Archives for October 2014

Risky Reads: The Acorns and Leaves Galore Edition

basket of acorns

Well, it’s that time of year again … the two months out of the year where we simultaneously gaze in wonder at the fall beauty of our wooded backyard, while at the same time shaking our fists at the flurry of leaves falling to the ground. We filled 12 giant bags with leaves on Sunday, and by Monday morning you couldn’t even tell we’d raked. It is a family affair, though, and it gets us all outside and working together. Silver linings, right?

I’ve raked up a few things around the web over the last month that I thought you might find interesting, too!

Now that you know our leaf situation, I imagine we could spare at least a few said leaves for this sweet Fall DIY wreath.

With cooler weather on the horizon, I love the idea of putting together a tinkering station for young builders and aspiring engineers.

” … and on it goes, a million zigzagging what ifs, and I think that’s what drives some people to become nasty judgmental parenting-topic trolls, it’s the belief that you can actually control all that sh*t.”  Three cheers for this essay from All & Sundry

As if we needed more convincing to play games … but this is a cool piece on how family game night can make kids into better students (bonus: it has some great game suggestions you might not have heard of).

Over at Bedtime Math, we brought back a cheesy game, took a hammer to our bushel crop of acorns, and worked on our target practice.

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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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do): Play with Dry Ice

Looking for cool experiments to do with kids? Try these dry ice experiments inspired by the book “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)!” Science for kids.

Task:

Play around with some super-cool, super-spooky dry ice.

Requires:

  • Dry Ice
  • Towel
  • Pie plate
  • Cup
  • Fork or tongs

Possible Hazards:

  • Burns

How It All Went Down:

The kids have been begging to play with dry ice since the day we first got the 50 Dangerous Things book. The only thing that’s kept me from doing it was not having any dry ice, nor really knowing where to get some.

Lesson #1: I’ve come to learn that some grocery stores do sell dry ice. Just ask. If not, you can search for local ice distributors and they should be able to sell you some.

One day I got a delivery of perishables packed in dry ice and I did a little happy dance. We could finally do it! And then I put it in my chest freezer and waited a few days for a good time.

Lesson #2: Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide doesn’t freeze until -109 °F. Unlike frozen water, dry ice doesn’t melt in the traditional sense. It goes through a process known as sublimation, which means it goes directly from a solid to a gas. Which also means that when you leave it in your freezer for a few days, hype it up to the kids, and go to retrieve it? You’ll be left with nothing but an empty container and sad children.

One evening, my neighbor knocked on the door. She’d just gotten some dry ice in her Peapod delivery, and knowing me well, thought I’d want some. I did another happy dance, but this time got right to the business of playing with the dry ice.

You can turn to Google or search Pinterest for all kinds of cools ways to experiment with and play with dry ice. Given that we had some in our hands at the moment and I didn’t have advanced notice to gather extra materials, I just let the kids play with it.

Lesson #3: As fun as dry ice is, you have to take some safety precautions. It is extremely cold, and touching it with your skin can cause frostbite. Always use some kind of protection when handling it, such as a towel, an oven mitt, or tongs.

Our dry ice was already broken into chunks, but if you’re dealing with a solid block you’ll want to break yours up. Wrap it in a towel and use a hammer. Be sure to wear safety goggles while you’re whacking away at it. Here are a few things we did with our dry ice:

Spooky Fog

Fill a pie plate halfway to the top with water. Using a fork or tongs, drop small pieces of the dry ice onto the surface of the water. You’ll observe the cool “fog” that makes for a spooky effect. This occurs when sublimation happens in water. Tiny, very cold carbon dioxide bubbles are formed. When these bubbles mix with the air, they cause the temperature of the air to drop. The moisture in the air near the bubbles forms the fog (this fog is perfectly safe, by the way).

Screaming Spoon

Dip a spoon (or your fork or the tongs) in hot water. Press the warm utensil against the dry ice and listen to it “scream.” What makes it do this? Well, the warm utensil speeds up the sublimation process. As the carbon dioxide gas is released against the utensil, the oscillations in pressure produce rapid sound waves that make the screaming noise.

Looking for cool experiments to do with kids? Try these dry ice experiments inspired by the book “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)!” Science for kids.

Bubbling Potions

Fill a cup 1/4 full of water and add a drop or two of dishwashing soap. Drop in the dry ice and watch your potion “boil” and bubble. The soap in the water traps the carbon dioxide gas and forms bubbles. Instead of a soapy, wet mess, once the bubbles burst they simply disappear! Add some food coloring or drop in a glow stick for colored or glowing bubbles.

Looking for cool experiments to do with kids? Try these dry ice experiments inspired by the book “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)!” Science for kids.

For even more inspiration, check out Steve Spangler Science.

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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Meet Rain or Shine Mamma {A Risky Kids Interview}

rainorshinemamma01

I first became acquainted with Linda McGurk of Rain or Shine Mamma through my post on the Cincinnati Nature Center. Turns out she’s another Midwest girl (by way of Sweden!) with a passion for outdoor play. While we haven’t been able to meet up in person (yet), I feel like I’ve tagged along on many an outdoor adventure with her and her girls through her blog. For even more inspiration, follow her on Pinterest. Friends, please welcome Linda to The Risky Kids!

Thanks for letting me interview you, Linda! Tell us a little bit about you and your family.

I’m originally from Sweden but moved to the US ten years ago. I’m married to an American and we have two daughters, 3 and 6 years old, as well as a dog and a cat. By day, I’m a writer and photographer, and by night I’m a blogger with a passion for connecting children with nature.

Tell us about where you live.

We live in corn country – rural Indiana – but have big woods literally in our backyard. Being close to nature was a big selling point for us when we bought our property a couple of years ago.

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What are some of your favorite things to do as a family?

We love traveling, hiking, camping, snow skiing and other outdoorsy activities, but truthfully many of our greatest moments together happen when we’re just hanging out in our own backyard, digging for worms, playing with the dog or reading books on the back patio. I’m really a homebody!

Me too! As much as I love to travel, some of our favorite days and memories come from just sticking close to home. Speaking of home, what does a typical day in your family’s life look like?

My oldest daughter is in first grade and my youngest goes to a baby sitter four days a week, while I work from home. I pick them both up in the afternoon and after that we usually take our dog for a walk or short hike, followed by play in the backyard while I prepare dinner. During the warmer months we eat and do homework outside whenever possible. Truthfully, if the weather is nice homework is usually the last thing to get done before bedtime. The kids do have some after-school activities but I try to limit them to two days a week, as I’m very protective of their play time. Right now they do horseback riding and tumbling and I feel like that’s about what we can handle without getting over-scheduled.

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Coming from Sweden to the States must’ve been quite an adjustment! How did your childhood in Sweden compare to the way your kids live today?

Children in the US are way busier in terms of homework and after-school activities, and they don’t seem to have very much time for unstructured play. In comparison, I didn’t have any scheduled activities until I was about 7, and spent most of my free time roaming the woods behind my house with my friends. The rise of electronics has of course also changed things a lot since I was young, for kids in the US as well as in Sweden. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but my girls have a strict no-screen time policy on weekdays. I’m not anti-technology, but I don’t want them to become tethered to an electronic device and dependent on it for a constant stream of instant gratification. I believe it’s healthy for kids to be bored sometimes, at least that’s when we used to come up with some of the best and most creative games to play.

I agree! We’re leaning toward a no-screens policy on weekdays as well. In an already busy day, it seems to crowd out other activities kids really need, such as time outdoors. I have to ask, are your kids always eager to head outdoors? Or do you struggle with getting them (or yourself!) off of screens and outside some days?

I wish I could say that they’re always happy to go outside but that’s definitely not the case, especially during the colder months. It’s not so much getting them away from the TV, since they know and respect our rules about screen time, but the fact that getting outside in the winter takes quite a bit of work. Last year, my youngest was in a phase where she despised wearing rain gear or snow gear. It made for many long battles in the mud room. I hope and believe that she’s out of that phase at this point. And yes, there are definitely days when I have no desire to go outside either, but I make myself do it anyway, regardless of the weather, because I always feel better once I actually get outside and the same seems to be true for the kids.

That is very true! And as we head into winter, I’d love to hear more about the Scandinavian mantra (and tag line of your blog): “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Why do you think we haven’t bought into that here in the States? Do we not have the choices when shopping for clothing that Scandinavians do? Or is it more of a cultural mindset issue?

Heavy-duty outdoor clothes for kids are definitely hard to find in the US, but I don’t really think that’s the cause of this difference, but rather a symptom. The love for nature is deeply embedded in the Scandinavian tradition and for many people walking in the woods, along the sea, or other natural areas is almost akin to a spiritual experience. But because of its northern latitude (part of the region is located in the Arctic Circle) the climate is pretty harsh and the winters extremely dark. That means you can either hibernate for nine months of the year, or dress for the weather and go outside anyway. Most Scandinavian seem to choose the latter.

rainorshinemamma02

Nine months! Okay, I officially promise not to complain about our Midwest winters anymore! It sounds like your family probably spends more time outdoors than the average family with young children. What are some “risky” circumstances or situations your kids face as a result of playing outside often?

Nature is inherently full of varying degrees of risk. On any given day we may encounter slippery logs, loose rocks, rapidly moving water, bad weather, bugs, poison ivy and more. That’s what makes nature such a great place to learn about risk-taking. The kids constantly have to judge risk in a way that they wouldn’t if they were playing indoors, and they do learn from the experiences. When my oldest daughter was four, she was reckless with a snake (luckily a harmless one) and got bit in the hand. Now she knows how to deal with them. I do try to guide them about things that we encounter, but unless they’re doing something that I think is outright hazardous, I try to restrain myself from saying “don’t do this” or “don’t do that” when we’re outside. Some experiences they just have to make on their own.

I love that you used the experience with the snake as a opportunity to learn. It could’ve easily turned into a fear of being in nature, either for yourself or your daughter. It seems as if fear often impacts our decisions on how we regard or disregard rules and safety issues. We all parent so differently based on these experiences. With that in mind, what’s a common rule or safety issue you won’t budge on? Are there others you happily disregard?

The girls are both daredevils and love water and action sports. My husband and I were the same way when we were young and I encourage and support it. That being said, we always try to keep them as safe as possible. For example, we’re adamant about them using helmets when riding horses, ice skating and skiing downhill, life vests when waterskiing, etc. I’m SCUBA certified and like water sports, but I have a healthy respect for water, so I’ve always been very careful about keeping the girls safe around it.

On the other hand I don’t hover over them outdoors, and I don’t sweat the small stuff. I let them climb trees and rocks, roll down steep hills, get dirty, pick up bugs and use real tools. I think skinned knees, bruised legs and scraped elbows from playing outside are a normal part of childhood, and in our family it’s usually a sign that the kids had a pretty fun and eventful day.

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Even though we know that we need to give our kids time for free, uninterrupted play outdoors, it can be hard to get to the place where we actually let them do it. What advice would you give a parent who is anxious about giving their kids freedom and independence?

Take baby steps and let your kids gradually earn your trust. In Sweden this is called “freedom with responsibility” and means that you have to work your way to greater independence by showing your parents that you can handle it. Be prepared that they’ll mess up sometimes – everybody makes bad decisions – but the reward of seeing them growing with the task and becoming independent and confident is totally worth it. I would also seek out other parents and kids in the neighborhood, to build community and maybe take turns keeping an eye out for the kids when needed. That’s great advice.

I love the idea of “freedom with responsibility.” These baby steps to independence are so vital to raising competent, confident kids. I know you enjoy reading as much as I do. Can you share a book you’ve read that really inspired you as a parent?

There are actually two books that have had a big impact on me: Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The two of them combined pretty much sum up my parenting philosophy. Until I read them I had felt kind of lonely in my parenting experience but they made me realize that there were others who shared my thoughts.

Absolutely! I’ve read them both and they’ve been a big inspiration for The Risky Kids, as well as my parenting. It’s been so much fun getting to know you and your family better! Before we say goodbye, it’s time for one last totally random question! What’s your favorite junk food you’ve loved since childhood?

I never developed a craving for fast food but I LOVE chocolate! I’m a pretty healthy eater but chocolate is my biggest downfall.

I have a pretty hard time turning down chocolate myself! Thank you so much for letting me interview you, Linda! You’re a wonderful inspiration and I’m so glad you share your outdoor adventures with the world through your blog. Your words and your photos are always so lovely!

Are you interested in being interviewed for The Risky Kids? Just drop me a line at theriskykids at gmail dot com! I’ll give you the scoop and send some questions your way. I promise, it doesn’t hurt and I won’t ask you how old you are or how much you weigh. You can see our previous interviews here.

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International Archaeology Day

Did you know tomorrow, October 18th, is International Archaeology Day? Neither did I, until I was doing some research for a Bedtime Math post last month. What does this have to do with The Risky Kids? Well, for one, archaeology is kind of a risky job, right? I mean, it is the profession of the one very adventurous chap by the name of Indiana Jones!

In reality, it was an experience we had while traveling in Spain that made me connect archaeology to The Risky Kids. We were nearing the end of our trip, and on the last day that Mike was with us before heading back to the States, my cousin took us to visit Italica.

Italica

Located near present-day Seville, Italica is the site of an ancient Roman city. The impressive ruins date back to 206 BC. Now, for you and I, this is crazy amazing. But for my kids, who had already traipsed through much of Spain and seen lots of “old stuff,” Italica was a hot, dusty, boring place. Especially when your parents passed multiple signs for a most amazing water park along the way.

As we tried to balance enjoying the sights ourselves without wanting to shake the children, we came across a group of graduate archaeology students participating in a dig. We stopped for a moment to observe, and to our surprise, a student came up to the kids and asked if they’d like to help.

My American self wanted to protest. Surely this went against some rule or regulation. Wasn’t there some kind of waiver I need to sign? And do you really want my kids messing with ancient Roman artifacts?

Italica

The answers were no and yes, and the next thing they knew the kids were learning how to sift through dirt samples and identify artifacts. Just in their little scoop of dirt they found tiles from mosaics, pottery shards, and playing pieces from a game kids their own age used to play on the roads thousands of years ago.

Italica

We thanked the students profusely for their time and continued on our way. And wouldn’t you know, for the rest of our visit to Italica the kids were totally engaged. They read the signs, observed the surroundings, and asked lots of questions. By saying “yes” instead of “no,” and by encouraging them to touch instead of telling them “hands off,” the experience became personal to them. It’s still one of the parts of the trip they talk about the most.

Italica

So thank you, future archaeologists, for taking the time to bring some “old stuff” to light for kids, and sparking an interest where previously there was none. Happy International Archaeology Day to you!

Of course, I realize we can’t all travel to archaeological digs and have this kind of experience (although our world-class Children’s Museum in Indianapolis offers a summer trip for families to dig for real dinosaur bones!). But have you ever visited a museum or historical sight that you thought did an excellent job of engaging your kids? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

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Our First (and Hopefully Not Last!) KaBOOM! Playground Build

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build

Last weekend the kids and I had a chance to participate in our very first playground build with KaBOOM! I’ve always wanted to take part in a build, having partnered with KaBOOM! on a few other projects. I just love the work they do, and their passion for making play possible for all families, no matter where they live or how much they make.

My good friend Sacha helped connect me to this particular build, through her work with Foresters. Unfortunately we had a hectic Saturday, and could only help out for a small portion of the day.

When we arrived, the play structure was up and concrete was being poured. Other teams were building benches. Elena and I were assigned to “Team Mulch.” Have you ever moved a mountain of mulch? It’s not easy! I kept waiting for Elena to start complaining … she’s not one for manual labor! But she jumped right in. I could see her eyeing the group of teens doing some painting. They were making brightly colored signs for the playground. After she hauled a few loads of mulch, I encouraged her to see if her art skills could be of any use. She spent the rest of the time painting, and loved it.

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build painting signs

Eli was too young to work, but they offered a Kids Zone staffed by volunteers so you could help without having to worry about childcare. He was a little disappointed, though, as he really wanted to lend some muscles to the project. Before we left, I let him carry one last load of mulch with me so he could say he helped.

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build moving mulch

The coolest part, other than watching a playground take shape before your very eyes, was seeing people of all ages and walks of life participating in the build. If you’re as passionate about play as we are, I strongly encourage you to participate in your community.

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build Indianapolis

Even though we only helped for a couple of hours, it definitely made an impact on us. Not only do we have a strong desire to help out with another playground build, we feel inspired to spend more time volunteering in our community in general. Next month we’re planning to help out at Kids Against Hunger, and I hope this builds a tradition and commitment to volunteering as a family.

Have you ever participated in a KaBOOM! playground build, or a similar community playground project? Is your family committed to volunteering? If so, I’d love for you to share your experiences. I know myself, I’m inspired when I hear about other families with younger children making volunteer experiences a priority in their lives.

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Book Review: Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Disclosure: I received this book for review consideration, however I have not be compensated in any other way for this post. I love this book so much I’d share it with you no matter what! This post does include some affiliate links.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Can I gush for a bit? I hope you don’t mind. But the other day I opened the mailbox to find the new book from the creators of UNBORED: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun (another book I gushed about a few months ago). It’s called UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone, and it just might be one of my favorite books for kids and families ever.

Where the first UNBORED book focused on all different kinds of activities to get you, well, not bored anymore, the new book focuses solely on games. This isn’t just a regurgitation of games we’ve all heard of before. It’s a modern mish-mash of old and new, popular and obscure. Just like the previous book, it’s a mixture of activities, interviews, stories and cool illustrations.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

It’s divided into 4 sections:

1. Pwnage

I never knew this term until Mike taught me some online-poker speak. It basically means that you are superior to your opponent on all levels. And so the games in this section have clear-cut winners (they’ll leave the trash talk up to you). It contains a great list of “Best Ever Quick Board Games, including two of our favorites: Blokus and Ticket To Ride. I’m also pumped to get a Bike Rodeo set up in the cul-de-sac for the neighborhood kids.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone: Bike Rodeo

2. Home Games

Home is where some of the best games are, right? I was happy to see Doughnut on a String in here. We played it at our neighborhood Halloween party last year and it was hilarious.

doughnut on a string

There’s a great roundup of Parlor Games, which makes me want to invite the neighbors over and get all vintage with our game-playing. I also really liked the section on apps to play with a grownup, proving that not all screen time is wasted time. It can be a source of really great quality time with your kids, too.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

3. Game Changers

Have you ever thought about how games can be a source of good? Or a force of change? This section focuses on games that promote activism, community building, and cooperation.

4. Adventure Games

This section focuses on some of The Risky Kids favorites: games that encourage experimentation and exploration. We’re especially pumped to try our hand at a smartphone scavenger hunt. And when the temps warm back up again in the spring? We’re totally having an Alka-Seltzer squirt gun battle.

Besides all the awesome ideas and inspiration the folks behind UNBORED provide, I love the premise and the tone of the book. Sure, we love to go outside, and we love to disconnect and play board games with each other. But we also love our tech, and we love to be online. The writers recognize this, and more importantly, recognize how important this facet of playing is to today’s kids. And so the book reflects this, with tons of great suggestions for playful tech and online experiences to go along with outdoor games and good, old-fashioned board and card games.

UNBORED Games has something for every kid and every adult, whether you want to play alone or in a group, no matter your mood or location. I double dog dare you not to find a game you can’t wait to play!

You can pre-order UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone on Amazon. But don’t worry – you won’t have to wait long! The book will be released on Tuesday, October 14th. In the meantime, be sure to check them out online at Unbored.net. You’ll find all kinds of cool games and activities to hold you over until your own copy arrives!

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Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: Build a Fire

how to build a fire with kids

In March I announced that we’d be starting a new series on The Risky Kids: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. The response was wonderful – it turns out you agree that there are many things kids need to know beyond what they’re taught in school. You agreed with our suggestions for the series, and came up with many more life skills you’d like to see added to the list. You can find posts from the entire series on the Life Skills Every Kid Should Know page.

build a fire with kids

If I had to pick the top two Dangerous Things that freak parents out the most, it would be letting kids use sharp objects and anything involving fire. I completely understand. They both evoke images of immediate and life-altering injuries. And in the case of fire, of burning down the house … or the entire neighborhood.

bonfire

It’s precisely because skills like these are inherently dangerous, that I passionately believe they should be taught at an early age. With the proper instruction and supervision, kids learn a healthy respect for these tools. And with early and frequent exposure, the thrill and mystique of fire or knives wears off. It becomes simply a useful skill they possess, as opposed to something mysterious and forbidden which they can’t resist the urge to explore in secret.

Learning to build a proper fire was something I was never taught. We didn’t camp or have bonfires as a kid, and so the only experience I ever had was lighting a candle. I’ve never even owned a charcoal grill (!), so my experience with building any kind of fire was very limited. When it came time to put our fire-building skills to the test, I was learning right along with the kids.

cooking over campfire

You might think there’s nothing to it, but there is definitely a method to building a good, lasting fire. I could explain it (which I did here), but this infographic from NPR’s Summer Science does a spot-on job:

how to build a campfire

Credit: Stephanie d’Otreppe, Andrew Prince and Maggie Starbard/NPR

When we build a fire in our firepit, we often have lots of other kids running around. There’s nothing like an open flame and the possibility of roasted marshmallows to bring all the kids to your yard. It’s such a valuable opportunity for real-time teachable moments in regards to fire safety. We teach things like having only one person in charge of the fire (and at the same time making sure there’s always someone in charge of the fire), what you can and cannot put in a fire, how you move around a fire (no running or horseplay), and how to put the fire completely out.

kids and campfires

Chances are you’ll never need to know how to build a fire for survival purposes. I have to say, though, even as an adult there is a strong sense of pride and accomplishment at being able to make fire from a match and a few sticks. If that’s not enough to stoke your interest in learning and teaching this skill to your kids, just remember the ultimate payout:

s'mores

S’mores.

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