So Long For Now

I’ve put off writing this post for a couple of weeks now, because to write it makes it so very real. After 3 years of blogging, I’ve decided to say goodbye to The Risky Kids. It hasn’t been an easy decision, but several factors have combined to make this the best decision for me, you, and my family.

As some of you know, The Risky Kids isn’t my only blog. I’ve been blogging over at Just Like The Number for over 8 years, which is the equivalent of 80 in Internet Years. So I know a thing or two about blogging, and how to determine whether or not a blog has growth potential. I started The Risky Kids to share my passion about play and to build a community around parents that wanted to raise happy, independent kids without irrational fear or paranoia about the world around them. My hope was that in creating a niche blog such as this, I would find an audience with whom this content resonated with, and that over time it would grow.

I have most definitely found an audience. I’ve interacted with many of you through discussions here and on social media, and you’ve inspired me just as much (okay, probably more) as I hope I’ve inspired you. However, The Risky Kids just hasn’t grown the way I’ve wanted it to.

I could continue to plod along and post here and there, but that’s never been my style. I wouldn’t feel like I was giving you my best, and I’m not cool with that.

I could continue to produce content as I have been, but in order to give you my best, I have to continue to put significant time and effort into each post. I’ve found that it’s getting harder and harder to do so. It requires a hefty amount of time to plan, execute, photograph and write good posts, time that I don’t necessarily have. It has to come from somewhere, and it ends up coming from personal and family time.

I’m also finding that as my kids are getting older, they aren’t always so keen on doing things for the main purpose of producing great content for the blog. Sure, they still love nature hikes and geocaching and doing 50 Dangerous Things. But they don’t necessarily want me to photograph every moment and put it on the Internet. Often, they ask if we can just do something to do it for fun, not for a blog post. I only get one shot at this parenting gig, and I don’t want to mess up great moments for the sake of page views.

While I’ve never done this for the money, the hard truth is that without any source of income, a blog is really just a creative hobby. And that’s great! There’s nothing wrong with that! But when I take a good, hard look at the amount of time I spend writing for both blogs, and maintaining separate social media accounts for both, I’m spending entirely too much time on my hobby. It’s less of a hobby, and more of a part-time job for which I earn significantly less than minimum wage. That’s not to knock blogging. It is what it is, and I’m not bitter at all. I just need to be more mindful about how I spend the precious hours I am given in this life.

The tricky part is, I still have a great passion for play. I still have a great passion for the kinds of parenting topics I’ve covered here, and will continue to face. I still love to take photographs and write. And so while this is goodbye for this particular space, it’s not a complete goodbye. As I did before I started The Risky Kids, I’ll continue to write about these topics as I’m inspired to do so over at Just Like The Number. While I understand that the range of topics I write about there might not be of interest to all of you, I hope you’ll consider subscribing, either via an RSS reader or email. I’d love to see you over there!

For the time being, this space isn’t going anywhere, so you can continue to reference old posts as needed. I just won’t be posting any new material. Like many of you, I’m finding great enjoyment from Instagram, which is essentially a mini-blog of our escapades. I’d love for you to follow me on Instagram (I’m @AngieSix) and stay connected with me that way.

Finally, I just want to thank each and every one of you for reading, sharing your stories and ours, and cheering us on. It’s been so much fun, and you’ve made me a better parent. I hope you’ll continue to play The Risky Kid way: less worry, more fun. In the end, risky play is everyone’s business. Play on, friends!

 

 

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Under Pressure

What do you do when your middle school child struggles with homework? Or when the pressure and grades seem to get in the way of their education? Reflections on the struggles of parenting a middle school child, along with a crazy idea that goes against everything we’re taught as parents.

I feel kind of old saying this out loud, but it’s finals week here in the Six house. Elena is in 7th grade this year, and for the first time in her school career, finals week is a thing. And it matters.

Of course, tests and doing well in school have always mattered to us. We view school as her “job,” and we expect her to give her best effort. But we also see school as one part of the pie, if you will. Yes, it’s very important. But it also isn’t everything. There are lots of opportunities to exercise your body and mind, to grow and learn, that take place out of school. There must be time for play. And there must always be time to just relax. As seriously as we take school, and expect her to take school, we also try to emphasize the balance. Sometimes, there are things that are more important than busywork.

In past years, this has been fairly easy to balance. Until she transitioned to public school from Montessori in 4th grade, she never had homework. Upon entering public school she tested into the district’s gifted program. You would imagine that this might mean more homework, but we found the opposite of that to be true. She had some, for sure, but it wasn’t every day, and it was always reasonable.

Junior high, it seems, is where that party ends. It’s been a struggle this year, for both of us. She has 6 classes, and in each of those classes it is not unusual for each teacher to assign homework. It doesn’t seem like much to each teacher, probably – twenty or thirty minutes per class. But multiply twenty minutes by 6 classes? Suddenly she’s faced with two hours of homework each night. Add to that a requirement of 2 1/2 hours of instrument practice outside of school each week, and suddenly the concept of play and free time become something of fairy tales or mythology. Does it even exist?

It’s a struggle for her – to keep up, to not burn out, to do her best day in and day out. It’s a struggle for us. It’s hard to watch your kid be expected to do things most adults wouldn’t stand for. Imagine this: you leave for work every day at 7 a.m. From 7:30 until 2:30, you’re in meeting after meeting. You’re listening, taking notes, trying to understand the message. At the end of each meeting, you’re given a task to complete. No biggie, right? You’ll get it done after the meeting, right? Only there is no “after the meeting” scheduled into your work day. You get a short break for lunch, and forty minutes at the end of the day to tie up any loose ends. Then you go home. Now, this is where the average adult worker would call it a day. They’d spend time with their family, run their errands, take care of personal things, relax, live their life. On a hectic week at work, they might have to bring some work home, but it wouldn’t be expected every day.

That’s not what I see for these kids in my community. After 7 hours of school, they come home and dive right into another 2-3 hours of homework. If they get started on it right after school, on a good night, they might have an hour or two to relax before bed. But what if it’s a gorgeous afternoon, and they want to toss the football or ride their bikes to Taco Bell with their friends? What if they have sports or other extra-curricular activities after school? Well, you’re looking at homework into the 9 and 10 o’clock hour. Then it’s up-and-at-em again at 6 a.m. the next morning. Ask any adult to do this, day in and day out for 9 months out of the year and they’d tell you where to shove it.

There’s not a lot parents can do in this more-is-better culture we live in. You can homeschool, but that isn’t the ideal or realistic option for everyone (and certainly not for our family). If you have the means, you can look for a private school that better meets your family philosophy. You can rebel against the system, and do it your own way – maybe you draw the line at an hour of homework each day. Maybe you sit down together and decide what assignments are worth the time and which seem frivolous. But at what cost? When those grades and those classes start counting towards that all-important G.P.A., what choice do you have then? (And at this point, kids in junior high are already taking high school level classes that count towards their high school G.P.A.)

There is the valid argument that this builds character. Do we want to raise a generation of kids that can’t rise to a challenge? I’m all for giving kids at this age opportunities to hone their time management skills. It’s an essential life skill, and you know how we feel about teaching valuable life skills here at The Risky Kids. Instead, I feel as if we’re inadvertently teaching these kids a different concept: burn-out. This week, of all weeks, when Elena should be looking forward to putting her knowledge to the test and completing a semester well done, she’s simply DONE. One teacher even assigned a homework worksheet in between a two-part final!

If it were simply a matter of pushing through, and reassuring these kids that their best effort was enough, that if they’re learning and mastering concepts regardless of the grade it’s all good, then I’d probably not get up on my soapbox. But it’s not enough.

Next semester, Elena is switching math classes. She’s moving down from 2-year advanced math to 1-year advanced. The material is moving too fast for her, and she’s not mastering the concepts before they move on. Now mind you, this is a high school class, offered for 7th graders. When I told her that the move down meant that she’d take Chemistry as a sophomore instead of as a freshman, she started to panic. She had to take Chemistry as a freshman, she said, otherwise she’d fall behind. Where did she get such a notion? From a workshop on college prep that she had in school a few weeks ago. “Hopefully I’ll still get into college,” she said. And she was completely serious.

You know what I was worried about as a 7th grader? If I had my Kirk Cameron posters lined up straight above my bed.

We have a mission in our family, one that spills over into the philosophy of The Risky Kids: to raise competent, independent, well-rounded kids. Kids who love books and tech. Kids who climb trees and move mountains. Kids who can do laundry and quadratic equations. Kids who can work and play. If that means being the weird family who looks at this gerbil wheel of stress, competition, and relentless pressure that is conventional schooling and says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” then so be it. I would rather have a kid in community college that can look back fondly at their childhood (and yes, your tween and teen years are still your childhood to claim and enjoy), than one in a prestigious college with anxiety.

The easy part is deciding this path isn’t for us. The hard part is convincing these kids it will all be okay.

Those of you in the trenches with tweens and teens, I’d love to hear from you. Is this your experience as well? If you’re on the other side of this life stage, I’d love to hear from you, too. How did you get through it?

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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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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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International Archaeology Day

Did you know tomorrow, October 18th, is International Archaeology Day? Neither did I, until I was doing some research for a Bedtime Math post last month. What does this have to do with The Risky Kids? Well, for one, archaeology is kind of a risky job, right? I mean, it is the profession of the one very adventurous chap by the name of Indiana Jones!

In reality, it was an experience we had while traveling in Spain that made me connect archaeology to The Risky Kids. We were nearing the end of our trip, and on the last day that Mike was with us before heading back to the States, my cousin took us to visit Italica.

Italica

Located near present-day Seville, Italica is the site of an ancient Roman city. The impressive ruins date back to 206 BC. Now, for you and I, this is crazy amazing. But for my kids, who had already traipsed through much of Spain and seen lots of “old stuff,” Italica was a hot, dusty, boring place. Especially when your parents passed multiple signs for a most amazing water park along the way.

As we tried to balance enjoying the sights ourselves without wanting to shake the children, we came across a group of graduate archaeology students participating in a dig. We stopped for a moment to observe, and to our surprise, a student came up to the kids and asked if they’d like to help.

My American self wanted to protest. Surely this went against some rule or regulation. Wasn’t there some kind of waiver I need to sign? And do you really want my kids messing with ancient Roman artifacts?

Italica

The answers were no and yes, and the next thing they knew the kids were learning how to sift through dirt samples and identify artifacts. Just in their little scoop of dirt they found tiles from mosaics, pottery shards, and playing pieces from a game kids their own age used to play on the roads thousands of years ago.

Italica

We thanked the students profusely for their time and continued on our way. And wouldn’t you know, for the rest of our visit to Italica the kids were totally engaged. They read the signs, observed the surroundings, and asked lots of questions. By saying “yes” instead of “no,” and by encouraging them to touch instead of telling them “hands off,” the experience became personal to them. It’s still one of the parts of the trip they talk about the most.

Italica

So thank you, future archaeologists, for taking the time to bring some “old stuff” to light for kids, and sparking an interest where previously there was none. Happy International Archaeology Day to you!

Of course, I realize we can’t all travel to archaeological digs and have this kind of experience (although our world-class Children’s Museum in Indianapolis offers a summer trip for families to dig for real dinosaur bones!). But have you ever visited a museum or historical sight that you thought did an excellent job of engaging your kids? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

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Our First (and Hopefully Not Last!) KaBOOM! Playground Build

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build

Last weekend the kids and I had a chance to participate in our very first playground build with KaBOOM! I’ve always wanted to take part in a build, having partnered with KaBOOM! on a few other projects. I just love the work they do, and their passion for making play possible for all families, no matter where they live or how much they make.

My good friend Sacha helped connect me to this particular build, through her work with Foresters. Unfortunately we had a hectic Saturday, and could only help out for a small portion of the day.

When we arrived, the play structure was up and concrete was being poured. Other teams were building benches. Elena and I were assigned to “Team Mulch.” Have you ever moved a mountain of mulch? It’s not easy! I kept waiting for Elena to start complaining … she’s not one for manual labor! But she jumped right in. I could see her eyeing the group of teens doing some painting. They were making brightly colored signs for the playground. After she hauled a few loads of mulch, I encouraged her to see if her art skills could be of any use. She spent the rest of the time painting, and loved it.

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build painting signs

Eli was too young to work, but they offered a Kids Zone staffed by volunteers so you could help without having to worry about childcare. He was a little disappointed, though, as he really wanted to lend some muscles to the project. Before we left, I let him carry one last load of mulch with me so he could say he helped.

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build moving mulch

The coolest part, other than watching a playground take shape before your very eyes, was seeing people of all ages and walks of life participating in the build. If you’re as passionate about play as we are, I strongly encourage you to participate in your community.

KaBOOM! Community Playground Build Indianapolis

Even though we only helped for a couple of hours, it definitely made an impact on us. Not only do we have a strong desire to help out with another playground build, we feel inspired to spend more time volunteering in our community in general. Next month we’re planning to help out at Kids Against Hunger, and I hope this builds a tradition and commitment to volunteering as a family.

Have you ever participated in a KaBOOM! playground build, or a similar community playground project? Is your family committed to volunteering? If so, I’d love for you to share your experiences. I know myself, I’m inspired when I hear about other families with younger children making volunteer experiences a priority in their lives.

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Kids and Pets: How Owning a Pet Builds Character

kids and pets

It’s been nearly 2 months now since we made the leap to dog ownership, and what a fun 2 months it’s been! We waited a long time before taking the plunge, and now that we’re here, I have two things to say: I’m so glad we got a dog … and I’m so glad we waited.

We talk a lot on The Risky Kids about how important it is to us that we raise kids who are responsible and confident in their skills. And one really good way to give kids more responsibility and confidence is to put them in charge of something. When that something just happens to be a real, living thing … well, you can imagine the effect is magnified.

We’ve had “pets” before, of the fish variety, and I always used their sad stories to illustrate for the kids why I thought they weren’t ready for a dog or cat. You probably know the scenario: kid begs for pet, parents want minimal upkeep, fish is chosen as compromise, fish is exciting for 2.5 days, no one gives a crap about the fish anymore, fish dies. That, my friends, is the fish circle of life right there. The kids swore fish were different, they would be better about a real pet. You know, one they could actually pet? I was very, very skeptical.

They’ve been trying to wear me down on the puppy front for years, and finally all the pieces were in place. The house we moved in to has an invisible fence the previous owners installed and left behind. We knew we had our big trip to Spain coming up for nearly 2 years, and I told them we wouldn’t take on the responsibility of a dog and have to worry about finding someone to watch it for a month. Well, now the trip is behind us. Finally, I needed the kids to be fairly self-sufficient themselves.  I wanted them to be able to walk our neighborhood on their own, get their own food, and clean up their own messes before I signed up to walk, feed, and clean up another living being. Lo and behold, we got back from Spain and the kids were quick to point out that all my previous requirements had been met. What were we waiting for? And so with everything in place, we began looking for a dog that would be a good fit for our family. Soon after, we found Gus.

What do you know? The dog > fish theory my kids presented was actually right. I have been, quite frankly, blown away by Elena and Eli’s ability to care for an animal properly. Two months in, and here are just a few key areas of character I’ve seen the kids grow in:

Thinking of others

Having a dog puts certain constraints on what you can do and how long you can be gone. The kids have learned that we can’t leave the house all day and not make arrangements for the puppy. We can’t simply leave him in the crate for 10 hours and forget about him.

Taking care of daily responsibilities

There are some things that you always have to do, whether you feel like it or not. The puppy needs fed twice a day. He needs his water bowl filled. He needs played with and exercised daily. He needs to go outside to pee and poop many times a day. All these things need to be done, no matter the weather, your mood, the status of your social life, or the amount of homework you brought home.

The importance of putting things where they belong

Puppies are like toddlers – with an uncanny ability to sense what they shouldn’t have and then seek and destroy it. While we’ve been lucky that Gus hasn’t ruined anything of extreme importance (though he has great taste in socks – Smartwool, to be exact), the kids have learned that toys, socks, shoes, books, and electronic devices need to be put up and out of reach if they want to ensure their safety.

The consequences of shirking your duties

We had one very bad night where Elena was in charge of the puppy by herself. She got sucked into her iPod and neglected to watch Gus like she should. The result? He pooped and peed multiple times in the house. Which leads me to …

Taking care of unpleasant tasks

We could’ve have easily scolded her and then cleaned up ourselves. It would’ve been faster and less filled with tween dramatics. But there’s a valuable lesson to be had here. Sometimes life hands you nasty stuff you don’t want to deal with, but you have to. Dogs poop, and it needs to be scooped. Just like one day you’ll have to clean someone else’s pee off a toilet, or change a dirty diaper, or wash someone else’s dishes.

The reward of a job well done

This is where taking care of a dog really shines. Because the kids have invested the time and effort into feeding, walking, and playing with Gus, he rewards them in the best of all ways: with lots of love, snuggles and puppy kisses. Of course, I’ve been doing that their entire lives, but when it comes from a dog? So much better.

Not only are these skills important to learn in order to take care of a pet, they’re absolutely necessary for living a happy, productive, and well-adjusted life! Teach them now, and your kids’ siblings, teachers, friends, future roommates, bosses and spouses will thank you later.

Now, I would never suggest you get a pet just to teach your kids responsibility or to build their confidence. Adding a pet to your family is a huge, long-term commitment, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve been thinking about it, and you’re ready on all fronts except for wondering if the kids will benefit? Then by all means, take the leap!

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The Unscheduled Summer: Putting the Break Back in Summer

Unscheduled summer

Well hello there {dusts cobwebs off keyboard}! It’s been awhile!

I had absolutely no intention of taking a break from blogging, but as I turned the calendar to August and the last days of summer vacation stared me in the face, I found the last place I wanted to be was in front of a glowing computer screen. It was both difficult and easy at the same time.

You see, I love a good routine. I love feeling productive. I love making lists (that are realistically too long to accomplish) and grand plans (that even with the best of intentions) are doomed to be derailed. And so there I was, fresh off the plane after being gone for a month, making detailed editorial calendars for this blog, dreaming up grand posts that would require hours of writing and editing, and trying to catch up on a month’s worth of emails. It sounded so doable in my head and on paper! But then I would think about sitting down at the computer and my chest would feel tight and all of the inspiration would drain out of me. It was just one more thing to do, in a summer that – while it was fun and amazing traveling the world – was begging me to stop and slow down.

In eight years of blogging, both here and on my personal blog, I’ve never just taken an unannounced break and walked away. I stressed about it a lot in the beginning and wondered if it was an okay thing to do. And then, once I’d spent a few days away, it was easy. I didn’t fill the time with anything else remotely productive. I just took each day as it came and enjoyed whatever came out of it.

Summer Reading Kids

The same could be said of my kids. They, too, took a break this summer. Normally my love of lists and grand plans spills over into our summer as well. We can’t be too idle! And so I sign them up for a few camps. I make plans for a few road trips and visits to local museums. We sign up for two or three reading programs. I set up detailed rules for screen use.

After spending the first half of the summer away, I decided the rest of the summer would be unscheduled. No camps, no reading lists, no bridge activities, no trips, and no screen time rules. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always pretty. We spent many a morning still in our pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair at 11 a.m. The pile of books the school sent home with Eli still sits by the fireplace, unread. The house was messy, we were lazy, and we spent more than enough time watching dumb TV or playing mindless games on the iPad.

But …

The kids also played a lot. Lazy mornings more often than not turned into creative, fun-filled afternoons with friends. Not having plans or anywhere to be meant we were free to go to the pool when we wanted, play when we wanted, be bored when we wanted, and to be creative when we wanted.

In short, an unscheduled summer gave us the freedom to dream, relax and recharge. Isn’t that what a break is all about?

lazy summers

Now, I’m not saying each and every summer from here on out should operate like this one. We spent 4 weeks of one summer completely unscheduled. Any more time than that would’ve gone from wonderful to disastrous. The sibling squabbling had picked up and the bad kind of boredom was setting in. By the time school started last week we were itching for a regular routine.

But what if we took a few days or a week out of our school breaks or vacations and allow them to be exactly that: breaks. I think so often we look at blank days or weekends with a sense of guilt or shame. We should be doing something. We confuse doing nothing with wasted time. True – doing nothing does start out as an empty slot of time. But when we give the empty space time to fill on its own, we allow ourselves to be filled with things that bring us joy, inspiration, and fun. We walk away full, not depleted.

Beyond this gift, I also see the valuable lesson that unscheduled time gives ourselves and our kids. We are living in a time when we could fill every second of every day with some kind of activity or connection. We are slowly but surely losing the ability to cope with down time. We don’t know what to do when we’re not doing something! I want my kids to grow up knowing the value of free time. More importantly, I want them to make it a routine part of their lives. In order to teach that lesson, like so many important life lessons, I realize I have to model it in my own life.

And so I took a break myself. I’m relaxed and recharged and ready to dive back into The Risky Kids again.

Do you build downtime into your days, weekends or vacations? If so, what benefits have you seen? And if not, what holds you back from doing so?

 

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

playgrounds exhibit reina sofia

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

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

playgrounds reinventing the square

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

adventure playground reina sofia exhibit

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

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

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

aldo van eyck playground blueprint

And look at this article from post-WWII England:

playgrounds reina sofia

Yes, we would like an anarchist playground!

adventure playground magazine reina sofia

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

playgrounds exhibit madrid

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

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We’re Back!

Almost home

Hello friends! We are back from Spain!

We had a wonderful and amazing adventure, and I have so many things I want to share with you. While I took the requisite photos of cathedrals and castles, I also took lots of photos of playgrounds and kids at play. It was fascinating to see how play and parenting philosophies differ from what we’re accustomed to in the States.

My kids were fantastic travelers, a wonderful reminder to me of how travel benefits kids. They were curious, enthusiastic, and capable of more responsibility and independence that we are apt to give them credit for.

I’ve been home for a few days now, but I’m still just treading water. I can’t quite kick the jet lag, and I’m slowly trying to both catch up and get back on track. So please bear with me as I try to get back into a normal posting schedule. I have a feeling it will be limited to one or two posts a week until the kids are back in school. I want to savor this last month of summer vacation in a different way than we savored the first month. While the sight-seeing and traveling were full of fun and memories, I’m ready to have some lazy fun here at home before school starts. I have a feeling you’re doing much of the same!

I hope you’re having a wonderful summer so far! Thanks for continuing to read and share The Risky Kids, and I look forward to telling you all about our Risky adventures in Spain and London very soon!

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