Unplug Your Fun With Me

Hello? Is this thing on?

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Family Hiking

It’s been awhile! Nearly two years to be exact. While I may not be writing about our adventures on here anymore, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been having lots of fun. As my kids grow older (14 and 9 now!), the lure of the screen gets stronger. Instead of giving up and just submitting to constant distraction as a way of life, I’m more determined than ever to find ways to engage my kids in a world outside of Xbox and Snapchat.

Boy at Skatepark

That’s why I’m really excited about a new venture I’m taking on that I think you’ll really like. I’ve joined the team at Unplug Your Fun, a family-owned business whose mission aligns perfectly with The Risky Kid Mission: worry less, play more, and bring back screen-free family fun. Unplug Your Fun sells games, toys and puzzles that go hand-in-hand with screen-free play and family game time. In addition to the online store, Unplug Your Fun’s blog aims to be a resource for families that want to find ways to connect by disconnecting from our devices. We’re just starting out together, but I hope you’ll join us on the journey and become a part of the Unplug Your Fun community.

Bring Back Family Fun With Unplug Your Fun!

Connect with Unplug Your Fun by subscribing to the blog and by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Let me know what you’d like to see us cover and I’ll try to make it happen. Thank you!

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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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New Kiwi Crates Have Hatched!

Kiwi Crate

We’ve been loyal Kiwi Crate subscribers for over 2 years now. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times a day that was quickly headed south was saved by pulling out the latest Kiwi Crate.

Kiwi Crate catapult

Even though I pin tons of crafty activities onto Pinterest, I wouldn’t call myself a crafty person. This is why I love Kiwi Crate so much. They take the best crafts for kids, tailor them to themes kids love, pack it up in a handy box, and deliver it to your front door. You get everything you need, avoiding the inevitable meltdown when you’ve built up a super-fun craft only to realize you are FRESH out of googly-eyes. A few other things I love about Kiwi Crate:

    • The materials that come inside the Crates are really high quality … like, nicer than stuff I would actually buy my own kids. Thanks to our Kiwi Crate subscription, we’ve managed to stock our art supply cabinet with great arts and craft supplies that my kids love to use. Besides arts and crafts items, we’ve collected some really cool tools for tinkering as well, such as test tubes, droppers, and ping pong balls.
    • Oftentimes, the craft projects themselves end up being things the kids play with over and over again. We once made our own gameboard, which Eli still plays. Penguin bowling is still a hit, too.

Kiwi Crate penguin bowling

  • Most of the time, the kids can do the craft with little to no assistance from me. Win-win for all of us.
  • You can add a sibling box if you want to be absolutely sure that all the kids have enough materials, but I’ve yet to receive a box that didn’t provide enough for both of my kids to do the craft at least once.
  • Speaking of siblings, sometimes that hour or so they spend on a Kiwi Crate craft is the only time they get along for the entire day. Or week.
  • You can squirrel the box away and save it for when you really need it. I often stash the crate in the closet as soon as it’s delivered, and save it for one of those days. You know, when you’ve been snowed in for 3 days straight, when you’ve banned all screens, when everything you suggest to do is B-O-R-I-N-G. Of course, good luck to you if the kids catch sight of you before you can hide it. Mine drop everything to tear into it.
  • If you need a break from the subscription (school gets busy, money gets tight, life happens), you can pause it at any time.

Kiwi Crate crafts

For all these reasons and more, I’ve been recommending Kiwi Crate to everyone with kids, or who knows a kid (It definitely made last year’s Holiday Gift Guide). And so I was getting a little bummed out when I realized that my kids are slowly growing out of the Kiwi Crate. They’re aimed at ages 4-8. I’d say the upper age range could definitely go higher, but at age 12, Elena is pretty much done with them. And Eli, who has never been super interested in crafting, is growing out of the more artsy projects as well.

That’s why I was beyond stoked to see that news that Kiwi Crate is expanding to add 3 new subscriptions to go along with the classic Kiwi Crate:

Koala Crate >>

    • The Koala Crate (Ages 3-4): While some preschoolers could do the Kiwi Crate crafts with assistance, this will be perfect for little hands.

Tinker Crate >>

    • The Tinker Crate (Ages 9-14+): Hands-on projects to explore science, technology and math.

Doodle Crate >>

  • The Doodle Crate (Ages 9-16+): DIY art projects geared toward girls.

We’re all excited to try the Tinker Crate. The first one comes out next month, and I can’t wait to see how the kids do with it. I think they’re at the perfect age for this new Crate to be a big hit. I’ll be sure to post a detailed review as soon as we have our hands on it!

In the meantime, you can pre-order the new crates now at kiwicrate.com. No matter what the ages or interests of your children, I definitely recommend at least trying one box. I think, like us, you’ll be hooked!

Disclosure: I was not paid by Kiwi Crate or provided product in exchange for this post. Kiwi Crate is simply a product we’ve used and loved, and thought you might enjoy as well. I am, however, a Kiwi Crate affiliate. If you purchase a subscription through the links provided, I do receive some compensation.

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DIY Geocache Kit

Make a geocache kit

Have you ever tried geocaching? If not, you definitely should! Think of it like a modern day treasure hunt. People hide “caches” in different locations. In order to find these caches, you get the coordinates of the cache’s location and use a GPS to locate it. Once you find it, there’s usually a logbook to sign. You leave the cache exactly as you found it, so that the next geocacher can do the same.

Geocaching is a perfect family activity. If you’re already an outdoor-loving family, it just one more fun thing to do outdoors. And if you struggle with getting yourself or the kids outdoors, geocaching is a great way to spend time outdoors while focused on an entirely different activity. Many geocaches contain a collection of small trinkets or goodies. Once you’ve found the cache, you can leave something of greater or equal value and take something fun home with you. My kids, who aren’t big on walks or hikes, will walk for miles just to find a geocache and some possible treasures!

The best thing about geocaching is that it’s not limited to one area or environment. You can find caches all over the world, in both urban and suburban environments. It adds an extra element of fun to traveling – what geocaches can we find while we’re away?

You don’t need much to get started geocaching, but you do need a few things. You need some sort of GPS system. Serious geocachers have special GPS devices. We just use my smartphone. You’ll need a basic membership from Geocaching.com so that you can log in and find GPS coordinates for caches. The app, while not required, is very helpful while you’re out and about. Others before me have written wonderful articles on how to get started geocaching. Here are a few of my favorite resources:

Today I’m going to share with you how to make your very own geocache kit. Not only is it a great way to get started yourself, these kits make great gifts for other kids or families. They’re super easy to put together, and before you know it you’ll be on your way! The bonus is that once you’ve tried geocaching a few times, you’ll probably be inspired to make and hide your own cache. The kit provides a few things you’ll need if you want to do that as well.

DIY Geocache Kit

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Small plastic container
  • iTunes gift card to purchase the geocaching app (only if you’ll be giving it as a gift)
  • Compass (not necessary for finding the cache, as you’ll use your GPS, but fun for kids to track which direction you’re headed)
  • Small trinkets to leave behind
  • Pencil
  • Notebook
  • Small plastic baggie (to protect the notebook from water)

Just gather all the items in the plastic container. If it’s a gift, wrap it in something fun or nature-themed. If not, you have a handy storage container for all your supplies that stores easily in the car or a backpack. Now get out there and have fun hunting!

 

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Family Game Night: On the Road!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Games are a big part of our family life, so naturally as we’re preparing for our riskiest adventure yet, I knew we’d want to bring along some games. Of course, the name of the traveling game is packing light, so we couldn’t very well bring along the Catan board or deluxe Scrabble.

The good news is there are tons of fun, family-friendly games that are small enough to fit in carry-on bags or backpacks. We plan on bringing several – some old favorites and some new additions – to pass the time in airports, trains and hotels. Besides being great boredom busters, games can be a great ice-breaker when meeting new people at home or abroad. Here’s are the games that are hitching a ride with us to Europe:

Best Travel Games for Families

A deck of cards: You can’t go wrong with the classics. We don’t typically play card games as a family, but we can always spend a layover teaching the kids the fine art of solitaire. Mike loves card games, so if the opportunity arises to learn a new game from a local, we’ll be prepared.

Uno and Rat-A-Tat-CatBoth of these card games are big hits with our family, and games we can all play together.

KanoodleThis is a new game for us, but it came highly recommended by a few other travel bloggers. It will be a surprise, and I’ll be ready to pull it out when boredom strikes.

BackgammonI found a small, magnetic travel version and snapped it up. We’ve been talking about learning how to play for months.

Rubik’s CubeAnother classic. Whether it’s an older kid or an adult trying to solve it, or a preschooler just creating patterns, it’s endlessly entertaining and takes up very little space.

BananagramsThis one would be tricky on a plane, but perfect for airport floors or by the pool at the hotel. I really want to watch my Spanish relatives play it in their own language, too!

Mad Libs: I scooped one of these up at Five Below for $1.50. They come in lots of fun themes, and are always good for a laugh. I’ll pull this out when anyone has a case of the grumps!

What are your favorite games that travel well?

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Every Family Needs a Ned

Meet Ned:

Ned the Phone Monster

He’s a phone monster. If you have a smart phone and a family, you need a Ned.

Ned is the brilliant creation of Jenny and Josh Solar. I first came across the Solar family through their blog, The Happy Family Movement. In the early days of The Risky Kids, they were a huge inspiration. Their passion for living a life full of experiences over things and for making family memories was a natural tie-in to The Risky Kid’s motto to play more and worry less.

Like many of us, Jenny found herself struggling with technology’s impact on family life. It’s easy to nag the kids about their screen time, but it can be painful to turn the focus on ourselves and our dependence on technology … especially our smart phones. Like Jenny, I find my iPhone to be both a blessing and a curse. I’m able to capture our playful lives and memorable family moments in ways I never could before through videos and photos. It allows me to work on the go, to stay connected with friends and family, to broaden my horizons and keep me from making a wrong turn.

But.

It certainly comes with a price if we’re not mindful. As much as it connects me, it also disconnects me from my family. The text that goes off during dinner. The overwhelming desire to see who is doing what on Instagram. The need to check it one more time before bed. I know I’m not alone, and so do the Solars.

Ned the Phone Monster is a brilliant and fun solution to an ever-growing problem. He’s adorable, and kids will naturally be drawn to him. He sits on your countertop, just begging you to feed him your phone, keeping it out of sight so that you can get on with your life. I know for us, out of sight equals out of mind with any kind of technology … both for kids and adults. And we know from our experiences during Screen-Free Week that even an hour a day with no screens does wonders for reconnecting with your family.

how-ned-works 2

The Solars are launching a Kickstarter campaign to get Ned into homes across the country. I think it’s a fabulous idea, and one that many of you would be happy to support. Please take a few minutes to visit their website and learn more about Ned as well as The Happy Family Movement. If you’re ready to put down your phone and pick up your life, Ned is the guy monster for you!

Ned Kickstarter

Disclosure: I am not affiliate with Ned or the Solars in any way. I have not been compensated for this post. I’m a fan of The Happy Family Movement and am happy to support and spread the word about Ned because I love the idea!

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Risky Reads: The Laundry Basket Edition

Asleep in the laundry basket

For about a week last month, Eli became mildly obsessed with the laundry basket. Sadly, it had nothing to do with folding the clothing in the laundry basket. But he did drag it around with him through the house, using it as a boat, a jail for his LEGOs, and a cozy, blanket and pillow-filled reading nook. One evening I checked in on him before bed. He was sleeping in the laundry basket! He did this for a couple of nights. Can you imagine if we tried to sleep like that? My neck would never be the same again!

While Eli found 101 uses for a laundry basket, I found a few things around the internet I thought you might enjoy (and that won’t give you a crick in the neck).

Have a kid that’s interested in coding? Check out this fabulous roundup of 20 resources for teaching kids how to code.

Homework can be such a burden on some families. This dad worried about the amount and intensity of his 8th-grade daughter’s homework, so he decided to do her homework for a week. The result is this essay, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me.”

If that has you down, get ready to be inspired! Have you seen Childhood Unplugged? A group of photographers submits photos monthly of kids engaged in the art of play. All is not lost, friends.

This insect hotel, made of natural materials, would be a beautiful and practical addition to a natural backyard. What a great project for kids to study beneficial insects in their own backyard!

I love this DIY Upcycled Inventor’s Box. It would keep my kids busy for hours, and I’d love to see what creations they’d come up with.

I write for the parenting blog over at Bedtime Math. Last month we explored tessellations, made our own lava lamps, and created some cool domino cascades. This week we found a way to color Easter Eggs volcano-style. Lots of cool stuff going on over there – be sure to check it out!

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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Pop-Up Adventure Play: Adventures in Cardboard

Cardboard box play via The Risky Kids

Have you ever heard of child-directed play? You may not have heard of it, but chances are you’ve probably engaged in it with your own kids. It’s spending time playing with a child, but letting the child decide what to play and how to play it. The adult can observe, take directions from the child, and interact with the child, but the main focus is letting the child lead the way. The adult doesn’t make suggestions or ask lots of questions about what the child is doing, they simply let themselves get swept along in the magic that is play.

In order to foster child-directed play, a child needs to have play things around them that inspire them to play, create and build. Loose parts (materials that can be combined, taken apart, moved, and put back together again in multiple ways) are the perfect inspiration for child-directed play. Items such as stones, blocks, fabric, balls, buckets, sticks, PVC pipe, rope, tape are the perfect things to keep on hand for child-directed play. Of course, the grandaddy of them all, the one thing that will set off a child’s imagination like nothing else, is the cardboard box.

Pop Up Adventure Play

Pop-Up Adventure Play, whose mission is that “together, we can all support child-directed play – one cardboard box at a time,” is an organization dedicated to supporting play in all communities. I first heard about after seeing photos from one of their Pop-Up Tours this winter. I loved the idea of communities getting together and giving kids free run to play as they wish, with loads of cool, upcycled materials, in the presence of supportive adults.

The tour is almost over, and I was bummed that it wasn’t coming anywhere near me, but that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t encourage this kind of play as well, either with our families or in our own little communities. Pop-Up Adventure Play wants to help get you started. Sign up for their mailing list and they’ll send you a free Mini Pop-Up kit. To learn more about Pop-Up Adventure Play, visit their website or follow them on social media. In the meantime, I’m gathering all kind of loose parts and hoarding cardboard boxes for our own pop-up adventure this spring!

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Messy Play Saves the Day!

Outdoor Messy Play via The Risky Kids

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of messy play – why kids need it and how to incorporate it into your play repertoire using simple kitchen tools and ingredients. I also shared a few tricks to help minimize the mess. After all, there’s a fine line between messy play and creating a disaster to clean up.

One of the many benefits of warmer days is the opportunity to take messy play outdoors. It’s the best of all possible situations – the kids get time outdoors doing what they love best (making messes), and you don’t find yourself mopping up after they’re done concocting and playing mad scientist.

Shaving cream and cornstarch via The Risky Kids

Another benefit of messy play is its ability to improve any mood. I discovered this the other day with Eli. It was a pretty day with just a slight chill in the air. After a day at school, Eli wanted nothing but the iPad. I took it away after his allotted after-school time and was instantly faced with the deadly combination of the boredom and grumpiness. There was no one else available to play and naturally it was the witching hour. You’re familiar, right? It’s that hour before dinner when the kids demand the most attention while you’re simultaneously trying to get dinner on the table and recuperate from the day.

I often find that it’s in these situations when I’m most likely to cave and give in to more screen time. Luckily I remembered that we had the ingredients on hand to make foam dough. I set Eli up outside with a big bowl, a full can of shaving cream, and a box of corn starch.

Does this look like a bored, grumpy boy?

Homemade foam dough via The Risky Kids

When it was time to clean up, we simply hosed off the driveway and put the boy in the tub.

Messy play does require some forward thinking on your part to make sure you have ingredients and supplies set aside for easy access. Keep these items on hand for instant messy play inspiration:

  • Shaving cream
  • Corn starch
  • Bubble solution
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • White glue
  • Washable paints
  • Inexpensive foam and/or bristle paint brushes
  • Squirt bottles and/or squeeze bottles
  • Plastic bowls or leftover yogurt containers

Store it all in a large plastic tote that can double as a giant mixing container. Adding a few things to your shopping list and keeping them together in one handy spot takes some time, but you’ll be rewarded many times over when boredom or grumpiness strikes.

Do you have any other ideas for fun, messy play (indoors or out)? Share them with us!

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