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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Meet Rain or Shine Mamma {A Risky Kids Interview}

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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.

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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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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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