Archives for November 2013

Punkin Chunkin: Having Fun With Pumpkins After Halloween

Punkin Chunkin with The Risky Kids

There aren’t many things sadder than a jack-o-lantern a few days after Halloween. What was once a cute symbol of a fun fall holiday soon turns into a pitiful, molding vegetable taking up room on the front porch. Other than the one year we composted the pumpkin (only to find ourselves with hundreds of pumpkin seedlings in the garden the following spring), we usually just toss them in the trash.

This year I wanted to try something a little more fun.  I asked the kids if they would like to throw their pumpkins out our second floor window and see what happens. Let’s just say you don’t have to ask a kid twice to throw an object from great heights.

The kids and their pumpkins were positioned at our bedroom window while I took video down on the ground. It might not last very long, but punkin chunkin from the second floor is fun.

Our pumpkins were definitely broken, but still in large chunks. For the next round of fun the kids rolled the pumpkins, along with another pumpkin that didn’t make the jump, down to the wooded area in our backyard. I gave them each a baseball bat and let them go to town – Smashing Pumpkins for the under 5 foot crowd.

Boy vs. pumpkin. Boy wins.

It doesn’t seem like much, but this is exactly the kind of activity The Risky Kids is all about. Most of the time we’re telling kids to be careful, to restrain themselves, not to make a mess, don’t break anything. Punkin chunkin and smashing pumpkins frees them from the normal confines of daily life. They were downright gleeful.

When all was said and done, I had satisfied kids, a cleaned-up porch, and some tasty treats ready for our resident squirrels and chipmunks to eat. If you still have carved pumpkins sitting sadly on your doorstep, try throwing them around before throwing them out!

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Our Tree Identification Project: the Beginning

Suburban backyard

One of the best things about our new home is the backyard. Even though it doesn’t get played in nearly as much as I thought it would, it’s beautiful. I love looking out my kitchen window as I wash dishes, gazing at the trees and watching the squirrels and chipmunks zip around.

Mighty oak and dogwood

There are two tree directly outside the kitchen window that I can easily identify. The first is the star of our yard and the namesake of our street. It is an enormous, grand oak tree. I have to laugh, because there were years when I wanted to make crafts and projects with the kids that involved acorns, and I couldn’t find any near our old home for the life of me. Now we could fill a baby pool and swim in acorns if we wanted to!

The other tree is a dogwood. I’ve wanted a dogwood tree since our early days of home ownership in Nashville, Tennessee. I love dogwood blossoms in the spring, the way they seem to just float on air. We moved in this house in mid-March and had no idea what kind of tree it was. When those tell-tale blossoms made their first appearance I squealed like I had just gotten the world’s best gift on Christmas morning.

Dogwood blossoms

The idea came to me this summer that we should make an effort to identify every tree that grows in our backyard. For one, I think it will add another layer of appreciation we have for this home. Naming something shows you value it, and we are very thankful for these trees, and the beauty and shade they provide. (We will probably not be quite as thankful as we rake all the leaves, though!)

My other motivation is how excited my kids get at hands-on science activities. I’m a scientist at heart, with a degree in microbiology. Some of my favorite school memories involved the experiments and moments of study when we got our hands dirty. I remember the middle school assignment when we had to display and identify insects we had collected. I couldn’t believe something so fun and fascinating could be considered homework.

I don’t see my kids getting these same kinds of experiences nearly as much in school today. I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect it is a combination of factors. Insect identification probably isn’t covered in the statewide test, and so it is pushed aside for something that is measurable. I also wonder if liability issues and complaints from parents keep teachers from taking the kids outside to get dirty and explore. What if Johnny didn’t wear sunscreen? What if Lucy gets into poison ivy?

The other day Elena was telling me about an activity they worked on in science class. Her teacher brought in samples of dirt she collected around her yard. The students took those dirt samples and looked at them under microscopes. It’s so hard to get Elena to chat about her day. Getting details can be like pulling teeth. But on this day she talked for a good five minutes just about that experience – how the dirt smelled, how everyone’s seemed to have something different, how fun it is to use the microscope, how equally disgusting and fascinating the nematode was that they found in their sample.

Obviously these kinds of experiences have a deep impact on our kids and their excitement for learning. I see our tree identification process as a way to have that kind of experience in our own backyard. We are in the beginning stages of the project, so I thought I would share along with you as we proceed. I’ll let you know how we went about it, the resources we used, and how the kids respond. I think fall is a great time for this project, and I hope you’ll join in with us and share the trees you find in your backyard (or neighborhood, or local park … wherever)!

Have you ever made the effort to identify the plants in your backyard? If so, what were your favorite resources?

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