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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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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Playgrounds: Reinventing the Square (Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid)

playgrounds exhibit reina sofia

From the early days of The Risky Kids, I’ve been following along the Playscapes blog. I always enjoy seeing the playgrounds they feature from around the world. I usually file the information under “Things I’d Love To (But Probably Never Will) See.”

In May, Paige posted about an upcoming exhibit to be hosted by the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Playgrounds: Reinventing the Square would be open during the same time we’d be visiting Madrid.

playgrounds reinventing the square

I probably should’ve explained the exhibit to the kids a little better … they we’re quite disappointed to discover that it wasn’t an exhibit of playgrounds they could actually play on. We did have one mortifying moment when they saw a wooden swing in one room and tried to sit on it, only to be yelled at by a museum employee. It was one of those parenting moments when you can see that something bad is about to go down, but you can’t get there fast enough! In their defense, there were other parts of the exhibit that were hands-on, and they couldn’t read the sign in Spanish that said not to touch (it was one of our first days in Spain … they quickly learned exactly what no tocar meant!)

adventure playground reina sofia exhibit

Not the installation my kids used as their own personal playground … but you get the idea.

Besides that particular incident, the exhibit was really interesting. I particularly enjoyed the photographs from Helen Levitt, taken in 1940s New York City, of children playing in the streets. Such a different time!

There was also a room full of original playground blueprints from famed architect Aldo van Eyck.

aldo van eyck playground blueprint

And look at this article from post-WWII England:

playgrounds reina sofia

Yes, we would like an anarchist playground!

adventure playground magazine reina sofia

While it was definitely more interesting for me than the kids, they did enjoy some of the hands-on pieces.

playgrounds exhibit madrid

I’d love to see more exhibits like this in art museums across the United States. I think it’s fascinating to see how playgrounds have evolved, and to ponder how we can reinvent the playground for this generation and beyond.

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We’re Off to Spain!

#SixesInSpain

As you read this, we’ll be somewhere over the Atlantic, headed to Madrid! We’re so excited for this trip of a lifetime. We’ll be away for a month, so you’ll notice a change in posting frequency while we’re gone. While I won’t be posting three times a week as usual, I do have some great content lined up for you while we’re away, including a couple of guest posts you’re going to love. I’ll also be reposting a couple of oldies but goodies, for those of you new to The Risky Kids who might have missed them the first go around.

We plan to truly vacation while we’re on vacation, so any help you can give me on sharing the posts you enjoy while we’re gone would be a huge help, and I’ll be forever grateful!

I do hope to update my personal blog, Just Like The Number, from time to time with photos and thoughts from the the things we’ve seen. If you’re not already subscribed, I encourage you to do so if you’d like to follow along on our adventures. I’ll also be sharing photos via Instagram. Be sure to follow me there (I’m AngieSix) if you’d like to keep up with us!

Whether you’re staying close to home or venturing out, we hope you are having a wonderful summer!

 

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Our Riskiest Adventure Yet!

So we have some exciting news here at The Risky Kids! In just one month, we’ll be embarking on our biggest, riskiest adventure to date.

#SixesInSpain

We’re headed to Spain for a month!

The four of us are headed to sunny Spain, with a possible side trip to London, next month. We’ve been planning this trip for years, and we’re thrilled that it’s almost here. We’re obviously excited for the food, the sights, and the people. But from a Risky Kid perspective, I’m also excited to see how another culture approaches parenting and play. We’re already prepping the kids for a much different schedule and lifestyle – later nights, meals in bars, and less hurrying and scurrying.

If you’ve been to Spain and have any recommendations of things we can’t miss, please share them with us! Of course you know me – I’m especially interested in cool playgrounds and parks. We’ll be in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and southern Spain.

What can you expect while we’re gone? Well, I’m in the process of getting some posts ready ahead of time. I’ll also be reposting a few oldies but goodies, revamped for your reading pleasure. I’ll be posting less – once or twice a week instead of my normal three times, but I’m sure you all understand! I’ll be posting updates about our trip on my personal blog, Just Like The Number. Be sure to follow me on Instagram (@angiesix) for some fun pictures as well.

In the meantime, I’d love to have some guests posts lined up! If you’re interested in writing a guest post for The Risky Kids, email me (theriskykids@gmail.com) with your idea. If you happen to have kids who walk to school by themselves, I’d love to hear from you. That’s one of the tasks in 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) that we (unfortunately) aren’t able to do where we live.

Moms, have a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend! I hope it’s lovely and idle!

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Sleepaway Camp: An Essential Childhood Experience

Sleepaway camp essential childhood experience
Portions of this post originally appeared on The Risky Kids last summer. As summer camp season approaches yet again, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the topic of sleepaway camp for kids. If your kids are headed to camp this summer, I highly recommend the Camp Combo label pack from Mabel’s Labels (affiliate link). I’ve used them 2 years in a row now – they’re still holding on strong and we haven’t lost a single thing at camp yet!

Last summer we sent Elena, age 10 (almost 11) at the time, to two weeks of sleepaway camp. It wasn’t her first experience – she’d gone to the same Girl Scout camp for a week the summer before – but it was the longest she’d ever been away from us.

For 11 days and 10 nights we had absolutely no contact with her.  We could send bunk notes (essentially email), but she couldn’t email back.  I sent her with enough stationary and stamps for a trip to Europe, but she’d been too busy having fun to send home more than one postcard.

My husband and I didn’t grow up going to sleepaway camps.  I tried sleep away camp “lite” once and hated it.  It was a day camp that culminated in sleeping outside on the last evening.  I was 5 miles away from home and only gone for 24 hours, but that didn’t stop me from trying every trick in the book to get my mom to pick me up before the night was over.  Elena, on the other hand, really enjoys camp.  Every year we offer her the chance to buddy up and choose a week with friends.  She brushes us off and instead chooses her weeks based on the theme.  Last year it was Harry Potter one week and the Hunger Games (Kamp Katniss) the next.  Every time she went without knowing a soul.

Why do we think it’s important for her to go away to camp, when neither of us have good memories to draw upon?  For so many reasons that I think are essential to growing up.  It’s often a child’s first experience of pulling away.  I want her to learn how to be away from us, and to have fun while doing it.  I want her to start building that treasure chest of memories that don’t include us.  I want her to have that sense of pride of doing something on your own.  I want her to be able to survive for stretches of days without apps and texting and TV and be okay without it.

She came home with the smelliest laundry and the best stories.  The 90-minute ride home is full of chatter about all the amazing things they did during the week.  Any parent of a tween or teen will tell you they would gladly pay whatever the camp fee is just to get a kid that wants to talk to you uninterrupted for 90 minutes.

I hope that summer camper turns into a camp counselor.  I hope the camp counselor turns into an eager college student.  I hope the eager college student turns into a world traveler.  And I hope she is never too homesick and she sends more postcards.

Do you send your kids to sleepaway camp? How did you know they were old enough to go? If you went as a kid, what were your favorite memories?

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Growing Up, Still Playing

Climbing trees

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

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

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

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

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

The Risky Kids

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

Holliday Park Indianapolis

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

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Explore Your Local Nature Center

explore-a-nature-center

What do these questions have in common?

  • How can I explore nature when the weather’s (too cold, too hot, too rainy, etc)?
  • How can I expose my kids to nature when I hate being outside?
  • How can I entertain my kid’s obsession with animals and/or insects without going to a zoo?
  • How can I keep my kid entertained in the winter without resorting to screens or a germy indoor play area?
  • Where can I learn more about the plants, animals, and insects around me?
  • Where can I find inspiring and fun nature-based activities to do with  my kids?

They all have the same answer: Visit your local nature center!

Explore a Nature Center

We’re big fans of our local nature center, but I’m always surprised to find out how many families are unaware both of their existence and the treasure trove of benefits they’re missing out on. We visit our nature center often, and definitely at least once each season. Sometimes we just need something interesting to do. Sometimes I need something to do that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes we want to learn something specific. No matter what our purpose is for going, we always have fun.

Nature Center Animals

Each nature center will be different, but here a few things most nature centers offer:

Interesting things to see:  Most nature centers will have a few animals for kids to see up close and personal. Ours has turtles, lizards, snakes, rodents and insects. It also has a bird viewing area, with binoculars to use for an even better view.

Nature Center Bird Watching

Fun activities to do: Many nature centers will offer a craft or some activity pages for kids to do while they’re there. Most offer special programming, such as crafting projects, story hours, or child-centric hikes.

Resources: Think beyond the library! Nature centers often resources at hand that you can explore, such as identification guides and books to spark or entertain your child’s interests.

Nature Center Resources

Help: The naturalists at your local nature center are there to assist you. They’re happy to help answer questions or to give you ideas about how to incorporate nature into your everyday life. Chances are, whatever question your child has asked that has you stumped, they’ll be able to answer (or point you in the right direction).

Linda from Rain or Shine Mamma has some more great reasons as to why you should explore your local nature center. If you need assistance finding a nature center near you, NatureFind can help.

Have you ever paid a visit to your local nature center? What’s your favorite activity there?

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Risky Places We Love: Treetop Adventure Park

Treetop Adventure Park, Nashville

Benjamin was at camp a this past summer at Tap Root Farm. (He had a blast.) This left Thomas and I both with a day off toget, so I told him that he could plan our day (had I planned it, he would have been in a kayak). He picked ziplining. I had been wanting to try out a new zipline in our town, so off we went. You have to be seven to participate so having Benjamin in camp worked perfectly.

It was a hot day with a chance of thunderstorms but we decided to risk it. We got lucky and had a nice breeze and no rain.

There are three courses available at Treetop Adventure Park – an adult course (ages 12+), a junior course (ages 9-11 with an adult), and a children’s course (ages 7-11, kids only).  We tried the juniors course. It is really more of a ropes course with ziplines in between each adventure challenge.

Treetop Adventure Park, Nashville

We got to wear a harness and sign a waiver, so I was ok with the lack of hardcore ziplines.

The cool part was that once we climbed up the first ladder, we were basically in the treetops for the rest of the time.

Treetop Adventure Park, Nashville. Juniors Course

We had fun! There were a ton of wooden bridges that we had to cross, each with it’s own challenge.

Treetop Adventure Park, Nashville. Juniors Course

I felt like Indiana Jones.

Treetop Adventure Park, Nashville. Zipline

The short ziplines in between the adventure bridges.

At the end were two really long ziplines. We almost missed them, so don’t forget to ask about these.

This tour is not for those who are afraid of heights. Even Thomas didn’t like crawling through the suspended barrels.  There are age, height and weight restrictions so be sure to check the website before you book your tour at Treetop Adventure Park.  If you’re good with all of that, then Treetop Adventures is a great way to bond with your older risky kids!

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When History is Cutting Edge: Conner Prairie Interactive History Park

I just wrote about one of my favorite local treasures, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, a few days ago. Now I’m about to talk up another local gem, Conner Prairie. I realize that The Risky Kids isn’t a hyperlocal blog, but they’re doing things at Conner Prairie that I can’t NOT talk about! So bear with me … and if you’re not from around here? You should really consider a visit!

Allow me to give you a little background on Conner Prairie, a place I’ve been visiting since I was a child. The museum is situated on land that belonged to William Conner in the early 1800s. A wealthy business and statesman, Conner built a beautiful home overlooking the White River. In the 1930s, another wealthy businessman, Eli Lilly (of Lilly Pharmaceutical fame), discovered Conner’s rundown home. A passionate believer in the importance of history, Lilly purchased the home and the land surrounding it and used it for historical reenactments. In the 1970s Conner Prairie was opened to the public as a living history museum. It consisted of “Prairietown,” a village permanently set in 1836. Visitors could walk through the village and meet its inhabitants, where staff dressed, spoke and interacted with visitors as if you’d traveled back in time.

Today, Prairietown is still the cornerstone of Conner Prairie. But what impresses me so much about this particular museum is how it’s constantly evolving and changing to meet the needs of today. In the 7 years since I’ve relocated back to Indianapolis with my family, I’ve seen a different Conner Prairie than the one I grew up with. And what excites me so much about this museum is the effort it makes to bring the past and the future together to get kids excited about history, math, science, and creating.

A couple of weekends ago Conner Prairie hosted a “Curiosity Fair.” The Fair was born out of the museum’s passion for figuring out what kids are curious about and helping them explore the unknown. They asked kids what they wanted to know more about, and then gave them a weekend full of hands-on activities to quench that curiosity. I took Eli and he couldn’t get enough!

He explored how an engine works with the people behind Mechanics Camp. Believing that youth today are missing out on the joy of taking things apart and learning how they work, they are developing programs to get kids dismantling, building, and discovering.

Mechanics Camp

We watched a craft stick bomb set up by 11-year-old Guinness Book of World Record Holder Andre Jefferson.

Craft Stick Bomb

He tried circus tricks.

Conner Prairie Curiosity Fair

He tinkered in the Deconstruction Zone, a tent filled with discarded toys and electronics and every tool you need to take them apart … just to see what’s inside.

Kid deconstructing an appliance

He built an egg protector and then tested it in the Egg-a-Pult to see if his egg could survive.

Egg-a-pult Conner Prairie

He saw how hot air balloons work up close and personal.

Hot Air Balloon Conner Prairie

This was just one weekend, but year round Conner Prairie finds ways to encourage kids’ curiosity. We spend hours in the winter exploring Create.Connect. To keep things fresh, the museum meshes favorite exhibits with new activities based on monthly themes. This month’s theme is Adapting, something our kids will have to do as they face new challenges with less time to devote to play and tinkering. Conner Prairie recognizes this, and does its best to incorporate these vital parts of development into its programming. I appreciate this so much, and know how lucky we are to have an “old-fashioned” museum that is on the cutting edge of arts and science programming for kids.

Much as the pioneers of 1836 embraced an unknown landscape full of possibility with a spirit of adventure, eagerness and ingenuity, Conner Prairie applies that same spirit to inspire kids of today to do the same. I hope if you find yourselves nearby you’ll make time for a visit to Conner Prairie. And I hope as word of the amazing things Conner Prairie is doing spreads, many more museums and institutions will follow in their footsteps.

This post is not sponsored by Conner Prairie in any way.  I am simply a museum member and supporter who loves the work they’re doing.

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