Archives for February 2013

4 Complaints About Outside Play (and How To Get Around Them)

TOMS vs the mud. Mud wins.

After publishing the last Idle Parent post (“We play in the fields and the forest”), I heard from a few readers that being outside just isn’t their thing.  It struck a chord with Lisa and I, mainly because we’ve both heard similar comments many times before.

If you’re not a fan of outdoor activities with your kids, you’re not alone.  And believe me, we get it.  Neither Lisa or I grew up with outdoorsy parents.  I’ve never been camping in my life.  Lisa’s never started her own fire (at least, not on purpose … that I know of).  We are not outdoor gurus.  But we do recognize that our kids need to spend time outdoors.  Over time we’ve come up with our own ways of getting our reluctant, indoor booties out the door.  They’ve helped us spend more time outside with our kids, and – miracle of miracles – helped us find activities we actually look forward to.

Here are 4 common complaints about outside play and how to get around them … and start enjoying yourself instead!

It’s messy.

The number one complaint we hear about the outside activities with kids is that they’re messy.  Creek stomping, mud puddles, hiking, sandboxes … you name it.  The things kids love the most involve an element of messiness.  While there’s no way around it, a little preparation will make the messes easier to deal with.  Keep a change of clothes, some old shoes and a towel or two in the back of your car.  When messy play beckons, no matter where you are, you can let the kids play with reckless abandon without worrying they’ll muck up the inside of the car or ruin those new shoes.  This would’ve been excellent advice for me to follow after this particular outing.


You can also get kids in the habit of getting out of their messy clothes in a designated area of your home.  In my house they knew they had to do it just inside the back door on the mat.  Snow, mud, wet, or sand, it doesn’t matter.  It’s still a mess but it’s a contained mess.  Mudrooms and garages work just as well.

I don’t enjoy ___________ (insert common outdoor activity here).

I can’t stand outdoor games.  Lisa’s not a fan of nature walks.  Let’s face it, not everything will be your cup of tea outside.  Don’t give up!  Try a variety of things until you find the perfect one – the one both you and your kids enjoy.  Lisa’s friend swore she hated being outside until Lisa introduced her to kayaking.  Walks in the woods often ended in whiny kids, until we discovered how much we love geocaching.  Pinterest is a great source for ideas, as well as a book I reviewed earlier, 15 Minutes Outside.

It’s boring outside.

So maybe your kids love the local playground, but you’re hot, bothered and bored.  Our natural instinct is to either come up with excuses to stay inside or to pass the time on our smartphones, neither of which sets a great example.  Enjoy the few blessed moments of freedom from entertaining the kids and bring your own fun.  Arrange to meet a friend, bring your knitting or a book.  It will do the kids good to entertain themselves and it will do you good to disengage from technology for a bit.

Katydid6 meets IRL Katydid

I’m afraid of ___________ (insert yucky outdoor things here).

Bugs, snakes, poison ivy, strange sounds, rodents, getting burnt … all valid things to want to avoid at all costs.  But how can we expect our kids to conquer the world if we can’t conquer our fear of daddy longlegs?  I’m known for getting horrendous poison ivy rashes, so being in the woods makes me nervous.  Instead of avoiding nature, I’ve taken the time to educate myself on what poison ivy looks like.  I also learned ways to minimize my exposure after I’ve been outside by changing clothes immediately and washing my hands.  Afraid of bugs or snakes?  Spend some time going through an identification guide with your kids so you know what’s out there (the truth will set you free, right?!).  Or just make it a point to choose activities that ensure you won’t encounter whatever it is that gives you the heebie jeebies.

We hope these tips will get you started.  Just remember – it’s all about baby steps.  No one expects you to go from a recluse to an avid camper.  Start small and see where you end up.

Have you found ways around the obstacles that keep you inside?  Share them with us!



Risky Places We Love: Lost River Cave


It was President’s Day on Monday, so I did what every good parent does: loaded up the mini-van for a road trip. We had three adults, five kids, snacks and sack lunches. Our destination? Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the heart of Cave Country. We were expecting a boat ride through a cave, but we got so much more.  They are in the process of installing a natural playscape, which should be finished by early Spring.


 There were giant logs to climb on.


They also have tippy rocks to stand on.


The favorite was this giant tube to crawl through.

We had a picnic lunch before our 30 minute boat ride through the cave. The cave was awesome for everyone.  We saw a bat and fossils and had to duck under the rocks when the boat went through a tight passage. After the boat tour we headed out to the nature trails. It just so happened that they were running a scavenger hunt this weekend that kept the kids entertained for the entire hike – just one of the many events and year-round activities Lost River offers youth.



We ran across tons of slippery mud, a bouncy bridge and rock-filled streams.

We had a blast at the Lost River Cave. I can’t wait to head back in the summer to see the completion of the natural playscape and to take advantage of some of the many other programs offered.

The Lost River Cave is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky just off Interstate 65.  They’re open year-round, but please check the website for tour times and special events.  Let us know if you go!  And if you have any Risky Places You Love, be sure to share them with us.  We’d love to have you write a guest post for us and start a directory of Risky Places across the US.


Book Review: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place


“Every now and then, a person must do something simply because he wants to, because it seems to him worth doing. And that does not make it worthless or a waste of time. It’s true, the towers have no function. They do not give shelter. Neither does the statue of David. They don’t hold up telephone wires. Neither does the Eiffel Tower. And the rose windows of Notre Dame don’t let in enough light to read fine print. But by my definition, that doesn’t make them useless or superfluous either. The towers are there simply because they are worth doing. Without them, my world would be less beautiful and a lot less fun.”

~E. L. Konigsburg

Lenore Skenazy over at Free Range Kids was the first to introduce me to the author, E. L Konigsburg. I have read several of her books to my boys and I highly recommend her work.

Our latest read was The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. Margaret Rose is the main character in this book and she is a kid who gets herself kicked out of summer camp because she “would prefer not to” participate in any of the activities.

She has good reasons to dislike summer camp. Her cabin is filled with a cliquish group of girls who make it their summer project to haze the new camper. Margaret takes only so much before she finds a way out.

She ends up spending the rest of the summer with her two eccentric uncles. They’re artists and have built three towers in the backyard from recycled materials. The city decides that the towers must be removed. Margaret makes it her own personal cause to save the towers from destruction.

This book certainly is free range. Margaret Rose goes to the library and city hall alone. Kids challenge authority and win.

I loved this book and my kids enjoyed it too.

We’d love to know what you and your kids are reading.  Have you read anything that encouraged independence and taking risks?


Risky Reads: The Cardboard Edition

Moving day is nearly upon us.  This weekend we’ll move out of our home of nearly 7 years and into a temporary home for a month before moving into our new home.  We are surrounded by piles, boxes and bubble wrap.  If my kids were ever inspired by Caine’s Arcade, they’ll be in heaven when we start unpacking next month.  They could make an entire amusement park out of all the cardboard.  Also (and I could be getting overly sensitive here due to lack of sleep), I think cardboard boxes are getting a little condescending these days:


I’ll be doing my best to keep posting as scheduled, but if things seem a little quiet here for the next few weeks you know why.  Can’t wait to show you our new digs, though, including the biggest tree I’ve ever had in my very own yard.  In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve come across that I thought you might find interesting.

Please Don’t Help My Kids – A reassuring and inspiring piece for parents everywhere who are trying to raise independent children.  We’re not lazy or uninvolved – we have a purpose!

My kids have been begging for s’mores ever since a friend of ours made them some over her gas stove burners.  We don’t have a gas stove, so how fun would it be to have them earn those s’mores with a little DIY project? Have them build an indoor s’mores grill!

For the generation that will grow up thinking they need a GPS to find their own nose: show them how to find north using a stick.  I’m also loving the other posts in OutsideMom’s series “30 Uses for a Stick.”

Minimalist Parenting has a book coming out in March, and to celebrate they’re offering a free online workshop called MinCamp.  It sounds like a great motivator to simplify your family’s life … plus you earn merit badges.  I’m a sucker for merit badges.  Hope you’ll join me!

A mom with older kids reflects on the futility of raising kids with “no” and “it’s dangerous” as the default response to every situation.  Turns out she had nothing to fear.



The Idle Parent: We Play in the Field and Forests

This is the eleventh 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 Kids. Need to get caught up? You can do so here.

We play in the field and forests.


River Road Park

As I read this passage in The Idle Parent, a lightbulb went off:

“The best places (to play) were the places we had discovered ourselves.  We played in the margins. We didn’t need adult-designed playgrounds”

There’s a lot of discussions about playgrounds these days, and rightly so.  This passage reminded me that no matter the type or condition of our nearest playground, we do have another option: just being outside.

You don’t have to live in the country or the suburbs to enjoy “the field and forests.”  This photo was taken in a city park (with a run-down playground).  The kids had no interest in the playground.  But this ravine that was surrounded by great rocks for throwing and giant wild onions for picking?  It captured their attention and imagination for the better part of an hour.

Wild Girl with Wild Onion

A giant tree, hills to conquer, rocks to climb, free space to roam … this is all you need for a satisfying outdoor adventure.

Geocache Tree

The best part about skipping the slides and just playing outside?  It’s never the same playspace twice.  Go ahead and show the field and forests some love.


Do you ever venture away from the playground and into the field and forests?  What do you like to do there?


The Joy of Horseplay: Why You Should Roughhouse With Your Kids

Roughhousing: the Greek Catapult

I remember the moment in the bookstore when Mike and I first came across “The Art of Roughhousing.”  We quickly flipped through it and laughed.  “Does anyone really need to know this kind of stuff?” I asked.

Actually, they do.  And we did as well.  A generation ago, maybe not.  There’s the image of dad coming home from work, changing clothes, and getting down on the floor with his kids (probably the boys) to wrestle around.  Once I thought about it, though, I realized we never really roughhouse with our kids.  And beyond wrestling, what else is there?

And so “The Art of Roughhousing”, by Anthony DeBenedet, M.D. and Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D, became a useful guide to get us started.  Beyond giving us ideas of what to do, it also explores why rough-and-tumble play is so important to boys and girls of all ages.  The authors make a bold claim: that “active physical play (like roughhousing) makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.”

Well, I can definitely vouch for the joyful aspect of roughhousing.  We’ve yet to have session of horseplay where all of us haven’t ended up winded and laughing.  So far the “Greek Catapult” is our favorite.  It’s pretty impressive how far you can launch a 5-year-old.

Roughhousing: the Greek Catapult

I’d love to see a roughhousing renaissance!  Our kids are accustomed to being told to calm down, sit still, and be gentle.  I think a general riling up and more pillow fights in our lives could do us all a world of good.  So untuck those shirts, throw around some couch cushions and get rowdy!


Are Playgrounds Too Boring?

Late last summer I spent some time talking to Sumathi Reddy, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  She was writing an article about playground safety – how standards have developed and what impact these changes have had on children.  “Playing It Too Safe?” was published in November amid lots of chatter among play and child-development experts.

While my comments didn’t make it into the finished article, it did give me a chance to think about the effect cookie-cutter playgrounds have on my kids.  The number one effect?  After a certain age (around 7 for Elena, and I’m seeing signs of it in Eli at 5), they don’t really want to go the playground anymore.  We have a few unique playgrounds nearby that still elicit excitement from them, but gone are the days when any old slide would do.

I’ve also observed that my kids will use these more monotonous playgrounds to exercise different ways to experience risk.  Take a look at this playground:

Brooks School Park

It was built less than 2 years ago.  It has several elements typical playgrounds lack: wobbly ropes, climbing boulders, musical features, and heights (the main playspace is 3 stories tall).  Even the 10-year-old enjoys this playground.  When we’re here, they play on the equipment as it’s meant to be played … following the playground “rules,” if you will.

This one is a hit, too. Again, notice multiple different climbing possibilities (including the spider web climber in the back), as well as the height.

Holliday Park

Down the street from our house, we have a small, typical playground.  A bank of swings, two small slides, a set of monkey bars.  I dread this playground if other moms are present, because I know my kids are going to do things that will get me dirty looks from them.  They climb and sit on top of the monkey bars. They run up the slide.  They leave the playground to play in the ravine nearby.

Child-development experts point to these kinds of playgrounds and say my kids are doing it for good reason – they’re trying to find ways to challenge themselves in a play environment that is very unchallenging.  And so I cheer them on while trying to avoid the stink-eye from the mom on the other bench.  And I try to seek out places where they can have fun and be challenged, though they are few and far between.

What has your experience been?  Do you (or your kids) find today’s playgrounds too boring?  Are there any playgrounds you’ve visited that have newer or riskier features you’re kids love?