Archives for September 2014

Kids and Pets: How Owning a Pet Builds Character

kids and pets

It’s been nearly 2 months now since we made the leap to dog ownership, and what a fun 2 months it’s been! We waited a long time before taking the plunge, and now that we’re here, I have two things to say: I’m so glad we got a dog … and I’m so glad we waited.

We talk a lot on The Risky Kids about how important it is to us that we raise kids who are responsible and confident in their skills. And one really good way to give kids more responsibility and confidence is to put them in charge of something. When that something just happens to be a real, living thing … well, you can imagine the effect is magnified.

We’ve had “pets” before, of the fish variety, and I always used their sad stories to illustrate for the kids why I thought they weren’t ready for a dog or cat. You probably know the scenario: kid begs for pet, parents want minimal upkeep, fish is chosen as compromise, fish is exciting for 2.5 days, no one gives a crap about the fish anymore, fish dies. That, my friends, is the fish circle of life right there. The kids swore fish were different, they would be better about a real pet. You know, one they could actually pet? I was very, very skeptical.

They’ve been trying to wear me down on the puppy front for years, and finally all the pieces were in place. The house we moved in to has an invisible fence the previous owners installed and left behind. We knew we had our big trip to Spain coming up for nearly 2 years, and I told them we wouldn’t take on the responsibility of a dog and have to worry about finding someone to watch it for a month. Well, now the trip is behind us. Finally, I needed the kids to be fairly self-sufficient themselves.  I wanted them to be able to walk our neighborhood on their own, get their own food, and clean up their own messes before I signed up to walk, feed, and clean up another living being. Lo and behold, we got back from Spain and the kids were quick to point out that all my previous requirements had been met. What were we waiting for? And so with everything in place, we began looking for a dog that would be a good fit for our family. Soon after, we found Gus.

What do you know? The dog > fish theory my kids presented was actually right. I have been, quite frankly, blown away by Elena and Eli’s ability to care for an animal properly. Two months in, and here are just a few key areas of character I’ve seen the kids grow in:

Thinking of others

Having a dog puts certain constraints on what you can do and how long you can be gone. The kids have learned that we can’t leave the house all day and not make arrangements for the puppy. We can’t simply leave him in the crate for 10 hours and forget about him.

Taking care of daily responsibilities

There are some things that you always have to do, whether you feel like it or not. The puppy needs fed twice a day. He needs his water bowl filled. He needs played with and exercised daily. He needs to go outside to pee and poop many times a day. All these things need to be done, no matter the weather, your mood, the status of your social life, or the amount of homework you brought home.

The importance of putting things where they belong

Puppies are like toddlers – with an uncanny ability to sense what they shouldn’t have and then seek and destroy it. While we’ve been lucky that Gus hasn’t ruined anything of extreme importance (though he has great taste in socks – Smartwool, to be exact), the kids have learned that toys, socks, shoes, books, and electronic devices need to be put up and out of reach if they want to ensure their safety.

The consequences of shirking your duties

We had one very bad night where Elena was in charge of the puppy by herself. She got sucked into her iPod and neglected to watch Gus like she should. The result? He pooped and peed multiple times in the house. Which leads me to …

Taking care of unpleasant tasks

We could’ve have easily scolded her and then cleaned up ourselves. It would’ve been faster and less filled with tween dramatics. But there’s a valuable lesson to be had here. Sometimes life hands you nasty stuff you don’t want to deal with, but you have to. Dogs poop, and it needs to be scooped. Just like one day you’ll have to clean someone else’s pee off a toilet, or change a dirty diaper, or wash someone else’s dishes.

The reward of a job well done

This is where taking care of a dog really shines. Because the kids have invested the time and effort into feeding, walking, and playing with Gus, he rewards them in the best of all ways: with lots of love, snuggles and puppy kisses. Of course, I’ve been doing that their entire lives, but when it comes from a dog? So much better.

Not only are these skills important to learn in order to take care of a pet, they’re absolutely necessary for living a happy, productive, and well-adjusted life! Teach them now, and your kids’ siblings, teachers, friends, future roommates, bosses and spouses will thank you later.

Now, I would never suggest you get a pet just to teach your kids responsibility or to build their confidence. Adding a pet to your family is a huge, long-term commitment, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve been thinking about it, and you’re ready on all fronts except for wondering if the kids will benefit? Then by all means, take the leap!

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New Kiwi Crates Have Hatched!

Kiwi Crate

We’ve been loyal Kiwi Crate subscribers for over 2 years now. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times a day that was quickly headed south was saved by pulling out the latest Kiwi Crate.

Kiwi Crate catapult

Even though I pin tons of crafty activities onto Pinterest, I wouldn’t call myself a crafty person. This is why I love Kiwi Crate so much. They take the best crafts for kids, tailor them to themes kids love, pack it up in a handy box, and deliver it to your front door. You get everything you need, avoiding the inevitable meltdown when you’ve built up a super-fun craft only to realize you are FRESH out of googly-eyes. A few other things I love about Kiwi Crate:

    • The materials that come inside the Crates are really high quality … like, nicer than stuff I would actually buy my own kids. Thanks to our Kiwi Crate subscription, we’ve managed to stock our art supply cabinet with great arts and craft supplies that my kids love to use. Besides arts and crafts items, we’ve collected some really cool tools for tinkering as well, such as test tubes, droppers, and ping pong balls.
    • Oftentimes, the craft projects themselves end up being things the kids play with over and over again. We once made our own gameboard, which Eli still plays. Penguin bowling is still a hit, too.

Kiwi Crate penguin bowling

  • Most of the time, the kids can do the craft with little to no assistance from me. Win-win for all of us.
  • You can add a sibling box if you want to be absolutely sure that all the kids have enough materials, but I’ve yet to receive a box that didn’t provide enough for both of my kids to do the craft at least once.
  • Speaking of siblings, sometimes that hour or so they spend on a Kiwi Crate craft is the only time they get along for the entire day. Or week.
  • You can squirrel the box away and save it for when you really need it. I often stash the crate in the closet as soon as it’s delivered, and save it for one of those days. You know, when you’ve been snowed in for 3 days straight, when you’ve banned all screens, when everything you suggest to do is B-O-R-I-N-G. Of course, good luck to you if the kids catch sight of you before you can hide it. Mine drop everything to tear into it.
  • If you need a break from the subscription (school gets busy, money gets tight, life happens), you can pause it at any time.

Kiwi Crate crafts

For all these reasons and more, I’ve been recommending Kiwi Crate to everyone with kids, or who knows a kid (It definitely made last year’s Holiday Gift Guide). And so I was getting a little bummed out when I realized that my kids are slowly growing out of the Kiwi Crate. They’re aimed at ages 4-8. I’d say the upper age range could definitely go higher, but at age 12, Elena is pretty much done with them. And Eli, who has never been super interested in crafting, is growing out of the more artsy projects as well.

That’s why I was beyond stoked to see that news that Kiwi Crate is expanding to add 3 new subscriptions to go along with the classic Kiwi Crate:

Koala Crate >>

    • The Koala Crate (Ages 3-4): While some preschoolers could do the Kiwi Crate crafts with assistance, this will be perfect for little hands.

Tinker Crate >>

    • The Tinker Crate (Ages 9-14+): Hands-on projects to explore science, technology and math.

Doodle Crate >>

  • The Doodle Crate (Ages 9-16+): DIY art projects geared toward girls.

We’re all excited to try the Tinker Crate. The first one comes out next month, and I can’t wait to see how the kids do with it. I think they’re at the perfect age for this new Crate to be a big hit. I’ll be sure to post a detailed review as soon as we have our hands on it!

In the meantime, you can pre-order the new crates now at kiwicrate.com. No matter what the ages or interests of your children, I definitely recommend at least trying one box. I think, like us, you’ll be hooked!

Disclosure: I was not paid by Kiwi Crate or provided product in exchange for this post. Kiwi Crate is simply a product we’ve used and loved, and thought you might enjoy as well. I am, however, a Kiwi Crate affiliate. If you purchase a subscription through the links provided, I do receive some compensation.

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6 Fall Adventures to Get the Kids Outside {Take a Child Outside Week 2014}

Take a Child Outside Week
Tomorrow kicks off Take a Child Outside week! Looking at the forecast for the next week in our neck of the woods, it looks like Mother Nature is on board as well – it looks like the perfect fall weather!

Take a Child Outside - September 24-30

Take a Child Outside Week, created by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is held every September 24-30. This might seem to be an odd time to celebrate going outside. I mean, the weather’s changing, and everyone’s busy with school and sports, right? Actually, it’s the perfect time! Take a Child Outside Week is about getting families and caregivers into the habit of making outdoor activities a part of everyone’s daily lives, all year long. Make it a priority now, and see if it doesn’t make a difference in the minds and bodies of your kids.

A little inspiration always helps, and The Risky Kids are always eager and willing to help get you outside! Here are 6 tried-and-true fall adventures perfect for celebrating Take a Child Outside Week.

Make Moth Brew

 

Moth brew to attract moths

Invite some friends to your outdoor party! Make this sticky-sweet concoction, paint it on some tree bark at dusk, and see who comes to visit. While you’re waiting, why not have bonfire and roast some s’mores? The best part about saving this activity for the fall? It gets dark earlier, so little ones won’t have to stay up way past their bedtime to see the moths.

Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt

 

Nature scavenger hunt

If I ask my kids if they want to go on a walk or hike, often they’ll say no. BUT … if I ask them if they want to go on a scavenger hunt? They’re all in. We’ve done this a few different ways, such as this counting scavenger hunt from Rain or Shine Mamma, as well as this one from Kidventures. You’ll be amazed at how much longer your walks will last and how much more enjoyable they can be when the kids are on a mission.

Go Geocaching

 

DIY geocache kit

Grab your Geocache Kit and head out the door to find new treasure! I find that spring and fall are the best times to geocache. When the leaves and foliage start to die back and clear up, you can often find caches that were difficult to find before. Add to that cooler weather and less bugs and you’ve got yourself perfect geocaching conditions.

Try a New Activity

 

kayak with kids.

Sometimes we just get too adventurous with our summer bucket lists and can’t get to everything. Weekends and weekday afternoons can be great times to do something that you didn’t get around to over the summer. We’ve wanted to rent kayaks at Eagle Creek Park for a couple of years now. We had an open afternoon recently that could’ve easily been filled with household chores and screens, but opted to head out the door instead. Now we’re hooked! Maybe we’ll even try winter kayaking

Visit Your Local Nature Center

 

Cincinnati Nature Center

Chances are if you visited your nature center over the summer, things have changed. Most will change their programming according to the seasons. If you need help finding a nature center near you, use this handy locator. Or you can do like we did one fall, and road-tripped to a really cool nature center!

Master the Perfect Somersault

 

I know it’s silly, but when was the last time you worked on a useless but totally fun skill? I find this especially true with my tween: she’s reluctant to go outside, but the opportunity to see her parents make fools of themselves is too good to pass up! Somersaults, round-offs, slam dunks, frisbee trick shots … surely there’s a goofy skill the family can work on together.

It’s your turn to share! What are you doing to get a child outside this week?

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Risky Reads: The Puppy Edition

Homework is better with a buddy

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it already, but last month The Risky Family grew! We added a four-legged member to the club, a lab-mix puppy. He’s 5 months old, and full of energy! But he’s also full of licks and snuggles. We adopted him from a local agency that fosters animals, and he was rescued from a shelter in Alabama just hours before he was to be euthanized. It took us 4 days and an intense family vote, but we settled on the name Gus. Puppies are a lot of work, but seeing the kids rise to the responsibility, and the joy he brings to them, makes it all worth it.

When wasn’t pulling socks or acorns out of the puppy’s mouth, I managed to find a few things online that I though you might find interesting:

Relax: when it comes to feeding your kids, chances are you’re doing it right (filed under: There are many paths in this parenting journey).

Did you know you can call worms? (Yes, but what should we call them?!)

Need something to make you smile? Check out these photos of children playing around the world.

Have you ever tried to make a stop motion animation movie? It’s a great activity that merges imaginative play with tech (which means my kids love doing it). Here’s a great tutorial from TinkerLab.

Interesting article on why modern parenting is in crisis. Can you relate to any of these parenting dilemmas?

Over at Bedtime Math, we’ve whipped up an ooey, gooey, stinky, sweet potion to attract moths at night. We saw some pretty cool moths, but the coolest was the big luna moth we discovered the next morning. We kept the ooey, gooey, sweet theme going, only this time we made homemade marshmallows (hint: it’s way easier than you think!). And just in time for Talk Like a Pirate Day this Friday, check out the latest pirate-themed printable!

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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Meet the Beyers {A Risky Kids Interview}

One of the things I hear over and over again as interact with other free-range parents is, “I wish I knew more families like us.” A community, whether virtual or out your front door, can be so empowering. It makes you feel less alone, and when you feel like others have your back, you feel more confident in your parenting choices. I thought it might be fun to seek out people and families from different backgrounds and interview them. My goal for this interview series is to introduce you to a wide range of people, all very different, but who share a common belief: that raising kids in a bubble is no way to live. And even though we might be miles apart, we can feel connected to each other, learn from each other, and support each other.

Our very first family is the Beyers! I met Leah through a group of local bloggers. What really intrigued me about Leah’s family is that they are a farming family. I was really curious about how farm life, and its tremendous responsibilities,  affects the way one parents. Please join me in welcoming the Beyers to The Risky Kids!

Leah Beyer Family Interview

Thanks for being our very first Risky Kid interview guinea pig, Leah! Tell us about your family.

My husband, Matt, and I have two children. Brady is 9 and in 4th grade. Maddie is 7 and in 2nd grade.

Tell us about where you live.

A year ago we moved away from our farm land and where we milked cows until 2009. We now live in rural Columbus, Indiana on several acres and are surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

What does a typical day in your kids’ life look like?

Our kids start the day off by getting up for school, but they have to go feed the pigs, calves, and chickens, as well as the dogs and cats, before eating breakfast. They attend a private school as well as the after-school program. Brady takes piano and guitar lessons after school 2 days a week as well. In the evenings we are pretty busy most nights. Brady is on the swim team and has practice 5-6 days a week. He also participates in short-term sports like basketball and soccer through the local parks department. Maddie is into dance and has ballet and Irish dance class two nights a week.

After any afternoon activities, or before they go to evening activities, they have chores and homework to do. They have to feed and water all the animals again, and complete any reading or homework. We usually eat dinner between 7 and 7:30 and are off to bed around 9 pm.

What are some “risky” circumstances or situations your kids face that the average suburban or city kid wouldn’t encounter?

With livestock on the farm, both kids are climbing over gates and are in pens with pigs that weigh 200 pounds. They also use pitchforks and shovels to pitch manure out of the pens. My kids both use pocket knives to help them open bags or break bales. We have several tractors and skid loaders that are also around, and the kids regularly ride on them or pretend to play on them. My son helps mow our five acres of grass that isn’t pastured with our Dixie Chopper zero radius lawn mower.

What factors of farm life do you see as having a positive impact on the way your kids will grow up?

One reason we have livestock, even if just a few head, is to help them learn how to work, learn responsibility for keeping something alive, and have an appreciation for the work raising animals for food is. The kids have really learned how to be a team. They have also become fierce negotiators with each other, brokering deals to help one another, or to get out of the chores in the morning or evening by doing them all by themselves at the other time.

We had them grow and sell sweet corn over the summer, and that adventure helped them understand basic business and financial lessons. They had a small business plan, and learned about input costs, how to determine the price to sell their product at, as well as what taxes had to be paid on what they earned.

Are all farm families essentially free-range families? Or do you encounter helicopter parents within the farming community as well?

I’m sure that helicopter parents do exist in the farm community, however we don’t have time to helicopter our kids. We have work to do! I can’t and don’t have time to hover over them while they do chores or play outside. The great thing about them being close in age, though, is they really are always together, even if they’re not playing or working together. My kids have scars, bumps and bruises. But they have also learned about cause and effect from decisions they’ve made that caused the pain.

What’s a common rule or safety issue you won’t budge on? And what are you happy to disregard? (For example, my deal-breaker is car and booster seats. My kids stayed in them probably longer than they needed to, and I wouldn’t let them ride in a car without them. On the flip side, I’m lax about bike helmets.)

The kids do have rules and boundaries. When riding motorized vehicles or bikes, they know they can’t go on the road alone. Both kids also have guns. We have the guns put up and they are not to be used without an adult being present and with them. The same goes for the tractors. There is no firing up of the tractors without mom or dad. When it comes to the animals, we don’t want them in the pens with the animal if they are out in the barn alone. We have more of a buddy system on our farm.

And I’m not sure where our bike helmets are at currently. I know we have them …

How does your childhood compare to the way your kids live today?

I would say my childhood was very similar. However, my kids have cable tv, gaming systems, and get to eat out way more than we ever did.

Can you share a favorite memory of your kids’ childhood on the farm?

Both kids spent the first year of their life sitting in a yellow Little Tikes swing in our milking parlor. They would come home splattered in poop and happy as could be. It was the truest form of my kids going to work with their dad.

What advice would you give a parent who is anxious about giving his or her kids freedom and independence?

Seeing your child accomplish something all on their own is the most rewarding thing for a parent. My kids have grown their confidence and have become hard workers in our home because they have been rewarded with freedom, especially outside. I’m not sure what they are always doing, but I know that I can open the back door and yell for them. I will take an independent child who is outdoors exploring any day over my kid in the next room playing Xbox. I hate that I ever bought that stupid Xbox!

What is your favorite thing to do as a family?

We’ve started fishing. I don’t bait or unhook, but I love to take pictures. We also love going on long bike rides into town. (Yes, without helmets. We live dangerously.)

And now for a totally random question! Your favorite junk food you’ve loved since childhood is?

My mom never let us have sugary cereal, and I always wanted Lucky Charms. So I would ask for a box for Christmas! It’s still a vice as an adult.

Leah, thank you SO much for letting us get to know your family, and sharing how you free-range parent from the farm. You can read more about the Beyers on Leah’s blog, Beyer Beware (I especially love this post: What Do Farm Kids Do All Summer?). If you’d like to be interviewed for The Risky Kids, let me know! I’d love to include you and your family. Just shoot me an email at theriskykids (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Keeping the Summer Spirit Alive Through the School Year

Keep the summer spirit alive

One of the hardest things about going back to school is watching the last glorious days of summer unfold while you’re stuck inside. And while I won’t deny that we were all ready to get back to a schedule, none of us were quite ready to give up on summer. It got me thinking – what is it about summer that makes the season so special, and how can we keep that summer spirit alive as our days get both busier and shorter?

Keep the summer spirit alive: build a bonfire

Eat Outside

Picnics, deck dinners and cul-de-sac cookouts are frequent occurrences during the summer. Back to school doesn’t have to mean back inside! In fact, I find my kids need even more outdoor time in September and October, to make up for long days indoors at school. Have your afternoon snack outside on the patio, plan a picnic dinner, or build a bonfire and cook outdoors.

Keep Exploring

Keep Exploring

We’re great about planning road trips and vacations in the summer, but you can still travel and explore when school’s in session. Plan a day trip for the weekend, or become tourists in your hometown. Check out that new trail you missed over the summer, look for a new geocache nearby, or visit that playground that was too hot to consider last July.

Just Add Water

Just Add Water

It’s Murphy’s Summer Law: once the pools close after Labor Day, you will find yourself with the hottest, stickiest weather that will leave you longing for the pool. There are lots of fun water toys on clearance in the stores now, so stock up and enjoy them at home before you pack them up for the fall. Break out the sprinkler or the water balloons. I love to stock up on water guns (these are great) so that all the kids on the street can have a big water gun fight.

Game on! Cornhole

Game On!

This is also a great time to get outdoor games at great prices. Stock up on outdoor games and toys the kids loved during the summer, and add something new to the mix (we just got these OgoDisks and love them).

Protect the Empty Calendar

Protect the Empty Calendar

One of the beautiful things about summer is the feeling that you have entire days with no real obligations. No sports practices or math club. No homework or tuba lessons. While it’s a given that your calendar will fill up and your afternoons and evenings will be busier, you can still control it to an extent. It’s okay to say no, or to limit the number of after-school activities the kids participate in. Everything that comes home in the folders looks so fun and exciting at first, but when the reality of having something to do or somewhere to be 5 nights a week sets in, all the frivolity of summer flies out the window. We limit the kids to one extracurricular per season, and it works for us.

Another thing we’re trying this year to make our evenings less full is to do homework as soon as the kids get home from school. I refused to do this for years, being of the belief that the kids needed to chill before they attempted homework. Instead, I found that they had a hard time getting back into the homework mindset, and often homework stretched into the evening and too close to bedtime for my liking. Now, we have a snack while we get started on the day’s work. It seems to go faster and we all love the feeling of being completely done with our school obligations, leaving the evenings free for play. And if the day is just too perfect and the call of the outdoors too great? I’m okay with saying no to homework, too.

How do you keep the carefree spirit of summer alive throughout the school year in your home?

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do): Explode a Bottle in the Freezer

50 Dangerous Things: Explode a Glass Bottle

Task:

Fill and freeze a glass bottle, and see the natural power of ice in action.

Requires:

  • Sealable glass bottle
  • Plastic container (to hold the bottle bits post-explosion)

Possible Hazards:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Mess

How It All Went Down:

I can think of multiple times we accidentally exploded a bottle in the freezer as kids, but flipping through the 50 Dangerous Things book, I realized my kids have never experienced this. If you’re looking for somewhere small to start on your own 50 Dangerous Things journey, this is a good one. You probably already have everything you need, and it’s easy to do while you’re home and doing other things. Bonus: kids get really excited about breaking things, especially something as forbidden as glass.

The author suggests using a resealable soda bottle, but all of our glass soda and beer bottles had bottle caps, not screw tops. Empty glass vinegar, wine, or liquor bottles will all work. Just remember – the bigger your bottle, the longer it will take to freeze … and the bigger the mess!

Fill the glass bottle with water, and screw on the cap. Using a Sharpie, draw on the bottle where you think it will break. Place the bottle in a plastic container. This is a must, unless you want to spend an entire day picking broken glass out of your freezer. You can also cover the plastic container with a cloth to keep any stray glass shards from flying around your freezer.

Freeze a glass bottle

Now wait for your bottle to freeze. A standard home freezer will take at least an hour to freeze a small glass bottle. We used our deep freezer, which is colder and freezes faster. After an hour has passed, check the bottle by gently rocking the plastic container to see if the contents are frozen. Check back every 30 minutes or so to see if your bottle has broken.

Once the bottle has exploded (bonus points if you hear it!), carefully remove the plastic container and the broken bottle from the freezer. Observe your bottle and hypothesize about why it broke in the spots it did. You can repeat the experiment with different shapes and sizes of bottles, and compare how long they take to freeze and how differently they explode.

It’s kind of amazing how something as innocuous as freezing water can cause so much damage. How do you topple a mountain? Expose it to season after season of freezing water, which expands as it freezes and forms large cracks.

Exploded glass bottle

We joke about how most of the tasks we’ve completed in the 50 Dangerous Things book really aren’t dangerous at all, but this task gets the honors of producing our first real injury. I warned Eli over and over again that broken glass can be ridiculously sharp. Sure enough, he couldn’t resist and he sliced his finger open. I’ll warn you as well, but if your kids are anything like mine, it takes a teachable moment for the lesson (and the bandaid) to stick.

Broken glass injury

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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