Archives for February 2014

Family Game Night: Mancala

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There are so many wonderful games to play together as a family, and I’ve mentioned some of our favorites before. What gets tricky is when you try to find games that are interesting and age-appropriate when you have big age ranges in your family. With five years in between our kids, finding games that they can play together and enjoy is not always easy.


Mancala, or the African stone game, is a classic game, and one that I’ve found our entire family can play together. While it’s a 2-player game, we play it as a family by taking turns. And because we’re (okay, everyone but me) is competitive, it often turns into a round-robin tournament.

You can find Mancala rules online, but the object of the game is to collect as many stones in your Mancala before one of the players clears his side of the board of all his stones. We have a mancala board that we purchased, but I’ve seen lots of creative ways you can make your own.

Some of the things I love about this game:

Play is quick. The average game takes around 10 minutes. It’s perfect for short attention spans or to fill in short spans of time that can get dicey, like just before dinner.

The playing field is level. There’s a basic strategy, but even young kids pick it up quickly. Anyone can win.

It’s soothing. Something about dropping the stones into the wells is relaxing. It feels and sounds nice.

Accessibility. While it’s not a travel game, it is a game that can be left out for easy play. The board looks nice sitting on our coffee table, and since we leave it out it invites impromptu play.

What games have you enjoyed playing lately?


Indoor Fort-Building Fun and Inspiration

Fort building for kids

Have you ever met a kid that didn’t like to build or play in a fort? I haven’t! As we come upon the tail end of the winter, I’ve seen quite a few variations of fort-building going on in my home. I thought I’d share a couple of our favorite forts to build as well as some resources for fort-building inspiration.

The couch fort is an obvious classic. I think our couch cushions have spent more time on the floor than on the actual couch this winter! Is it bad that if I had advice for couch-shopping new parents, I would tell them to consider the conduciveness of the couch cushions to good fort structure?! Our couch in the basement has big, floppy cushions, which are super comfy but horrible for making a decent fort. Our sectional upstairs, however, is perfect: big, sturdy square and rectangular pillows.

Couch forts via The Risky Kids

Of course the couch fort gets built a hundred different ways, but I came across this on Pinterest one day and it’s now the go-to design method. Perfect for a flashlight and a good book!

Discovery Kids Construction Fort Kit

I’ve had my eye on Fort Magic, but haven’t been so sure if I want to spend that much on fort building supplies. The other day the kids found a similar kit on clearance at Bed, Bath & Beyond (I’m guess the fort goods are considered the “Beyond?”). They love it and have spent lots of time working together to build forts, which is almost priceless in my book. If you have Fort Magic and can speak to its quality, I’d love to hear from you.

Every Friday Allison from All for the Boys shares awesome forts from readers in her Fort Friday post. If you think kids don’t build forts anymore, check out the series. It will make your heart happy!

You can make or buy your own fort kit as well – what a great gift idea!

As we move towards spring, our thoughts will turn to cool ways to build forts and hideouts outside. Be sure to follow me on Pinterest for more ideas and inspiration for a playful life. And if you’ve made cool forts of your own, be sure to share them on our Facebook page!


It’s Okay To Say No To Homework

Say No To Homework

We’ve been tremendously lucky when it comes to homework with Elena. And when I say lucky, I mean that she rarely has more than 20-30 minutes worth a day. There’s even a day or two a week when she has no homework at all. For being in 6th grade advanced classes, that’s pretty amazing. So this post is absolutely not about us complaining about the homework situation in our family. But it is about making a decision to say no to homework every now and then.

Elena is in the school band, and as part of her class grade she is required to practice her instrument at home. She has a practice card she turns in weekly, signed by us, and the more she practices, the higher her grade. The other evening, she pulled out her alto saxophone and started trying to figure out the notes to the song “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” She worked at it for close to an hour, writing down notes, playing them, thinking, erasing, and trying again.  By the end of her session, she had it figured out.

After she played it for me, her shoulders sagged. When I asked what was wrong, she said she wished she hadn’t spent so much time on it. Now she needed to practice her actual band pieces so she could write down her practice time for the week. Whatever excitement and pride was there from figuring out the music to a favorite song had vanished and was replaced with a sense of dread.

I’m not sure what her band director would’ve said, but I said, “No way! That certainly counts toward practice time.” And I signed her card without any reservations.

Not long after, she spent the entire time between the arriving home from school until bedtime (taking a break for dinner) on my laptop. She was hard at work on trying to develop her own app (Frappy Bird, if you care to know! It’s a riff on the ridiculously popular but impossible Flappy Bird app, only instead of pipes it features Elena’s other obsession: frappauccinos.) She had other things she could’ve been doing. She had vocabulary words to work on, a test in a couple of days, a book to read, a messy room.

In both instances, I decided that working on something she was passionate about was more important than homework. I want her to understand that there is value in the play that excites you. Sometimes feeding the soul and indulging in a hobby takes priority over busy work. I’d like to think that what she learns when she writes a song or fiddles with code will translate into learning. Maybe it won’t help her learn the song they’re working on any faster, or earn her a A instead of a B on a math exam, but it will build skills and spark further learning later on down the line. And I’m okay with saying no to homework if that’s the case.

 Have you ever let your kids choose another activity over homework? Or do you feel like homework, as it’s assigned, is the top priority?


Don’t Fear Boredom


If your kids have never uttered the words, “I’m bored!” to you, then you can go ahead and skip this post. Chances are, though, that you’ve heard the phrase many times, often vocalized in a whiny voice and accompanied by floppy arms and sagging shoulders for dramatic effect. While every parent dreads those hearing words, I’m here to tell you something you might not have heard:

Don’t fear boredom.


In fact, I would tell you to celebrate and embrace boredom! Before you conclude that cabin fever has finally succeeded in knocking me clean off my rocker, here are a few reasons why boredom is a good thing.

Boredom boosts creativity.

Bouts of boredom often precede periods of great creativity. It makes room for that lightbulb moment. It’s in these moments that kids come up with the next epic backyard game, the ultimate blanket fort, the elaborate LEGO creation, or the best stories. Instead of fearing boredom, think of it as a palate cleanser. It prepares your kids for a really great play experience.

Boredom builds the skill of self-entertainment.

One of the biggest frustrations as a parent is a child who won’t play independently. Experiencing the feeling of boredom and the subsequent triumph of solving the problem by themselves builds confidence in kids. It helps them discover the things they really enjoy, and sets them up for a life that is fulfilling and well-rounded. It removes the crutches that hinder so many adults, who panic in a situation where outside entertainment from TV, movies, or smart phones is removed.

Boredom combats FOMO.

Have you ever heard of Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)? We might laugh at the Fear Of Missing Out (of Football) commercials, but FOMO is a real thing. It’s a form of social anxiety, exacerbated by our dependence on being connected all the time. Whether it’s seeing the newest toy advertised on television or obsessively checking Facebook to see what your friends are doing without you, it sucks away the ability to enjoy what we have in the now. Being able to fill down time with things you enjoy, without depending on other people or things to provide the entertainment, is a tremendous self-soothing skill. It also helps  kids learn to be 100% present in the moment, versus being entertained through distraction.

Great, you’re thinking. Now I know why I shouldn’t fear boredom, but how do I embrace it?

Build space in the day for unscheduled play time.

When we jump from one activity right into the next, we don’t leave any time for boredom. As painful as that period can be when the kids find they have nothing to do, it has to exist for imaginative, open-ended play to develop. Just as kids need good food and sleep, they need unstructured blocks of time built into their day for optimal development.

Don’t jump in when boredom strikes.

For years I was guilty of being the cruise ship director of entertainment for my kids. Especially in the summer, I packed activities into our day, and was always quick to come up with suggestions for what they could do next. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad to spend time with your kids. Reading, playing and crafting together is great for bonding and builds wonderful memories. However, the moments when you play with your kids are just one piece of the parenting pie. If you jump in immediately with suggestions when they’re bored, they’ll never exercise their own decision-making muscles, nor will they get to experience the joy that comes from discovering the next great thing to do on their own.

Remove crutches.

For my kids, any kind of screen is a crutch. It’s their number one choice for entertainment. Beyond saying no, I’ve found it very helpful to remove the screens from their field of vision – out of sight, (mostly) out of mind. Maybe your presence is the crutch. Try busying yourself with something out of their line of vision or out of hearing distance. Many times my kids are just too lazy to find me, so they turn to themselves or each other for entertainment.

Add inspiration.

Wherever your kids like to play, make sure there are a few items that encourage open-ended play. I keep books they like both in their rooms and in the family room. Blocks, LEGOs, fort-building items, dolls, action figures, cars, and props for dress-up and pretend play are wonderful toys to keep handy. Don’t forget outside toys, either. Gather sticks in an area of the yard so they can build shelters. Have items available for sand and water play. Bikes, scooters, balls, squirt guns and bottles, jump ropes, and chalk are great ideas, too.

Don’t feel like a failure.

I used to feel like the worst mom when my kids would say they were bored. There I was, staying at home for them, and I couldn’t even keep them properly entertained! Remember when I said playing with them is just one piece of the parenting pie? Just as they need to fill their days with an assortment of activities, so do you! Whether you have work that needs to get done or you set aside time to do something you enjoy, making the kids play on their own while you do your own thing is not neglect!

The next time the kids tell you they’re bored, don’t fret. Congratulate them (and yourself) for stumbling on the gift of boredom.

Are your kids frequently bored, or do you feel as if you’re always on the go? What’s your reaction when they tell you they’re bored?


Explore Your Local Nature Center


What do these questions have in common?

  • How can I explore nature when the weather’s (too cold, too hot, too rainy, etc)?
  • How can I expose my kids to nature when I hate being outside?
  • How can I entertain my kid’s obsession with animals and/or insects without going to a zoo?
  • How can I keep my kid entertained in the winter without resorting to screens or a germy indoor play area?
  • Where can I learn more about the plants, animals, and insects around me?
  • Where can I find inspiring and fun nature-based activities to do with  my kids?

They all have the same answer: Visit your local nature center!

Explore a Nature Center

We’re big fans of our local nature center, but I’m always surprised to find out how many families are unaware both of their existence and the treasure trove of benefits they’re missing out on. We visit our nature center often, and definitely at least once each season. Sometimes we just need something interesting to do. Sometimes I need something to do that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes we want to learn something specific. No matter what our purpose is for going, we always have fun.

Nature Center Animals

Each nature center will be different, but here a few things most nature centers offer:

Interesting things to see:  Most nature centers will have a few animals for kids to see up close and personal. Ours has turtles, lizards, snakes, rodents and insects. It also has a bird viewing area, with binoculars to use for an even better view.

Nature Center Bird Watching

Fun activities to do: Many nature centers will offer a craft or some activity pages for kids to do while they’re there. Most offer special programming, such as crafting projects, story hours, or child-centric hikes.

Resources: Think beyond the library! Nature centers often resources at hand that you can explore, such as identification guides and books to spark or entertain your child’s interests.

Nature Center Resources

Help: The naturalists at your local nature center are there to assist you. They’re happy to help answer questions or to give you ideas about how to incorporate nature into your everyday life. Chances are, whatever question your child has asked that has you stumped, they’ll be able to answer (or point you in the right direction).

Linda from Rain or Shine Mamma has some more great reasons as to why you should explore your local nature center. If you need assistance finding a nature center near you, NatureFind can help.

Have you ever paid a visit to your local nature center? What’s your favorite activity there?


Good Question: Is There Such a Thing As Youth Recreational Sports Anymore?

Is there such a thing as recreational sports anymore?

Shortly after the Christmas tree comes down and we trudge through the second half of the school year, the spring sport registration season begins. For years I was blissfully unaware this was even a thing.

We gave soccer a try when Elena was 5 and quickly realized it wasn’t for her. She was happier picking dandelions behind the goal, and we were happier not having to scramble to the soccer fields twice a week with an infant in tow, and so we shelved the idea of team sports for a few years.

In the meantime, Elena has been content to choose a few activities here and there – Girl Scouts, the school musical, Math Bowl team – and not participate in any sports. And when we did opt to try an athletic endeavor again, it was summer swim team at our local pool. It was just our cup of tea. The coach was laid back, there was little pressure to win, the season was short, and Elena could ride to and from practice by herself.

Recently she’s noticed that most of her friends are involved in some type of competitive sport. It’s been tough sometimes to find a friend to hang out with on the weekends, because many of them are at tournaments or traveling with their team. And while I still don’t think she’s really interested in playing a particular sport, she is aware that she’s missing out on the sense of belonging and comradery.

She mentioned that she’d like to try softball, so I looked into signing her up for a spring league. I was very quickly discouraged. At her age, the teams are by try-out only. She’s never picked up a bat in her life. Say by some minor miracle she’s placed on a team (I couldn’t tell if they take everybody or not) – how will she fit in with girls who have been playing for years? The same goes for soccer, volleyball, and basketball.

It seems that by choosing to spend her elementary years out of organized sports, we’ve effectively cut her out of participating in team sports for the remainder of her school career – at least in the sense that she can learn and play with others at the same level as her.

Would we choose the same path again? With her, probably. While I’m temporarily frustrated for her, and she’s moderately disappointed, we both agree that life was pretty good without organized sports. The majority of her time after school and on weekends was spent playing, unconstrained by time or other obligations. We ate dinner as a family nearly every night of the week. Will we choose the same path with Eli? I don’t know. He plays basketball at the YMCA right now, one Saturday a week. We signed him up for his first soccer experience this spring, with one practice during the week and one game on the weekends. It feels manageable, and he loves team sports in a way Elena never did. He has fun with the other kids and hangs on his coach’s every word. Will we have a  hard decision to make should he pursue a sport and it becomes too competitive for our liking? Definitely.

It does make me sad for families who feel they have to choose between organized sports, with the hectic schedule and increasing competitiveness, or an unscheduled, less ambitious early childhood. I wish we could return to a time when youth sports didn’t ramp up until you were in middle school or even older.

How have you fit organized sports into your family’s life? Do you see benefits that trump the inconvenience? Have you been able to find less competitive leagues? Or do you think it’s better for your kids to sit the whole thing out?


Risky Reads: The We-Heart-You Edition

DIY 3D Cards

It’s hard to believe, but a couple of weeks ago The Risky Kids celebrated its second anniversary. I’m so thrilled to see it grow, and I have so much fun writing sharing our adventures with you. We really do heart each and every one of you!

One of my favorite things about this blog is when I come across something and my first thought is, “I have to share this with my readers – they’ll LOVE it!” And that’s why the monthly Risky Reads will always be near and dear to my heart. Not only do I hope to share something with you that you’ll find cool, or interesting, or thought-provoking, I love sharing the good stuff other people are creating all over the internet. So here are a few things I came across recently that I think you’ll enjoy:

Check out Camp H, the very cool design and build camp for girls ages 9-12. The founder of the camp, Emily Pilloton, said, “There aren’t enough spaces for girls to be together as girls doing things that feel audacious.” I couldn’t agree more, and I know Elena would participate in something like this in a heartbeat!

This has made the rounds in some of my playground circles, but I didn’t want you to miss it. Check out what happens when a school ditches the standard playground rules and lets the kids decide what’s okay for themselves. It’s both surprising and inspiring.

Who cares if we’re knee deep in another list of 50 things we should do with our kids? How can we not give 50 Things to Do Before You’re 11 3/4 a go?

I love it when tech merges with play and nature. We’re still stuck in snow and frigid cold, but very soon we’ll be outdoors and checking out these 14 Apps For Your Walk in the Woods.

We’re still up to our math-related shenanigans over at the Bedtime Math Blog. Last month we made good use of our leftover boxes from the holidays to make some fun cardboard rock band-worthy instruments. To celebrate the Super Bowl (but not the final score – so tough for this Peyton Manning fan to handle), I showed Eli a skill every kid needs to master: the mini flick football. And just in time for Valentine’s Day, we used sharp objects and math skills to shower love on our Valentines with DIY 3D cards.

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 Great Backyard Bird Count 2014

Robin Great Backyard Bird Count

I don’t know what it is about birds, but I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with them. We always have at least a finch feeder out, and I get so much enjoyment from watching them out my back window.

Learning about birds, feeding the birds, and observing the birds that make frequent your little corner of the world is a wonderful way to connect kids with nature in a very real way. It takes very little time or money, and it can be done year-round.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Every year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society partner together for the Great Backyard Bird Count. This year’s GBBC is right around the corner, February 14-17, 2014. The goal of the GBBC is to collect data on wild birds, which in turn helps scientists learn more about wild birds and to get the big picture on the status of the wild bird population. It helps them learn about things like how climate change is affecting bird populations, migration patterns of different species, if bird diseases are affecting birds in different regions, and the differences in bird species and numbers in urban, suburban and rural areas.

The best part about the GBBC is that they want and need your help! Simply spend at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC tallying the numbers and kinds of birds you see. Everything you need to know about how to participate can be found at  Beyond learning more about the birds in your own backyard, it’s a cool way to be a part of a great big science project. And I’m always a fan of using resources like bird guides to foster a love of non-fiction reading and research skills. Of course there’s also an online bird guide and some cool birding apps for your tech-loving kids.

Hawk Great Backyard Bird Count

We’ll be participating as a family – hope you’ll join us!


5 Ways To Foster Independent Play At Home

Foster independent play

Last week I talked about our near break-up with LEGO. That experience led me reflect on the impact we, as parents, have on our kids’ play habits.

It seems simple enough doesn’t it? Give the kids some free time and plenty of toys and they should be able to play independently for hours. Well, maybe it’s that simple in your home, but not in mine. Had you raised this idea to me five years ago, I would’ve wondered what on earth you were talking about. Of course kids naturally know how to play! Fast-forward a few years and I realize my rookie parenting mistake – no two kids are alike, and no two kids play alike.

Elena could entertain herself in just about any situation. If she had a friend to play with, all the better. If not? She was equally happy. She spent her early years playing in homes where toy real estate was at a premium. Neither of the homes we lived in previously had rec rooms or basements. Toys were kept either in her room or the family room. In both homes, the main living area was an open floor plan, so if she was playing chances are one of us was nearby to facilitate play and keep her company. However, she has always enjoyed her own personal, quiet space. Playing with toys in her room was just as pleasurable, if not more so, than playing where we were.

Eli, on the other hand, has always needed more help to play independently. He prefers to play with someone else, and if he doesn’t have a playmate, he wants to play near wherever the adults are. He’s also pickier about the kinds of activities he enjoys. Where Elena always enjoyed crafting, puzzles, or looking at books, he prefers sports, games and role-playing activities.

Last spring, we moved to a new home with a basement. I envisioned the basement as a kids’ oasis, and put nearly every toy we owned downstairs. After a few months, I was perplexed. The kids rarely played down there. Unless they had friends over and specifically wanted to play something in the basement, they only ventured down if we made them. We had a basement full of toys, yet when given free time my kids would choose to sit on the couch upstairs and play on the iPad or watch TV every single time.

The success we had in moving the LEGO bins from the basement to Eli’s room forced me to think about how and where kids play. Why don’t they play a certain way, whether it be independently, imaginatively, or artistically? And why, we when have so many perfectly wonderful toys, do they not play with them?

These questions really vexed me. I want my kids to choose play that is both fun and good for their development. I want them to draw, build, and use their imaginations. I had to ask myself: am I setting up our home for show or for living?  I don’t like toys strewn about and I don’t like clutter.  But while out of sight might give me peace of mind, it also seems to put opportunities for free play out of my kids’ minds.  If the TV and the iPad are the only things that are easily accessible in our main living areas, why wouldn’t they choose them over other kinds of play every single time?

In the same way that we have to help children learn how to play independently* outside when they’re not accustomed to it, we have to help set them up for independent play success inside our homes as well.  We have to keep their desires and thought processes in mind and create an environment that fosters the kind of play we want to see them engaged in. Furthermore, we have to keep in mind that play is like a muscle. If you haven’t used your play muscle in a bit, other than trying to beat your high score on Flap Happy, it will take some work to get it moving again. That’s where we have to step in as parents and provide the little nudge that gets the play muscle moving. How do we facilitate the kind of play we’d like to see?

Life with boys: a sea of Legos. #keepinitreal

We have to be willing to endure messes.


Play can be messy. It’s the bin of blocks spread all over the floor to find the perfect one. It’s glitter on the table for the latest masterpiece. It’s all the cushions pulled off the couch for the fort. When the day is over we can work together to clean the mess up, but trying to keep play tidy as it’s happening is a play buzzkill.


We need to have toys accessible.


The toys need to be where the children enjoy spending time, not necessarily where we think the toys look better (Guilty). Our basement is cold in the winter, and totally cut off from where we are. For Eli, who enjoys having someone nearby, this was a dealbreaker. Find creative storage to house the toys when they’re not being played with, and be aware of ways to incorporate play in the rooms you use the most, like this dollhouse in a kitchen cabinet.


But not so many toys that they’re overwhelmed with choices.


How many times have your kids whined that they’re bored, as they’re standing in the middle of a room packed with toys? I’ve threatened many a time to pack up the toys and send them to kids who would love the opportunity to play with them. The funny thing is, the less they have to choose from, the better they get at choosing. I store some toys in a closet and rotate through them periodically. It’s like Christmas when the “new” toys come out. And when they don’t get any reaction or play time? I know it’s time to donate those toys to someone else.

Prepared environment for crafting


Embrace the prepared environment. 


This is a term used in Montessori classrooms, in which the rooms are thoughtfully set up to encourage learning.  In the prepared environment there is order, accessibility, and the freedom to move and choose activities freely. At home, that means we have to plan ahead sometimes and have an activity ready, if only to get them started.  You might set out a selection of crafting supplies, which gets them started creating art. Select a few toys to have out at a time, so they’re not overwhelmed with choices or toy clutter. Leave out some planned discoveries to get their engines running.


Embrace your kids passions

Pay attention to their passions.


Once you find out what really excites them, look for ways to add playful opportunities to their passion. Pinterest is a great resource for creative and inexpensive ways to boost specific themes of play. Conversely, be willing to let go of toys that don’t speak to their passions. I have a habit of buying toys that I think are cool, but my kids don’t necessarily love. I bought a lovely (and not-so-inexpensive) Quadrilla set a few years ago. I loved the way it looked and imagined hours of endless play. They never loved it. In fact, they’ve never been big into building with wooden blocks of any kind, but that didn’t stop me from buying another kind of wooden marble run, Lincoln logs, and a big set of blocks. I’d get annoyed every time I looked at them collecting dust on the shelf. I finally let them go, freeing up space to spread out all of Eli’s Super Hero toys and accessories – which he loves and plays with frequently.

If no two kids play alike, then no two homes are alike when it comes to set them up for an enriching play experience. But we can use these guidelines to help us answer the questions that perplex us and come up with a solution that works for us. It seems like a lot of effort on the front end. However the extra time we spend thinking about how and where our kids play best will be rewarded with priceless hours of play. Not the mind-numbing, isolating “play” in the glow of a screen, but the kind of play that nurtures our kids and feeds their souls.

Have you ever thought about the way your kids play and how you can help them play better? What are your biggest struggles? How have you helped them engage in screen-free play?

* By independently, I mean free play in which adults are not directly involved, but not necessarily solitary play. Other children may be involved in the play.


DIY Pop Can Flyer {Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred Book Review}

DIY Pop Can Flyer

If there’s one playful skill I would encourage in my kids above all others, it would be the passion for tinkering. I’m so happy to see the Maker movement gain steam – all the way up to the White House! What I love about the Maker philosophy is how it combines useful skills that will come in handy all through life with the freedom to tailor the maker experience to whatever you are passionate about. Whether a child (or an adult!) finds joy in baking, woodworking, coding, sewing, drawing, or robotics, he or she is learning the satisfying art of creating something with their own two hands.

While the maker/tinkering experience can be tailored to any child with any particular interest, it’s definitely something that needs fostered and encouraged in most kids. While some kids will naturally keep themselves occupied with tinkering, many kids will need some help getting started. My kids, for example, will nearly always choose the path of least resistance – namely iPads and iPods – if not encouraged to choose something else. Often just minimal prodding along with setting up the environment for their curiosity to take over is all they need to get their wheels turning. Because this kind of play may not come naturally to many families, I’m here to help you get started. Through sharing our own experiences and resources I find valuable, I hope you’ll find something that inspires the tinkerer that resides in all of us.

Books, of course, are always a good resource. One such book that caught my eye was Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids by David Erik Nelson. It’s packed with 24 DIY projects to make with things you can either scavenge or find on the cheap. Along the way you’ll learn beginner skills in sewing, carpentry, electronics and more. Nelson is a former high school teacher who developed many of these projects while teaching troubled youth.

The book is geared toward kids in junior high and up, but any of the projects can be done together as a family. Given that we weren’t quite prepared to jump into circuitry or soldering, we opted to try one of the beginner projects: the Pop Can Flyer.

Pop Can Flyer Supplies

You’ll need a clean, empty 12-oz soda or beer can, utility knife, a ruler or tape measure, a can opener or kitchen shears, and a Sharpie.

DIY Pop Can Flyer

The first order of business is to remove the top of the can, leaving the rolled aluminum ring intact. This would be fairly easy with an old-school can opener. However, we have a convoluted model that wouldn’t grip the can’s edge. We went with heavy-duty kitchen shears instead. If you’re using shears, be very careful – the edges will be sharp.

Pop Can Flyer

Measure 2 1/2″ down from the can’s shoulder, and mark this length at several points around the can’s circumference.

Cutting a Pop Can Flyer

Use a utility knife to cut away the bottom of the can. Yes, I let the 6-year-old do this. Nothing gets him more excited than the opportunity to use the utility knife. I’ve seen adults that don’t know how to safely use one – better to start them young.

That’s it! Your Pop Can Flyer is ready to fly. Throw it like a football, with the can’s top in front and giving it plenty of spin. Now, here’s where the real tinkering can start. Play around with different Pop Can Flyer configurations. Gather cans with different diameters. Play around with the body length. Add cutouts, wavy or zig-zagged edges and see how it changes your can’s flight distance and path.

The sky (and your supply of aluminum cans) is the limit!