Archives for April 2014

Let Nature Be Your Teacher

Let Nature be your teacher

Close your screens, save that phone call, errand, or complicated dinner for another day. “Come forth into the light of things,” and go outside today.

Who knows what glorious things you might discover!

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Lessons From a Baby Rabbit

I was sitting on the porch steps the other day, reading and basking in the sun, while the neighborhood kids played four square in the cul-de-sac. I heard a commotion off in the bushes, and was quite surprised to see a baby rabbit running for its life … being chased by a very empowered chipmunk!

Not realizing what I was about to unleash, I called the kids over to see the baby rabbit. It had made its way back into our bushes. The kids blocked the obvious escape routes in hopes of catching it, and I played along, thinking they could never actually catch a rabbit.

Lesson #1: Never underestimate highly motivated children.

They did manage to get it out of the bushes, where it promptly ran into our open garage. Now I was a little worried. I had visions of the rabbit getting trapped somewhere in our garage and dying … and how wonderful that would smell after a few days. Six kids, fifteen minutes and one plastic storage bin later, they’d captured the baby rabbit.

Baby Rabbit

Lesson #2: Anything has the potential to become a pet.

Within minutes of capture, this rabbit became the darling of the cul-de-sac. They filled the bin with grass, fetched it some water, and freely gave away my entire supply of organic baby carrots. After a few tense moments, the rabbit seemed resigned to the fate of being the neighborhood pet. He nibbled a few carrots, let the children stroke his back, and took a little nap.

Still, his natural instinct was to find his freedom. He tried several times to jump out of the bin, displaying his superb hopping skills. The kids weren’t ready to say goodbye, as a few of them were still desperately lobbying their parents for a free pet rabbit. (My kids knew better!) I had to tend to dinner, so I put them in charge of rabbit-sitting. This super-important task consisted of sitting by the bin and making sure the rabbit didn’t jump out.

Rabbit Sitting

Lesson #3: Never underestimate a highly motivated rabbit.

All the adoration and free organic carrots in the world weren’t enough to keep this rabbit from his true desire – freedom. I’m not sure exactly what happened, as I was in the backyard grilling dinner. Some say he jumped, others say he was dropped in a misguided attempt to move him to a new, grassier bin. But I heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the backyard as the rabbit saw his chance and scampered away to suburban rabbit freedom.

Rabbit selfie

Oh well. At least we have the selfie to prove that for a few hours, we had a pet rabbit.

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Cure for the Common Playground: Just Add Water

We talk a lot about how today’s playgrounds are too boring for kids.

Wet Playground

They need variety!

They need the freedom to take more risks!

We need to worry less about safety and more about how we can challenge them!

Apparently all they need is your standard playground slide and a rainy day.

Rainy slide

Disclaimer: Despite photos that seem to show otherwise, no children were injured while playing in inclement weather on a deserted, CPSC-approved public playground.

EliSlide

Kids: DO try this at home. May result in muddy pants, giddy smiles, and laughter.

Muddy playground

 

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Book Review: Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

From time to time, I review books that I think you might enjoy as well. This particular post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something via the link I share, I earn a small percentage of the sale. 

One of my favorite things to do in the library is to peruse the new book shelves, both in the adult and children’s sections. I never know what I might find, or what will spark my interest. I almost always choose the library over purchasing books, because 1) I’m cheap and 2) I need to know if I really love a book before I buy it.

Unbored book review

The other day, I spotted Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun and I knew we had to take it home. After having it around for a few days, I can tell you it’s a huge hit. Not only will I be purchasing it for our personal library, it’s going to be my go-to gift for kids ages 10 and up.

Unbored is a cool mash-up of tutorials, activities, stories, lists and comics. The authors, Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen, wrote the book to “encourage a hands-on approach to creating a personally meaningful life.” What does that mean for kids? It means Unbored is a tool to unlock your own passions and creativity, and to find ways to create instead of consume. And, of course, to answer the eternal question of , “I’m bored. What should I do?”

The book is divided into four sections: You, Home, Society, and Adventure. I couldn’t possibly list all the awesome ideas and projects in the book we want to tackle, but here are a few of our favorites:

  • farting games
  • circus tricks
  • clapping games
  • how to short-sheet a bed
  • experimenting in the kitchen
  • yarn bombing
  • game hacking
  • bike and skateboard maintenance
  • knot tying
  • make a secret book safe

At the end of each section, there is a HUGE listing of resources so kids can delve even further into the things that interest them the most. Kids will love this book because it’s so different from anything else out there. It might look similar to the Daring/Dangerous books for girls and boys, but where those books seem to reflect on older pastimes, Unbored is planted in the now with an eye to the future.

I also think kids will appreciate the tone. It’s never condescending. On the contrary, it encourages kids not to fear mistakes and that ignorance is no excuse for not trying something. It’s the exact opposite of the “Danger! Don’t try this at home!” mindset. Naturally, it’s a perfect fit for our household!

Summer is approaching, and I know I’m always looking for ideas and resources to keep the tween active and engaged. You can bet that by the end of the summer, our personal copy of Unbored will be dog-eared and well-loved.

Have you read Unbored? What did you think? If you have any books you think The Risky Kids should review, let us know in the comments!

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Say Yes To Outdoor Play On a Rainy Day

rainy day play

Perhaps it’s because we’re finally coming out on the other side of the coldest, snowiest, and longest winter I can remember, but the kids have been itching to get outside more than ever. They want to go outside on nice days, of course, but they also want to go outside on chilly and drizzly days.

Somewhere along the way, we lose our desire to want to play outside in the rain. But just because we’d rather curl up with a blanket and a good book, that doesn’t mean we have to keep the kids inside.

One of the most magical things about childhood is seeing everyday things transformed by the weather and the elements. Warm spring rains are the perfect backdrop for kids to explore how things change when rain begins to fall.

Where are the best puddles? Why do puddles form here but not there? What happens when I jump in a puddle? What if I bounce this ball in a puddle?

puddle play

In addition to water play, there are worms to examine, mud to poke around in, and umbrellas to twirl. We had a really heavy rainfall a couple of weeks ago and the kids were mesmerized by how quickly our backyard turned into a temporary pond.

play in the rain

Set aside a set of old play clothes, invest in a pair of rain boots and some cheap umbrellas, and you have everything you need. Next time the kids ask if it’s okay to play outside on a rainy day, say yes! You can either join them, or enjoy the peace and quiet with that blanket and book.

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Risky Reads: The Laundry Basket Edition

Asleep in the laundry basket

For about a week last month, Eli became mildly obsessed with the laundry basket. Sadly, it had nothing to do with folding the clothing in the laundry basket. But he did drag it around with him through the house, using it as a boat, a jail for his LEGOs, and a cozy, blanket and pillow-filled reading nook. One evening I checked in on him before bed. He was sleeping in the laundry basket! He did this for a couple of nights. Can you imagine if we tried to sleep like that? My neck would never be the same again!

While Eli found 101 uses for a laundry basket, I found a few things around the internet I thought you might enjoy (and that won’t give you a crick in the neck).

Have a kid that’s interested in coding? Check out this fabulous roundup of 20 resources for teaching kids how to code.

Homework can be such a burden on some families. This dad worried about the amount and intensity of his 8th-grade daughter’s homework, so he decided to do her homework for a week. The result is this essay, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me.”

If that has you down, get ready to be inspired! Have you seen Childhood Unplugged? A group of photographers submits photos monthly of kids engaged in the art of play. All is not lost, friends.

This insect hotel, made of natural materials, would be a beautiful and practical addition to a natural backyard. What a great project for kids to study beneficial insects in their own backyard!

I love this DIY Upcycled Inventor’s Box. It would keep my kids busy for hours, and I’d love to see what creations they’d come up with.

I write for the parenting blog over at Bedtime Math. Last month we explored tessellations, made our own lava lamps, and created some cool domino cascades. This week we found a way to color Easter Eggs volcano-style. Lots of cool stuff going on over there – be sure to check it out!

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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Pop-Up Adventure Play: Adventures in Cardboard

Cardboard box play via The Risky Kids

Have you ever heard of child-directed play? You may not have heard of it, but chances are you’ve probably engaged in it with your own kids. It’s spending time playing with a child, but letting the child decide what to play and how to play it. The adult can observe, take directions from the child, and interact with the child, but the main focus is letting the child lead the way. The adult doesn’t make suggestions or ask lots of questions about what the child is doing, they simply let themselves get swept along in the magic that is play.

In order to foster child-directed play, a child needs to have play things around them that inspire them to play, create and build. Loose parts (materials that can be combined, taken apart, moved, and put back together again in multiple ways) are the perfect inspiration for child-directed play. Items such as stones, blocks, fabric, balls, buckets, sticks, PVC pipe, rope, tape are the perfect things to keep on hand for child-directed play. Of course, the grandaddy of them all, the one thing that will set off a child’s imagination like nothing else, is the cardboard box.

Pop Up Adventure Play

Pop-Up Adventure Play, whose mission is that “together, we can all support child-directed play – one cardboard box at a time,” is an organization dedicated to supporting play in all communities. I first heard about after seeing photos from one of their Pop-Up Tours this winter. I loved the idea of communities getting together and giving kids free run to play as they wish, with loads of cool, upcycled materials, in the presence of supportive adults.

The tour is almost over, and I was bummed that it wasn’t coming anywhere near me, but that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t encourage this kind of play as well, either with our families or in our own little communities. Pop-Up Adventure Play wants to help get you started. Sign up for their mailing list and they’ll send you a free Mini Pop-Up kit. To learn more about Pop-Up Adventure Play, visit their website or follow them on social media. In the meantime, I’m gathering all kind of loose parts and hoarding cardboard boxes for our own pop-up adventure this spring!

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Growing Up, Still Playing

Climbing trees

I can credit three things for inspiring me to start The Risky Kids a little over 2 years ago.

The first was my discovery of Gever Tulley’s book, 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). I knew I couldn’t sustain an entire blog solely on one book, but I sensed it could be a foundation for something bigger. I could see that it was about more than a book. It was about seeing the bigger picture – realizing that the interactions we have with kids and the messages we send about fear and danger have the power to radically impact the next generation.

The second was the work I did with KaBOOM! for the Park-a-Day Challenge. Visiting different playgrounds for an entire summer opened my eyes to growing issues in the state of play. Do all kids have access to safe places to play? What effects do cookie-cutter playgrounds have on safety and the way kids actually play? How does one navigate the politics of the playground when they realize they parent quite differently from everyone else? Again, I knew I didn’t want to start a blog strictly about playgrounds, but the experience was a springboard to writing about where and how kids play today.

The biggest inspiration all along has been Elena and Eli. As much as I write The Risky Kids for you, I also do it to be a better parent to them. I believe in the importance of play, but so often the grind of life with littles can get the best of anyone. Before you know it, days or even weeks have gone by without breathing, without taking the time to truly connect with each other, with our kids, with the outdoors. Knowing that so many of you check in frequently to see what we’re up to holds me accountable, reminds me to keep a balance between work and play.

Why the sudden reflection on the humble beginnings of The Risky Kids? Well, last week I found myself in a déjà vu moment with two of the three things that inspired it all. We paid a visit to Holliday Park in Indianapolis, one of the best parks our city has to offer. We first discovered it while making the rounds for KaBOOM! We hadn’t been there in a long time, and thanks to a light drizzle, we had the entire playground to ourselves. We weren’t there five minutes before I heard Elena calling me from above. She’d found a good climbing tree and didn’t waste any time scampering up the branches. Only it wasn’t just any tree … it was this very tree, where I snapped a shot that became the face of The Risky Kids:

The Risky Kids

Two years later, just like this blog, she looks a little different. She’s grown a lot. She’s tried a lot of things. Some things worked, some things didn’t. She’s still trying to figure out exactly who she is and what she wants to be. The same can be said for myself and The Risky Kids. But just like Elena, I know that no matter how much you grow and change, you must always make time to play.

Holliday Park Indianapolis

Thanks for playing along with us. Here’s to many more years of tree climbing and playground shenanigans.

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Connecting With Nature: Explore a Pond

Explore a pond via The Risky Kids
Oftentimes as parents we feel like in order to make nature a part of our children’s lives we must make time for some grand expedition. We feel we must pack up the car and the gear, travel to the park or the nature preserve or the trails, and make an entire day of it. And while that is all well and good (and should be done now and then, according to the Nature Connection Pyramid), we can all make nature exploration a part of our lives without much time, effort or money. I’m so inspired by the practicality of the Nature Connection Pyramid, and its potential to encourage families to make nature a part of their everyday lives in many different ways. As I’m inspired, I’ll be sharing ways in which we’ve incorporated the suggestions of the Nature Connection Pyramid into our lives.

nature connection pyramid

This past week was our Spring Break, and we spent most of it close to home, giving the kids ample opportunities for unstructured outdoor play. Eli ran free with his neighborhood friends and cousins, taking advantage of warm weather and freed from the constraints of an earlier bedtime. Elena and a friend planned their own picnic, baking a cake, shopping for supplies, and exploring a waterfall.

elenawaterfall

We also carved out a morning to do some nature exploring near our neighborhood. I noticed on a run the other week that the neighborhood behind ours has a wooded area with a pond. We set off on bikes, filling a backpack with some empty jars and a magnifying glass.

Exploring a pond

I was hoping we might find tadpoles, but it appears to be too early in the season for them. We’ll definitely check back often in the next few weeks in hopes of catching some.

Tadpoles or no tadpoles, there was still plenty to explore. There was mucky mud to squish our boots in, bright green moss to feel, and logs to balance on.

Boy and pond

Eli was a bit disappointed that we didn’t see any signs of life in the water, but I encouraged him to fill a jar with water anyways. We took it home with us and had a look with the magnifying glass.

Studying pond water

Have you ever looked at pond water up close? I thought we might see something, but I was wholly unprepared for the variety of tiny life contained in a jar of pond water! We saw teeny-tiny water bugs, some kind of beetle, a small crustracean-like critter (called a scud) scavenging the muck on the bottom, and several worm-like creatures. It was fascinating (and an excellent reminder to be thankful for clean water to drink)!

I hope you’ll make some time this week to do some nature exploring close to home! In the meantime, what are some of your favorite ways to explore nature with your kids?

This post is also included in the No Such Thing As Bad Weather Outdoor Play Party Roundup. Visit for some great ideas!

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Messy Play Saves the Day!

Outdoor Messy Play via The Risky Kids

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of messy play – why kids need it and how to incorporate it into your play repertoire using simple kitchen tools and ingredients. I also shared a few tricks to help minimize the mess. After all, there’s a fine line between messy play and creating a disaster to clean up.

One of the many benefits of warmer days is the opportunity to take messy play outdoors. It’s the best of all possible situations – the kids get time outdoors doing what they love best (making messes), and you don’t find yourself mopping up after they’re done concocting and playing mad scientist.

Shaving cream and cornstarch via The Risky Kids

Another benefit of messy play is its ability to improve any mood. I discovered this the other day with Eli. It was a pretty day with just a slight chill in the air. After a day at school, Eli wanted nothing but the iPad. I took it away after his allotted after-school time and was instantly faced with the deadly combination of the boredom and grumpiness. There was no one else available to play and naturally it was the witching hour. You’re familiar, right? It’s that hour before dinner when the kids demand the most attention while you’re simultaneously trying to get dinner on the table and recuperate from the day.

I often find that it’s in these situations when I’m most likely to cave and give in to more screen time. Luckily I remembered that we had the ingredients on hand to make foam dough. I set Eli up outside with a big bowl, a full can of shaving cream, and a box of corn starch.

Does this look like a bored, grumpy boy?

Homemade foam dough via The Risky Kids

When it was time to clean up, we simply hosed off the driveway and put the boy in the tub.

Messy play does require some forward thinking on your part to make sure you have ingredients and supplies set aside for easy access. Keep these items on hand for instant messy play inspiration:

  • Shaving cream
  • Corn starch
  • Bubble solution
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • White glue
  • Washable paints
  • Inexpensive foam and/or bristle paint brushes
  • Squirt bottles and/or squeeze bottles
  • Plastic bowls or leftover yogurt containers

Store it all in a large plastic tote that can double as a giant mixing container. Adding a few things to your shopping list and keeping them together in one handy spot takes some time, but you’ll be rewarded many times over when boredom or grumpiness strikes.

Do you have any other ideas for fun, messy play (indoors or out)? Share them with us!

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