So Long For Now

I’ve put off writing this post for a couple of weeks now, because to write it makes it so very real. After 3 years of blogging, I’ve decided to say goodbye to The Risky Kids. It hasn’t been an easy decision, but several factors have combined to make this the best decision for me, you, and my family.

As some of you know, The Risky Kids isn’t my only blog. I’ve been blogging over at Just Like The Number for over 8 years, which is the equivalent of 80 in Internet Years. So I know a thing or two about blogging, and how to determine whether or not a blog has growth potential. I started The Risky Kids to share my passion about play and to build a community around parents that wanted to raise happy, independent kids without irrational fear or paranoia about the world around them. My hope was that in creating a niche blog such as this, I would find an audience with whom this content resonated with, and that over time it would grow.

I have most definitely found an audience. I’ve interacted with many of you through discussions here and on social media, and you’ve inspired me just as much (okay, probably more) as I hope I’ve inspired you. However, The Risky Kids just hasn’t grown the way I’ve wanted it to.

I could continue to plod along and post here and there, but that’s never been my style. I wouldn’t feel like I was giving you my best, and I’m not cool with that.

I could continue to produce content as I have been, but in order to give you my best, I have to continue to put significant time and effort into each post. I’ve found that it’s getting harder and harder to do so. It requires a hefty amount of time to plan, execute, photograph and write good posts, time that I don’t necessarily have. It has to come from somewhere, and it ends up coming from personal and family time.

I’m also finding that as my kids are getting older, they aren’t always so keen on doing things for the main purpose of producing great content for the blog. Sure, they still love nature hikes and geocaching and doing 50 Dangerous Things. But they don’t necessarily want me to photograph every moment and put it on the Internet. Often, they ask if we can just do something to do it for fun, not for a blog post. I only get one shot at this parenting gig, and I don’t want to mess up great moments for the sake of page views.

While I’ve never done this for the money, the hard truth is that without any source of income, a blog is really just a creative hobby. And that’s great! There’s nothing wrong with that! But when I take a good, hard look at the amount of time I spend writing for both blogs, and maintaining separate social media accounts for both, I’m spending entirely too much time on my hobby. It’s less of a hobby, and more of a part-time job for which I earn significantly less than minimum wage. That’s not to knock blogging. It is what it is, and I’m not bitter at all. I just need to be more mindful about how I spend the precious hours I am given in this life.

The tricky part is, I still have a great passion for play. I still have a great passion for the kinds of parenting topics I’ve covered here, and will continue to face. I still love to take photographs and write. And so while this is goodbye for this particular space, it’s not a complete goodbye. As I did before I started The Risky Kids, I’ll continue to write about these topics as I’m inspired to do so over at Just Like The Number. While I understand that the range of topics I write about there might not be of interest to all of you, I hope you’ll consider subscribing, either via an RSS reader or email. I’d love to see you over there!

For the time being, this space isn’t going anywhere, so you can continue to reference old posts as needed. I just won’t be posting any new material. Like many of you, I’m finding great enjoyment from Instagram, which is essentially a mini-blog of our escapades. I’d love for you to follow me on Instagram (I’m @AngieSix) and stay connected with me that way.

Finally, I just want to thank each and every one of you for reading, sharing your stories and ours, and cheering us on. It’s been so much fun, and you’ve made me a better parent. I hope you’ll continue to play The Risky Kid way: less worry, more fun. In the end, risky play is everyone’s business. Play on, friends!

 

 

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Surviving Snow Days & Winter Weekends

Snow day ideas and winter activities for kids to help you survive those long winter weekends and days off from school. WARNING: some of our ideas our messy, some are unconventional, but ALL of them are fun!

Winter break might be over, but we’re still many weeks away from getting a break from winter. Here in the Midwest, we’re in the middle of yet another cold and icy January. My kids have gone to a whopping 2 full days of school since the middle of December!

Search Pinterest and you’ll find a plethora of ideas for keeping the kids entertained through the winter.  Those are all well and good, but we know that sometimes all those crafty, snuggly, educational ideas are just too much: too much effort, too much planning, too much forced family fun.  Instead, we came up with a few ideas to enjoy those inevitable snow days and winter weekends The Risky Kid way.  WARNING: some of our ideas our messy, some are unconventional, but ALL of them are fun!

Sleep In

 

Sure, you can jam-pack your winter days with outings and activities.  You can try to keep to as normal a schedule as possible.  We suggest the polar opposite (yes, I went there).  Stay in bed as long as possible.  And then stay in your pj’s as long as possible.  “I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life in pants with elastic waistbands.” said no one ever.  My friend Lisa tells her kids to leave them alone in the morning if the door is closed.  When our kids were smaller and less prone to sleeping in, we’d offer a cash incentive to let us sleep in.  Even if you have little ones, you can still catch a few minutes of extra zzz’s, just use my friend Kelly M.’s brilliant idea: charge up your phone, Kindle, iPad, etc. and leave it near your bed.  When the kids toddle in let them play with them while you snooze a little longer.  Best use of screen time ever!

Play With Your Food

 

The kids have probably spent more meals than they’d like over the holidays sitting nicely at the table in scratchy clothes.  Reward them by letting them play with their food for once. Turkeys are on sale, too. I hear they make great bowling balls!

If, like us, the weather is a little less conducive to turkey bowling, play with your food inside.  Blowing up marshmallows in the microwave is always a big hit. Grab a few plastic shower caps at the dollar or beauty store. They’re perfect for a cheese poof toss! It’s such a silly game, you’re guaranteed laughs. And if you only give the kids a few cheese poofs to toss at a time, you won’t have a mess on your hands, either.

Just helping me out with a cheesy blog post for @bedtimemath (coming soon)!

 

Make a Mess

 

Magic Potion Lab

As much as it kills the neat freak in me, I’m giving my kids a holiday from being super tidy. Allow a few days for all the toys and holiday gifts to be spread around in all their glory.  Don’t make your beds.  Tear up the couch cushions.  Build a fort. Sometimes the best and most imaginative projects take more than a day to come together.

If you feel better when the house is tidy, maybe you can concede a spot in the house where kids can get messy. Our dining room table only sees fancy dinners a few times a year. The rest of the time, I’m happy to throw a cloth over and let it be craft/project/messy play central.

Rule the Playground

 

Drift

Do the other parents at the playground get you down with all their rules and micromanaging?  Now is the perfect time to visit a playground and have your run of the entire place.  The kids can run, scream like banshees, and go up the slide to their hearts’ content.  Even the most boring of playgrounds turns into something magical when it’s covered in snow or ice.

Roughhouse

 

After I read  The Art of Roughhousing I realized how much kids need rough and tumble play.  It’s especially important in the winter, when they aren’t able to burn off steam outside.  Pillow fights are easy, and we’ve had tons of fun launching little bodies onto the couch. Now, I’m not crazy with letting kids have full run of the house, and I don’t want my lamps getting broken any more than you do. Instead of banning rough play, consider leaving a room or a space in your house where that kind of play is okay. For us it’s the basement, but perhaps you have a rec room or a spare bedroom that would work. Whenever the kids start to get stir-crazy with their Nerf wars or ninja moves, I don’t have to say no. Instead I can just redirect them to a safe area to play rough.

How do you keep the kids moving and having fun on snow days and winter weekends?

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A Few Things to Kick Off a Risky 2015

Happy New Year! Well, I guess I truly meant what I said in the last Risky Reads post about blogging less and seeking balance during the holidays. I haven’t posted here over 2 weeks and I only posted once on the holidays on Just Like The Number! Let me tell you, we all needed it. This may have been our most laid back Christmas season and winter break yet. We didn’t travel, I didn’t stress about fitting too many activities into our days, and I set the computer aside. I read, binge-listened to the Serial podcast (SO good), played lots of games with the kids, and had a day where we did nothing but create and craft. It was good for the soul.

The kids went back to school this week, but with several days of delays and a snow day, I’m slowly making my way back into the land of routines and schedules. As nice as the holiday break was, I’m recharged now and ready to reconnect with my favorite Risky readers! As I work on getting back into a posting groove, I thought I’d share a couple of cool things with you.

Toy of the Year 2015 Vote Now

Did you know there’s an “Oscars” for the toy industry? Between being a parent who appreciates a good toy, and having the chance to meet some of the creators behind some really cool toys at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair, I’ve come to truly appreciate the people and manufacturers who strive to bring great games to families. The Toy of the Year Awards honors great toys every year. The finalists have been named, and now toy companies, retailers and consumers (that’s us!) have a chance to vote for their favorites. You have to be quick, though, if you want to put your stamp of approval on your favorite toy. Voting ends Sunday, January 11th. The winners will be announced in February. Besides having your vote count, you also have a chance to win some of the nominated toys. I’m happy to see some of our favorites nominated, including LEGO Fusion , Bounce-Off , Kanoodle Genius, Simon Swipe , and OgoSport OgoBild Animate It. And definitely check out the Outdoor Toy category … we want every single one!

Treehouse Masters Animal Planet

When you’re done voting, be sure to set your DVRs to record a show that is right up our alley: Treehouse Masters. The second season kicks off on Friday, January 9th on Animal Planet. I promise, you’ve never seen treehouses like the ones Pete Nelson designs! I’m always down for quality shows we can enjoy with the kids, and Treehouse Masters is a great choice for passing a few winter evenings (and dreaming about building treehouses in the spring).

Thanks again for being such awesome readers! Looking forward to another year of risky fun with you!

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Under Pressure

What do you do when your middle school child struggles with homework? Or when the pressure and grades seem to get in the way of their education? Reflections on the struggles of parenting a middle school child, along with a crazy idea that goes against everything we’re taught as parents.

I feel kind of old saying this out loud, but it’s finals week here in the Six house. Elena is in 7th grade this year, and for the first time in her school career, finals week is a thing. And it matters.

Of course, tests and doing well in school have always mattered to us. We view school as her “job,” and we expect her to give her best effort. But we also see school as one part of the pie, if you will. Yes, it’s very important. But it also isn’t everything. There are lots of opportunities to exercise your body and mind, to grow and learn, that take place out of school. There must be time for play. And there must always be time to just relax. As seriously as we take school, and expect her to take school, we also try to emphasize the balance. Sometimes, there are things that are more important than busywork.

In past years, this has been fairly easy to balance. Until she transitioned to public school from Montessori in 4th grade, she never had homework. Upon entering public school she tested into the district’s gifted program. You would imagine that this might mean more homework, but we found the opposite of that to be true. She had some, for sure, but it wasn’t every day, and it was always reasonable.

Junior high, it seems, is where that party ends. It’s been a struggle this year, for both of us. She has 6 classes, and in each of those classes it is not unusual for each teacher to assign homework. It doesn’t seem like much to each teacher, probably – twenty or thirty minutes per class. But multiply twenty minutes by 6 classes? Suddenly she’s faced with two hours of homework each night. Add to that a requirement of 2 1/2 hours of instrument practice outside of school each week, and suddenly the concept of play and free time become something of fairy tales or mythology. Does it even exist?

It’s a struggle for her – to keep up, to not burn out, to do her best day in and day out. It’s a struggle for us. It’s hard to watch your kid be expected to do things most adults wouldn’t stand for. Imagine this: you leave for work every day at 7 a.m. From 7:30 until 2:30, you’re in meeting after meeting. You’re listening, taking notes, trying to understand the message. At the end of each meeting, you’re given a task to complete. No biggie, right? You’ll get it done after the meeting, right? Only there is no “after the meeting” scheduled into your work day. You get a short break for lunch, and forty minutes at the end of the day to tie up any loose ends. Then you go home. Now, this is where the average adult worker would call it a day. They’d spend time with their family, run their errands, take care of personal things, relax, live their life. On a hectic week at work, they might have to bring some work home, but it wouldn’t be expected every day.

That’s not what I see for these kids in my community. After 7 hours of school, they come home and dive right into another 2-3 hours of homework. If they get started on it right after school, on a good night, they might have an hour or two to relax before bed. But what if it’s a gorgeous afternoon, and they want to toss the football or ride their bikes to Taco Bell with their friends? What if they have sports or other extra-curricular activities after school? Well, you’re looking at homework into the 9 and 10 o’clock hour. Then it’s up-and-at-em again at 6 a.m. the next morning. Ask any adult to do this, day in and day out for 9 months out of the year and they’d tell you where to shove it.

There’s not a lot parents can do in this more-is-better culture we live in. You can homeschool, but that isn’t the ideal or realistic option for everyone (and certainly not for our family). If you have the means, you can look for a private school that better meets your family philosophy. You can rebel against the system, and do it your own way – maybe you draw the line at an hour of homework each day. Maybe you sit down together and decide what assignments are worth the time and which seem frivolous. But at what cost? When those grades and those classes start counting towards that all-important G.P.A., what choice do you have then? (And at this point, kids in junior high are already taking high school level classes that count towards their high school G.P.A.)

There is the valid argument that this builds character. Do we want to raise a generation of kids that can’t rise to a challenge? I’m all for giving kids at this age opportunities to hone their time management skills. It’s an essential life skill, and you know how we feel about teaching valuable life skills here at The Risky Kids. Instead, I feel as if we’re inadvertently teaching these kids a different concept: burn-out. This week, of all weeks, when Elena should be looking forward to putting her knowledge to the test and completing a semester well done, she’s simply DONE. One teacher even assigned a homework worksheet in between a two-part final!

If it were simply a matter of pushing through, and reassuring these kids that their best effort was enough, that if they’re learning and mastering concepts regardless of the grade it’s all good, then I’d probably not get up on my soapbox. But it’s not enough.

Next semester, Elena is switching math classes. She’s moving down from 2-year advanced math to 1-year advanced. The material is moving too fast for her, and she’s not mastering the concepts before they move on. Now mind you, this is a high school class, offered for 7th graders. When I told her that the move down meant that she’d take Chemistry as a sophomore instead of as a freshman, she started to panic. She had to take Chemistry as a freshman, she said, otherwise she’d fall behind. Where did she get such a notion? From a workshop on college prep that she had in school a few weeks ago. “Hopefully I’ll still get into college,” she said. And she was completely serious.

You know what I was worried about as a 7th grader? If I had my Kirk Cameron posters lined up straight above my bed.

We have a mission in our family, one that spills over into the philosophy of The Risky Kids: to raise competent, independent, well-rounded kids. Kids who love books and tech. Kids who climb trees and move mountains. Kids who can do laundry and quadratic equations. Kids who can work and play. If that means being the weird family who looks at this gerbil wheel of stress, competition, and relentless pressure that is conventional schooling and says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” then so be it. I would rather have a kid in community college that can look back fondly at their childhood (and yes, your tween and teen years are still your childhood to claim and enjoy), than one in a prestigious college with anxiety.

The easy part is deciding this path isn’t for us. The hard part is convincing these kids it will all be okay.

Those of you in the trenches with tweens and teens, I’d love to hear from you. Is this your experience as well? If you’re on the other side of this life stage, I’d love to hear from you, too. How did you get through it?

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Risky Reads: The Holiday Edition

Everything is awesome! #legokidsfest

So where the heck did November go?! I was looking back through the archives to make sure I didn’t use this image for last month’s Risky Reads … and then realized I didn’t do a Risky Reads post in November! I’ve scaled back my posting a bit on both blogs. It’s not that I don’t have lots to say or share, I’ve just been making a concerted effort during this holiday season to have balance in my life. And often that means shutting the computer and choosing other things. I have a feeling you guys understand.

In that spirit, I’ve found a few things around the web that have spoken to me along the theme of “Slow down. Relax. Enjoy what’s around you.” I hope you enjoy them, and I hope you’re enjoying this holiday season.

Sometimes I look around at all that we have, and I wonder why on earth we’re buying more things for Christmas! Do you struggle with this, too? I found this article very helpful and thoughtful: Practical Advice When Kids Have Too Much Stuff.

Where do you stand on the Elf on the Shelf? While I don’t begrudge the families who Elf, we don’t have one (much to Eli’s disappointment). I do find it somewhat amusing how divisive the little guy is, though! Who would’ve thought an elf could inspire as much debate as co-sleeping or breastfeeding?! (Although I agree with my friend, Shireen. Have your elf. Have fun with your elf. But the rest of us don’t need to see a picture of what your elf is doing every. single. day.) Anyhow, if you’re not crazy about the elf, but are looking for a similar tradition to share with the kids, consider these: Kindness Elves from The Imagination Tree and gnome/troll houses from Rain or Shine Mamma.

I really want to spend an afternoon making salt dough ornaments with the kids. I love these ideas for crafting with salt dough, because they can be adjusted to any age and they’ll all be beautiful in their own way. One of my favorite holiday traditions is looking over all the handmade ornaments the kids have made over the years. They’re the best.

I wish I could pass this post from Rage Against the Minivan on to every new parent on the planet. Repeat after me: It’s okay to ignore your kids sometimes. I felt especially compelled to share this with you as we stare down almost three weeks of winter vacation. You are not your child’s cruise ship director and you are not a bad parent for telling them to find their own thing to do. As the author so eloquently puts it, As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to be precious about your kid’s childhood, and a time when you just have to get other shit done. (I’ve loosely paraphrased that verse.)”

Over on my personal blog, I wrote about 4 seemingly innocent traps that will derail your plans to have a simple Christmas. I speaketh from experience.

If you’re still wrapping up your shopping, don’t forget to check out the 2014 Risky Kids Holiday Gift Guide!

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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The Coolest Things We Saw at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair

2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair

The weekend before Thanksgiving we attended the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. It was our very first experience attending an event like this and the verdict? Very cool. We’re pretty serious about play around here, so having some of our favorite toy and game makers under one roof is a big deal to us. We were also excited to discover new things that are destined to make The Risky Kids play list, and discover we did! Here are the coolest things we saw and played with at the 2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair.

Razor PowerRider 360

Razor Power Rider 360 : I would say that our Razor scooters would be top contenders for The Risky Kid Toy Hall of Fame. The kids have gotten some serious use out of their scooters. After giving the Power Rider a spin, they’re ready to clear a space next to their scooters for this puppy. I used to be against making toys that were originally body-powered into electric versions … but after seeing the glee on the kids’ faces when riding this, I had to re-evaluate. The more I think about it, if it gets kids outside (especially older kids and tweens)? Then I’m all for it.

Tenzi Dice Game

77 Ways to Play Tenzi: We love Tenzi, and have played every version that comes with the game many, many times. Did you know you can buy this deck of cards to expand your Tenzi play possibilities? We didn’t! But guess what came home with us? This is a great game for a wide age range of kids (and adults!). While you can’t play it while traveling, we like to take it on trips with us because it barely takes up any room.

OGOBILD Kit Pod and OGOBILD AnimateIt!: Both from OgoSport, a brand we absolutely love. I wish I had pictures to show you, but we were too busy playing! Elena got excited about both of these, and when the tween gets excited about a toy? You better believe I notice. The OGOBILD Kit is a construction set you can use to build forts, balls, and whatever else you can imagine. The cool part is how flexible, lightweight, and yet sturdy it is. We bought a similar product from another brand last year for the same amount of money and it frustrated the kids SO much. It was always toppling in on itself. Not this kit. It would be fun indoors for winter and just as exciting outdoors for summer fun.

OGOBILD AnimateIt! is a kit that teaches kids how to make stop-motion films, giving them fun construction parts to make kooky designs. You can buy the kit with or without a camera. The software that comes with the kid was designed by the same folks that brought us Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run.

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Tapple : This game was totally new to us, but it’s officially on our Christmas list. The letters of the alphabet are arranged around a timer button. At the start of each round, a card is drawn with a topic, such as “Names of Cities.” The first player hit the timer button, then taps down a letter and names a city that starts with that letter. The next player hits the button to restart the timer and does the same, only he can’t pick the same letter. Once each player has a turn to name one thing, the first player goes again. Same topic, but this time you have to name two things – and you can only use whatever remaining letters haven’t been tapped! When all the of the letters have been used, you move on to the next topic card. If the timer goes off before you can name your things, you’re out. Last player standing wins. We really had fun with this one, and I can see families coming up with their own cards to keep the playability going.

Magna-Tiles on a Light Table

Magna-Tiles: I’m familiar with Magna-Tiles, but I’ve never actually seen them in action. To be honest, I’d kind of passed them off, as Eli was never really into building toys of any kind (other than LEGO). But he was drawn to the booth, and the young guy manning the booth was SO good with him. We ended up spending over half an hour at the booth, with Eli building the entire time. What’s cool about the Magna-Tiles is how strong they are. As long as you balance your creations, you can build as high as you want (or until you run out of tiles)! The younger kids really got into playing with the translucent Magna-Tiles on the light table. They are pricey, but everyone I’ve talked to that has them (and there are lots of you that are fans on my social media pages) swears that they are worth every penny. One mom that stopped by the booth said she’d purchased them for her 2-year-old daughter. She’s now 12 and she still plays with them!

Sphero 2.0: cool robotics toy for kids.

Sphero 2.0 : We tried out both the Sphero and the Ollie (you can compare them here). They’re both app-controlled robot toys. The kids had trouble figuring Ollie out in the few minutes they were able to spend with him, but they both got Sphero up and rolling right away. You can complete challenges and do tricks with Sphero, but the really cool part (in my mind) is that kids can learn basic programming while they play with Sphero. We’re really curious to test the claim that Sphero is pet-proof!

Cardboard playground at Chicago Toy & Game Fair

Cardboard Playground: So this wasn’t an actual game or toy that you can purchase anywhere, but it is something that anyone can do anytime, anywhere! This fun little corner of the Fair was put together by Adventure Sandwich. It was cool to see how the playground evolved as the day went on and kid after kid made their own unique cardboard creations. Eli made a tank, of course.

Cardboard playground at Chicago Toy & Game Fair

Besides having a fun day as a family and discovering some really cool toys and games, the best part was meeting the people behind the play. Everyone was so passionate about their toys and games, and about making peoples lives more playful. These people were definitely my tribe! Check them out and add them to your holiday gift lists. You won’t be disappointed!

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2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Creative Gifts for Playful Families

The Risky Kids 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Creative Gifts for Playful Families. Christmas gift ideas for boys, girls, tweens and teens!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

As much as I’d like to believe the holidays aren’t right around the corner, the 2 inches of snow and the 8 foot Christmas tree display at my local Target have convinced me otherwise. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with gift-giving at the holidays. My kids are not immune to the school bus chatter and the thick, glossy ads in the Sunday paper. The newest iPhone, an XBOX with its enticing array of inappropriate games, toys that talk, light up, and do all the playing for you … these wants and wishes conflict with the kind of play I want my kids to experience.

As frustrating as it can be to look at the store circulars and commercials this time of year, I always find that there are really great toys out there. You just have to look a little harder. They may not be as flashy, and their companies may not have the advertising and PR budgets to compete with the big guys, but they are fabulously fun and deserve a spot under the tree! To save you the time and the struggle, I’ve pulled together some of our favorites. Our criteria? It has to be fun for the whole family, and it has to have play value that will last long after the decorations are packed up and the snow has melted! Here are The Risky Kids picks for this holiday season:

The  OgoSport OgoDisk RAQ is one of my favorite purchases of the year. We used it in the summer and fall outdoors (it’s awesome at the pool, too!), and now we’ve brought it in for basement play. It’s easy enough for little kids to play, but still fun and entertaining for grownups, too.

The PlasmaCar  is on our wish list after Eli played with one in Spain. I always assumed it was a little kid toy, but Eli loved it. It moves by using centrifugal force, friction, and kid power … or even adult power! It holds up to 220 lbs, so give it a spin!

plasma car

We got our starter Snap Circuits Jr. kit for Christmas 2 years ago, and it’s one of those toys that keeps seeing playtime. The best part about it is that you can easily add on and expand as your kids get more into it. This year the Elenco Snap Circuits Lights Physics Kit is on our list. My kids love mixing tech and toys, so I know they’ll be way into this.

I have my eye on the Hoberman Switch Pitch color-changing ball for a fun stocking stuffer after seeing it mentioned by a few other parents. We survive winter by letting the kids go crazy with balls in the basement, and I think this fun contraption would be a game-changer!

The Diggin Active Dodge Tag game is another perfect indoor/basement activity for kids that need to get rid of some pent-up winter energy! I think it would be a great alternative for NERF guns, too – whether you’re opposed to toy guns or you’re just tired of hearing arguments about who got hit when. The ball sticks to the vest, so if you’re hit, you know it! How fun would it be to get everyone in the family their own vest and have a big, rowdy family game of dodge tag?

We didn’t bring any toys with us to Spain, and only a couple of games. But my cousin had a puzzle similar to the Perplexus Epic at his house and it kept the kids, well, perplexed!

Bounce-Off is one of those games that I’m seeing everywhere right now. I love the concept. You have to bounce your balls so that they land in the same pattern as the challenge card you draw. It’s an active game, which will definitely appeal to kids who might not enjoy sitting down for a traditional board game, but at the same time it can be played by all ages. I think this one is going to be a hit not only with our family, but with the kids on our street, too.

We’re big fans of just about any game Blue Orange puts out. Our latest Blue Orange favorite is Brave Rats. It’s similar to  War, but the cards have special powers that can overrule the number. I keep it in the car for travel and long waits at restaurants, since it’s a fast-paced game and the small carrying tin slips easily into a purse or backpack. It would make a great stocking stuffer for any game-loving kid!

braverats

Chances are, if you’ve got a kid between the ages of 7 and 12, you also have a Minecraft fan in your house. As much as I love the creativity of the game, I don’t love hour after hour spent in front of a screen. That’s why I’m super excited to see that LEGO has come out with a line of Minecraft-themed kits just in time for the holidays. There are several, but I especially like the LEGO Minecraft Crafting Box. I see endless hours of kids creating their own LEGO Minecraft realms and using these bricks with them. And maybe, just maybe, building sets like this will help parents to finally understand the difference between a creeper and an enderman.

While my gift guide criteria requires that my choices are fun for the whole family, I do realize that tweens and teens are in a category all their own (in more ways than one)! Here a few special suggestions for the older kids on your gift list:

I’ve recommended (and purchased) a Kiwi Crate subscription for years. I was dreading the day the kids aged out of them … but no more! They’ve recently introduced three new members to the Kiwi Crate family, and two of them are perfect for tweens and teens. The Tinker Crate is geared toward ages 9 and up, and integrates science, engineering and technology into a fun project. The Doodle Crate is geared toward girls ages 9 and up, and features a creative and crafty DIY project each month. We’ve played around with both crates, and I’m happy to report that they were big hits. I continue to be impressed with the quality of the materials and the longevity of play value these crates consistently provide. As an added bonus for you early shoppers, you can get 60% the first month of a new subscription to any of the Kiwi Crate family brands. Just shop the Black Friday Sale and use the code HOLIDAY60. Gotta act quick, though! This offer expires 12/1/14.

Tinker Crate

Doodle Crate >>

I’m sticking to my promise to make the book UNBORED Games my new, go-to gift for birthdays and holidays. (I reviewed it last month, in case you missed it.) A copy of this fabulous book (maybe even paired with its partner, Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun) would be a fabulous choice for those picky tweens and teens. Finally! An alternative to just giving them iTunes gift cards!

unboredgames

These Orion Astronomy Binoculars are on my tween’s wish list, and I couldn’t be happier. She’s taken a big interest in astronomy lately, and loves to spend evenings outside gazing at the stars. Good telescopes are pricey, and can be difficult for kids to use. These are affordable, easy to transport (how awesome would they be on camping trips?!), and seem easier to for older kids to use on their own.

I spotted the Joy Of Zentangle in our local library and checked it out. Have you ever tried making your own zentangle drawings? It’s so relaxing! You can find tons of ideas on Pinterest, but this book, paired with a nice set of thin markers and a sketch pad would be a cool gift for a tween or teen. And it’s not just for girls! The graphic art aspect of zentangle is just as appealing to boys (hint: even parents who don’t think they’re artsy can easily get into making zentangles).

I hope this helps make your holiday shopping a little easier! If you’d like even more ideas, check out last year’s gift guide. We still love all the toys on that list, too! If you like anything you’ve seen here, be sure to pin it for reference while you’re shopping. The best gift you can give me this holiday season is to share this gift guide with your friends – I’ll be happy, you’ll look awesome, and your friends will be thankful. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Happy Holidays, friends!

 

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2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair {Family Pass Giveaway}

You know how much we love games and great toys. We’re always on the hunt for something new and happy when we rediscover old favorites.  Last winter, while falling down the rabbit hole that is the internet, I came across the website for the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. An entire weekend dedicated to showcasing the best toys and games from around the globe? A chance to play and meet the inventors and makers of some of our favorite games and toys? Where do I sign up?!

2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair Family Pass Giveaway

Well …. that was the only glitch. I had just missed the 2013 Chicago Toy & Game Fair by a few weeks. You better believe I marked the date in my calendar for this year! The 2014 Chicago Toy & Game Fair takes place next weekend, November 22-23 at the Navy Pier. We’re making a fun family weekend out of it, and we hope you can meet us there, too. What are we looking forward to the most? It’s hard to narrow it down, but here are a few things were super-pumped to do:

  • Visit the Mayfair Games booth, maker of one of our favorite games of all-time: Settlers of Catan. Mike’s currently on the wait list, but he’s crossing both fingers and all his toes that he can get a seat in the Catan tournament. He’d love a chance to win a spot in the Catan World Championship (I’m not even kidding).
  • Check out the Air Hogs and Spy Gear stuff at the Spin Master booth.
  • See what’s new with the company that makes our favorite scooters, Razor.
  • Tell the folks at Educational Insights how much we love Kanoodle and how we named it one of our favorite games for travel.
  • Play around with a Perplexus. I recently saw it on a holiday gift guide for kids and I think Eli would love it.

There are lots of other events besides browsing the booths, including workshops for Girl and Boy Scouts (FYI, Scouts are admitted for free if they show their credentials), the Young Inventor Challenge, and a Star Wars Luncheon.

In case you can’t tell, we’re pretty excited! We’d love to see you there, so we’re giving away a Family Weekend Pass. It’s good for free entry into the Toy & Game Fair for your entire family. To enter, just use the Rafflecopter widget below! Giveaway ends Tuesday, November 18 at 11:59 PM EST. Winner will have 24 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. Winner will receive the family pass via email. If you don’t win, we’d still love for you to come! Visit this link for ticket info and a $2 off coupon to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Be Prepared: A Year With the Cub Scouts

Cub Scout Fun Day Archery

The marketing team for the Crossroads of America Council/Boy Scouts of America deserves some kind of medal (Perhaps a badge would be more appropriate?). I’m not sure exactly how they go about selling the concept of scouting to first grade boys, or what they’re telling them. I can tell you that Eli came home from school one day convinced that becoming a Cub Scout was the key to happiness in life.

Now, Eli brings home a lot of information from school, and 95% of he could care less about. He’s a lot like me in his tendency to be a homebody. He has to really, REALLY want to participate in something for it to lure him from home and playing with his friends. We’re fiercely protective of our after-school schedules, so we’re good with that. I’ve always believed that there were plenty of years ahead of us to get involved in sports and clubs. I feel strongly that kids should be excited and motivated on their own to get involved, rather than having adults push activities on them. As parents of a tween, we can attest to the fact that the day will come when they have a strong opinion about what types of extracurricular activities they want to take part in. I might ask the kids if they’re interested in a particular activity when a flier comes home or I see something in the school newsletter, but if they’re not overly enthusiastic, I have no problem keeping our afternoons and weekends activity-free.

The Cub Scout flier fell under the 5% of papers Eli brings home that requires my immediate attention. He wanted to be a Cub Scout, end of discussion! There was an informational meeting for parents coming up, and he immediately wrote it in my calendar. He then proceeded to remind us about it every single day until the meeting time arrived.

That’s how we found ourselves initiated into the world of Scouting. This is all new to us, and I’m very curious to see how Cub Scouts fits into The Risky Kid way as well our parenting philosophy. Here’s what appeals to us so far:

Appropriate Time Commitment: I’ve always heard that Scouting is a big commitment for families. I’m sure that is probably true as the boys progress through the program, but as a Tiger Scout (first grade), we’re finding the commitment to be manageable. We have 2-3 meetings a month, with a few optional activities available as well.

Cub Scout Fun Day BB Guns

Activities That Appeal to Boys: I’m pretty sure Eli was sold when he heard there would be BB guns. He’ll also have the opportunity to participate in camping, archery, rafting, and the Pinewood Derby.

Activities That Complement Our Parenting Philosophy: We’re big on doing things that get our kids moving, playing, and developing life skills that will lead them to becoming competent, independent adults. Even in Tiger Scouts, there are Achievements and Electives that go hand-in-hand with our philosophy, such as spending time outdoors, being of service to others, and learning life skills (how to sew a button, phone manners, using public transportation).

Quality Time With Other Boys & Adults: We’re looking forward to meeting other parents and having Eli get to know other boys in our community that we might not spend time with otherwise. I also like that it gives us the opportunity to participate in something together. So far Mike has been to the meetings with Eli, but this week I’ll go with him so I can get a taste of it for myself. For families that are as protective of their family time as we are, I envision Scouting as an activity that can enhance family time, as opposed to just making demands on it.

Throughout the year, I’ll keep you up informed on what we’re up to with the Scouts and how we feel it’s impacting our family life. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experience with Scouting (Girl Scout Experiences welcome, too!). Was it a positive experience for your family? Or did it not live up to your expectations?

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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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