Archives for December 2013

Repost: Lick a 9-Volt Battery

Over the holidays I’m taking a little time away from blogging.  Throughout the week I’ll be reposting some of the most popular posts on The Risky Kids to date.  This post was the very first “Dangerous Thing” we tried, and one of my first posts ever.  It continues to be the most popular post on The Risky Kids, as well as our most viewed YouTube video.  Every few months or so I get treated to some variation of “You are the worst mother ever” in the YouTube comments, which I proudly see as a badge of honor.  Enjoy!


Lick a 9-volt battery to see what electricity tastes and feels like.


9-volt battery

Aluminum Foil (for extra credit)

Possible Hazards:

Shock (duh)

How It All Went Down:

First of all, I would like to thank Eli’s latest ear infection for prompting me to pull out our new Exergen Temporal Scanner.  Our fancy new thermometer just happened to come with a 9-volt battery.  We had kids, we had a battery, we were ready to get this 50 Dangerous Things show on the road.

Elena was eager and ready to try licking the battery.  Eli?  Not so much.  Knowing that his reaction would most likely be priceless, I did what any reasonable parent would do.  By the time our bargaining was over, Eli managed to walk away with a pack of M&Ms and the promise of a new LEGO Ninjago mini-fig.  I got to stick a battery on his tongue and capture the best battery face ever.  Win-win.

Have you ever tried this?  I remember doing this as a kid. Not because my parents read a book about it (my mom owned one parenting book – Dr. Spock), but because someone dared us.  Our parents were off doing what parents did back then: mind their own business and get stuff done.  Unlike my house today, batteries weren’t stored in a clear, well-labeled container out of reach of children.  They were probably stored next to the chain-saw in the garage.  I bet we had to dig through the ones dripping with battery acid to get to the good ones.   Try it at least once.  It’s not painful.  Elena gave it a 2.5 on the pain scale.  It does taste weird, though.  It’s not something you can pin-point (Eli suggests poop, of course), since the electrical current stimulates random nerves on your tongue not associated with a specific taste.

Elena and I also tried chewing on a wad of aluminum foil, which conducts a weak electric current when mixed with the acid in your saliva.  I forgot the cardinal rule of chewing foil: KEEP IT AWAY FROM ANY FILLINGS.  Yowza.  Thank goodness we didn’t get that on video.  These ones are much better.

What are you waiting for?  Go ahead and lick a battery.  We dare ya.

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).


An Abundance of Cheer

As we slowly clean up the wrapping paper, read instruction manuals, and wipe cookie crumbs from our faces, The Risky Family would love to take a few minutes to thank you for being such loyal readers and for always inspiring us to play more and fear less.

We’d also like to take some time to reflect on what our New Year’s resolutions might be. And by resolutions, I don’t mean the guilt-inducing kind. There will be no discussion of “Eat more kale,” “Get through P90X,” or “Organize the junk drawer” here. Not that those aren’t fine resolutions, and if you need more kale in your life, then by all means, kale it up. No, what we mean is, what do you resolve to do in 2014 to make your life more playful and to let joy, not fear, be your guide?

So many resolutions center around what you feel you need more or less of in your life. I read this the other day on Seth Godin’s blog and I immediately knew it would become my touchstone for determining whether or not we would put our energy into something in the coming year. It is his reaction to the notion that we must operate with an abundance of caution:

Perhaps we could instead opt for an abundance of joy or an abundance of artistic risk or an abundance of connection. Those are far more productive (and fun).

Also: The things we have the most abundance of caution about are rarely the things that are actual risks. They merely feel like risks.

In this spirit, I’d love if you would share your thoughts on what you resolve to do this year to bring an abundance of joy, art, connection, play, risk, love, laughter, curiosity (you get the idea) into your family’s life in 2014. I’ll do the same, and shortly after the New Year rolls in I’ll share mine as well.

I think if you play your cards right, this may just be your most playful year yet. And to that we say, “Cheers!”

In keeping with the idea that we need more play and less work as the year comes to an end, I will be taking a short holiday break from blogging. In lieu of new posts, I will take the opportunity to repost a few of the most popular stories from The Risky Kids. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and I look forward to sharing even more adventures with you in 2014!


10 Toys to Inspire Outdoor Winter Play

Playing outdoors is essential year round.  In the warmer months, it’s not a hard sell.  Warm temperatures and plentiful sunshine can lure most kids away from screens and into the great outdoors.  Once the cold and snow set in, however, kids can need a little extra prodding to get outside.

We stocked up on some toys and props to make our front yard a welcoming place in the summer.  It’s just as important, if not more so, to put the same thought and effort into keeping your home stocked with toys that will encourage kids to play outside in the winter.  Here are 10 toys that are sure to inspire outdoor winter play.

Toys to Inspire Outdoor Winter Play

1.  Birdseed Shakers

Fill an old spice or parmesan cheese container with birdseed and have the kids sprinkle birdseed throughout the yard.  Bird feeders are wonderful, but many birds are ground feeders. This is a fun way to get the kids outside and ensure that these particular feathered friends aren’t neglected!

2.   Snow Block Mold

Sure, you can make a fort the old fashioned way … or you can make a fortress of snow bricks!  This toy sees year-round use at our home, as it’s also great with sand and mud.

3.  Spray Bottles

Fill inexpensive spray bottles with water and food coloring for snow painting.  This was a big hit with the neighborhood kids when the last snow storm hit.  Again, this is a great item to have on hand throughout the year for outdoor fun.

4.  Buckets

Perfect for hauling snow, filling with leaves, or stockpiling snowballs.

5.  Snowman/Snow Sculpture Kit

It never fails – the kids have made a snowman and when they come clamoring for items to decorate him with, I’m scrambling around and can’t find a thing.  Fill a tote with these items and keep it handy in the garage or a closet.

  • mittens that have lost their match
  • old/thrifted hats, shirts, and scarves,  and sunglasses
  • an assortment of rocks, nuts, and buttons for the eyes and mouth
  • old wine corks for noses
  • wooden spoon for carving snow sculptures

6.  A child-sized shovel and/or rake

A shovel or rake sized just for little bodies and hands will provide entertainment and help you tackle those wintertime tasks as well.  Oddly enough, these Leaf Scoops were a big hit during raking season, too. Beyond being super-helpful to have extra “hands” filling bags for us, they’ve provided endless fun as monster hands, dino claws, and snow scoopers.

7.  Snow Paw Snowshoes

Has the abominable snowman been in the neighborhood? Very cute, and I can imagine little monsters wanting to wear these in the house, too.

8.  Ice Globes

I bought this kit as an activity for us to do together.  I’ve also seen tutorials on making them with water balloons and calling them ice jewels.  Obviously you’d want to remind the kids that they’re not for throwing, but how about some ice bowling?

9.  An Assortment of Sleds

Have a few different sleds available.  We love our Zipfy , but I also like to have a 2-person sled, a round sled, an inexpensive snow board, and a foam sled.  Of course they’re fun when there’s snow on the ground, but they also makes great props for imaginative play.

10.  Trucks and Cars

Dump trucks, bulldozers and excavators are perfect for scooping and hauling snow.  And of course cars are necessary to reenact the massive traffic jams a good snowstorm brings on!

What are some of your favorite toys and props to encourage outdoor play in winter?

This post contains affiliate links.



Give the Gift of Wild Time

Have you heard about Project Wild Thing?  Based in England, it’s the brainchild of David Bond.  He was distressed at how different his children’s play lives were from his own, and wanted to find a way to market nature and outdoor play to children and their families.  The movement is based around a feature-length film, which you can view here.  I hope you’ll carve out some time to watch it … it’s truly inspiring.

As you wrap gifts and stuff stockings this Christmas, consider giving something that will cost you nothing but will mean the world to your kids … the gift of play time outdoors with you.  The Wild Time Gift Voucher is available as a free download on the Project Wild Thing website.  If you need a few ideas to get you started playing outdoors with your kids, download the free Wild Time App (available for iOS or Android).  Or check out our post about how to get around the most common outdoor play complaints.

Wild Time Gift Voucher

A gift that’s free, I don’t have to wrap, won’t need returned, gets us away from our screens AND makes my kids happy?  Sounds like a Christmas wish come true!

This post is not sponsored or endorsed by Project Wild Thing.  I just love what they stand for and wanted to share it with you.


50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Play With the Vacuum Cleaner

Task:  Explore the properties of moving air (and maybe sucker the kids into cleaning up a little).


Vacuum cleaner science


  • Wide-mouth jar (needs to be just slightly bigger than the end of your vacuum cleaner hose)
  • Strips of paper
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Clean Filter/Bag (the author notes that it’s a good idea to start with a clean bag or filter when experimenting with the vacuum)

Possible Hazards:

  • Annoying noise
  • Hickey (I was just playing with the vacuum cleaner – I swear!)
  • Lose an eye (*shudders* and reminds kids to keep the hose away from each other’s eyes)

How It All Went Down:

How many times do you catch yourself yelling at the kids that (insert useful household tool here) is not a toy?  The Swiffer, the feather duster, the fly swatter, the vacuum … they’re all much more fun as swords and sibling torture devices than for the boring work they were actually intended to do.  But what if we stepped back for just a second and looked at some of our household tools and appliances in a different way, and maybe appreciated them for the cool inventions that they are?  It might take some serious convincing on your part for the kids to believe you’re actually going to let them play with the vacuum, but the results will be well worth it.  And who knows?  Maybe they’ll be having so much fun they’ll explore its carpet cleaning abilities as well.

We started with “The Siren Jar.”  When moving air is constrained to small tubes or spaces, it starts to do some cool things.  Since air currents aren’t usually visible, this is a neat way to demonstrate how moving air currents can affect  sound.  Remove the lid from a jar.  Turn the vacuum on and insert the hose into the jar.  Slowly bring the hose out until it’s just even with the top of the jar.  Play around with the position of the hose and notice the differences in sound.

“The Buzz Ribbon” is another cool way to show how air waves can change the volume of a sound.  Cut a strip of paper that is about 1/2 the width of the vacuum cleaner hose and up to 12 inches long.  Turn the vacuum on.  Hold one end of the paper strip and let the vacuum begin to suck the other end of the strip into the hose.  Hang on tightly to the strip and gradually let it in the hose until it begins to buzz.  Pay attention to where the sound is the quietest and where it is the loudest.

Bonus points to this experiment, since it emulates the sound of a fart (always a hit in this house).

Here are a few other fun ways to play with your vacuum that we can’t wait to try:

How to Turn Your Vacuum Cleaner into a Bazooka

Feeling Pressured

Make Your Own Giant Inflatables

How Vacuum Cleaners Work (if your kids have more questions)

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).



Risky Reads: The Ukulele Edition

Elena and her ukulele3

Behold, our one and only Black Friday purchase (other than chocolate)! Elena wanted this doorbuster from Guitar Center so badly, so we broke our ban on Black Friday shopping for a tiny guitar. So far she has Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” down, as well as the theme to “Adventure Time.” Next up? The ukulele version of Outkast’s “Hey Ya.”

While I tiptoe through snow, not tulips, these days, I still make time to scour the internet for risky inspiration. Here are a few things I found around the web I thought were pretty cool:

I had a lot of fun putting together The Risky Kids Holiday Gift Guide, but not as much fun as I had reading “A Terrible Mother’s Holiday Guide to Dangerous Gifts.” I have a feeling we’d get along just fine.

(This reminds me of the most awesome conversation I had at my son’s bus stop the other day. I was the only parent out there, so I started chatting with the kids about what they wanted for Christmas. I got the usual answers … XBox One, iPad, etc. And then one girl looked me straight in the eye and said, “I want a grappling hook.” Her brother immediately piped up to say NO WAY would she get one, but we had fun imagining all the ways she could use one.)

How would your kids feel about going to school outside … year round? What a cool concept (pun totally intended).

EXACTLY what I needed to read. No matter how confident I am that we’re parenting the way that’s meant for our family, I can’t help taking to heart the criticism that my hands-off, worry-less style of parenting means I somehow love or care about my kids less than someone who frets over her kids more.

Sometimes you need to stop cleaning and start making a mess with your kids.

I’m a sucker for Design Mom‘s “Living With Kids” series, as it gives me lots of ideas for home decorating. But this one is, quite literally, out of this world! (Show your kids – they’ll LOVE it.)

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!


The Idle Parent Manifesto: There Are Many Paths

This is the last 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.

There Are Many Paths

It’s hard to believe that 1) I’ve been doing this Idle Parent series since I started The Risky Kids nearly 2 years ago (!) and 2) that it’s actually over.  Don’t say I never finish what I start!  Of all the many posts Lisa and I have written regarding the Idle Parent Manifesto, of all the many ways we’ve asked you to rethink the way you parent, this final idea within the manifesto is my very favorite.  If you never read another post within the series, if you only choose to take away one idea, let it be this one:

There are many paths.


We all know it in our hearts: there isn’t one right way to parent.  Wherever you are on the scale of risky to cautious, you try to parent the best way you know how, in the way you feel is the right fit for your family.  We start with these itty bitty babies and no clue what to do with them, and we set our sights on the far away day when they will leave us for their own grand lives.  We hope to see them walk out our doors with a good head on their shoulders, their feet firmly planted on the ground, and their eyes to the skies of possibility.  In between, we travel all kinds of convoluted ways to get them there.

If you figured out a straight line to get them from Point A to Point B?  Good for you.  You win the Perfect Parent Prize and you can write a book for the rest of us.  But I bet you haven’t amassed any where near the volumes of stories we could write about our funniest, favorite, and yes, most shameful moments our own windy paths have taken us on.

I wouldn’t hold your breath for those parents or that book, though, since the Perfect Parent is a myth.  They’re a community myth, one that we all have a hand in creating and perpetuating.  The Perfect Parent has it all under control.  The Perfect Parent sleep trains (or doesn’t).  The Perfect Parent works outside the home (or doesn’t).  The Perfect Parent enrolls their children in all the best activities (or doesn’t).  The Perfect Parent lets their child walk to school alone (or doesn’t).  The Perfect Parent only feeds their children organic, whole-grain, sugar-free food (or doesn’t).   Don’t you see?  The Perfect Parent with the One Path to Perfect Children is the story we tell ourselves.  Only instead of lulling us to sleep with dreams of all the ways we’ve done well by our children, this story keeps us awake with tales of failures and shortcomings.

At the end of the book, the author encourages the reader to stop making every aspect of childhood a parenting priority.  His thoughts are that if you relinquish some of that control, your kids will be happier and you’ll feel less overworked as a parent.  He asks the reader to “Give childhood back to the children.  Resist the American way.  Keep rebelling!  Make family life into a revolutionary act.”

I like that.  If you only take one thing away from this series, or frankly, from this blog, let it be this:  make your own story and forge your own path.  Please look to us and the other trusted voices around you for inspiration, but don’t let anybody else write your family’s story for you.

My goal and passion is to give you elements to make your story more playful.  No matter where you fall on the Risky Scale, all I hope is that you’ll look for ways to add just a little bit of risk to your lives.  Try something that scares you just a bit.  Do something as a family you never thought you could do.  Do you like it?  Then try a little more.  Do you hate it?  Then try something different.  Whatever you do, don’t submit to the myth of the Perfect Parent and the One Path.  Start your own revolution against the stories that aren’t your own, and enjoy the twisty path.


Always in Season: Giving (and the Gift of a Great Future)

I’m participating in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  I received a promotional item as a thank-you for participating.

On the surface, it would appear that the goal of The Risky Kids is make life with kids as playful as possible.  It’s true, we do a lot of silly, playful stuff around here, and we’re proud of it.  But one of the underlying goals in most everything we do is to raise happy kids with lots of confidence and a strong sense of responsibility.

When my husband and I think about responsibility, it means so much more than putting your stuff away, doing your homework, or knowing how to make your own lunch.  It also means cultivating a sense of responsibility for others, especially for those in need.  It means teaching our kids how to give – of their time, of their talents, and of their money – and to give from the heart.

Throughout the year as we pay our kids their allowances, they’re always required to put aside a percentage for charitable giving.  They have full freedom to decide when, how and to whom they should give of their earnings.  It’s something we try to think about all year round, but it’s especially at the front of our minds during the holidays.

It can be hard to figure out how to get your kids involved in giving, especially at a young age.  I’m very happy to partner with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to promote their Give the Gift of a Great Future Holiday Campaign.  Always thinking of kids first, the BGCA website is loaded with ways to get kids excited about giving this holiday season, including a fun make-your-own gift tag  generator and great tips to inspire giving as a family.  While you’re at it, be sure to vote in the Kids Give Back Photo Contest, where you can see Club Kids involved in their very own giving campaigns.  Check out your local Boys and Girls Clubs’ websites to find more ways to volunteer in your very own community.

Just like making a commitment to be more playful, it’s never too early or too late to teach your kids to be more giving.


Our Tree Identification Project: Resources for Identifying Trees with Kids

We’re taking on a project – to identify every tree in our backyard!  You can read about the project here and here.

Tree Identification with Kids via The Risky Kids

We had a map of the yard, we had gathered leaves and nuts, now all that was left to do was to figure out what, exactly, we had!

Elena and I sat down one afternoon to do some research. I’d checked out just about every book available from the library to help us identify our trees, so we leafed through them (pun totally intended) and tried our hand at identification. A few lessons learned:

We quickly figured out which books were more user-friendly than others. I’m guessing this is very much a personal preference, depending on how you like to go about the process. In the end we decided that The Sibley Guide to Trees and 101 Trees of Indiana: A Fieldguide by Marion T. Jackson were our favorites. The Sibley book is very detailed, but easy to navigate for both adults and older children. I also think it’s helpful to have a book specific to your geographic location as well. And Trees (A Golden Nature Guide)? Honestly I just liked the nostalgic feel of it. It did help us with the more common trees, though.

Field Guides for Trees

Fall may not be the best time of year for this kind of project. Because we started late, many of the trees had lost their leaves already. Many of the leaves are compromised, too. We plan to pick the project back up where we left off in the spring, as a key identifier of many trees are the buds and blossoms.

Don’t be surprised or discouraged if younger children aren’t interested in the actual identification process. Eli loved helping with the map and gathering leaves, but had no interest at all in identifying the trees. And honestly, it was challenging for Elena and I.

Beyond incorporating their help in the gathering process, there are other ways to involve younger children without frustrating them. Check the non-fiction section in your local library for books related to trees. Eli particularly enjoyed From Acorn to Oak Tree by Jan Kottke and I Can Name 50 Trees Today!: All About Trees (Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library). Consider leaf crafts or activities using nuts.  I plan to use these leaf identification cards next spring.

Kids' Books for Learning About Trees

In the spring and early summer I also plan to research the possibility of using apps or computer programs to help with the process.  I would also like to find a book or a good resource for teaching the best process for identifying trees.  Do you start taxonomically, like with birds?  Or do you do it by features, such as leaf type and shape?  Or does it even matter?

In the end, we were able to identify 8 of our 26 trees, so I’m very pleased. Are you curious to know what we have? Here you go:

  • 1 Northern Red Oak
  • 2 Elms
  • 1 Sugar Maple (should we try and tap it?!)
  • 1 Maple of unknown variety
  • 1 Dogwood
  • 1 Box Elder (and the annoying Box Elder beetles to go with it)
  • 1 Hickory

When it’s all said and done, I hope to have a nice map of our yard with every tree and bush identified. I think it would be lovely, and something I would pass on to future owners in the event we move. The trees are definitely something to be thankful for (although I’m not sure I would’ve been quite as grateful had you asked me last Sunday, after we raked and filled 38 bags with leaves!). We’ll shelve the project for now, and pick it up again in the spring. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for resources I’d love to hear them!


Good Question: Should Chores Be Tied To Allowance?

Good Question is a Risky Kids series where readers submit their burning questions in return for feedback from myself and the Risky Kid community.  If you have any Good Questions, please share them in the comments, on our Facebook page, or email them to Angie at theriskykids at gmail dot com. I’m looking forward to lots of Good Questions and more importantly, all of your Good Answers!

Should Chores Be Tied To Allowance?

This month’s Good Question comes from none other than me! We’re knee deep in trying to figure out a good, long-term system for our kids’ allowances and chore requirements. It’s been an ongoing struggle around here, as we do our best to raise responsible kids. For too long Mike and I have been doing things that our kids are perfectly capable of doing (laundry, dishes, sweeping, etc.) simply because it’s faster and easier. And for too long we’ve been inconsistent in giving our kids an allowance and giving them opportunities to learn fiscal responsibility.

So as we hone our own family’s system, one of the issues that comes up is whether or not chores and allowance should be linked. We’ve tried it both ways (though not consistently), and are leaning towards making their allowance a separate entity from required chores, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How do you handle chores and allowance in your home? As your kids get older, what kinds of things do you require them to pay for on their own? Do you have a method that works well for your family? Please share!