can show them you’re not perfect, but you’re open to learning how to do better yourself.

Secondly, we promise ourselves not to swoop in and fix things.  Our kids will disappoint us.  They will do things that embarrass us and make us question how others see us as parents.  They will do things that bring humiliation, suffering, and pain upon themselves.  I hate conflict.  I hate it when my kids are sad or hurting.  My first instinct is to make it better.  But sometimes it’s the pain and frustration that are the best teachers.  Putting a band-aid on the situation or stepping in to clean up a mess isn’t helpful, it’s irresponsible.

Finally, we pay attention.  I need to be present enough to see opportunities for my kids practice responsibility.  It’s so easy, especially for me as a stay-at-home parent, to do things for them.  Make their beds, bring a forgotten lunch, continue to do tasks for them they can do themselves because it’s easier or because I haven’t opened my eyes to see they’re not babies anymore- all of the things I do on autopilot sometimes because it’s what I’ve always done.

It’s not an easy task and it’s one that I often fail at miserably, but I know it’s important.  Embracing responsibility now means hard work and lots of little mistakes.  Waiting for responsibility to magically kick in later will mean disappointment and big, expensive mistakes.  I think I’ll choose the (seemingly) harder road now.

How do you embrace responsibility in your own home?  Does it come naturally for you, or do you struggle (as I do) to let some responsibilities trickle down to your children?

 

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You’re Never Too Old To Take Risks

Chicago skyline

It’s all well and good to encourage kids to take risks. It expands their horizons, builds confidence, and hones life skills they’ll need as adults. But just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you don’t need to do the same.

I was reminded of this as I planned an overnight trip to Chicago earlier this week. We live about 3 1/2 hours away from the city, and I’ve visited Chicago many times over the years. I had a writing assignment that required a visit to the Field Museum, so I thought it would be fun to take Elena with me – just a quick little girls’ getaway. It occurred to me that in all my visits to the city, I’d never actually gone on my own. I’d either taken a bus in for the day or gone with my parents or my husband.

I was definitely apprehensive about the trip, for several reasons:

  • In order to save money, I planned on using Priceline or Hotel Tonight to snag a last-minute deal. This meant I wouldn’t know exactly where we were staying until the day of the trip.
  • I’d never driven in Chicago.  We’d be arriving in the late afternoon, and I was worried about traffic.  I was also worried about getting lost.
  • I didn’t know where to park.  I knew I didn’t want to spend the money to valet the car at the hotel, but I didn’t want to drive around aimlessly trying to find a safe and reasonable place to park.
  • I needed to use public transportation to get us from the hotel to the museum and back.  It looked confusing and I was worried about taking the wrong bus.

So what’s an adult to do when they’re feeling both excited by and anxious about doing something they’ve never done before?  Well, I did exactly what I would tell my kids to do: assess the situation, prepare yourself as best you can, ask questions, and give it a try!

Elena and I ended up having a wonderful time.  Traffic was fine.  I found a great hotel in the perfect location at a good price.  I took a few minutes before we hit the road to research parking options online, and found a cool service call SpotHero.  I was able to plug in the address of the hotel and reserve a spot in a parking garage just down the block from our hotel for a fraction of the price it would’ve cost to valet park.  I plugged the address of the garage in my GPS and found it without any trouble.  I asked the concierge at the hotel about taking the bus, and he directed me to the city’s public transportation website.  It had a trip planner where you could indicate where you wanted to go and what time you wanted to get there, and it gave you detailed directions on which bus to take, what the fare would be, and how to get to the bus stop.

Each step of the way, Elena was watching.  I was very open about being nervous about some details of the trip.  I wanted her to see that everyone gets anxious sometimes, and that new situations (even exciting ones) can make you fearful, no matter how old you are.  I wanted her to see that in life we always have a choice – to step out of our comfort zones and end up doing some really cool things, or to pass opportunities by because you think you’re not capable of handling the tricky parts.

As I navigated the busy roads of downtown Chicago to get to our hotel, I had to turn the radio off.  I told ElenaI had to concentrate because it was stressing me out.  Once we were parked and on our way to the hotel she said, “How did you even do that?  I would be freaking out!”  And I told her that I just paid attention and trusted myself.

If she can go through life doing the same, she’ll be able to go anywhere and do anything she sets her mind to.  And I’d risk just about anything to set her up for that kind of success.

Chicago, just me and my girl.

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Our Tree Identification Project: Mapping & Gathering

We’re taking on a project – to identify every tree in our backyard!  You can read about the beginning of our project here.

Tree Identification Project

The leaves are starting to fall fast and furious, so we began the first part of our tree identification project over the weekend.  I started out by making a very rudimentary map of our backyard.  I walked the backyard and drew a circle on my map for every tree.  Each tree was given a letter (Tree A, Tree B, etc).  I knew we had a lot of trees, but was still surprised at the final count: 26!  (To put into perspective how exciting this is for us: in our last home we had five small trees.)

Eli and I then began the process of collecting leaves from each tree.  Once we had a leaf, I wrote the corresponding letter of the tree it came from on the back of the leaf in Sharpie.  I also made notes on my map if the tree had some distinctive characteristic, such as shaggy bark, or if it produced berries or nuts.

Beyond the connection with nature we get from just observing the trees and their leaves, we found ourselves making other discoveries in our backyard.  Beneath the oak tree there is a small woodpile.  Eli pointed out that there were all kinds of mushrooms and fungi in and around it.  We also noticed a few different kinds of animal droppings and we wondered together what kind of animals might lurk around the woodpile.  And then Eli spotted this guy:

Walking Stick Insect

He might not be a tree, but he is a walking stick!

Next up is the big task – figuring out exactly what kind of trees we have.  In preparation I’ve checked out just about every book on tree identification our library had!  I’d love to know if you’ve used other resources besides books.  Have you searched online?  Is there an app for that?  If so, we’d love to hear what’s been helpful to you!  We’ll update you on our progress next week!

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