Archives for March 2014

The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

Our Spring Break begins today, and as I look at the 10-day forecast it seems as if our break will have at least a few days of the wonderful spring weather we’ve been dreaming of. As the kids and I brainstormed and made a list of things we’d like to do over the break, I was reminded of another list I picked up while attending the Indiana Children and Nature Network meeting a couple of weeks ago.

It’s the Indiana Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, and you can download a copy for yourself from the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s website. While it’s geared toward getting Indiana’s children outside and connecting with nature, it obviously translates to children all over the world. I love the list format. I don’t know about you, but my kids love a good list! There is such satisfaction in checking off the things you’ve done.  And how satisfying will it be to finally get outdoors again without layer upon layer and check this fun activities off one by one? Here’s the list:

1. Explore and play outdoors in a safe place.

Follow a nature trail via The Risky Kids

2. Follow a trail and discover native plants, wildlife and history.

Fishing with kids via The Risky Kids

3. Experience traditional outdoor activities like fishing and hunting.

4. Discover and celebrate Indiana’s past (or whatever part of the world you call home).

Camping with kids via The Risky Kids

5. Camp under the stars.

Climb a tree via The Risky Kids

6. Climb a tree.

Visit a farm via The Risky Kids

7. Visit a farm.

8. Plant a seed or tree and watch it grow.

Play in a stream via The Risky Kids

9. Splash and play in streams, lakes and ponds.

Geocache Tree

10. Enjoy the outdoors using all the senses.

11. Ask questions, find answers, and share nature with a friend.

What would you add to your own Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights?

 

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Sponsor Spotlight: eFamily

As grateful as I am for my readers, I’m also very grateful for my sponsors. They help me 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. This month’s sponsor is eFamily.

eFamily

eFamily is an app that helps you manage your family moments. A subscription to eFamily allows you to share photographs, videos, and updates with the people you care about, while maintaining your privacy. As part of my sponsorship, I was given a free year’s subscription so that I could try it myself before deciding if I wanted to recommend it to you. While I’m firmly planted on the side of oversharing on the internet (that’s what nearly 7 years of blogging will do to you!), I can appreciate that not everyone feels the same way. I see eFamily as a wonderful alternative for people who love the connectedness that sharing through technology brings, but desire a more private option. You can learn more about eFamily, as well as enter to win a free one-year subscription for yourself, over at my other blog, Just Like The Number. And thanks to eFamily for being a proud sponsor of The Risky Kids.

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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Book Review: Go Wild! 101 Things To Do Outdoors Before You Grow Up

This post contains affiliate links.

As soon as I saw this book I knew it was something I’d have to read and share with you! And what better timing than Spring, when we’re all anxious to get outdoors.

Go Wild! 101 Things To Do Outdoors Before You Grow UP

Go Wild!: 101 Things to Do Outdoors Before You Grow Up, written by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks, was written to to inspire kids between the ages of 11-16 to explore and enjoy the wild, and to make it a part of every day life. The authors wrote it with an emphasis on fun, but also with a passion for making outdoor skills real and attainable. They noted that many kids are familiar with extreme survival shows. And while they may happily watch on them TV, they never realize they can attempt actual (though less dramatic) outdoor expeditions in real life.

While the book is geared toward tweens and teens, I found several activities that I could tailor to include Eli (6), such as making a one-person leaf hut, making a tepee, and knot tying. However the emphasis of the book is teaching outdoor survival skills to older kids with the idea that at some point you can turn them loose outdoors by themselves.

The book is divided into 8 sections: Shelter, Fire, Foraging, Cooking Outdoors, Tools & Weapons, Bushcraft (wilderness) Skills, Water & Keeping Clean, and Keeping Safe. It would serve as a valuable resource not only to adventurous kids, but to families or adults who want to learn more about outdoor camping and survival skills.

Go Wild! Shelter Building

image via gowild.net

A few activities we’ll be trying for sure? Crayfishing, for one! The authors describe how to build a simple crayfish trap, using a small,plastic basket with holes for the water to drain, some string, and raw bacon. While we probably won’t eat them, I know we’d enjoy trapping and observing them for a bit.

How about slingshot paintballing? Fill paper towels with flour, twist them up and tie or tape them shut. After you have enough ammo for a fight, use slingshots to launch them at each other. They’ll explode on impact! It’s totally unnecessary for outdoor survival, but sometimes you have to lure kids (especially older ones) away from screens with the promise of great fun first. From the weapons section I’d also love to make our own peashooters.

I particularly enjoyed how the authors used anecdotes of their own experiences and photographs of their own children. They acknowledge that with their own kids, they worried and wondered if they were irresponsible in the freedom they gave them. I appreciated their honesty. It makes me feel better to know that other parents struggle with the fine line between letting our children experience life, with all its inherent risks, and protecting them from harm. This quote from the authors helps to put it in perspective:

“Perhaps the biggest risk young people face is taking no risk at all.”

Indeed it is. Check out “Go Wild” and start taking some fun (yet valuable) outdoor risks! You can learn more about the authors and their other books at www.goingwild.net

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10 Ways to Ring in Spring!

Tomorrow is the first day of spring! Can I get an amen for those of us who feel as if this winter has overstayed its welcome? To celebrate, I came up with 10 playful ways to ring in spring’s arrival.

Fly a kite

1. Fly a kite.

Take advantage of spring’s blustery days and fly a kite! I don’t buy fancy kites, and I’ve been known to scoop up a few when I see them on sale. If we lose one or the string is hopelessly tangled we just move on to a new one!

Enjoy a spring shower

2. Enjoy a spring shower.

Stomp in the puddles, twirl your umbrella, make friends with the worms! Who says you can only play outside when it’s sunny and dry? Not us!

Geocaching with kids

3. Try letterboxing or geocaching.

Spend the dreary days learning about letterboxing and geocaching so that you’re ready to go when good weather and inspiration strikes.  If you’re just starting out, it can be easier to locate the cache in the spring, before the heavy foliage of summer takes over. While you’re searching, take note of what you see. What’s budding and blooming? Then return in the summer, fall, and winter and note how the location has changed through the seasons.

wild mushrooms

4. Forage for mushrooms or edible plants.

Find some guidebooks to help you. Not only are they a valuable resource, they can provide hours of quiet time on icky weather days as kids leaf through the pages. Last fall we discovered that we can forage wild hickory nuts in our neighborhood. Who knows what we’ll find this year? I’ve got my fingers crossed for morels!

5. Play with chalk and puddles.

Colorful sidewalk chalk is another item I keep on hand year-round and buy extras when I see them on sale. We call mixing chalk and water making a “colorful river” at our house, and it’s beautiful fun.

make up an outdoor game

6. Learn a new outdoor game (or rediscover a childhood favorite).

Or make up your own, as we did in the photo above! (The game was War Ball. Everyone dragged out a variety of balls from their garages, lined them up in the middle, and split into teams. When the game starts, everyone rushes to the center, grabs a ball, and starts throwing. Like Dodge Ball, when you’re hit, you’re out.) Sure, you remember playing hopscotch, foursquare, and red rover … but do your kids know how to play? Get a group of kids involved in a game and then slowly back away and let the magical childhood memories commence.

7. Search for tadpoles.

We’ve been scoping out what we think is the perfect tadpole habitat. It’s still too cold, but in a few weeks we hope to collect some tadpoles and watch them grow. Stay tuned for details!

play in the mud

8. Play in the mud.

Little toes were made for squishing in the mud. Heck, so are big toes, for that matter!

Of course the weather doesn’t always cooperate, and spring doesn’t necessarily mean sunshine or warm showers. For days that look more like winter, try these activities that will still get you in a spring-y mood:

Nature Center Animals

9. Explore your local nature center.

Bring the outdoors indoors! Many nature centers switch their exhibits and programming for spring. They might even offer some special spring-themed hikes or activities. Click the link above for more information on how to find a nature center near you.

10. Give indoor rock climbing a try.

This is on our Spring Break must-do list. My kids have been begging to try!

What are your favorite activities to ring in spring? Be sure to share them in the comments! For more outdoor inspiration,  follow The Risky Kids Pinterest boards!

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The Case for Messy Play: Magic Potions & Kitchen Concoctions

Magic Potions and Kitchen Concoctions via The Risky Kids

This post contains some affiliate links.

I know, I know … you’re ready to hang me by my toenails before I even begin! First I ask you to let your kids run around like hooligans outside, now I’m imploring you to let them make big messes inside! Soon you’ll be asking if The Risky Kids is actually written BY kids posing as parents, with the hidden agenda of making your life as crazy as possible.

But no, I assure you, it’s me writing … a real, actual parent. And this real, actual parent actually despises messes. Yes, I can be that parent that has to restrain herself from walking around behind children and guests, tidying as I go. I realize, though, that making messes is a child’s work. And by forbidding messy play I am getting in the way of not only the sheer joy of making a mess, but the developmental processes that messy play encourages. I also firmly believe that when kids don’t have an outlet for making messes, they’ll just find their own way to meet their need for messy play. Have you ever discovered a mess in your pantry, or follow the trail of quiet to see a mad scientist at work in your makeup stash? Then you know exactly what I mean!

Today I’m going to focus on ways you can encourage messy play with common kitchen items. My kids are always asking if they can experiment, in which “experiment” is a code for dumping kitchen ingredients together and seeing what happens. Would I rather they make mud pies outside? Yes. But the weather and their mood doesn’t always cooperate. Would I rather they read or draw or play a game together? Yes, but they need this kind of play, too. Would I rather have a tidy kitchen and children glued to a screen? Absolutely not.

Messy Play

I’ve found a few tips and tricks that merge the best of both worlds. The kids are happily engaged in messy play, while the mess is contained and clean-up is rather minimal.  Here are some items that facilitate messy kitchen play. Keep them on hand and you can encourage experiments and magic-potion making whenever the mood strikes.

  • Trays: Essential for keeping liquids contained.
  • Small pitcher: Perfect for letting little hands pour their own water.
  • Squeeze Bottles: We use these all the time – in the bathtub, for snow painting, cookie decorating, and more.
  • Mason jars
  • Test tubes: Ours came in a Kiwi Crate (a subscription service I can’t say enough good things about). Not necessary, but they definitely make little mad scientists feel more legit.
  • Pipettes (Plastic Droppers)
  • Measuring utensils
  • Ice cube trays
  • Empty water bottles

Now that you have your equipment ready, here are some common household items that provide hours of messy fun:

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Food coloring
  • Alka-seltzer tablets
  • Corn starch
  • Shaving cream
  • Gelatin

A few tips for success and fewer headaches:

  • Keep old towels handy for clean up.
  • Wear old clothes or have smocks for messy play.
  • Set up items while children are asleep or at school.
  • Only introduce a few items at a time.
  • Back off! It’s not fun for them if you’re nagging or admonishing them for every spill or mishap.

Finally, for some inspiration. Here are a few “experiments” to get you started.

Watching Ice Cubes in Oil

Melting Rainbows/DIY Lava Lamps

Fill an ice cube tray with water and add a drop of food coloring to each tray. Freeze. Once colored cubes are frozen, fill a clear jar with oil. Add frozen cubes and watch what happens as they melt. Once they’re done melting, add an Alka-Seltzer! If you haven’t prepped ice cubes, try filling an empty water bottle 2/3 full with oil. Fill the rest with water. Drip food coloring into the bottle, then drop in an Alka-Seltzer and watch the magic!

Homemade Foam Dough (via Bedtime Math) 

For a truly tactile experience, try making foam dough using shaving cream and corn starch.

Magic Potion Lab

Mad Scientist

Let your child come up with their own experiments and concoctions. Pouring, touching, guessing, observing … these are all valuable skills that come from messy play.

Have any tips, ideas, or photos of messy play in your home? We’d love to see them! Share them in the comments or post your pictures on our Facebook page!

 

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Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: A New Risky Kids Series

Life skills every kid should know via The Risky Kids

Shortly after starting The Risky Kids, contributor Lisa and I met up in Louisville for a Risky Summit. In all actuality, it was just a cover for us to hang out for a couple of days under the guise of “official blog business.” To  keep it honest, we did have an actual meeting where we discussed our vision for The Risky Kids. So what if that meeting just happened to be in a bar, over drinks? Still counts.

One of our ideas was to have a series of posts detailing life skills we thought every kid should know before leaving home.  It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, because it’s one I personally struggle with. Maybe you can relate. As a stay-at-home mom for many years, the bulk of the household tasks have fallen on me. I felt as if things such as laundry, cleaning, planning and cooking meals were my job. And to be honest, I actually enjoy these domestic tasks. Even more so, now that both kids are in school, I enjoy doing them alone and in peace! And so while I knew my kids were old enough to fold laundry, clean bathrooms, and help with meal prep, I often did this things while they were in school. It was just easier.

This past year, though, life has changed a bit. I work around 15 hours a week outside the home. In addition, I’ve been focusing on blogging as a business and doing some freelance writing as well. Not only are my hours in which I can dedicate time to these tasks diminished, I’m also realizing that my kids are getting older. Not only are they more than capable of taking of tasks on their own, they need to learn these things before they leave home. Otherwise I’ve done them a grave disservice as a their parent. Beyond household tasks, there are many other valuable life skills they’ll need to learn before they strike out on their own.

I realize it’s time to bring this series to life. As with many of the things I write about on The Risky Kids, it keeps me honest. It forces me to walk the talk, if you will! And in following along, I hope it will help and inspire you. Here’s a list of topics I’ve come up with so far, in no particular order. If you think of anything that’s missing from the list, please share it in the comments. This is by no means a finite list – I’d love to see it grow and become a valuable resource to parents who want to raise competent, confident adults who can function in society.

Life Skills Every Kid Should Know:

  • Manage their money
  • Basic car maintenance
  • How to change a bike tire
  • How to mow the lawn
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Baking
  • How to build a fire
  • How to do laundry
  • Basic household cleaning
  • Phone etiquette
  • How to use basic tools
  • Simple mending.
  • How to handle basic household problems (shovel, replace lightbulbs, check the circuit breaker, turn off the water)
  • Basic knot skills
  • Manage time

What do you think? Anything else you would add? Do you feel like your kids are pretty proficient in most of these things already? I’ll get the first post in the series, on managing money, up soon. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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Getting Kids Outdoors: ICAN Do It (and You Can Help)!

Play Outdoors

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting in a room filled with people who have the same mission as we do here at The Risky Kids: to get kids outside as much as possible. I was there with educators, non-profits, medical professionals and law enforcement officers to learn more about the Indiana Children and Nature Network (ICAN).

ICAN is a grassroots movement organized by outdoor and environmental educators from around the state of Indiana. Their goal is to connect children, families and communities to nature and the great outdoors. They called us together because they want and need our help to spread the message and get kids outdoors. Their main focus right now is broken into three groups:

The Medical Community (mainly pediatricians and family practitioners): using them to spread the word and educate parents on the importance of children spending time outside each day.

Early Childhood Educators: introduce young children to the outdoors early to build lifelong habits.

Family Nature Clubs: facilitate the development of Family Nature Clubs throughout Indiana, connecting families and communities to nature.

And that’s where I come in. In addition to starting our own Family Nature Club, I’m hoping to help inspire and educate others on how they can do the same. As I sat there listening to the spirited discussions, one audience member pointed out that in the end, it is the parents that need convincing. They have to feel as if they are doing a good thing by letting their kids roam and play outside, instead of feeling like bad or neglectful parents.

I stood up and introduced myself and told them about The Risky Kids, and all of my wonderful readers. I told them about how that is exactly what inspires me to share our story week after week: to build confidence among families that they can choose a more playful life, with more joy and less worry. That this kind of parenting is the new (old) normal, and that by giving our kids the gift of freedom and outdoor time we are raising a happy, healthy, self-reliant generation of kids.

I will continue to keep you up to date on the progression of ICAN’s mission and on the Family Nature Club. In the meantime, please check out their website, including their resources for starting your own Family Nature Club. If you’re not local to Indiana, check out the Children & Nature Network for more information on how you can get involved. Finally, I’ll leave you with the Nature Connection Pyramid. This was a handout we received and I couldn’t love it anymore. It’s such a helpful and wonderful reminder of how important outside time is for kids, and how easily it can be incorporated into our everyday life. Enjoy … and go play outside!

nature connection pyramid

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Risky Reads: The Headless LEGO Edition

LEGO scenes with minifigures

We’re in the process of finally decorating Eli’s room, and he wanted a LEGO theme. I thought it would be fun to have a few canvases hanging up with LEGO pictures blown up, so I asked him to create some scenes for me to photograph. I think this is my favorite one … nothing says “Sweet dreams, son!” like an image of decapitation.

Here are a few more of my favorite things I found around the internet in the last month …

How Family Games Taught Our Kids Many Skills (via the Wall Street Journal): You know we love playing games together. This just reinforced my belief that beyond the bonding you get by hanging out as a family, there are valuable lessons to be had in Family Game Night. It also reassured me that my ultra-competitive husband isn’t scarring the kids for life by never letting them win.*

I was just thinking that it might be time to toss the Play-dough, as my kids are moving past that stage and never really play with it anymore … and then I saw Electric Dough from Classic Play. I think we’ll hang on to it a little longer!

As the weather gets warmer, I bet your kids are itching to get out and play. And yet it’s also the season of ramped up homework, standardized tests, and spring sports leagues. Before you sign up for another activity or insist on extra study time, consider the reasons why giving kids the gift of time to play will benefit them.

I read this and I just wanted to hug my kids’ teachers and say thanks. They have so much responsibility on their underpaid shoulders. And this particular teacher is amazing.

How cool is this Kickstarter project for Hello Ruby, a children’s book that teaches programming fundamentals through stories and activities? When was the last time you swooned over the illustrations in a coding book?!

Finally, I’m still goofing off with math over at Bedtime Math. Last month we came up with some silly balloon games, found math in our King Cake, and marveled at frozen bubbles.

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!

*This used to bother me a lot. I wouldn’t let the kids win all the time, but every once in awhile I’d “accidentally” make a dumb play or sneak a Candy Land card back in the pile. The other day, after playing him for weeks and losing, Eli handily beat Mike at Mancala. You should’ve seen the sheer joy on his face, knowing he bested his dad fair and square. I’ll never “let” them win again.

 

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Creating a Natural Backyard Kids Can’t Wait to Play In

Plans to enhance backyard play

We’re approaching the one-year anniversary of moving into our new house. Last spring and summer we were too busy unpacking boxes and getting settled to put much thought into our backyard. Now that we’ve had almost a full year to observe things like what’s growing in the yard and how the kids play, we’re ready to make a few changes and improvements.

What do we love about our backyard? Well, the trees, for one. We have lots of trees that provide nice shade in the heat of the summer. We have a large deck with plenty of built-in seating as well as a swing. The previous owners also left behind a very nice playset. Although our kids rarely play in it, it is a nice draw for the younger kids in the neighborhood. It’s a very large backyard, so there’s lots of room to run and play.

As much as we love it, there is a downside. Because of the trees and the shade, it’s impossible to grow grass in the majority of the yard. As a result, a large portion of the yard becomes rather overgrown by mid-summer with weeds and brush. While we know that keeping some of that is important for wild life, it definitely inhibits the kids from playing in parts of the yard. We also worry about it being an eyesore, as most of the yards around us are very well manicured.

Our goal for the backyard is to transform it into an outdoor space that encourages play, invites relaxation and community, provides sanctuary for wildlife, and looks nice. It’s a tall order, and it will have to be done in phases over the next few years, but I know we can make it happen. Here are a few ideas I have that I think we can implement this spring and summer:

Landscaping:

As we clear out some of the brush, I’d like to replace it with plants that encourage natural play. Some of the brush will stay, as it provides a habitat for insects kids love, like grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars.

Loose Parts:

Having the space is nice, but kids need things that will inspire play. Loose parts encourage all kinds of open-ended play. Sticks, rocks, PVC pipe, buckets, shovels, and funnels are a must. We have some pea gravel that the previous owners left behind – I’d like to keep it as well as a dirt pile for the kids to dig in.

Active Play:

In addition to the play set, I’d like to get some other items that fit well with the natural landscape but encourage active play. I’m thinking tree stumps for climbing, something to balance on, and a rope swing. We have some large rocks in a mulched area of the yard that I’d love to move to the wilder area so the kids can jump and climb on them.

Relaxation and Community:

We have a freestanding fire pit the owners left behind. We used it a lot last year, but it’s on it’s last legs. Mike is going to build us a permanent fire pit. I love thinking of evenings spent outside with the neighbors and their kids, visiting while the kids roast marshmallows.

Wildlife:

You know I love my birds! I plan to add a few bird feeders. I think a bat house would also be a cool addition. We end up with a lot of sticks in our yard. Instead of getting rid of them, I plan to designate a spot in the yard for a woodpile. Not only will it provide kindling for the fire pit and loose parts for play, it’s a good habitat for bugs, amphibians and small mammals.

I will definitely keep you posted as these ideas become a reality in our backyard. In the meantime, feel free to follow my Risky Backyard Pinterest board for even more inspiration. If you’ve added anything to your backyard that’s enhanced the outdoor play experience, please share!

 

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Cook Something in the Dishwasher

Cook apples in your dishwasher! The Risky Kids

 

Task: Clean your dishes and make a snack at the same time – with the same machine!

 

Requires:

  • Pint-sized mason jar and lid
  • 2 apples
  • 1 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons white or brown sugar

Possible Hazards:

  • Food Poisoning

How It All Went Down:

My kids are fairly accustomed, by now, to being on the receiving end of some odd questions that start with, “Hey, do you want to …?” But I believe I truly threw them off when I asked them if they wanted to cook something in the dishwasher. Clearly I had some explaining to do, as Elena assumed that we’d be throwing some raw chicken on the top rack right next to the glasses.

In Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), he suggests a variety of things that can be cooked in the dishwasher (in appropriate packaging) alongside the dishes, such as chicken, hot dogs or vegetables. In doing my own research, I also found guides to cook lasagna and salmon in the ol’ Whirlpool. Perhaps you’re so intrigued you’d like to  get yourself an entire cookbook dedicated to the craft!

In the end we chose something simpler: Cinnamon Sugar Apples. It’s a dish I make often on the stovetop, but I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to let Elena create her own recipe and make it herself, from start to (very clean!) finish.

Why on earth would you cook something in the dishwasher, and how, exactly, does it work? Well, just to say you did is a good enough reason for us. But if you were especially concerned about energy efficiency, using one machine to do two jobs is a great way to conserve energy. A dishwasher uses jets of hot water to clean your dishes. Because it’s insulated and has its own heating element, it’s really not that much different than an oven – minus the soapy bubbles and water!

And why is this a Dangerous Thing? Attitudes are  shifting about what is safe for kids to do. Combine that with the rare incidents of kids getting injured by common household appliances that spread like wildfire via TV and internet, and you’ll find many parents choosing to restrict kids’ access and use of appliances. Learning how common appliances, such as dishwashers, ovens, and microwaves work, as well as how to use them, are basic life skills that every child will need before they head off for their own (hopefully) independent lives. Enough talking, though – let’s cook something in the dishwasher!

Cinnamon Sugar Dishwasher Apples

 

Cinnamon sugar apple prep

Core apples and dice or cut into thin slices. Place cut apples into the mason jar, adding a few pieces of butter to each layer of apples. Add cinnamon and sugar and screw the lid on as tightly as possible. Place jar in top rack of dishwasher.

Cinnamon Sugar Dishwasher Apples

Run the dishwasher at the hottest setting, and make sure the dry cycle completes before opening. Remove from dishwasher and enjoy!

Cinnamon Sugar Apples Cooked in the Dishwasher

What are you brave enough to cook in the dishwasher?

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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