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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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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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

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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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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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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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Let Nature Be Your Teacher

Let Nature be your teacher

Close your screens, save that phone call, errand, or complicated dinner for another day. “Come forth into the light of things,” and go outside today.

Who knows what glorious things you might discover!

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Say Yes To Outdoor Play On a Rainy Day

rainy day play

Perhaps it’s because we’re finally coming out on the other side of the coldest, snowiest, and longest winter I can remember, but the kids have been itching to get outside more than ever. They want to go outside on nice days, of course, but they also want to go outside on chilly and drizzly days.

Somewhere along the way, we lose our desire to want to play outside in the rain. But just because we’d rather curl up with a blanket and a good book, that doesn’t mean we have to keep the kids inside.

One of the most magical things about childhood is seeing everyday things transformed by the weather and the elements. Warm spring rains are the perfect backdrop for kids to explore how things change when rain begins to fall.

Where are the best puddles? Why do puddles form here but not there? What happens when I jump in a puddle? What if I bounce this ball in a puddle?

puddle play

In addition to water play, there are worms to examine, mud to poke around in, and umbrellas to twirl. We had a really heavy rainfall a couple of weeks ago and the kids were mesmerized by how quickly our backyard turned into a temporary pond.

play in the rain

Set aside a set of old play clothes, invest in a pair of rain boots and some cheap umbrellas, and you have everything you need. Next time the kids ask if it’s okay to play outside on a rainy day, say yes! You can either join them, or enjoy the peace and quiet with that blanket and book.

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Risky Reads: The Laundry Basket Edition

Asleep in the laundry basket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more risky inspiration, follow us on Pinterest and like us on Facebook.  And if you ever see anything you think we’d like, please share it with us!

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Connecting With Nature: Explore a Pond

Explore a pond via The Risky Kids
Oftentimes as parents we feel like in order to make nature a part of our children’s lives we must make time for some grand expedition. We feel we must pack up the car and the gear, travel to the park or the nature preserve or the trails, and make an entire day of it. And while that is all well and good (and should be done now and then, according to the Nature Connection Pyramid), we can all make nature exploration a part of our lives without much time, effort or money. I’m so inspired by the practicality of the Nature Connection Pyramid, and its potential to encourage families to make nature a part of their everyday lives in many different ways. As I’m inspired, I’ll be sharing ways in which we’ve incorporated the suggestions of the Nature Connection Pyramid into our lives.

nature connection pyramid

This past week was our Spring Break, and we spent most of it close to home, giving the kids ample opportunities for unstructured outdoor play. Eli ran free with his neighborhood friends and cousins, taking advantage of warm weather and freed from the constraints of an earlier bedtime. Elena and a friend planned their own picnic, baking a cake, shopping for supplies, and exploring a waterfall.

elenawaterfall

We also carved out a morning to do some nature exploring near our neighborhood. I noticed on a run the other week that the neighborhood behind ours has a wooded area with a pond. We set off on bikes, filling a backpack with some empty jars and a magnifying glass.

Exploring a pond

I was hoping we might find tadpoles, but it appears to be too early in the season for them. We’ll definitely check back often in the next few weeks in hopes of catching some.

Tadpoles or no tadpoles, there was still plenty to explore. There was mucky mud to squish our boots in, bright green moss to feel, and logs to balance on.

Boy and pond

Eli was a bit disappointed that we didn’t see any signs of life in the water, but I encouraged him to fill a jar with water anyways. We took it home with us and had a look with the magnifying glass.

Studying pond water

Have you ever looked at pond water up close? I thought we might see something, but I was wholly unprepared for the variety of tiny life contained in a jar of pond water! We saw teeny-tiny water bugs, some kind of beetle, a small crustracean-like critter (called a scud) scavenging the muck on the bottom, and several worm-like creatures. It was fascinating (and an excellent reminder to be thankful for clean water to drink)!

I hope you’ll make some time this week to do some nature exploring close to home! In the meantime, what are some of your favorite ways to explore nature with your kids?

This post is also included in the No Such Thing As Bad Weather Outdoor Play Party Roundup. Visit for some great ideas!

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