Archives for June 2013

Mammoth Cave National Park: Our First Family National Park Experience

For years, driving back and forth between our bases of Nashville, Tennessee and Indianapolis, Indiana, we’ve passed Mammoth Cave National Park.  We never stopped, though.  Either the kids were too little to appreciate or enjoy the cave or we were pressed for time, trying to get from Point A to Point B.  This summer, we planned a trip to Nashville and found ourselves with plenty of time to get there and back.  Finally, a stop at Mammoth Cave was in order.

Our visit was fantastic.  The drive into the park is beautiful.  I’ll admit, I got a little hitch in my throat when we came to the entrance and saw the sign for Mammoth Cave.  I have many fond memories of posing for just such photos as a child.

Mammoth Cave National Park with kids

We took the Historic Entrance Tour, which was roughly 2 hours and described as a difficulty level of moderate.  Eli, who is almost 6, did just fine.  He really enjoyed it, but I would say a tour of this length and difficulty is probably the max you would want to attempt with the 6 and under crowd.  There are many tours to choose from, ranging from short and easy to long and strenuous.  We want to try them all!  Advanced reservations are not required, but they are recommended.  We reserved our tour the day before, and already several other tours we were interested in were sold out.

Obviously, it is difficult to take good photos 250 feet underground, but Elena snapped a few in the area of the cave known as Frozen Niagara.  It was so cool, even as an adult, to see formations you’ve only read about or seen in pictures.

Mammoth Cave National Park Historic Entrance Tour with kids

Frozen Niagara - Mammoth Cave National Park

It certainly made an impact on the kids.  Inside the Visitor’s Center Gift Shop, you can purchase a Passport To Your National Parks.  It’s a perfect souveneir (only $8.95).  The Passport is a guide to all of our nation’s National Parks, organized by region.  Along with a full-size map of the National Park System, each region has a map, text, photos, and a listing of all the parks in that region.  Just like a real passport, there is space within each region to get your Passport canceled.  Most National Parks have stations at the visitor center where you can stamp your Passport with the name of the park you visited as well as the date.  The kids were so psyched to to get their Passports canceled and are already making plans to visit every National Park in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky … this summer.  Next summer, according to them, we’ll hit the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the giant sequoias.  I’m game!

National Parks Passport - great souvenir for kids

I can’t believe it took us this long to begin exploring our great National Parks system with our kids.  Have you made these national treasures a part of your family’s vacations already?  If so, what are your favorites?


50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Climb a Tree

Dangerous Thing You Should Let Your Kids Do: Climb a Tree

Task: Find an excellent tree and climb it!



  • Good shoes or bare feet
  • Tree

Possible Hazards:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Fall
  • Bumps and bruises

Kids Climbing Trees

How It All Went Down:


There is something about a tree that just begs you to climb it.  For kids, climbing a tree is more than just fun (although, ultimately, that’s what makes it so appealing).  Scaling a tree teaches them vital lessons, such as dexterity, risk assessment, focus, and planning.  They have to decide how high they’re comfortable climbing, the best way to get there, which branches look  sturdiest, and figure out how to get back down.  A successful climb builds confidence, gives them a sense of freedom, and helps them appreciate nature.  An unsuccessful climb has the most valuable lesson a child can learn: how to pick themselves up and get right back at it again.

If you’re new to tree climbing, be sure to start small.  Climb up a few branches, then climb back down.  Climbing is fun, getting stuck – not so much.

Climbing trees does a body good.

We are always in search of good climbing trees.  You know what would be awesome?  A tree climbing directory.  How cool would it be to be able to search for trees that are just begging to be scaled?  Gever Tulley has a great suggestion.  Since you can’t always find a tree to climb when you really want one, keep an eye out for trees that are good climbing candidates.  Make note of where they are so that when the urge strikes you know right where to find them.  Then be sure to share them with the rest of us!

Did you climb trees as a kid?  Do you let your kids?  

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).


The Giant Swing

A few weeks ago we traded one hour of screen time for an extra hour of outdoor play as part of KaBOOM!’s Screen Free Week. I knew when I pitched the idea that bribery was probably going to be part of Screen Free Week.   I was overjoyed when Benjamin suggested that zip lining would be an excellent reward for a (mostly) screen free week.

We headed back to Adventureworks for another zip line tour. We had a great time, but we kept hearing a rowdy group cheering and screaming. Our guide told us it was probably coming from The Giant Swing.  After our zip tour, we just had to check it out.

Oh man, was it cool.

In the middle of the forest is a harness and pulley system that hoists you up about a thousand feet and then drops you till you are swinging way above the trees.


 You get up so high, I don’t even know which kid this is.


 Hoist, Minions!

One person got to swing while the rest of us used the pulley system to hoist him to the tree tops.  You could go as high up as you wanted.  Most of us went as high as we could, but for those not as comfy with heights, you could stop at any time.  You got two swings.  We all tried it, even the adults.


Does this harness make my butt look big like Beyonce’s?


A waiver, a harness AND we got to climb a ladder? It was a great day. The look of shock  as everyone pulled the rip cord and swung was priceless.

You really need to be comfortable with heights to make this adventure work. But if you can get past that, it’s totally fun and I can’t wait to do it again.


Risky Reads: Summer Is Here Edition

Risky Reads via The Risky Kids

We’re in week two of summer break – still in the honeymoon phase, really.  Haven’t gotten tired of slathering on sun screen yet, everyone is getting along, and the days are ripe with possibility.  How long will it last?  Let’s hope eight more weeks!  Eli is an emerging reader, and I want to make sure he continues to grow in his reading skills over the summer.  At the same time I’m not a fan of worksheets or long sessions of forced reading during the summer.  I came up with our own family reading program and we’ve been finding fun ways to sneak in reading throughout our days.  On this particular gorgeous day, we spread out a blanket, snacks, and a pile of books on our front lawn.   The neighbor kid even wandered over and spent a chunk of time reading with us.

Speaking of reading, here are a few things I read around the Internet this month that I thought you might find interesting as well.

As a parent who has held back on signing the kids up for organized sports at a young age, this article saddened me.  Is 4th grade too late to start a sport?  I sincerely hope not.

I was fascinated by this school, its playground, and their take on kids and risk.  Their motto?  “If you don’t fall down, you can’t learn anything.”

Summer is the perfect time to spend time at the playground and park.  My friend Emily, who knows a thing or two as a mom of four, has some great tips on how to put together a well-stocked playground bag.

I try to keep my personal blog and The Risky Kids fairly separate, but I can’t resist sharing our summer bucket list and how I plan to savor this time and season with my kids.

Feeling pulled in ten different directions?  This helpful read reminds us that being busy is a choice, and there are steps we can take to make our lives “unbusy,” and ultimately more enjoyable.

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!


How to Change a Bike Tire

thomas and tire

Thomas blew out a tube on our last biking trip. What a great opportunity to teach him how to change a bike tire. I’m certainly not an expert, but trust me – it gets easier and faster with each change.

First you need to remove the wheel from the bike frame. This, like so many things in life, required lube. Thomas grabbed the WD-40.


I highly recommend unlatching the brakes first (I always forget this step). The wheel won’t slide out between the brake pads without first unhooking them. If you have to remove the back wheel, get ready to get a little greasy. You have to remove the chain from the gears.

Once you have the wheel off, you need to remove the tire. They make these special tools that you shove between the rim and the tire. Pop off the tire and the tube. It’s a good idea to inspect the actual tire because you can usually find a thorn or rock or piece of metal that punctured the tube. If you put in a new tube without removing the offending item, the second tube will puncture as well. I have never done that.

Inflate the new tube just enough. I still use trial and error here. Shove it in the tire and put it back on the wheel. This part either goes remarkable well or takes forever and the kids learn all sorts of new and creative language. That nifty little tool comes in handy here too.

Put the wheel back on the frame. You probably want to really take a look at how the frame and wheel go together before you remove the wheel. Memorize how the chain fits back on too. I’m just sayin’. Make sure the wheel is tightened. Hook the brakes back up. Fully inflate the tube.

I always like to do a final check. Make sure the brakes work, kick the tire, make sure the wheel isn’t going to fall off.

It took me forever to change my first tire and it wasn’t a pretty sight. But really, it’s easy and if I can do it, so can you and so can your kid. Thomas can’t do it on his own quite yet, but someday soon he will be able to change a bike tire and maybe even a tire on the car….


Tools for an Independent Summer (And Beyond)

One of the benefits of a laid-back, less-scheduled summer is that kids have a chance to experience free time.  Having blocks of free time is a luxury for many kids, but it’s also important for them developmentally.  It stretches their imaginations and gives them a chance to flex their decision-making muscles, something they don’t get to do as often as we did as kids.

The challenge with having lots of free time, though, is filling it with good stuff.  This summer I want my kids to have free time to play, read, think and create.  I also want them to use part of their free time doing things that will make them more independant.

For Elena, who is nearing 11, we’re thinking things like learning how to cut the grass, cooking simple meals, doing laundry.  For Eli, who is almost 6, it’s keeping his room tidy, fixing simple snacks, and vacuuming.

Does that sound like the opposite of free time?  Maybe – in the beginning.  Sure, it doesn’t sound like cooking, doing your own laundry, or mowing the lawn is how a kid would want to spend their free time.  But by teaching them skills that increase their independence, I’m opening up pockets of free time for everyone in the family.  In addition, it gives them the opportunity to manage their own time, and do with it as they see fit.

Don’t want to put down that book and come down for lunch?  No problem, come down when you want and make your own lunch. Want to go to the store and buy that nail polish everyone else has?  Sure, just mow the lawn and earn money to spend however you see fit.  Want us to spend a day at the waterpark as a family?  Absolutely!  Help Dad and I out with the chores so we all have more free time.

These are a few things we’re working on for an independent summer.  What kinds of things you’d like to see your kids taking on for themselves this summer?


It Doesn’t Have To Be Risky To Be Fun


Sometimes we here at The Risky Kids like to balance out our time by doing things that are really  “not that risky”. I took the boys mountain biking at Cane Ridge Park this morning. (Risky) We saw a new park on the way home and decided to take a look. (Not Risky)

What we found was a hopscotch board drawn in chalk on the sidewalk.

I don’t really think we’ve ever played a complete game of hopscotch before. My memory of the rules was a little rusty, but we managed what was probably the most competitive game of hopscotch ever played.

Hopscotch does involve throwing rocks and hopping on one foot while bending down to pick up a rock.


 They loved it. We even met a new friend and asked her to play with us. We took turns, we threw rocks and we hopped around.  We sandwiched the not-so-risky event with a trip around the playground on the longboard just to be true to our Risky roots.

What did we learn?   Always take the opportunity to play when it arises, Risky or not!