Archives for May 2013

Summer Break the Risky Kid Way

Today is the last day of school and ten weeks of summer break stretch out in front of us.  Whether you’re the Summer Bucket List kind of family or more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-shorts family, here are a few ideas to add some risky play to your summer break.

S'mores for summer via The Risky Kids

Build a fire:  If the kids are old enough, teach them how.  If they’re too young, let them fetch the sticks.  Either way, reward their hard work with s’mores!

GoApe! Zipline

Zipline: Search your local listings to find a place nearby and zip through a summer day.  In central Indiana we love GoApe!  In middle Tennessee try Adventureworks.

DIY Darts via The Risky Kids

DIY Darts:  These darts were no joke, which of course made them very appealing to my kids.  Assembling them is a great rainy day activity, and if you set up a dart board in the garage they can hone their skills all summer long.

Rock Climbing via The Risky Kids

Rock climb:  When the kids are climbing the walls, give them rocks instead.  Traditional indoor climbing facilities are a great way to beat the heat, but don’t forget that even the littlest climbers enjoy tackling big rocks.  Scout out parks and playgrounds that have rocks and boulders for scaling.

Diet Soda & Mentos Explosion via The Risky Kids

Explode something:  This summer we’re going to work on our first rocket launching kits.  Last summer we did the Diet Coke and Mentos explosion and it was a big hit.  The kids are still talking about it.

Kayaking with kids via The Risky Kids

Kayak:  Lisa, our resident kayaking expert, shared some great tips on how to kayak with kids.

Organize Outdoor Games via The Risky Kids

Organize a game:  Whether you get them started in a game of kickball or flashlight tag, or they come up with their own game, getting a group of kids to play outside games together is such a valuable part of childhood.  Keep in mind, this usually doesn’t happen naturally.  Most kids aren’t accustomed to this, having everything planned and organized for them.  Put in some time getting them organized, and watch the tradition unfold and take off on its own!

Water balloon fight via The Risky Kids

Water Balloon Fight:  The perfect way to beat the heat!

Let the kids decide:  I like to make our collection of books and magazines available and tell the kids to pick something that appeals to them.  It’s a great boredom buster (they’ll usually spend a good chunk of time just looking at all the options) and I’ve found, especially with older kids, they’re more apt to be cheerful participants if they picked the activity.  This year I’m also curating a Pinterest board they can turn to for ideas.  Here are a few books I like to keep around for inspiration:

Most of our suggestions are outside activities because we’re so passionate about getting kids outside.  If outside play seems daunting to you (and believe me, you’re not alone), check out our suggestions for making it more appealing.

Of course, don’t forget to do the riskiest thing of all: free time and a hefty dose of relaxing.

Relax via The Risky Kids

What are you doing this summer?  We’re always looking for new ideas, so let us know that one thing you can’t wait to try with the kids this summer!


The Idle Parent: Time is More Important Than Money

This is the fourteenth 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.

The gift of time via The Risky Kids

Time is More Important Than Money


When I think back upon my own childhood, my fondest memories are those in which it felt like time would stretch on forever.  Summer afternoons at the lake with my friends.  Stretched out on my bed with a good book and nowhere to go.  Sleepovers where we giggled long into the night.  Playing cards with my parents.

I grew up middle class, and while we never struggled, my parents weren’t ones for fancy vacations or buying lots of “things.”  They also weren’t big on organized activities for me.  I did a few things – art classes, tennis lessons here and there, church youth group.  There was a period of time as a teenager and young adult where I vowed that I would do things differently as a parent … don’t we all?  My kids would play sports from an early age so they could compete and excel.  We would travel often.  I wouldn’t deny them whatever fad it was everyone else had, or worse yet, buy them a knock-off of said fad.  It’s funny how wise we are before we actually have children of our own.

Looking back now, I realize that my parents gave me an incredible gift that doesn’t cost a penny.  They gave me time.  I’m sure my memory is clouded by time, but I honestly don’t remember a single moment from my youth where I felt rushed or overscheduled.  I don’t ever remember being busy just for the sake of being busy.  I just remember having time.  Time to play, time to read, time to do my homework, time to lie on my floor and twirl the phone cord while talking to friends.

It’s different now.  This spring, while most of their friends were juggling music lessons, multiple sports, and scouts, my kids mostly stayed home.  Eli did nothing, Elena participated in Girl Scouts and the occasional after-school program.  There were weeks when we didn’t have a single thing scheduled for after-school.  We didn’t go anywhere for Spring Break.  We are not normal.  We are weird, or lazy, or ruining our kids’ future, depending on who you ask.

In the book, Hodgkinson notes that, “To have your kids say they had a happy, relaxed childhood is worth more than all the family holidays, toys or achievements.”  I couldn’t agree more.

We can spend the money on all of these things, but we choose not to.  It allows me to stay home, but more importantly, it allows our kids to have the gift of an afternoon, or even an entire weekend, with nothing to do but whatever their imaginations come up with.  Maybe you opt out of activities, things, or vacations for the same reasons.  Maybe you don’t have a choice.  But whatever the reason, if you find your family with extra time on your hands, please realize you’re holding something more precious than gold.






50 Dangerous Things: Play with Fire


Task:  Learn how to start a fire, and become aware of its risks and responsibilities.



  • Fire pit, ring, or barbecue
  • Water bucket
  • Firewood – various sizes of logs or wood cut to various widths
  • Kindling –  twigs, small sticks or wood chips
  • Tinder – crumpled paper or very dry leaves
  • Matches or lighter
  • Adult supervision

Possible Hazards:

  • Burns
  • Fire (!)
  • Property Damage

How It All Went Down:

The previous owners of our home were kind of enough to leave their fire pit behind … and along with it a backyard full of firewood, kindling and tinder.  The kids had been begging to make s’mores in the fire pit, and I saw it as a perfect opportunity for them to learn about making a fire.  You have to earn your s’mores in this family.

Since wood, wind and weather conditions, and burning vessels are so varied, no two fires will ever be the same.  Use the following as general guidelines.  Fires can produce a lot of smoke, so make sure your neighbors (if you’re in the ‘burbs like us) are okay with this.  Keep buckets of water handy for dousing out the fire.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 1:

Observe the conditions around you.  Determine what direction the wind is coming from.  This determines the front of the fire (upwind side) and back of the fire (downwind side).

Step 2:

Lay your foundation.  Select a large piece of wood with a flat side and set it at the back of your fire ring.  This will reflect heat and protect the fire from wind.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 3:

Assemble your starter.  Place tinder at the base of the large piece of wood.  Lay kindling on top and place smaller logs on either side of the kindling, leaning against the large piece of wood.

Step 4:

Stockpile medium-sized sticks to feed the fire until the larger logs ignite.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 5:

Light the bottom edges of the tinder.  If it’s too wet, it won’t light.  If they’re damp, you may be able to blow on them to get them to “catch.”  Lighting from the bottom works with fire’s natural tendency to burn up instead of down.

Step 6:

As your kindling starts to burn, feed the fire with the medium-sized sticks.  Don’t add too many too soon, or you can inadvertently put the fire out.

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 7:

Maintain your fire by poking and nudging logs together as they burn, minimizing the number of logs you need to add to the fire.  Make and eat your s’mores!

Play With Fire via The Risky Kids

Step 8:

Extinguish.  When you’re done with the fire, pour water all over the fire.  It’s important to stir the ash around and add more water as needed.  If not, dry pockets can remain and reignite.  Repeat this process until all parts of the fire are cool to the touch.

This ended up being a learning experience for all of us.  For one, I never knew the difference between firewood, kindling and tinder.  I didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy family, so making and watching over a fire wasn’t anything I ever learned.  In the process, all of us learned not only how to start a fire, but the importance of watching over it and the taking responsibility for it until it is completely out.  We joke about doing “risky” things, but for the first time on this journey, we felt like we were doing something that actually had the potential to be dangerous.

Fire is fascinating for kids.  Beyond melting marshmallows in it, they love to watch it, poke it, and add things to it.  As Mr. Tulley points out in the book, fire is “a laboratory and an invitation to explore.”   Building a fire is one of those skills that our generation has strayed away from, but is an important tool to know and understand.  And because it naturally attracts the attention of children, it’s imperative that we teach kids how to use and behave around fire.  Having experience with fire under the supervision of adults makes it less likely that they’ll ever do anything truly risky with fire on their own.

You can 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).


Fight the Urge to Overparent: 7 Ways to Stop Hovering

Fight the Urge to Overparent via The Risky Kids

Can I let you in on a secret?  As passionate as I am about raising independent kids and taking risks, I still struggle with the urge to overparent.  I have a feeling I’m not alone.  In talking with other parents, I’ve come to realize that we all have at least one thing that makes us want to hover or get over-involved when it comes to our kids.  When you feel yourself beginning to helicopter, here are 7 tips to help you overcome that urge.

Find Your Tribe

Some people are able to march to the beat of their own drum no matter where they are or who they’re with.  Most of us probably struggle with voicing our opinions or parenting our way when we’re around people whose ideas and values are different.  Finding other parents who practice free-range parenting can help you keep your desire to overparent in check.  You can bounce ideas, be a resource, and best of all, feel safe from judgement with each other.  Pay attention to other parents at the park, playground, or school and see if you see yourself in them – and then introduce yourself!  And don’t underestimate the power of friendships you make online.  Support from like-minded parents online can be just as powerful as a friend next door.

Acknowledge Your Own Issues

We all have our buttons that are easily pressed, and often they are rooted in some kind of fear or lack of knowledge.  I can be laid back in nearly every aspect of parenting, but when it comes to my tween’s digital life I am a classic helicopter parent.  It turns out that it’s hard for me to give up that control, and my fear is that she’ll share something she’ll regret later or make poor choices with negative consequences.  By realizing that this is an issue for me, it allows me to think about how I handle situations that arise.    Often it forces me to check myself – am I parenting rationally?  Or am I making decisions based on my own fears?

Fight the Urge to Overparent

Know Your Child

You really do know best.  You know what they’re capable of and what they’re not ready for.  Some kids are ready to play alone in the front yard at four, while others need more maturity.  If you know your child has the skills they need to try something, let them do it – even if they might fail.

Find Your Own Project

Parenting is a job, one we all take seriously.  But our children can’t be our pet projects, hobbies, or source of our inner fulfillment.  An unhappy or bored parent seeks to control, making it too easy to get over-involved in every aspect of their child’s life.  Find your own purpose and sources of happiness.  Make time for your own hobbies, be of service to others, and take care of your self.  It takes the pressure off your kids to please you, and you’ll set a good example for them to follow as they parent their own children.


Remember the Toddler Years

Did you overparent when it came time for your babies and toddlers to learn to walk, talk, feed themselves, or use the bathroom?  Chances are you let them fail – they fell down, mispronounced words, missed their mouths, had accidents.  They learned from trial and error, and you were there to cheer them on when they mastered those tasks.  Yes, the potential for bigger mistakes grows as our kids grow.  But better that they fail and learn while still under our care, than never learn how to try or handle failure as an adult.

Have a Mantra: “Mistakes Are Good”

This is where real growth takes place.  One summer Elena loved nothing more than to read books outside.  The only problem?  She was always forgetting to bring the book in with her.  I nagged her for days, or worse yet, brought her things in for her.  Finally, I realized I wasn’t doing her any favors, and I stopped.  One morning I found her sobbing on the back porch – she’d left  a library book out and it had rained.  I had a choice: I could overparent, and handle the situation for her, or I could let her learn from a natural consequence.  She took the damaged book to the library, explained the situation to the librarian, apologized, and handed over $20 of her own money she was saving for an iPod to pay for the book.  She never left another book outside again.


Get Comfortable with Feeling Uncomfortable

Feelings are messy, and dealing with kids’ feelings is every bit as hard as dealing with your own (if not harder).  It’s difficult to see your kids unhappy, frustrated, angry or sad.  My first urge it to fix it.  What we don’t realize is that the temporary relief we provide them only serves to make those feelings even more unbearable when they return – and they will.  Life is full of mess.  Be there for your kids, but give them the time,space, and tools to process their own emotions.

Is this something you struggle with, too?  In what kind of situations do you tend to overparent and how do you fight the urge to do so?


Risky Skills Every Kid Needs: Open a Bank Account

We here at the Risky Kids have been pondering a new series: Life Skills Every Risky Kid Needs. Some will be highly risky, like jumping a car battery and some will be mundane, like opening a bank account.

And so, we’re off to the bank.

We bank at Regions Bank. The people there are wonderful. I walked in with not one but two kids to open up savings accounts. The first thing we learned at the bank was the fine art of waiting.


Luckily, I brought hangman.

Poor Mr. Lamb had the pleasure of helping us. He was infinitely patient with Thomas and Benjamin. I made them answer all of the questions and fill out all of the paperwork.


For Thomas, it was all about counting up the big bucks.

Mr. Lamb happened to have a gumball machine in his office and my kids both decided at one point to trade in their hard earned money (ooohhh Nana, I love you.) for change to use in the machine. I advised them against this and they proceeded to open the savings accounts.

The very next day checks arrived from Nana and Papa and I suggested a Risky Field Trip to Regions to deposit those checks.


We took the neighbor with us cause we sure know how to have a good time over here at The Risky Kids!


Both boys filled out all the paperwork. We learned a valuable lesson from a complete stranger. I was about to tell Thomas what his account number was when another adult banker reminded me that we never give out our account number. He told the boys that if he had their account number, he could take all their money. They asked him what he would buy and I believe his answer was ice cream. Thank you for kind stranger for the good advice (and good taste).

Kids need to learn about spending and saving. They need to be able to walk into a business and know what to do and how to talk to people. So raid the piggy bank and head to the real bank!

What other Risky Life Skills do your kids need? Shoot us an email or leave a comment below and we’ll add them to our list!


Risky Reads: The Helmet & Pads Edition

Padded & Protected - The Risky Kids

Probably not the photo you’d expect to see on The Risky Kids, no?  Eli won this motocross helmet by taking 2nd place in a Strider bike race this winter.  He LOVES it, and would probably sleep in it if I let him.  I don’t see how he can walk around in it, much less ride his bike or rollerblades … it’s so heavy and huge on his head!  So lest you think we roll our kids gravel or toss them from the roof, please note that even the The Risky Kids pad and protect themselves from time to time.

Here are a few things I’ve found around the web in the last month that I thought you’d enjoy.  Take your pads off and stay awhile!

Are American parents doing it backwards?  An interesting perspective from the Huffington Post on how parenting styles differ in other cultures, and how our style may hinder our kids.  (Thanks to Paul K., a reader who tipped me off to this article.)

Now that you’ve read about how we’re doing it all wrong, chew on this: are we raising a nation of wimps?  This article over at Psychology Today thinks the efforts of some parents to shield their kids from bumps and bruises (both the physical and mental kind) may be setting kids up for a propensity to break down.

Are you and your kids more likely to hang out in the back yard or front yard?  Here’s the #1 reason you should be hanging out in the front yard instead.

Love camp, but don’t love how fast the cost adds up?  Have a kid that isn’t drawn to traditional camps?  Take a look at Maker Camp over at Google+.  Our tween-in-residence will definitely be taking part!

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


KidVentures: 50 Inspiring Ideas to Kickstart Your Summer Adventures


I wrote this post because not only is the author one of my very favorite people in the world, but I also knew you would love her new ebook … it’s right up The Risky Kid alley!  This post does contain affiliate links.

It’s that time of year when my mind turns to thoughts of summer vacation.  While the first days of vacation are filled with giddiness and the feeling that we’ll never get tired of the pool, reality eventually sets in.  What’s the over-under on the first rumblings of “I’m boooorrred?”  My guess is 13.5 days into summer.

I’m always on the hunt for helpful resources to keep us active and entertained, not only in the summer but all through the year.  Just in time for summer, my good friend Jen Murray, has come up with a simple, do-able, but extremely helpful and inspiring ebook to get you outside, having fun and making awesome family memories.

Jen is a treasure, inspiring those of us in the trenches of parenting young children through her blog, 4tunate.  As a mother of quadruplet  six-year-old boys, Jen is more than qualified to help us navigate the world of adventurous play!  She speaks from a perspective so many of us can relate to – realizing you’re not necessarily a risky, down-and-dirty kind of parent, but knowing that it’s these kinds of experiences that benefit our children.

Her new ebook, KidVentures: 50 Outdoor Experiences of Wonder, Discovery, & Childhood Memories , is full of ideas, suggestions, diagrams and printable to get you outside and having fun in every season.

Kids too little or not quite ready for a real zip line?  Make a zip line for their toys!  Have lots of kids in your neighborhood?  Help them organize a game of water balloon dodgeball or flashlight tag.  There are lots of activities that go hand-in-hand with 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), including cook over a fire, climb a tree, and skipping rocks.

Jen’s absolutely right:  “It doesn’t have to be dangerous, complex, intimidating, or mud-covered to be an excellent kidventure!”  We might call ourselves The Risky Kids, but we know that the best adventures come from simply getting outside together.  Jen and I share a passion for play, and KidVentures is a wonderful resource for parents who want to fill these fleeting years with lots of playful memories.  Whether you’re a seasoned parent and adventurer or you’re just not sure where to start, KidVentures will have the perfect activities for your family.

KidVentures ebook by Jen Murray

Order your own copy today for just $4.99!

Outdoor nature play via The Risky Kids

As crazy as it seems now, we only have a handful of summers to share with our kids.  Make the most of them and get adventurous!


Risky Places We Love: Adventureworks

We love to zipline here at The Risky Kids. It doesn’t matter if it is in a cave, outside or somewhere in the rainforest, we highly recommend you get out there and try it.

Here in middle Tennessee we’re lucky to have a place like Adventureworks. They offer a canopy zipline tour with 9 ziplines, as well as an aerial trekking treetop adventure course and a challenge rope course (that’s next on our list). What’s even cooler is that the different courses can be tailored to fit different groups, whether you’re looking for a team-building activity, a family outing, or even a couples adventure.

Thomas and I have zipped at Adventureworks before the Benj got to try out his first zipline.

Adventureworks Zip Line
He had no fear.

Adventureworks Zip Line

Our friends, Emily and John, also got their first zipline adventure.

Adventureworks Zip Line

I was most proud of Mom Bistany. This was her first time to zipline. She was honest – she wasn’t so sure about the idea. She isn’t too fond of heights, but she faced her fear and won. She zipped like a pro! It was cool to hear her thank her son, Monkey John, for helping her to get outside and try something daring.


Adventureworks Obstacle

There were some really cool bridges that we got to walk across.

Believe it or not, ziplining is a great activity for those of you who would like to try something risky but are hesitant to take the leap.  By finding a credentialed course, you’re actually trying something that’s safe but feels really risky.  It’s exhilarating!  It’s especially great as a family activity for parents who are a little more reserved than their adventure-seeking kids.  You’ll have a blast, and the kids will think the world of you for trying something out of your comfort zone.

Adventureworks is located in Kingston Springs, just west of Nashville.  Visit or call them at 615-297-2250 to book your adventure today!


The Idle Parent: Does Working Less Mean Happier Families?

This is the thirteenth 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.

Is Working Less the Key to Happy Families?

We both work as little as possible, particularly when the kids are small.


If I had one complaint about Hodgkinson’s book, it would be that he can come across as pompous and out of touch.  Too often he paints situations with a broad brush, admonishing the reader with terms like “everyone should” or “you must.”  While he champions the idea that “there are many paths” to parenting, at the same time he sneers at those who won’t, or can’t, throw all conventionality aside and live the idle, wild life.  This particular part of the manifesto is just one of those instances.

The idea behind it is that the time when our children are babies, toddlers and preschoolers is a fleeting time when we should be most available to them.  In theory, that’s a great idea, and one that many families choose to adhere to – ours included.  From the time I became a mother, I’ve alternated between working very part-time (10-15 hours a week), part-time (20-30 hours a week), and not working outside the home at all.  It’s been absolutely wonderful, and a choice I would make again.  My husband also spent nearly two years working a very flexible schedule from home, allowing him generous chunks of free time during the day to be with the kids.

It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t come without other costs.  The cut in income was significant, which meant we had to make tough choices on a daily basis.  We went without a lot of things.  We stressed about money often, worrying about funny noises in the car, praying that tumble on a bike didn’t mean any nasty gashes or broken bones.  Did the kids enjoy their time at home with both mom and dad endlessly around?  I think so.  But it was not the laid-back, idle, golden days the author glorifies.

He also doesn’t take into account the families for whom, finances aside, this shift would make life less enjoyable.  I have many friends who would go batty if they were to all be home together, all the time, every day.  They are brilliant at their jobs, and their work feeds a part of their soul that in turn makes them better parents when they come home.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.  There are many paths.

There is one facet to this that I would totally agree with.  If you define “work” as the busyness of maintaining a home to a magazine-worthy degree, then I beg you to reconsider and “work” less.  This is coming from someone who gets jittery when there’s a spoon in the sink that could go in the dishwasher.  I know it can be hard.  But now that I’m coming around the flip side of the grueling baby and toddler years, I can see how overworking yourself in that sense doesn’t help anyone.  The kids don’t care and you’ll be cranky and exhausted trying to keep up.  Let your standards go … be idle for whatever chunks of your day you can steal away.  Take a nap.  Sit outside with a magazine or a book while the kids play.  Fiddle away with your iPhone.  The work will still be there, but you’ll be less resentful of it if you take care of you first.

So what do you think?  Should we all be working less when the kids are small (both inside and outside the home)?  Or is this an idea that just isn’t feasible no matter what the situation?