Archives for January 2014

It’s Not You, LEGO. It’s Me.

LEGO Organization

I almost gave up on LEGO.

I noticed that Eli was never playing with his LEGO sets anymore. As sad as it made me, I was almost resigned to the fact that Eli wasn’t a LEGO fanatic and that it might be time to part with most of them. Then three things conspired to make me realize that it wasn’t LEGO. It was me.

The first was Christmas. We bought Eli the LEGO castle as his big gift. You might think it’s strange to get a kid who hadn’t shown much interest in LEGO a $100 set.  But I’d seen him linger over it in the catalog, and I know that he enjoys play where he can act out scenes, either with super heroes or minifigures.  It seemed like a way to get him back into building with LEGO. Additionally, it would take him a decent amount of time to build, and it had the potential to have lots of play value after it was built.

I was right on the first count.  He was excited about it Christmas morning and started building it soon after.  And this brought about the second thing that brought his LEGO building back to life.

He needed a place to build the castle where he’d have good light, ample work space to sort and build, and it needed to be somewhere where it wouldn’t be in the way if it wasn’t moved for quite some time.  That perfect place ended up being the desk in his bedroom.

It took him a couple of weeks, but he plugged away at it a little bit each day.  Sometimes he’d wake up and work on it.  Sometimes he’d build in the middle of the day.  Often he’d build before bed, a great way to settle him down for sleeping.  And just as I’d hoped, he continues to play and act out scenes with the finished castle.

The third thing that saved LEGO was the Polar Vortex. Thanks to frigid temperatures, the kids have been playing in the basement more frequently. This is another way of saying our basement was trashed. Lest the kids enjoy snow day #5 too much, I made them help me clean the basement.

In our old home I came up with a great system for organizing LEGO bricks for younger builders. In this home, I kept all of the LEGO bricks in the basement.  Eli has a little case he keeps in his room with his minifigures and a small assortment of bricks. Looking at those bins during our cleaning spree, I thought about how often he plays with his minifigures in his room – fairly often. What if I brought all of the LEGO bins up to his room?

I think I have my answer.

Life with boys: a sea of Legos. #keepinitreal

LEGO free play

This has been the scene in Eli’s room (and spreading out into the hallway) since the move.  He is free-building every single day.  He wasn’t over LEGO. He was over the idea that in order to play with them, he had to go to the farthest, coldest recesses of the house! And who can blame him?

Next week I’m going to delve further into the subject of how and where kids play, because I think it’s a great topic. My experience with LEGO, coupled with other observations I’ve made over the years, leads me to believe that we have a big impact on the kind of play our kids engage in. If you’ve ever wondered why your kids don’t play a certain way (independently, imaginatively, artistically, etc.) or why they don’t play with certain toys, this upcoming post will be for you!

LEGO Robin

In the meantime, I’m so glad Eli and LEGO are back together again.

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Put Strange Stuff in the Microwave

CD in the microwave

Task: Experiment with electromagnetic radiation in the kitchen.

 

Requires:

  • Microwave oven
  • Grapes (or grape tomatoes)
  • Unwanted CD

Possible Hazards:

  • Fire
  • Bad Stink
  • Burns

How It All Went Down:

When you’re on Day 5 of no school, with the kids having gone a grand total of 8 1/2 days in January, you start to think just about anything to entertain them is a good idea.  Even an idea that might start a fire.  But hey, in all fairness, with the windchill in subzero range, any kind of fire starts to sound appealing.  And so we decided to put strange stuff in the microwave.

Whether your parents condone it or not, I think there’s a part in all of us that wonders what would happen if we put _______ in the microwave.  And there’s also that jolt of adrenaline that comes from accidentally putting something in the microwave that doesn’t belong, like that one coffee mug you own with the decorative metallic rim.  It turns out the microwaves that are responsible for heating our food quickly are also capable of some cool science experiments with crazy visuals.  Impress the kids by spouting off that microwaves are really just magnetrons  hooked up to a high voltage source.  You’ll sound really important.

In 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), Mr. Tulley suggests you try putting a CD, a grape and marshmallows in the microwave (though not all at the same time).  I suggest you start small with the grape and work your way up to the most impressive of the bunch, the CD.

The marshmallow is easy enough.  Just place a marshmallow on a microwave-safe plate and run it at full power for 10 seconds. We only had mini-marshmallows on hand, which aren’t nearly as impressive as the big ones.  This is also the perfect time to play around with marshmallow Peeps!

The book suggests you cut a grape almost in half, leaving the skin as a hinge between the two pieces.  You then place the grape on a microwave-safe plate, cut side up, and heat for 10 seconds.  If all goes well, your grape should arch and spark, essentially making a dielectric antenna between the grape halves. Ours didn’t cooperate, but this can be due to several factors, including the water content of your grapes, where you place them in the microwave, and the power of your microwave oven.  I figured it was the microwave gods warning me to be thankful I wasn’t cleaning grape plasma off the inside of the microwave and moved on to the CD.

I’ll admit, I was afraid of this one. I’d probably never do it again, but it was definitely impressive!  A CD contains a thin sheet of aluminum foil sealed between two sheets of plastic (news to me!).  Metal is a great conductor of electricity, so exposing it to microwaves causes the free electrons on the metal’s surface to move around like crazy.  Unlike stuff that’s supposed to go in the microwave because the waves are easily absorbed, the waves bounce off metal surfaces causing sparks and swear words to fly out of your mouth.

In order to see this in action for yourself, place an unwanted CD on a paper towel in the microwave.  Run it for 3 seconds.  Trust us on this one, 3 seconds is plenty of time!  Observe:

You’ll want to stress to your kids that while your game for suggestions of things to put in the microwave, all foreign objects must be subject to parental approval before they’re nuked.  Never nuke anything for more than 10 seconds at a time.  If there is a fire, stop the microwave but don’t open the door until the fire goes out.  And finally, remember that things can get insanely hot in a very short time in the microwave.  Use oven mitts or tongs to remove objects that have been microwaved.

A few other things I’ve seen tossed around as cool to microwave (but haven’t tried) are gummy bears, Ivory soap, light bulbs and whole eggs.  On the safer (and yummier) side, the kids are now intrigued enough to want to try cooking mini cakes and cookies in cups in the microwave.  I’m game for that experiment!

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever microwaved – on purpose or on accident?

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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Tiny Games, Big Fun

tiny games app review

As families are often on the go, you can find yourselves with pockets of time where you’re just waiting. Waiting for your appointment time. Waiting in line at the store. Waiting for your meal to arrive. Waiting in the carpool line.

Often, it’s not a long period of time that we’re waiting. But 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there … it can add up.  It brings up a conundrum when you’re waiting with others.  On the one hand, thanks to technology, we can fill these pockets of time with our handheld devices. We can keep the kids happy with Angry Birds or leave them to their texting. We can catch up on Facebook or scroll through our emails. We can be in our own little worlds, heads down, while time passes us by. On the other hand, what kind of moments are we missing?

I’m not going to lie, we do this a lot ourselves.  But there are times when I wish we could fill this time better, connect somehow.  And sometimes we do fill it with activities that connect us.  But there are times when my ideas are met with grumbles.  No one wants to talk about their day or play tic-tac-toe with crappy crayons.

That’s when I’m happy to pull my own phone out of my purse and use technology to keep us connected and having fun.  I downloaded the Tiny Games app (available from iTunes) after seeing it mentioned on Bernie DeKoven’s blog Deep Fun.  I’m always looking for apps that are fun, not totally mindless, and that can engage us all.  They’re very few and far between.  The idea behind Tiny Games is to fill those empty pockets of time with something playful that can keep you connected and engaged with those around you.

Tiny Games app

You start by letting the app know where you are. While the app is free, it only comes pre-loaded with games for home.  We added games for waiting in lines as well. You can add games to your collection for $1.99 or add all the games for $5.99.

Once you tell the app where you are, it will ask you a few more questions, like what kind of a line you’re in:

Tiny Games app

It will then ask how many are playing:

Tiny Games app

Once the app gathers the information it needs, it will present you with a game.  You can read the premise and rules of the game and decide if you want to play or if you want the app to choose a different game for you.

Tiny Games app

We played a game called Race Horse Commentary while waiting for our food at Steak-n-Shake the other day. We each had to take a turn narrating part of a race horse, inserting a made-up horse’s name each turn. The catch? We also had to include the name of the horses the players before came up with. And the horses names had to go in alphabetical order! We never made it very far before one of us would forget a horse’s name, but it was hilarious hearing the names everyone came up with and the wild tales of our horse race.  No one bickered about whose turn it was with the phone, no one complained about how long it took our food to arrive, and instead of retreating into our own worlds we spent the time waiting having fun and connecting with each other. Before we knew it, the waiting was over.

I should note, not all of the games on the app are appropriate for children. However you can easily skip those and ask for a different game. Still, if you have younger children you’re in luck. There is another version of the app called Sesame Street Family Play for the younger crowd.

I just love it when you can use technology in a way that brings people closer.  Next time you’re waiting, give a Tiny Game a try and let me know what you think!

This post was not sponsored or endorsed by Tiny Games. We just enjoyed it as a family and thought you might enjoy it, too!

 

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Good Question: What If You and Your Partner Disagree on a Risky Activity?

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!

So this is a question that doesn’t come up too often in our household, but it came up the other day. What do you do if you and your partner disagree on whether an activity is okay for your kids?

If the partners are fairly different in their tolerance or comfort level for riskier activities, I can see how this could become a point of contention and cause a lot of stress. If you’re an adventurous parent and your partner is more cautious (or vice versa), how do you handle a situation where you don’t agree on whether an activity is safe or appropriate for the kids?

In our situation, Mike and I are almost always on the same page. But every once in a while we disagree. What’s interesting is that it’s not always the same person who feels uncomfortable with an activity – I guess our risk-meters differ depending on the day and the activity. The other day it just happened to be me. On this particular day, he wanted to pull the kids on the sled in, well, an unconventional way. (I’m not going to go into any more detail than that, because I don’t want this to turn into a debate on whether or not a particular activity is acceptable. I want the discussion to focus on what to do when you’re not on the same page regardless of the activity.)

I didn’t love the idea, and I let him know. He’d already told the kids, so in addition to my trepidation, I had two very excited kids bouncing around in anticipation. He gave me a few reasons as to why he thought the activity would be okay, and while it was still something I would never do, I trusted his judgement. They did their unconventional sledding activity, they all had a blast, and most importantly, they all came home in one piece.

The key for us is to take the time to listen to the why behind your partner’s request to try a certain activity. At the same time, the person who is feeling anxious must be heard as well. Sometimes, as in my case, just being able to voice your anxieties and worst-case scenarios is enough to make a person feel good enough to consent. I know for me, being able to spell out what could happen and get a sense that Mike is aware and properly vigilant, is often enough for me to feel okay with the activity. We also trust each other enough that if one person doesn’t consent, the other will respect that.

How do you handle similar situations when they come up in your home? Is one partner always the gas and the other always the brake, or do you alternate as Mike and I tend to do?

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Winter Kayaking

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Most people think of kayaking as a warm weather activity, but have you ever tried winter kayaking?  Lisa tells us how … and why you’ll want to give it a go!

My friend Linda flew in from Michigan to kayak one weekend last year. We’d planned to do three different rivers in three days. With two rivers down and one to go, I asked Thomas if he would like to join us for Sunday’s paddle. He surprised me and said, “Yes!” I admit, I freaked. It was March in middle Tennessee and it was cold. The temperature had been hovering right about freezing. We’d had snow all for the two previous days. They were the beautiful delicate flakes that melted as soon as they hit the water. But still? He didn’t have the right gear and he had never paddled in the winter.

Linda looked at me and said, “Your son wants to go with us and we’re going to make it happen!” It pays to have risky friends!

We chose a closer river, pieced together the correct gear, arranged an early exit option for Thomas and packed lots of snacks.

In preparation, we told him what to do in case he flipped his kayak. Swim to the nearest shore, don’t worry about your boat, get out of the water and take off all of your wet clothes  (things we didn’t imagine saying when we signed up for motherhood).

We had the best paddle ever!

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We practiced our stealth mode. This is useful for floating under low branches.

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Thomas elected to do the entire paddle with us. He was a rockstar. There was no drama, no complaining, no tears. Just pure joy and pride. I am so grateful that Linda encouraged me to take Thomas with us.

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We all made it safely to our take out spot. I got to spend the day sharing my passion with my son. I got to see him spend time in nature. He got to talk and paddle and be still and float. It was an amazing day.

Please remember that paddling in cold conditions is not only risky, it can be dangerous. Linda and I are experienced cold water paddlers. We dressed appropriately and packed for emergency situations. We both had cell phones in dry bags around our necks at all times. Depending on water and air temperatures, hypothermia can start with as little as fifteen minutes of exposure to the water.  If it’s something you’d like to try, don’t let these things stop you, but please be smart and find an experienced paddler to accompany you the first time.

While you definitely have to take different precautions to kayak in the winter, it’s worth the effort to experience nature in winter’s light.

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Parkour: Bouncing Off the Walls (On Purpose)

B.A.S.E. Fitness Parkour

Have you heard of Parkour?  Until very recently, I hadn’t.  Parkour is a holistic training discipline in which you use only your body to overcome physical obstacles as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.

Or – as Eli would describe it – Spiderman training.

Parkour was originally developed as a training method for the French army, but gradually gained ground around the world as a way to get fit, have fun with a healthy dose of an adrenaline rush, and as a different way to explore an urban enviroment.  It’s closely associated with freerunning.

Intro to Parkour

We came across it quite by accident.  It turns out that Fishers is home to the one and only facility that offers Parkour instruction in Indiana. We drove by B.A.S.E. Fitness one day and Elena pointed it out.

Running, jumping, climbing, and taking risks? Well, it was right up The Risky Kid alley. We had to try it. And when I say we, I mean Mike, Elena and Eli (someone has to take the pictures, right?). They signed up for a one-hour Intro to Parkour class.

The class was a mix of males and females, kids and adults. The beauty of Parkour is that it can be adjusted to just about any age level (although it is recommended for 9 and up) and any fitness/bravery level. It can be as risky as you want it to be. While Parkour can be done anywhere, having an indoor training facility is a nice luxury. You can practice all year long out of the elements, can adjust the difficulty level easily, and the big bonus: pads on the ground if you fall!

Beginner Parkour

Is it something for the whole family? Not necessarily, but different people will like it for different reasons. Mike enjoyed it and would like to keep going for the fitness aspect of it. Elena could take it or leave it. Eli, of course, loved it. I can see the appeal for all kinds of groups: urban kids, people who want to get fit in a non-traditional way, kids who aren’t into traditional team sports, thrill seekers, anyone interested in survival skills, and many more I’m not thinking of.

Have you ever tried Parkour? Is it something you’d want to try (or have your kids try)?

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Risky Reads: The Polar Vortex Edition

This is what our neighborhood looked like just over a week ago today:

Polar Vortex 2014

The kids missed an entire week of school! I didn’t get a great photo, but the snow piles were so high that the kids were able to dig holes in them to make mini igloos. As the temperatures warmed up and the snow softened, they even connected some of the holes to make a system of snow tunnels. That’s the stuff childhood memories are made of!

Being stuck inside for days in a row gave me lots of time to get lost in my favorite blogs and Pinterest. Here are a few things I came across that I thought you might enjoy as well:

Snap Circuits Jr. was a big hit at Christmas last year, and it’s one of those toys that consistently gets played with in our house. I came across this tutorial to hack your Snap Circuits to make spin art. So cool!

I’d love to put together some of these DIY Explorer Kits and give them as gifts (thanks for sharing them with  me, Sacha!). I kind of want one for myself!

I thought this was an interesting read from a mom who struggled with a not-so-black-and-white parenting decision. Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if all of the decisions we have to make fall into the gray areas of parenting?

Do you watch the X Games as a family? Eli LOVES them. They’re coming up on January 23. While we were snowed in Eli reenacted the X Games indoors, with Elena playing filmmaker.

Lastly, I’m very excited to be a contributor to Bedtime Math’s parent/educator blog, Add It Up! I’m adding our risky touch to some fun activities and sharing the math that lurks within. So far we’ve wrapped a kid and played with giant dice. And don’t miss this cool interview with skatepark builder! I hope you’ll take a minute to check it out the blog.

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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Start a Family Nature Club

Family Nature Club

When I asked other parents about what keeps them from playing outdoors with their kids, I got some eye-opening responses. A few of the most common answers were that they don’t enjoy certain aspects of outdoor play, that it’s boring, or that they’re afraid of some of the elements that go along with nature (bugs, poison ivy, animals, etc).

It’s a shame, but it’s completely understandable. When there’s a barrier that keeps you from trying something you might enjoy, one of the best ways to surmount it is to enlist the help of friends. When something is daunting or you don’t know where to start, having someone else to help you through it or encourage you can be the difference between doing and dreaming.

One of my family goals for this year is to get us out and about in nature more. We’re great about playing outside, but I would love to see us do more hiking, camping, and exploring the many trails and parks around us. Our tree identification project also sparked a desire in me to learn more about the plants and animals around us. I have lots of great ideas, but often lack the motivation to get out and do them. Or maybe I have the motivation, but the kids are less than enthused because they want to hang out with friends rather than just each other.

That’s why I’m so excited to see about the prospect of starting our own family nature club.  Family nature clubs are a way for families to get together with others and explore nature together. By banding together with other families, you have the encouragement, the community, and the opportunity to share ideas for activities and new places with a group. Anyone can start a nature club and it can be made up of any group of people you like – friends, neighbors, schoolmates, playgroups, church groups, or random local internet friends (my favorite!).

The Indiana Children and Nature Network has links to great online resources you can use to start your own nature club. If you’re local, you can attend a free training session with an ICAN representative at Cool Creek Nature Center in Carmel on Saturday, January 18 from 2-5 p.m. You can register here.

I’m excited to start our own club, meet some new friends, and explore around us. Is this something you think you’d like to try?

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What If We Did the Opposite? An Alternative to Publicly Shaming Parents

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Warning! Unattended child! Someone call the authorities!

I’ve had this post on the back burner for quite some time. It first came to me after reading this post from Lenore at Free Range Kids.  Take a few minutes and read a mom’s story about leaving her 3 year-old daughter unattended for a few moments in a restaurant while she helped her other child in the bathroom.

This is the kind of thing that both inspires me and terrifies me at the same time. On the one hand, I know that as more of us take those steps to show what common sense and parenting can look like together, more people will get comfortable with the idea that our children aren’t in danger every single second. When another parent sees me telling my son he can use the public restroom by himself, or sees my daughter biking to the pretzel shop with a friend, they can feel better about letting their own children spread their wings. The message is “This is normal behavior. I’m not a freak. We can look out for each other.”

On the other hand, I don’t want to be the parent subjected to that kind of public humiliation, especially in front of my kids. Or even worse, I don’t want to be the parent who has to hire a lawyer because some “well-meaning” yahoo called the police for leaving my 6-year-old in the car while I run in to pick up the pizza. And so I walk the fine line between trying to be an example for common sense, hysteria-free parenting and trying to stay under the radar so as to not draw undue attention to ourselves.

It was this line specifically in Lenore’s post that had me reconsidering what life for parents like myself could be like, if people would just stop and think for a moment:

“Why don’t onlookers realize that they are PART of the safety net that looks after our kids and not the shame brigade?”

What if we did the opposite? What if we took the energy it required for us to shame, condescend, judge, or complain and turned it into some positive action instead? So maybe that women at Taco Bell wouldn’t make the same choice. Maybe her gut, as a parent, tells her that she’d feel better taking both kids to the bathroom. That’s okay! I’m not going to rip you a new one because I think you’re making things unnecessarily hard on yourself. But when I think of the energy it took for her to shame another mother, I get angry. Why not use your energy to help?

Offer to keep an eye on a toddler so a mother can take an older child to the restroom. If you see unattended kids in a car near a place of business, hang out for a minute and asses the situation. If the parent comes back out in a few minutes and the kids are oblivious, smile and get on with your business. You feel better in that you’ve made sure no harm is coming towards the kids, the parent doesn’t get shamed for doing something our parents did day in and day out when we were kids. If you see kids playing outside without adult supervision, observe for a few minutes. Are they having fun? Playing appropriately? Good! You are an extra set of eyes looking out for the next generation, as other adults did for generations before this one.

Shaming wastes energy and helps no one. It wastes public resources when CPS is called to handle cases of no consequence while actual abuse is happening to children elsewhere. It pulls police officers away from real crimes. It turns good parents into fearful ones, who in turn pass the fear onto their children. Then, in a few years, these same “helpers” will bemoan the fact that we have raised a generation of kids who can’t function as responsible adults. They will blame technology, the government, the parents, the school system, but they will never think for one moment of the part their judgement played on how children are raised today.

Have you ever been shamed publicly like this mother? Or have you ever felt the need to call someone out on their parenting in public? How can we handle situations like these in the best interest of the kids involved?

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What Should We Read Next?

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage if you make a purchase using the links. Think of it as our insurance deductible fund!

BRRR!!!! As I sit here at my computer I’m looking out at about a foot of snow and a temperature of fourteen degrees below zero.  Between winter break, the holidays, and now this bitter weather that’s keeping us indoors, it feels as if the riskiest thing we can do is get along with each other!

The cold is a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a book. With the end of The Idle Parent Manifesto series, I was wondering if you might be interested in a new book series? We could either do it as an online book club or continue in the format I used for The Idle Parent.  Or I could just scrap the idea of a book series and review books here and there that I think you might be interested in.

Here are a few books I think could work well as an online book club or series of posts:

Can you do me a favor and leave a comment with your preference? If you’re interested in this idea, let me know which format you prefer, as well as which book sounds interesting to you. I’m very open to your own book suggestions as well! If you’d rather I just stick to a book review here and there over a series of posts I’d love to hear from you, too. In the meantime, stay warm!

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