Archives for June 2012

Tag! You’re It: The 2012 KaBOOM! Playground Challenge

KaBOOM! Playground Challenge 2012

Last year the kids and I had so much fun working with KaBOOM! on their Park-a-Day Challenge.  Thanks to the Challenge, we discovered this gem of a wooden playground (along with many others) just minutes from our house.

This year they’re at it again and The Risky Kids want you to do it right along with us.  The KaBOOM! 2012 Playground Challenge starts July 2nd.  Why the need for a playground challenge, you say?  Two things:

1.  A playground in and of itself isn’t necessarily exciting and fun.  It needs kids, and lots of them, to make it come alive.  Maybe you’re the playground expert in your community – the Challenge would be a great opportunity to share your knowledge of the shadiest spots and best slides in town.  Maybe you’ve never ventured beyond that one playground around the corner.  Here’s your chance to explore playgrounds with your kids and find some new favorites.

2.  KaBOOM! has an excellent resource in their Map of Play.  By accessing it online or via their mobile app, you can search for playgrounds wherever you are.  It’s functionality only increases with more participation, and that’s where you come in.  By visiting playgrounds in your community and either entering or updating information about them in the Map of Play, you help others find great places to play.  It also helps identify communities that need playspaces, so that KaBOOM! can continue their mission to provide places to play within walking distance of every child in America.

Here’s how the Challenge works:

  • Download KaBOOM!’s new mobile app, Tag! (available for both iPhone and Android).
  • You visit playgrounds!
  • Track and share your playground adventures using the app.  Each playground you share will be added to the Map of Play.

Did I mention prizes?  No Challenge is complete without prizes!

  • Each playground you visit and share via Tag! will earn you points and badges.
  • Every other week KaBOOM! will give you “mini-challenge” for a chance to earn prizes as you go.
  • When the challenge closes on August 13, the top 3 point and badge earners will each win a week-long trip for 2 to Washington, DC!

What are you waiting for? Let’s all get out there and play!


Idle Parent Manifesto: Bloody Literature for the Young Reader

This is the fourth part in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book  The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kid.  Need to get caught up?  You can do so here.

We read them poetry and fantastic stories without morals.

If you’re an avid reader as I am, chances are good that you grew up around books.  Your parents read, you were read to, and you were encouraged to read on your own.  We probably all have a cherished book or two from childhood, but do you remember the first book that captivated you because you couldn’t believe it was meant for children?

We had a weathered yellow book of nursery rhymes that my mom read to me.  The book is long gone, but over 30 years later I can still vividly see the illustration that  went along with the rhyme, “Who Killed Cock Robin?”

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.

Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.

The poem went on to describe the entire burial of cock robin. In case a child were to not fully understand the tragic fall of the bird, the poem was accompanied by a graphic illustration of a very realistic, very dead robin with blood dripping from his wound.  The serial killer sparrow stood by unfazed, while a fish did indeed collect his dripping blood in a china dish.

I also remember a set of cards about animals around the world that must’ve been a “free” gift in the mail with your impending subscription.  Or a garage sale find.  I say this because we only had South America and I’m guessing there were more.  One particular card stands out in memory: the piranha of the Amazon river.  One side of the card delivered your basic piranha facts.  Flip it over for a full-color rendition of a herd of cattle crossing the river only to be torn to bloody shreds by fish fangs.  I stared at that card for hours.

With the wealth of resources we have at our fingertips about parenting today, we are exposed to opinions about what we should read to our children and when.  The never-ending question of parenthood (and what we are continually judged by) also applies to books: Is it appropriate?

Were murdered birds and mutlilated cattle appropriate for a 5-year-old?  Probably not.  But there’s something about a book that is edgy, fantastical, or hilarious that cements a love for words in a child.  It’s like opening the blinds a crack to see what you’re not supposed to see and liking it, and for the rest of your life you know that there are books out there that can do that for you.

I knew that somewhere in those library shelves between “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables” there existed more books like these.  There existed poetry like Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends“, coming-of-age tales like Judy Blume’s “Forever . . .,” tragedy like “Bridge to Terabithia,” fantasy like “The Dark is Rising.”  For many kids, that’s the holy grail that keeps them reading.

The choices in kid’s literature today are both overwhelming and amazing.  There’s a lot of crap out there, and there’s especially a lot of safe crap.  Kids are unflinchingly honest critics and they can see a thinly-veiled moral or teachable moment in bad fiction a mile away.  This won’t instill a love of reading in anyone, much less the generation we’re trying to influence.

The time we have with our children as a captivated audience of words is so short.  Let’s make it as magical, fantastical, and yes, even as bloody as possible.

What are your favorite books you’ve shared with your kids that fit this mold?  Let me know and I’ll share your favorites and mine in a future post!


DIY Darts (Perfect Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse)

The books you own and leave out around your home say a lot about you.  I wonder exactly what our visitors think when they see this book on the toy shelf:

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction

Funny, no one wants me to host playgroup anymore …

Our more cautious visitors might want to stay away for just a little while, as Eli pulled out the book on Saturday morning and asked if we could make something.  After narrowing the choices down to the ones for which we had materials handy, he chose long darts (I had to steer him away from the mini flame throwers, what with the burn ban and all – you know we’re all about safety here).

They were relatively easy to put together.  A little too tricky for a 4-year-old to accomplish himself, but Elena was able to make one without any assistance.  The throwing part though?  Let’s just say Eli can do it well enough that a) he get a bulls-eye b) we moved darts into the garage and c) he’s going to be a bar darts prodigy well before he can see over the bar.  Overall, they’re quick to put together and surprisingly sturdy.

If you have a tinkerer in your house, I highly recommend this book.  There are definitely projects in here that don’t require fire or needle-sharp objects that will still be thoroughly entertaining for kids and adults alike.  Beyond darts, you can choose from a variety of launchers, bows and slingshots, catapults, and targets.

And now, for those of you who like to live dangerously, here are instructions to build your own long darts:

DIY Dart Supplies


  • 4 toothpicks
  • Masking tape
  • 1 small metal pin
  • Thread
  • Clear tape
  • Card stock
  • Scissors
1.  Using masking tape, tightly wrap 4 toothpicks together to form a square bundle.  Leave about 1/4″ of the front end of the toothpicks unwrapped, as well as about 1/2″ of the back end.

DIY Darts

2.  Wedge the pin into the front center of the 4 toothpicks.  A pin with a small head or ball works best.  Once you have it wedged in there, tightly wrap the front end of the dart with thread.  Continue to wrap it until the pin is nearly immovable.  We found it easiest to anchor the thread under the masking tape and then to wrap it with clear tape after you’re finished winding the thread.

DIY Darts

3.  Use the card stock to make the dart fins.  The cardboard that cereal boxes are made from works great, too.  Cut out a 3-in x 1 1/2-in rectangle.
Fold the rectangle in half to create a double square (the square will be two layers thick).

DIY Darts

Use scissors to cut out a triangle shape from the folded card stock.  Remove the extra material from both sides (this is trash).  When finished you should end up with two triangles  of the exact same size.  The triangles should be separate, not connected at the tip.

DIY Darts

4.  Place the two cardboard triangles side by side.

DIY Darts

On the first triangle, cut a small slit from the top point of the triangle to about halfway down.    On the second triangle, cut a slit from the midpoint of the bottom edge to about halfway up the triangle.

DIY Darts

Slide the two triangles together to form the rear fin of the dart.

DIY Darts

5.  Slide the rear fin assembly into the 4 toothpicks on the rear end of the dart so that one fin is wedged between each toothpick pair.  The pressure of the toothpicks will hold the fin in place.  Your darts are finished and ready for throwing!

Zombie Dart Target

As much as we joke around, we are serious about dart safety.  Darts have a dangerous point and are not meant for living targets.  Zombie targets drawn with chalk on the garage wall are totally fine, though, and probably a wise way to prepare for the impending zombie apocalypse (100 points for the brain!).  You can print out a dartboard template here if you don’t have a dartboard.  There are a few available in the back of the book as well.


Risky Places We Love: Bottom View Farm in Portland, Tennessee

Hi Risky Readers!  One of our goals in starting this blog was to highlight places to visit where you and your kids can engage in some good, risky fun.  We’re just one family on a budget, though, so we welcome readers who would like to guest post on their discoveries. We’d love to feature risky places all over the country (even the world!), so if you have a place you’d like to share contact us at

Our very first guest writer in the short history of The Risky Kids is my good friend (and often my inspiration) Lisa Abramson.  Lisa is a mom of 2 boys living near Nashville, Tennessee.  You might recognize her from our slackline post!  Here’s Lisa’s account of one of their favorite Risky Places: Bottom View Farm.

It was day five of summer and I found myself alone with my 9-year-old son.  It was time to round up some friends and do something fun.

I found Bottom View Farm on the internet and learned they’d recently added a zipline.  I’m an adrenaline junkie so this was right up my alley.  We were encouraged to wander the grounds and explore the animals, the little Western town and so much more.

They have seven ziplines that total over 5,000 feet.  It was worth the price just to watch the kids try to figure out the average length of each zipline (it comes to around 714 feet). Sheesh, we’ve only been out of school for a week!  We zipped over real cows, a creek and a lake.  Our two guides knew how to entertain kids and they weren’t afraid to do it.  Their awesome attitudes and hilarious sense of humor made the kids feel comfortable while still having loads of fun.  We all had a blast.  The views were spectacular and we all want to zip again soon.

When was the last time that you saw one of these at a playground?

Forget time out, put 'em in the stockade


The kids had never played on a real one of these before. They caught on quick.

By this time, we’d worked up quite an appetite.  We ate at The Inside Scoop, one of the two restaurants on the farm.  The prices were great and the menu was kid-friendly.  I would return for the green bean fries alone.

I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Ralph, the owner.  He’s raised at least two generations on this working farm.  He told me that he felt called to create this haven for kids when he went out to the garden to pick tomatoes for the restaurant.  A kid saw him return with fresh tomatoes and commented that Mr. Ralph must’ve just returned from WalMart.  The kid had never seen a garden before and had no idea that you could actually grow a tomato.  Mr. Ralph understands the value of teaching our kids that food doesn’t always come from a plastic grocery sack.  He wanted a farm where kids could roam free, pet a real animal, pick a strawberry and just play.

I think that he has succeeded.

Bottom View Farm, owned by Ralph & Mary Cook, is located at 185 Wilkerson Lane in Portland, Tennessee.  Visit their website or call (615-325-7017) for more information.


50 Dangerous Things: Deconstruct an Appliance


Task:  Take apart an appliance and unlock the hidden mysteries inside.


  • Broken Appliance
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Crescent Wrench
  • Wire Cutters
  • Safety Goggles (depending on the appliance)
  • Cardboard or Drop Cloth (if you want to contain the mess)

Possible Hazards:

  • Cuts and Scrapes
  • Projectiles
  • Make a Mess

How It All Went Down:

For a long time Eli’s nickname was “Mr. Destructo.”  For most of his two’s and well into his three’s, he destroyed many things in our home.  Most of the time it wasn’t on purpose, he just didn’t really grasp the concept of “gentle.”  Or so we thought.  Somewhere around 3 1/2, Eli discovered screwdrivers and their power to unlock the mystery inside so many common objects.  Every day he’d plead with me, “Mama, can I screw something?”

So awesome, unless a stranger was within earshot.

We had to be really careful not to leave him unsupervised with a screwdriver, or he’d find something to disassemble on his own.  Hope you weren’t too attached to that DVD player.

What we thought was just destructive behavior in the beginning makes total sense when you really think about it.  Whether it’s a toddler smashing things on the ground or a bigger kid disassembling an appliance, it’s really about unlocking the mystery of the devices and tools we use every day.  Once you have access to the inner workings of something, you can start to process how it works and how it’s created.

In an interview before he passed, Steve Jobs reflected on a childhood in which his father encouraged him to take things apart and put them back together again.  He had his own workspace in the garage.  He bought Heathkits, and learned to put very intricate things together to make a working product.  He talked about the self-confidence and knowledge these kinds of activities gave him, and we all know where those positive experiences took him in life.

A few practical notes before you begin:

  • If you don’t have any broken appliances around your home, search for appliances at garage sales and thrift stores.  Eli’s deconstructed cordless phones, VCRs, CD players, and remote control toys.
  • There are a few appliances that should never be taken apart without expert guidance, including old tube televisions, CRT monitors and refrigerators.  If in doubt, read any labels or safety warnings you can find on the appliance.
  • As they remove parts, ask your child to try and figure out what they think they’re for.
  • Have jars or food storage containers available to store miscellaneous screws, gears and springs.  What can you make with all those extra parts?

This is one of the cheapest and most enjoyable activities a kid can do, and it’s so incredibly liberating for them to be given the freedom to take a once-forbidden object in their hands and manipulate it as they like.  So be risky for a change and instead of asking your kids to be careful with something, ask them to destroy it instead!

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


Is a Broken Bone Better Than a Broken Spirit When It Costs You $5000?

Did you have a chance to see the video I posted last week about the benefits of risk in children’s play?  If not, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch it, and maybe share it with  your peers.  It has some great takeaways in it, and you might even recognize a few faces.

Many of the ideas and issues brought up were things I’m familiar with, but there was one statement in particular that I’d never thought of before.  It had to do with how willing we are in the US to let our children try risky things.  For example, would you let your kids do this?

My friend Lisa’s son, Thomas, on a recent kayaking trip

Or climb this?

Finnegan and Mietta and the climbing frame

Photo by chopp3rs via flickr

Would you let them build a fort on their own?

Or climb halfway up a large tree?

The risky kid climbs a tree

For many parents, the answer is an emphatic “No!”  It’s easy for those of us who say “Yes!” to  chide the other parents for being overprotective.  But in the video, an important point is raised:

What are the financial implications for a family if a child is hurt while taking a risk during play?  

What if you have an insurance plan with a high deductible?  Or worse yet, no coverage at all?  Do you blame a parent for telling their kids not to climb, or hovering near the monkey bars?  Eli broke his arm as a toddler (oddly enough, not doing anything more risky than squabbling with his sister), when Mike was self-employed.  It cost us over $5000.  So yes, I get it when you see your kid climbing a tree and you don’t think, “How grand! Imagine what he’s learning by taking risk!”  I see the dollar signs, too.

I don’t have the answers as to how to make this different.  It will take not only a shift in the culture here, but also a dramatic change in our health care system.

What do you think?  Is it possible (and fair) to encourage risky play among families who might not be able to handle the implications of an accident?  Have you ever discouraged your kids from an activity because you were afraid of the medical bills they might incur?