Archives for July 2014

A Summer Bus Route Just For Kids

kids using public transportation

If only she had access to public transportation she could use on her own in our hometown.

Just on the heels of my post about unaccompanied minors, and how we might make the towns and cities we live here in the US more accessible for kids to get around without always relying on adults, I came across this:

Nashua Announces Summer Recreation Bus Route

The city of Nashua, New Hampshire is operating a pilot transportation program this summer aimed at providing free public transportation to various recreational spots around the city. Kids ages 6-18 whose parents register them for a free bus pass can ride the bus to places like the park, ball fields, the pool, the library, and the Boys and Girls Club. They can go to the skate park, meet friends at the pool, visit the library to play Dungeons and Dragons or take a soldering class. Dang, I want to be a kid in Nashua, NH!

While it specifies that children under 10 can’t ride the bus alone, they are allowed to ride with someone over 10. I’m so envious! If we had a service like this in my town, I could send Elena and Eli to the library on their own. It’s these kinds of interactions – learning how to use public transportation, learning bus/train etiquette and manners, going on errands solo and interacting with librarians, shop owners, and other adults – that build a solid foundation for knowing how to be an independent, fully-functional adult. How forward thinking of Nashua to realize that by providing a service like the recreational bus route, they are giving kids a safe, age-appropriate stepping stone to be able to handle adult responsibilities later in life. It solves a myriad of problems, such as boredom, and dependence on cars and adults to go where they want, while also empowering kids and boosting their confidence.

Nashua’s town slogan just happens to be “Dare to Begin.” How appropriate, as providing this bus service aimed at youth they seem to be saying, “Let’s dare to begin treating our kids as capable individuals, instead of keeping them in a bubble and fearing the worst.”

Would you welcome a service like this in your hometown?

(A link to the Nashua Summer Recreation Bus Route first appeared on the Free Range Kids blog. You can read Lenore’s take on the service here.)


Playgrounds: Reinventing the Square (Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid)

playgrounds exhibit reina sofia

From the early days of The Risky Kids, I’ve been following along the Playscapes blog. I always enjoy seeing the playgrounds they feature from around the world. I usually file the information under “Things I’d Love To (But Probably Never Will) See.”

In May, Paige posted about an upcoming exhibit to be hosted by the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. Playgrounds: Reinventing the Square would be open during the same time we’d be visiting Madrid.

playgrounds reinventing the square

I probably should’ve explained the exhibit to the kids a little better … they we’re quite disappointed to discover that it wasn’t an exhibit of playgrounds they could actually play on. We did have one mortifying moment when they saw a wooden swing in one room and tried to sit on it, only to be yelled at by a museum employee. It was one of those parenting moments when you can see that something bad is about to go down, but you can’t get there fast enough! In their defense, there were other parts of the exhibit that were hands-on, and they couldn’t read the sign in Spanish that said not to touch (it was one of our first days in Spain … they quickly learned exactly what no tocar meant!)

adventure playground reina sofia exhibit

Not the installation my kids used as their own personal playground … but you get the idea.

Besides that particular incident, the exhibit was really interesting. I particularly enjoyed the photographs from Helen Levitt, taken in 1940s New York City, of children playing in the streets. Such a different time!

There was also a room full of original playground blueprints from famed architect Aldo van Eyck.

aldo van eyck playground blueprint

And look at this article from post-WWII England:

playgrounds reina sofia

Yes, we would like an anarchist playground!

adventure playground magazine reina sofia

While it was definitely more interesting for me than the kids, they did enjoy some of the hands-on pieces.

playgrounds exhibit madrid

I’d love to see more exhibits like this in art museums across the United States. I think it’s fascinating to see how playgrounds have evolved, and to ponder how we can reinvent the playground for this generation and beyond.


Risky Reads: The World Traveler Edition

granada mirador san nicolas

We’ve been home for two weeks now, and we’re still walking around in a fog. We have alternating feelings of happiness at being back home, utter disbelief that we spent an entire month traipsing about Spain, a yearning to go back, and sadness at the rapidly approaching first day of school. I’ve given up at any semblance of a routine, and instead we’re just winging it every day, a fleeting luxury that will soon end. I’m a scheduler by nature, so this is a big stretch for me … but darn if it doesn’t feel good!

The photo above was taken in Granada, Spain. We’d walked through El Albayzín, with its narrow, winding streets, tea shops, and Moorish architecture, to the lookout point (Mirador San Nicolás). From there we had an amazing view of the Alhambra, which we’d spent the day exploring. There was a little outdoor market where artists were selling handicrafts, several bustling cafes, tourists milling about, and kids running everywhere. I’m not sure what this structure is actually for, but all of the kids had decided it was perfect for scaling, sitting on, and jumping from. It wasn’t small, so climbing it was a feat. And if you made it to the top and decided you wanted to jump off? Well, you faced about a 6 foot jump onto a sidewalk or the cobblestone street.

And yet … I didn’t see a single person yell at the kids to be careful or to get off. I didn’t see a single kid get hurt. But I did see lots of jubilant faces and I did hear lots of laughter.

Now that I’m done reminiscing, here are a few things I found around the web that I thought you might find interesting!

In the midst of this lazy, routine-free summer, this is another thing I’m trying to embrace: not squawking at the kids to constantly tidy up or following them around and doing it for them. Sometimes the best and most inspiring play moments come from something that evolves over a few days. So maybe don’t clean up!

I love a good checklist, and this one from the National Trust of 50 Outdoor Activities to do as a child is very inspiring.

There’s still time to get a road trip in before school starts! This fun, interactive map can help you decide where to go based on where you’ll be traveling and the kinds of activities you like to do as a family.

Board games are back! (But did they ever go away?)

It doesn’t look like we’ll make a camping trip happen this summer, but when we do, I’ll definitely use some of the tips in this post on stress-free camping with kids.

You can still find me over at Bedtime Math, along with other fantastic bloggers sharing some really cool activities. Last month we got muddy, cooled off with ice excavations, and made ourselves a sweet treat. The daily math problem is always fun, and Eli loves doing them as we get ready for bed.

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!


Perfect Pop App: Summertime Snacking Made Easy

Pop secret app



This post is sponsored by Pop Secret Popcorn. All opinions are my own.



Pop Secret Popcorn

It may be summertime, and the livin’ may very well be easy, but that doesn’t mean that the kids don’t have to lift a finger. No, much to their chagrin, I’ve been requiring a little more responsibility from the kids this summer than they’ve been accustomed to throughout the school year.

It might seem counterintuitive, but I find that summer is the perfect time to introduce kids to new jobs and life skills that they’re capable of doing for themselves. We have more time and our schedules are less packed, so I’m able to spend the time to teach them things like sorting the laundry, loading the dishwasher, and (a big step for the little guy) preparing and cleaning up their own snacks.

I realized this needed to happen (and soon), after I spent the first few days of summer break on nothing but kitchen duty. As soon as I cleaned up from breakfast, they were ready for a mid-morning snack. That was quickly followed by lunch, the late afternoon munchies, and then dinner. Yes, it was summertime and I was livin’ in the kitchen. It was time to arm the kids with some snacks they could easily prepare and clean up on their own.

Popcorn is a perfect choice. They love it, I feel good about them eating it, and it’s a great introduction into using an appliance for younger kids. Of course, there is a downside … the dreaded burned bag of popcorn. Besides the sadness of ruining your snack, reminders of your popping failure stay with you for hours. We like to fry our own taco shells on taco night, and I joke that for the next day our house smells like a taco truck … which isn’t really a terrible thing. But a house that smells like burned popcorn? Not so pleasant. And to add insult to injury, nothing squelches a kid’s desire to take on more independence in the kitchen than immediate failure. The goal in introducing these kinds of tasks is to set them up for success, building their confidence.

Turns out there’s an app for that. No, not for confidence building (Who am I kidding? There’s probably one for that, too). It’s the Pop Secret Perfect Pop app! It’s free, easy to use, and most importantly, it keeps you from burning the popcorn. Everyone can relate to the frustration of burning popcorn, so Pop Secret decided to solve the problem once and for all, so you can spend more time enjoying movies and less time worrying about burned popcorn!

To get started, use your iPhone  to download Perfect Pop for free on the App Store.

Perfect Pop app

1. Put a bag of Pop Secret in the microwave and enter suggested cooking time from the packaging.

2. Turn up the volume on your iPhone. Point the phone’s speaker towards the microwave and keep within 3 feet.

Perfect Pop

3. Start the microwave, and then start the app.

No more relying on the popcorn button (which my microwave doesn’t have) or guessing how many seconds in between pops (not the easiest task for kids … or many adults). Perfect Pop listens to the pops, waiting for the precise moment to let you know when your popcorn is perfect.

popcorn app

Now that the kids have it down, it’s not unusual for my mid-afternoon chores to be interrupted by the buttery smell of popping popcorn! It’s a nice change from, “Mooooom! I’m hungry!” Or worse yet, “Mooooom! I burned the popcorn!”

How have you introduced independence in the kitchen? Now that we have our popcorn skills down, we’d love to hear about other snacks and simple meals the kids can tackle next.


You can download the Pop Secret Perfect Pop app for free on the App Store. At this time, the app only works for the iPhone 5+ on iOS7+. The Perfect Pop app is optimized for Pop Secret brand popcorn. 


3 Cultural Differences In Europe That Would Freak Out American Parents

After a long day of sightseeing in Madrid, we made our way to our apartment on the Metro. Madrid’s public transportation system is excellent and easy to use. So easy, in fact, that kids can do it on their own. Nearly every time we used the Metro, we saw kids traveling either alone or in groups of other kids. I would estimate that the youngest kids we saw without parents were around 10 or 11 years old. It was one of the first of many instances during our trip to Spain that I noticed just how different our cultures view kids. Here are a few other things I observed in Spain that you never (or rarely) see in the States:

Regents Park Playground London

Unique and Challenging Playgrounds: I’ll share some photos soon to show you what I mean, but I was impressed (and envious) at the number and variety of playgrounds in both London and Spain. We rented bikes in Madrid and rode along a paved path next to the river. In just 3 miles I counted 5 playgrounds along the path, and each one was completely different. I noticed lots of opportunities for climbing, balancing, and imaginative play. Most of the playgrounds we saw were in urban settings, meaning kids don’t have to travel far to have a safe and challenging place to play.

Zoorooms Barcelona

Unaccompanied Minors: Beyond the kids traveling without adults on public transportation, we also saw lots of kids wandering around town on their own. Whether they were out with friends or running errands for parents, it was clear this was business as usual. We spent the last week of our trip in a small beach town in southern Spain. Our house was about a 5 minute walk from the town’s main plaza, lined with shops and cafes. Each evening we’d walk to the plaza for tapas. I’d give the kids a few Euros and let them wander around on their own while the adults ate and enjoyed a few drinks. It wasn’t unusual to see kids running around on their own until 10 p.m. Meanwhile, in the US, you can go to jail for letting your 9-year-old go to the park on their own.

Toledo Spain pet store

Stranger Interaction Without Paranoia: I feel as if in the States, any interaction between an adult male and a child is immediately viewed with suspicion. Why would a grown man be interested in a child unless he had nefarious motives? However in Spain it’s not unusual to see adults chatting and interacting with kids they don’t know. I saw one interaction in particular that would probably you arrested in the States. A man was pushing a cart full of snacks for sale along the beach. As kids would approach the cart and buy snacks from him, he’d chat with them, tousling their hair or chucking them lightly on the nose. In general, adults were more touchy with kids than you’d ever see here. It was so refreshing to see adults interacting with kids without the immediate reaction that their behavior was pervy or suspicious.

Of course I realize that a few weeks spent somewhere in no way gives you a clear snapshot of the way things really are. I know that things are not perfect in Europe. They struggle with many of the same issues we do, such as access to play and a dependence on screens and technology.  And of course there were many comforts of home and things about the US that my kids missed and realized they’d taken for granted. They love their large, grassy yards and wide open spaces in which to play.

At the same time, they wished they could enjoy the independence and the ability to roam around town without needing cars or parents. Elena was especially affected by the difference in cultures. She envisioned how different her social life would be in Spain, with the ability to meet friends in town and go places together. Here, even the simplest of plans involves checking parents’ schedules, arranging transportation, and often inconveniencing at least one parent because no one wants to leave the kids alone at the mall, the movies, etc. And so instead of being out, doing kid things, she’s often stuck at home and bored. She said she wished she could bottle up everything she loved about Spain and bring it to our hometown.

One of the great things about travel is that it serves to open your eyes to new ways of living and doing things. Thanks to the things we observed, I’m inspired and confident that we can do things just a little differently in the United States. We can give our kids challenging playgrounds close to where they live and play. We can let them roam and be independent as they grow and mature. And we can let them interact with other adults without assuming the worst.

Have you traveled abroad and been surprised at the cultural differences in play and parenting? I’d love to hear some of your stories about the things you noticed on your travels!


We’re Back!

Almost home

Hello friends! We are back from Spain!

We had a wonderful and amazing adventure, and I have so many things I want to share with you. While I took the requisite photos of cathedrals and castles, I also took lots of photos of playgrounds and kids at play. It was fascinating to see how play and parenting philosophies differ from what we’re accustomed to in the States.

My kids were fantastic travelers, a wonderful reminder to me of how travel benefits kids. They were curious, enthusiastic, and capable of more responsibility and independence that we are apt to give them credit for.

I’ve been home for a few days now, but I’m still just treading water. I can’t quite kick the jet lag, and I’m slowly trying to both catch up and get back on track. So please bear with me as I try to get back into a normal posting schedule. I have a feeling it will be limited to one or two posts a week until the kids are back in school. I want to savor this last month of summer vacation in a different way than we savored the first month. While the sight-seeing and traveling were full of fun and memories, I’m ready to have some lazy fun here at home before school starts. I have a feeling you’re doing much of the same!

I hope you’re having a wonderful summer so far! Thanks for continuing to read and share The Risky Kids, and I look forward to telling you all about our Risky adventures in Spain and London very soon!