The New Playscape at The Children’s Museum {Ticket Giveaway!}

This giveaway is now closed.  Congrats to our winner, Kelly!

The Children’s Museum has long been an Indianapolis treasure, both to its residents and the many visitors that come through its doors year after year. I’ve been going to the Museum since I was a child, and I’ve watched it grow and change over the years, from a small museum to the top-rated institution it is today. It’s consistently rated as one of the top 10 children’s museums in the United States.

One of the things The Children’s Museum does so very well is cater to all different age groups. Whether you’re visiting with toddlers or teens, you’ll find exhibits that make everyone happy. For years my own family’s visits have always included a trip to Playscape.

This special gallery is designed for the youngest of visitors (ages 5 and under), and sometimes we spent nearly our entire visit just in Playscape! We weren’t the only ones, and the Playscape gallery got A LOT of love, so much so that it was in need of renovation.

Well, the wait is finally over and just last month the new Playscape gallery was unveiled! Eli and I had a chance to preview the Playscape just before it opened, and to say that I was blown away would be the understatement of the year.

Pond Climber in the brand new Playscape at The Children's Museum. Such a beautiful space!

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Playscape is that it is full of beautiful, natural light. Gone is the dark, small space I remember. The new Playscape gallery design was inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy, which considers the environment to be the third teacher (along with home and school). The floor to ceiling windows, along with the natural colors and environmental design theme, make it feel as if you’re playing in the trees.

Several elements that are integral to children’s play are present in the new Playscape. The favorites from the old Playscape are here, but redone beautifully.

There’s sand play, with typical sand features along with a zen-like rotating turntable. I want one of these in my home – it was so soothing!

Embedly Powered

There’s water play in “The Creek”, complete with a waterfall you can walk under.

Water play. Playscape at the Children's Museum

But my favorite is the addition of the Lilypad Climber. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s just challenging enough for little arms and legs.

Lilypad Climber. Children's Museum Indianapolis

Other areas include an Art Studio, a Music Studio, and a special enclosed area for babies and toddlers.

Art Studio. Playscape, Children's Museum

Eli loved it all, but he was especially enamored with the Reaction Contraption, a Rube Goldberg inspired feature. With so many variations and ways to manipulate the balls, tracks and ramps, he could’ve easily spent the whole evening in this one spot alone.

Reaction Contraption in Playscape. Children's Museum Indianapolis

I’m a little wistful that my children are above the age range for the Playscape gallery, but I’m thrilled for the new generation of children that will get to experience it themselves. I have so many wonderful memories spent learning and playing together with my children in the Playscape as toddlers and preschoolers.

Thanks to the generosity of The Children’s Museum, I have 2 tickets to give away so that you can begin making your own precious memories with your little ones! The tickets are for Children’s Museum Admission (valued at $18.50 each), which not allows access to the Playscape Gallery as well as all the other wonderful exhibits in the museum.  You can earn up to four entries by following these instructions:

  • Leave a comment telling me which Children’s Museum exhibit you’re most looking forward to sharing with your family.
  • Tweet and/or share this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter.  Leave separate comments for each telling me that you did so for them to count as entries.
  • Let me know if you like The Risky Kids on Facebook.  Leave a comment letting me know you like us!
Giveaway will end Thursday, September 26th at 11:59 pm EST.  Winner will be notified via email and have 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.   Good luck!

 

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Risky Places We Love: City Museum – St. Louis

City Museum, St. Louis: suspended airplane

Is it wrong to plan an entire trip around one museum?  If it is, I don’t want to be right.

I can’t remember where or when I first heard about  City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, but from the first mention I knew it was a place The Risky Family had to visit.  City Museum is a one-of-a-kind place, an ever-changing tribute to the endless possibilities of urban play.

City Museum, St. Louis: praying mantis slide

City Museum was created in 1997 by sculptor and entrepreneur Bob Cassilly.  Housed in a former shoe warehouse in downtown St. Louis, the museum features floor after floor of repurposed castoffs.  Bridges, tile, vehicles, rebar, stones, ramps, sculptures, airplanes, even a ferris wheel … anything is candidate to be turned into a playground for adults and kids alike.

We spent a good part of a day there and didn’t explore half of it.  But the nooks and crannies we did explore were amazing, exhilirating, and yes, a little bit scary.

Teetering high above the St. Louis skyline on the rooftop ferris wheel …

City Museum, St. Louis: rooftop ferris wheel

Climbing at seemingly impossible angles …

City Museum, St. Louis

City Museum, St. Louis: praying mantis climber

Trying not to fall in the water …

City Museum, St. Louis: stepping stones

Exploring dark places …

City Museum, St. Louis: maze

If we lived in St. Louis we would be here ALL THE TIME.  That being said, I can see how this museum might not be everyone’s cup of tea.  At ages 6 and 11, and arriving at the museum early enough to where it wasn’t overly crowded, I felt comfortable letting the kids roam on their own a bit.  This isn’t a place where you can keep the kids in sight at all times, not unless you follow them everywhere.  And by following everywhere you are committing yourself to some very high and sometimes very small spaces!  With that in mind, I can see how coming here with younger children could be overwhelming.  (If any of you visit the museum with young ones and have some tips to share for other readers, please do so!)  For older kids, though, I think this is exactly what the creators intended – a place to play with calculated risk, plenty of opportunities for independence, and loads of fun!

City Museum, St. Louis: skate ramp

You can view more photos from our visit on my flickr page.  City Museum is located at 701 North 15th Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63103.  Please check the website for hours and admission information.

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The Pocket Park: Tiny But Mighty Fun

Fishers, Indiana Pocket Park

There is a small stretch of my town that has so much potential. It has good sidewalks, several nice shops and restaurants within walking distance of each other, a weekend farmers market, and an ice cream shop to die for. The only drawback? There isn’t a public space to gather. Sure, you can sit outside at a restaurant or jockey for a space on a small brick wall (and watching moms like me try to hoist themselves up on said brick wall is part of the entertainment), but if you want a nice place to sit and visit or simply people watch, you’re out of luck. I always thought that was such a shame.

Earlier this summer I noticed that a small lot adjacent to the ice cream shop was getting a facelift. An eyesore of a building was demolished and the lot was cleaned up. Pavers and landscaping soon followed. Around the same time there was an announcement on my town’s Facebook page that they were developing the community’s first Pocket Park. They asked for guesses as to where the first park might be, as well as took suggestions for areas within the community that could use one.

What exactly is a Pocket Park? Also known as a Pop-Up Park, it is a small space within a town or city that is accessible to the general public. They are often built on vacant lots or other unused spaces. Because they are meant to simply provide a green space for community to gather and sit, they are inexpensive and fairly simple to plan and execute. They don’t require costly playground equipment or fancy features.

As you might have guessed, the area we witnessed undergoing the transformation was indeed the location of our first Pocket Park. From start to finish I would say it was completed in under 2 months. It has several benches to sit on, places to park bikes, a chalkboard wall, and my favorite feature: a ping pong table.

Fishers, Indiana Pocket Park

The ping pong table was the brainchild of a nearby local clothing shop, Vardagen. You can either bring your own ping pong balls and paddles, or you can pop into the shop and borrow some.

I love that we live in such a playful community, and that they consider the fact that all ages need playful spaces. Is this a great park for toddlers and preschoolers? No, but we have many parks in the community that meet that need. Is it a great park for tweens, teens and adults? Absolutely. Whether you’re playing ping pong, writing a message, or talking and laughing with friends, you’re having fun and that is the essence of play. Rarely do we walk or drive by the park and not see at least a few people gathering there.

I hope to see more of these Pocket Parks in my community. Is this something you’ve seen in your community? If you could design your own Pocket Park, where would you put it and what elements would you include?

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Camping 101: a Brilliant Program from Camptown for Rookie Campers

Camping Gothic.

Earlier this week I wrote about how we checked yet another adventure off the list of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). This time around it was “Sleep in the Wild.”

Some of you may scoff at the idea that of all the things we do, such as ziplining, climbing trees, or letting our tween go to the store by herself, we’d find camping to be the riskiest things we’ve tried yet. But if you’ve never camped before, and especially if you’ve never camped with kids, it can seem both daunting and decidedly risky. What to pack? What gear is essential and what gear is silly? What do we eat? How do we cook it? What do you do with a tent once you unpack it?

Mike and I did not grow up in camping families and it was never something we felt called to try as adults before we had kids. The allure of camping is so appealing to children, though, and with each passing summer the kids lobbied passionately to include a camping trip in our summer plans. It wasn’t that Mike and I didn’t want to, we just didn’t know where to start. I’m sure there are a lot of you who feel like we did – wanting to try camping on for size, but not wanting to go it alone and risk the experience being an epic failure. Or maybe you kind of figure it out on your own, but decide camping just isn’t for you, the pile of gear you invested in for one weekend of camping now a source of frustration instead of fun.

Earlier this summer the answer to our camping conundrum came in the form of an email from a local organization called Camptown. Camptown is a not-for-profit that works with youth in central Indiana. Their mission is to challenge, mentor and teach youth through outdoor adventure and nature programs. While the majority of their programs cater to at-risk youth, they also offer programs that encourage youth and families to explore and become comfortable in the great outdoors.

Through the email, I learned about one such program: Camping for Rookies. The idea behind Camping for Rookies is to give families who want to try camping a chance to do so without having to worry about the gear, how to start a fire, how to pitch a tent … all the details that keep families from trying camping in the first place. Camptown collaborates with Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs to reserve campsites and provide families with everything they need for a weekend of camping.

Camping for Rookies via The Risky Kids

For a completely reasonable cost of $50, we were provided with tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and 3 meals. To ensure that the experience is as encouraging and fun as possible, volunteers are available the entire weekend, helping you set up camp, showing you how to start, maintain, and cook over a fire, and hosting programs and hikes. All we had to bring were our clothes, some bug spray, and an open mind.  We spent Eli’s birthday weekend at Paynetown State Recreation Area, on the shores of beautiful Lake Monroe.

Family Camping at Lake Monroe

We swam, we hiked, we feasted on s’mores, and we learned that we are, indeed, a camping family.

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

I can’t think of a better way to set families up for success … and some amazing memories. We knew we’d met kindred souls when the volunteers busted out the slackline! We had a blast and we now have the confidence to know that we can invest in some gear and plan our own great camping adventures.

Camping 101 via The Risky Kids

If you live in Indiana, you can take advantage of this wonderful program, too! Camptown and Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs have two more Camping for Rookies programs coming up at various locations this year:

They are also offering a Day Hike at Shades State Park on November 16.  Spaces are filling up, so I encourage you to call Camptown at 317-471-8277 and make your reservation soon.  I have no affiliation with Camptown and wasn’t asked to post on their behalf – we just had an amazing experience that I want to share with as many people as possible!

In the near future I will share a few other resources that I think are invaluable to families who are new to camping but want to learn how to make it part of their family’s tradition.  If you know of any other similar programs where you live, or have some great camping resources to share with rookie campers, please let us know in the comments!

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Mammoth Cave National Park: Our First Family National Park Experience

For years, driving back and forth between our bases of Nashville, Tennessee and Indianapolis, Indiana, we’ve passed Mammoth Cave National Park.  We never stopped, though.  Either the kids were too little to appreciate or enjoy the cave or we were pressed for time, trying to get from Point A to Point B.  This summer, we planned a trip to Nashville and found ourselves with plenty of time to get there and back.  Finally, a stop at Mammoth Cave was in order.

Our visit was fantastic.  The drive into the park is beautiful.  I’ll admit, I got a little hitch in my throat when we came to the entrance and saw the sign for Mammoth Cave.  I have many fond memories of posing for just such photos as a child.

Mammoth Cave National Park with kids

We took the Historic Entrance Tour, which was roughly 2 hours and described as a difficulty level of moderate.  Eli, who is almost 6, did just fine.  He really enjoyed it, but I would say a tour of this length and difficulty is probably the max you would want to attempt with the 6 and under crowd.  There are many tours to choose from, ranging from short and easy to long and strenuous.  We want to try them all!  Advanced reservations are not required, but they are recommended.  We reserved our tour the day before, and already several other tours we were interested in were sold out.

Obviously, it is difficult to take good photos 250 feet underground, but Elena snapped a few in the area of the cave known as Frozen Niagara.  It was so cool, even as an adult, to see formations you’ve only read about or seen in pictures.

Mammoth Cave National Park Historic Entrance Tour with kids

Frozen Niagara - Mammoth Cave National Park

It certainly made an impact on the kids.  Inside the Visitor’s Center Gift Shop, you can purchase a Passport To Your National Parks.  It’s a perfect souveneir (only $8.95).  The Passport is a guide to all of our nation’s National Parks, organized by region.  Along with a full-size map of the National Park System, each region has a map, text, photos, and a listing of all the parks in that region.  Just like a real passport, there is space within each region to get your Passport canceled.  Most National Parks have stations at the visitor center where you can stamp your Passport with the name of the park you visited as well as the date.  The kids were so psyched to to get their Passports canceled and are already making plans to visit every National Park in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky … this summer.  Next summer, according to them, we’ll hit the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the giant sequoias.  I’m game!

National Parks Passport - great souvenir for kids

I can’t believe it took us this long to begin exploring our great National Parks system with our kids.  Have you made these national treasures a part of your family’s vacations already?  If so, what are your favorites?

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The Giant Swing

A few weeks ago we traded one hour of screen time for an extra hour of outdoor play as part of KaBOOM!’s Screen Free Week. I knew when I pitched the idea that bribery was probably going to be part of Screen Free Week.   I was overjoyed when Benjamin suggested that zip lining would be an excellent reward for a (mostly) screen free week.

We headed back to Adventureworks for another zip line tour. We had a great time, but we kept hearing a rowdy group cheering and screaming. Our guide told us it was probably coming from The Giant Swing.  After our zip tour, we just had to check it out.

Oh man, was it cool.

In the middle of the forest is a harness and pulley system that hoists you up about a thousand feet and then drops you till you are swinging way above the trees.

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 You get up so high, I don’t even know which kid this is.

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 Hoist, Minions!

One person got to swing while the rest of us used the pulley system to hoist him to the tree tops.  You could go as high up as you wanted.  Most of us went as high as we could, but for those not as comfy with heights, you could stop at any time.  You got two swings.  We all tried it, even the adults.

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Does this harness make my butt look big like Beyonce’s?

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A waiver, a harness AND we got to climb a ladder? It was a great day. The look of shock  as everyone pulled the rip cord and swung was priceless.

You really need to be comfortable with heights to make this adventure work. But if you can get past that, it’s totally fun and I can’t wait to do it again.

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Risky Places We Love: Adventureworks

We love to zipline here at The Risky Kids. It doesn’t matter if it is in a cave, outside or somewhere in the rainforest, we highly recommend you get out there and try it.

Here in middle Tennessee we’re lucky to have a place like Adventureworks. They offer a canopy zipline tour with 9 ziplines, as well as an aerial trekking treetop adventure course and a challenge rope course (that’s next on our list). What’s even cooler is that the different courses can be tailored to fit different groups, whether you’re looking for a team-building activity, a family outing, or even a couples adventure.

Thomas and I have zipped at Adventureworks before the Benj got to try out his first zipline.

Adventureworks Zip Line
He had no fear.

Adventureworks Zip Line

Our friends, Emily and John, also got their first zipline adventure.

Adventureworks Zip Line

I was most proud of Mom Bistany. This was her first time to zipline. She was honest – she wasn’t so sure about the idea. She isn’t too fond of heights, but she faced her fear and won. She zipped like a pro! It was cool to hear her thank her son, Monkey John, for helping her to get outside and try something daring.

Adventureworks

Adventureworks Obstacle

There were some really cool bridges that we got to walk across.

Believe it or not, ziplining is a great activity for those of you who would like to try something risky but are hesitant to take the leap.  By finding a credentialed course, you’re actually trying something that’s safe but feels really risky.  It’s exhilarating!  It’s especially great as a family activity for parents who are a little more reserved than their adventure-seeking kids.  You’ll have a blast, and the kids will think the world of you for trying something out of your comfort zone.

Adventureworks is located in Kingston Springs, just west of Nashville.  Visit adventureworks.com or call them at 615-297-2250 to book your adventure today!

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Risky Places We Love: Tap Root Farm

Last summer, I got a flyer in the mail for a summer camp at Tap Root Farm in Franklin, Tennessee. I looked at the calendar and realized that I had two weeks of summer left and enough energy and fun ideas for two days. I signed both kids up for a week of camp. The camp included creek play, horseback riding, animal care lessons and free play. There was a parent meeting on day one and that was when I fell in love with the camp and its leader, Susan. Susan informed us that our children would be:

  •  Packing their own lunch and water bottles for the remainder of the week. Gasp! 
  •  Earning points for doing service projects. A service project was anything helpful around the house that our kids don’t normally do and will now do without being asked. Wow!
  •  Returned to us on Friday more responsible than when we dropped them off. Do I hear angels singing?

This camp could not have come at a better time in our lives. I was on a one-woman mission to decrease our dependance on technology as entertainment. I had just instituted our token system that allowed the kids to earn tokens which they could trade for time with technology. The kids were learning the value of chores to earn what they wanted and feeling the sting of losing technology for unacceptable behavior. Susan’s message was exactly what my kids needed to hear.

This camp wore my kids out. It is the first camp that has ever done that. They played, they worked and they learned. At the same time, they had “Big Time Fun,” which is the motto of the camp.

Since camp, Ben and I both have started taking horseback riding lessons with Susan and her staff.

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I was surprised at how much horseback riding works your body and your brain. These horses are big and strong, and often act like toddlers. It forces you to be focused,  disciplined, respectful and consistent. The lessons have given Benjamin the opportunity to be a leader and even teach his mother a thing or two. He has already started jumping and can trot better than I can.

Tap Root Farm is a working farm. The cows on the farm are free range, grain fed and organic. And out of this world tasty. My kids now know where their beef comes from.

Susan is tough. She knows how to bring out the best in my kids. Tap Root Farm is certainly a Risky Place We Love.

Tap Root Farm is on the web at taprootfarm.com There is a wait list for freezer beef but smatter packs are usually available on a first come first served basis. In addition to camp and horseback riding lessons, they offer rodeos, a 5K and are available to host events.

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Are Playgrounds Too Boring?

Late last summer I spent some time talking to Sumathi Reddy, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  She was writing an article about playground safety – how standards have developed and what impact these changes have had on children.  “Playing It Too Safe?” was published in November amid lots of chatter among play and child-development experts.

While my comments didn’t make it into the finished article, it did give me a chance to think about the effect cookie-cutter playgrounds have on my kids.  The number one effect?  After a certain age (around 7 for Elena, and I’m seeing signs of it in Eli at 5), they don’t really want to go the playground anymore.  We have a few unique playgrounds nearby that still elicit excitement from them, but gone are the days when any old slide would do.

I’ve also observed that my kids will use these more monotonous playgrounds to exercise different ways to experience risk.  Take a look at this playground:

Brooks School Park

It was built less than 2 years ago.  It has several elements typical playgrounds lack: wobbly ropes, climbing boulders, musical features, and heights (the main playspace is 3 stories tall).  Even the 10-year-old enjoys this playground.  When we’re here, they play on the equipment as it’s meant to be played … following the playground “rules,” if you will.

This one is a hit, too. Again, notice multiple different climbing possibilities (including the spider web climber in the back), as well as the height.

Holliday Park

Down the street from our house, we have a small, typical playground.  A bank of swings, two small slides, a set of monkey bars.  I dread this playground if other moms are present, because I know my kids are going to do things that will get me dirty looks from them.  They climb and sit on top of the monkey bars. They run up the slide.  They leave the playground to play in the ravine nearby.

Child-development experts point to these kinds of playgrounds and say my kids are doing it for good reason – they’re trying to find ways to challenge themselves in a play environment that is very unchallenging.  And so I cheer them on while trying to avoid the stink-eye from the mom on the other bench.  And I try to seek out places where they can have fun and be challenged, though they are few and far between.

What has your experience been?  Do you (or your kids) find today’s playgrounds too boring?  Are there any playgrounds you’ve visited that have newer or riskier features you’re kids love?

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Risky Places We Love: The Skatepark

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My older son, Thomas got a skateboard for his birthday. We signed him up for skateboard lessons and headed to the skatepark. He did great, and it looked like fun. I got tired of watching all the skating and decided what better way to bond with my kids than to try it myself?

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I had my friend, Jessie, build me this sweet board. She and her husband, Donny, own our local skate shop, Franklin Skate Shop. Jessie offered a class in beginning skateboarding for moms, so of course I signed up. She said it would be a total workout and she was right … a totally thrilling workout. Skateboards are unstable and they move fast. They have four wheels, but I swear, you really only need two.  The only problem is that the kids make it look so easy. It’s not.

I took a lot of classes and that video is pretty much the summit of my skating skills.  Not too shabby for a mom whose had knee surgery, though.

You can do more than just skateboard at the skatepark, though.  Thomas and Ben got rollerblades recently, and we spent most of Thanksgiving break at the skatepark.

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If wheels are too much for the kids to handle, no worries.  Ben enjoys running around the bowl in his sneakers.

As with anything risky, there can be a downside to the skatepark. There are bound to be teens at the skatepark, and where there are teens there’s probably some colorful language. In the photo above, Ben is perched next to a few salty words we’ve edited out (we’ve already hit our quota on R-rated blog posts this year). The way I see it, you can shelter your kids or you can use real life occurances like this as an opportunity to talk about what we do and do not say as a kid. Swearing aside, I’ve found that most skateparks are filled with polite kids who are more than happy to show off their skills and to give tips or helpful hints.

Disclaimer: Skateboarding is an actual RISKY sport. Buy a quality skateboard and take a few lessons. I recommend wearing a helmet and pads. A lot of pads. You are going to fall and it will leave a mark! Just ask to see the scar on my chin. Yeah, I got that falling off my skateboard.

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