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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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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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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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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Keeping the Summer Spirit Alive Through the School Year

Keep the summer spirit alive

One of the hardest things about going back to school is watching the last glorious days of summer unfold while you’re stuck inside. And while I won’t deny that we were all ready to get back to a schedule, none of us were quite ready to give up on summer. It got me thinking – what is it about summer that makes the season so special, and how can we keep that summer spirit alive as our days get both busier and shorter?

Keep the summer spirit alive: build a bonfire

Eat Outside

Picnics, deck dinners and cul-de-sac cookouts are frequent occurrences during the summer. Back to school doesn’t have to mean back inside! In fact, I find my kids need even more outdoor time in September and October, to make up for long days indoors at school. Have your afternoon snack outside on the patio, plan a picnic dinner, or build a bonfire and cook outdoors.

Keep Exploring

Keep Exploring

We’re great about planning road trips and vacations in the summer, but you can still travel and explore when school’s in session. Plan a day trip for the weekend, or become tourists in your hometown. Check out that new trail you missed over the summer, look for a new geocache nearby, or visit that playground that was too hot to consider last July.

Just Add Water

Just Add Water

It’s Murphy’s Summer Law: once the pools close after Labor Day, you will find yourself with the hottest, stickiest weather that will leave you longing for the pool. There are lots of fun water toys on clearance in the stores now, so stock up and enjoy them at home before you pack them up for the fall. Break out the sprinkler or the water balloons. I love to stock up on water guns (these are great) so that all the kids on the street can have a big water gun fight.

Game on! Cornhole

Game On!

This is also a great time to get outdoor games at great prices. Stock up on outdoor games and toys the kids loved during the summer, and add something new to the mix (we just got these OgoDisks and love them).

Protect the Empty Calendar

Protect the Empty Calendar

One of the beautiful things about summer is the feeling that you have entire days with no real obligations. No sports practices or math club. No homework or tuba lessons. While it’s a given that your calendar will fill up and your afternoons and evenings will be busier, you can still control it to an extent. It’s okay to say no, or to limit the number of after-school activities the kids participate in. Everything that comes home in the folders looks so fun and exciting at first, but when the reality of having something to do or somewhere to be 5 nights a week sets in, all the frivolity of summer flies out the window. We limit the kids to one extracurricular per season, and it works for us.

Another thing we’re trying this year to make our evenings less full is to do homework as soon as the kids get home from school. I refused to do this for years, being of the belief that the kids needed to chill before they attempted homework. Instead, I found that they had a hard time getting back into the homework mindset, and often homework stretched into the evening and too close to bedtime for my liking. Now, we have a snack while we get started on the day’s work. It seems to go faster and we all love the feeling of being completely done with our school obligations, leaving the evenings free for play. And if the day is just too perfect and the call of the outdoors too great? I’m okay with saying no to homework, too.

How do you keep the carefree spirit of summer alive throughout the school year in your home?

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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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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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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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Disconnect & Reconnect: Screen-Free Family Activities

screen-free family activites

Today kicks off Screen-Free Week 2014! Last week I wrote about the purpose behind Screen-Free Week, and how the details of disconnecting can be different for each family.

Screen Free Week 2014

What does Screen-Free Week look like for The Risky Family? Well, in full disclosure we’re not disconnecting completely. However, as a holdover from the winter that would never end, we’ve fallen into a bit of screen dependency. I’m viewing Screen-Free Week as a chance for us to cut way back on our consumption of media and reboot our tech habits, if you will. Here’s our plan for the week:

  • The kids are allowed to use the iPad or watch a show in the morning before school. We are not a morning people, and this always eases them into the day. It’s a very short amount of time that they’re using screens, and I never have issues with it interfering with getting ready or getting out the door in the morning.
  • During the school week, we won’t be using screens after school, unless needed for homework.
  • I will also refrain from using television, social media or mindlessly surfing the web from the time the kids get home from school until the next morning, unless it pertains directly to work.
  • On Saturday we can have an hour of screen time.
  • On Sunday all bets are off. It’s Mother’s Day, after all, and I would like to have a relaxing day! For me, that means catching up on reading other blogs and perusing Pinterest (as well as non-screen related activities such as sleeping, reading, more sleeping … you get the idea).

For some of you, this may look like a normal week, and for that I applaud you! But I want to be transparent, and show other families that we struggle with screen usage just like many of you.

If you’re taking the plunge, you’ll most likely be faced with kids who aren’t sure what to do with themselves. Here are a few screen-free ideas to help you celebrate Screen-Free Week:

Read Outside Screen-Free Week

Turn to Books

After school we’ll be making a trip to the library to load up on books for the week. Besides fiction, there are lots of non-fiction books to inspire you with projects and ideas. Some of our favorites are:

Reconnect with nature Screen-Free Week

Reconnect with Nature

Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Even if it doesn’t, there’s nothing wrong with playing in the rain! A few other ideas for getting outdoors:

Tinkersketch art journal

Unleash your inner tinkerer, scientist, or artist

Mancala

Try a new family game each night and find your new favorite. We love:

Slackline screen-free week

Master a new skill

Perhaps your somersault needs perfecting. Work on your fire-building skills and treat yourselves to dinner or s’mores cooked over the open flame. Give slacklining a try. Go kayaking with the kids.

whip cream fight screen free week

Take the time to be silly.

Between school, work, and spending mindless time in front of screens, one of the first things to disappear is our ability to goof off. While screens can certainly relax us and take our minds off of things, we forget about the restorative power of laughter. Roughhouse with the kids. Have a whip cream fight. We like to play a game to see where we stand in a circle and each do something ridiculous at the same time. The last one to laugh wins. The truth is, when we let our guard down and get silly, we all win.

Do you have anything fun planned for Screen-Free Week? Or are you just seeing where your undistracted imaginations take you?

 

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Screen-Free Week 2014

Screen Free Week 2014

Next Monday, May 5, kicks off the beginning of Screen-Free Week 2014. Presented by the Campaign for a Commerical-Free Childhood, Screen-Free Week is an annual event that takes place around the world every spring. The goal of Screen-Free Week is to encourage families to take a 7 day hiatus from using entertainment screen media, such as iPads, video games, movies and television. It’s nearly impossible to take a complete break from screens – we use technology daily for work and school – but it is possible to go a week without using screens for distraction and entertainment.

Instead of looking at screen entertainment as a good or bad thing, we can instead focus on the adventure of finding new things to do without the crutch of technology. Taking a break from screens gives us an opportunity to reconnect without distractions, and to reflect on whether our consumption of media is balanced or not.

Of course, any of us can opt to take a break from screens at any point in our lives. But one of the huge benefits of Screen-Free Week is doing it in the company of others. Imagine if every family on your block participated! After school the front yards could be filled with kids running, laughing, and playing together. Parents could reconnect with neighbors, building community that lasts long after Screen-Free Week is over.

Screen Free Week

How can you participate? Start off by taking the Screen-Free Week Pledge. Then decide what a Screen-Free Week will look like for your family. Will you totally disconnect? Maybe you’ve never tried to monitor screen time, so you’ll choose to limit it to 30 minutes or an hour a day. Maybe you’ll choose a few days to go screen-free. The details aren’t important, and you can’t fail Screen-Free Week. The important part is taking some time to really think about your media consumption, and how best to incorporate into a life that also includes plenty of time for distraction-free connection, creativity and play.

Once you’ve decided to participate, spend a few minutes browsing the Screen-Free Week website. Find a Screen-Free Week event near you, or check out their helpful guide on how to prepare for a great Screen-Free Week.

Whenever we take a break from screens, I find that the most resistance occurs right at the beginning. Let the kids have their space to complain for a few minutes. Listen and empathize (we know it’s hard – we love our screens, too!). Ask them how they think they can participate. Prepare yourself ahead of time to have some suggestions and activities ready to go, and before you know it they’ll be discovering the joys of life unplugged.

On Monday I’ll share some screen-free suggestions of our own. Be sure to come back and check them out … and then get ready to disconnect from screens and reconnect with the ones you love!

Will you be participating in Screen-Free Week? What would a successful Screen-Free Week look like for your family?

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