Surviving Snow Days & Winter Weekends

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

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

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

Sleep In

 

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

Play With Your Food

 

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

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

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

 

Make a Mess

 

Magic Potion Lab

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

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

Rule the Playground

 

Drift

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

Roughhouse

 

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

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

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Be Prepared: A Year With the Cub Scouts

Cub Scout Fun Day Archery

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

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

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

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

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

Cub Scout Fun Day BB Guns

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

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

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

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

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do): Play with Dry Ice

Looking for cool experiments to do with kids? Try these dry ice experiments inspired by the book “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)!” Science for kids.

Task:

Play around with some super-cool, super-spooky dry ice.

Requires:

  • Dry Ice
  • Towel
  • Pie plate
  • Cup
  • Fork or tongs

Possible Hazards:

  • Burns

How It All Went Down:

The kids have been begging to play with dry ice since the day we first got the 50 Dangerous Things book. The only thing that’s kept me from doing it was not having any dry ice, nor really knowing where to get some.

Lesson #1: I’ve come to learn that some grocery stores do sell dry ice. Just ask. If not, you can search for local ice distributors and they should be able to sell you some.

One day I got a delivery of perishables packed in dry ice and I did a little happy dance. We could finally do it! And then I put it in my chest freezer and waited a few days for a good time.

Lesson #2: Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide doesn’t freeze until -109 °F. Unlike frozen water, dry ice doesn’t melt in the traditional sense. It goes through a process known as sublimation, which means it goes directly from a solid to a gas. Which also means that when you leave it in your freezer for a few days, hype it up to the kids, and go to retrieve it? You’ll be left with nothing but an empty container and sad children.

One evening, my neighbor knocked on the door. She’d just gotten some dry ice in her Peapod delivery, and knowing me well, thought I’d want some. I did another happy dance, but this time got right to the business of playing with the dry ice.

You can turn to Google or search Pinterest for all kinds of cools ways to experiment with and play with dry ice. Given that we had some in our hands at the moment and I didn’t have advanced notice to gather extra materials, I just let the kids play with it.

Lesson #3: As fun as dry ice is, you have to take some safety precautions. It is extremely cold, and touching it with your skin can cause frostbite. Always use some kind of protection when handling it, such as a towel, an oven mitt, or tongs.

Our dry ice was already broken into chunks, but if you’re dealing with a solid block you’ll want to break yours up. Wrap it in a towel and use a hammer. Be sure to wear safety goggles while you’re whacking away at it. Here are a few things we did with our dry ice:

Spooky Fog

Fill a pie plate halfway to the top with water. Using a fork or tongs, drop small pieces of the dry ice onto the surface of the water. You’ll observe the cool “fog” that makes for a spooky effect. This occurs when sublimation happens in water. Tiny, very cold carbon dioxide bubbles are formed. When these bubbles mix with the air, they cause the temperature of the air to drop. The moisture in the air near the bubbles forms the fog (this fog is perfectly safe, by the way).

Screaming Spoon

Dip a spoon (or your fork or the tongs) in hot water. Press the warm utensil against the dry ice and listen to it “scream.” What makes it do this? Well, the warm utensil speeds up the sublimation process. As the carbon dioxide gas is released against the utensil, the oscillations in pressure produce rapid sound waves that make the screaming noise.

Looking for cool experiments to do with kids? Try these dry ice experiments inspired by the book “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)!” Science for kids.

Bubbling Potions

Fill a cup 1/4 full of water and add a drop or two of dishwashing soap. Drop in the dry ice and watch your potion “boil” and bubble. The soap in the water traps the carbon dioxide gas and forms bubbles. Instead of a soapy, wet mess, once the bubbles burst they simply disappear! Add some food coloring or drop in a glow stick for colored or glowing bubbles.

Looking for cool experiments to do with kids? Try these dry ice experiments inspired by the book “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)!” Science for kids.

For even more inspiration, check out Steve Spangler Science.

You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).

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Book Review: Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Disclosure: I received this book for review consideration, however I have not be compensated in any other way for this post. I love this book so much I’d share it with you no matter what! This post does include some affiliate links.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Can I gush for a bit? I hope you don’t mind. But the other day I opened the mailbox to find the new book from the creators of UNBORED: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun (another book I gushed about a few months ago). It’s called UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone, and it just might be one of my favorite books for kids and families ever.

Where the first UNBORED book focused on all different kinds of activities to get you, well, not bored anymore, the new book focuses solely on games. This isn’t just a regurgitation of games we’ve all heard of before. It’s a modern mish-mash of old and new, popular and obscure. Just like the previous book, it’s a mixture of activities, interviews, stories and cool illustrations.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

It’s divided into 4 sections:

1. Pwnage

I never knew this term until Mike taught me some online-poker speak. It basically means that you are superior to your opponent on all levels. And so the games in this section have clear-cut winners (they’ll leave the trash talk up to you). It contains a great list of “Best Ever Quick Board Games, including two of our favorites: Blokus and Ticket To Ride. I’m also pumped to get a Bike Rodeo set up in the cul-de-sac for the neighborhood kids.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone: Bike Rodeo

2. Home Games

Home is where some of the best games are, right? I was happy to see Doughnut on a String in here. We played it at our neighborhood Halloween party last year and it was hilarious.

doughnut on a string

There’s a great roundup of Parlor Games, which makes me want to invite the neighbors over and get all vintage with our game-playing. I also really liked the section on apps to play with a grownup, proving that not all screen time is wasted time. It can be a source of really great quality time with your kids, too.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

3. Game Changers

Have you ever thought about how games can be a source of good? Or a force of change? This section focuses on games that promote activism, community building, and cooperation.

4. Adventure Games

This section focuses on some of The Risky Kids favorites: games that encourage experimentation and exploration. We’re especially pumped to try our hand at a smartphone scavenger hunt. And when the temps warm back up again in the spring? We’re totally having an Alka-Seltzer squirt gun battle.

Besides all the awesome ideas and inspiration the folks behind UNBORED provide, I love the premise and the tone of the book. Sure, we love to go outside, and we love to disconnect and play board games with each other. But we also love our tech, and we love to be online. The writers recognize this, and more importantly, recognize how important this facet of playing is to today’s kids. And so the book reflects this, with tons of great suggestions for playful tech and online experiences to go along with outdoor games and good, old-fashioned board and card games.

UNBORED Games has something for every kid and every adult, whether you want to play alone or in a group, no matter your mood or location. I double dog dare you not to find a game you can’t wait to play!

You can pre-order UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone on Amazon. But don’t worry – you won’t have to wait long! The book will be released on Tuesday, October 14th. In the meantime, be sure to check them out online at Unbored.net. You’ll find all kinds of cool games and activities to hold you over until your own copy arrives!

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Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: Build a Fire

how to build a fire with kids

In March I announced that we’d be starting a new series on The Risky Kids: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. The response was wonderful – it turns out you agree that there are many things kids need to know beyond what they’re taught in school. You agreed with our suggestions for the series, and came up with many more life skills you’d like to see added to the list. You can find posts from the entire series on the Life Skills Every Kid Should Know page.

build a fire with kids

If I had to pick the top two Dangerous Things that freak parents out the most, it would be letting kids use sharp objects and anything involving fire. I completely understand. They both evoke images of immediate and life-altering injuries. And in the case of fire, of burning down the house … or the entire neighborhood.

bonfire

It’s precisely because skills like these are inherently dangerous, that I passionately believe they should be taught at an early age. With the proper instruction and supervision, kids learn a healthy respect for these tools. And with early and frequent exposure, the thrill and mystique of fire or knives wears off. It becomes simply a useful skill they possess, as opposed to something mysterious and forbidden which they can’t resist the urge to explore in secret.

Learning to build a proper fire was something I was never taught. We didn’t camp or have bonfires as a kid, and so the only experience I ever had was lighting a candle. I’ve never even owned a charcoal grill (!), so my experience with building any kind of fire was very limited. When it came time to put our fire-building skills to the test, I was learning right along with the kids.

cooking over campfire

You might think there’s nothing to it, but there is definitely a method to building a good, lasting fire. I could explain it (which I did here), but this infographic from NPR’s Summer Science does a spot-on job:

how to build a campfire

Credit: Stephanie d’Otreppe, Andrew Prince and Maggie Starbard/NPR

When we build a fire in our firepit, we often have lots of other kids running around. There’s nothing like an open flame and the possibility of roasted marshmallows to bring all the kids to your yard. It’s such a valuable opportunity for real-time teachable moments in regards to fire safety. We teach things like having only one person in charge of the fire (and at the same time making sure there’s always someone in charge of the fire), what you can and cannot put in a fire, how you move around a fire (no running or horseplay), and how to put the fire completely out.

kids and campfires

Chances are you’ll never need to know how to build a fire for survival purposes. I have to say, though, even as an adult there is a strong sense of pride and accomplishment at being able to make fire from a match and a few sticks. If that’s not enough to stoke your interest in learning and teaching this skill to your kids, just remember the ultimate payout:

s'mores

S’mores.

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6 Fall Adventures to Get the Kids Outside {Take a Child Outside Week 2014}

Take a Child Outside Week
Tomorrow kicks off Take a Child Outside week! Looking at the forecast for the next week in our neck of the woods, it looks like Mother Nature is on board as well – it looks like the perfect fall weather!

Take a Child Outside - September 24-30

Take a Child Outside Week, created by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, is held every September 24-30. This might seem to be an odd time to celebrate going outside. I mean, the weather’s changing, and everyone’s busy with school and sports, right? Actually, it’s the perfect time! Take a Child Outside Week is about getting families and caregivers into the habit of making outdoor activities a part of everyone’s daily lives, all year long. Make it a priority now, and see if it doesn’t make a difference in the minds and bodies of your kids.

A little inspiration always helps, and The Risky Kids are always eager and willing to help get you outside! Here are 6 tried-and-true fall adventures perfect for celebrating Take a Child Outside Week.

Make Moth Brew

 

Moth brew to attract moths

Invite some friends to your outdoor party! Make this sticky-sweet concoction, paint it on some tree bark at dusk, and see who comes to visit. While you’re waiting, why not have bonfire and roast some s’mores? The best part about saving this activity for the fall? It gets dark earlier, so little ones won’t have to stay up way past their bedtime to see the moths.

Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt

 

Nature scavenger hunt

If I ask my kids if they want to go on a walk or hike, often they’ll say no. BUT … if I ask them if they want to go on a scavenger hunt? They’re all in. We’ve done this a few different ways, such as this counting scavenger hunt from Rain or Shine Mamma, as well as this one from Kidventures. You’ll be amazed at how much longer your walks will last and how much more enjoyable they can be when the kids are on a mission.

Go Geocaching

 

DIY geocache kit

Grab your Geocache Kit and head out the door to find new treasure! I find that spring and fall are the best times to geocache. When the leaves and foliage start to die back and clear up, you can often find caches that were difficult to find before. Add to that cooler weather and less bugs and you’ve got yourself perfect geocaching conditions.

Try a New Activity

 

kayak with kids.

Sometimes we just get too adventurous with our summer bucket lists and can’t get to everything. Weekends and weekday afternoons can be great times to do something that you didn’t get around to over the summer. We’ve wanted to rent kayaks at Eagle Creek Park for a couple of years now. We had an open afternoon recently that could’ve easily been filled with household chores and screens, but opted to head out the door instead. Now we’re hooked! Maybe we’ll even try winter kayaking

Visit Your Local Nature Center

 

Cincinnati Nature Center

Chances are if you visited your nature center over the summer, things have changed. Most will change their programming according to the seasons. If you need help finding a nature center near you, use this handy locator. Or you can do like we did one fall, and road-tripped to a really cool nature center!

Master the Perfect Somersault

 

I know it’s silly, but when was the last time you worked on a useless but totally fun skill? I find this especially true with my tween: she’s reluctant to go outside, but the opportunity to see her parents make fools of themselves is too good to pass up! Somersaults, round-offs, slam dunks, frisbee trick shots … surely there’s a goofy skill the family can work on together.

It’s your turn to share! What are you doing to get a child outside this week?

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do): Explode a Bottle in the Freezer

50 Dangerous Things: Explode a Glass Bottle

Task:

Fill and freeze a glass bottle, and see the natural power of ice in action.

Requires:

  • Sealable glass bottle
  • Plastic container (to hold the bottle bits post-explosion)

Possible Hazards:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Mess

How It All Went Down:

I can think of multiple times we accidentally exploded a bottle in the freezer as kids, but flipping through the 50 Dangerous Things book, I realized my kids have never experienced this. If you’re looking for somewhere small to start on your own 50 Dangerous Things journey, this is a good one. You probably already have everything you need, and it’s easy to do while you’re home and doing other things. Bonus: kids get really excited about breaking things, especially something as forbidden as glass.

The author suggests using a resealable soda bottle, but all of our glass soda and beer bottles had bottle caps, not screw tops. Empty glass vinegar, wine, or liquor bottles will all work. Just remember – the bigger your bottle, the longer it will take to freeze … and the bigger the mess!

Fill the glass bottle with water, and screw on the cap. Using a Sharpie, draw on the bottle where you think it will break. Place the bottle in a plastic container. This is a must, unless you want to spend an entire day picking broken glass out of your freezer. You can also cover the plastic container with a cloth to keep any stray glass shards from flying around your freezer.

Freeze a glass bottle

Now wait for your bottle to freeze. A standard home freezer will take at least an hour to freeze a small glass bottle. We used our deep freezer, which is colder and freezes faster. After an hour has passed, check the bottle by gently rocking the plastic container to see if the contents are frozen. Check back every 30 minutes or so to see if your bottle has broken.

Once the bottle has exploded (bonus points if you hear it!), carefully remove the plastic container and the broken bottle from the freezer. Observe your bottle and hypothesize about why it broke in the spots it did. You can repeat the experiment with different shapes and sizes of bottles, and compare how long they take to freeze and how differently they explode.

It’s kind of amazing how something as innocuous as freezing water can cause so much damage. How do you topple a mountain? Expose it to season after season of freezing water, which expands as it freezes and forms large cracks.

Exploded glass bottle

We joke about how most of the tasks we’ve completed in the 50 Dangerous Things book really aren’t dangerous at all, but this task gets the honors of producing our first real injury. I warned Eli over and over again that broken glass can be ridiculously sharp. Sure enough, he couldn’t resist and he sliced his finger open. I’ll warn you as well, but if your kids are anything like mine, it takes a teachable moment for the lesson (and the bandaid) to stick.

Broken glass injury

You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).

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Awesome Games to Play for National Backyard Games Week

National Backyard Game Week

Today kicks off National Backyard Game Week! You know how we feel about the rules here at The Risky Kids, so if you want to play your backyard games in the front yard we won’t tattle. The important part is to get outside and play some games! We’ve taken the time to round up some inspiration to get you outdoors and playing this week.

The-ULTIMATE-backyard-bucket-list1

32 Fun DIY Backyard Games & Activities via Listotic

10 Playground Games Every Kids Should Know via Spoonful

15_fun_backyard_games_600px

15 Fun Backyard Games (with printable game cards and instructions) via iMom

clif kid backyard game of the year

CLIF Kid has a great tool on their website where you can plug in the number of kids who want to play and what you want to use to play your game with (nature, household items, toys, water, or your imagination) and it generates a game for you to play (a game of Card Sharks, perhaps?!). Of course, you can always enter your own game in the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year contest!

It’s still a little chilly here, but last summer we had lots of fun playing squirt gun cup races in our backyard:

Squirt gun cup race

What awesome backyard game will your kids be playing this week?

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Screen-Free Week Reflections

Girls on the Run 5K Indiana

Well, did you survive Screen-Free Week? Or more importantly – did the kids survive?!

I’m happy to report that we not only survived, we thrived with less time on screens last week. Here are a few things that occupied our time instead of technology:

Monday: The kids came home from school and went right for the iPad, only to find it missing! Either they forgot it was the beginning of Screen-Free Week or they were hoping I’d forget! Eli and the neighbor got creative with a cardboard box:

Elena had to practice recorder for school. Instead of practicing for the requisite amount of time and moving on to screens, she spent time composing her own song on the recorder.

Tuesday: Eli got into the stash of leftover crafts from Kiwi Crate and made a boat, which turned into water play outside, which turned into a handful of kids using chalk on our driveway.

Kiwi Crate boat
Wednesday: More outdoor free play – did I mention the weather was amazing?

Thursday: We visited our local Children’s Museum for a grand opening of a new exhibit (which if you’re anywhere near Indianapolis you MUST go see Take Me There: China and the Terra Cotta Warriors).

Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Friday: Was Screen-Free Week catching on? The entire neighborhood was out after school! Kids were playing and adults were relaxing and chatting. What a perfect way to kick off the weekend.

Screen-Free Neighborhood

Saturday: Elena and I ran a 5K, and Eli had a soccer game in the morning. In the afternoon, Eli helped me with yardwork and Elena rode her penny board to Taco Bell. That evening she camped outside at a friend’s house. Mike spent the afternoon building a firepit in the backyard, and that evening we fired it up and invited the neighbors.

Bonfire

A few things that really helped make the week a success:

  • My neighbor also participated in Screen-Free Week, so always had at least one buddy that wasn’t choosing screens as an activity. Next year I think I will give all the neighbors on the cul-de-sac a heads-up that Screen-Free Week is coming up and see if we can get a bunch of us participating.
  • The weather was amazing all week. I realize how much harder you have to work to come up with fun alternatives to screens when you can’t go outside.
  • Out of sight, out of mind! Before the kids got home from school, I shut my laptop, closed the doors to the TV, and put away the iPad. It’s so simple, but it really does help.

A few observations:

  •  I noticed a big difference in the kids’ attitudes about play. My gut reaction is to let them have screen time right after school. I figure they’ve had a long day, and that will relax them. After observing an entire school week without screens, I realize it doesn’t relax them – it zones them out. Without screens, they have a snack and move on to something else. With screens, it can be very difficult to get them to transition from screens to outdoor play.
  • I didn’t realize how much time I spend on screens between the hours of 4 p.m. and bedtime. I often depend on that time to catch up on social media, browse Pinterest, or catch up on blogging. I’m not going to lie – I felt a little lost at first! But I found other ways to fill the time, and as an added bonus? I went to bed earlier each night.

So what’s the takeaway from Screen-Free Week? We could all stand to spend a significantly smaller amount of time on screens. It was just the restart we needed, and from here on out I’ll be making a concerted effort to limit the time we spend on screens in the afternoon and evenings.

How did Screen-Free Week go for you? Any surprises? Did you have any fun adventures you might have missed out on had you been occupied with screens? 

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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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