Meet the Beyers {A Risky Kids Interview}

One of the things I hear over and over again as interact with other free-range parents is, “I wish I knew more families like us.” A community, whether virtual or out your front door, can be so empowering. It makes you feel less alone, and when you feel like others have your back, you feel more confident in your parenting choices. I thought it might be fun to seek out people and families from different backgrounds and interview them. My goal for this interview series is to introduce you to a wide range of people, all very different, but who share a common belief: that raising kids in a bubble is no way to live. And even though we might be miles apart, we can feel connected to each other, learn from each other, and support each other.

Our very first family is the Beyers! I met Leah through a group of local bloggers. What really intrigued me about Leah’s family is that they are a farming family. I was really curious about how farm life, and its tremendous responsibilities,  affects the way one parents. Please join me in welcoming the Beyers to The Risky Kids!

Leah Beyer Family Interview

Thanks for being our very first Risky Kid interview guinea pig, Leah! Tell us about your family.

My husband, Matt, and I have two children. Brady is 9 and in 4th grade. Maddie is 7 and in 2nd grade.

Tell us about where you live.

A year ago we moved away from our farm land and where we milked cows until 2009. We now live in rural Columbus, Indiana on several acres and are surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

What does a typical day in your kids’ life look like?

Our kids start the day off by getting up for school, but they have to go feed the pigs, calves, and chickens, as well as the dogs and cats, before eating breakfast. They attend a private school as well as the after-school program. Brady takes piano and guitar lessons after school 2 days a week as well. In the evenings we are pretty busy most nights. Brady is on the swim team and has practice 5-6 days a week. He also participates in short-term sports like basketball and soccer through the local parks department. Maddie is into dance and has ballet and Irish dance class two nights a week.

After any afternoon activities, or before they go to evening activities, they have chores and homework to do. They have to feed and water all the animals again, and complete any reading or homework. We usually eat dinner between 7 and 7:30 and are off to bed around 9 pm.

What are some “risky” circumstances or situations your kids face that the average suburban or city kid wouldn’t encounter?

With livestock on the farm, both kids are climbing over gates and are in pens with pigs that weigh 200 pounds. They also use pitchforks and shovels to pitch manure out of the pens. My kids both use pocket knives to help them open bags or break bales. We have several tractors and skid loaders that are also around, and the kids regularly ride on them or pretend to play on them. My son helps mow our five acres of grass that isn’t pastured with our Dixie Chopper zero radius lawn mower.

What factors of farm life do you see as having a positive impact on the way your kids will grow up?

One reason we have livestock, even if just a few head, is to help them learn how to work, learn responsibility for keeping something alive, and have an appreciation for the work raising animals for food is. The kids have really learned how to be a team. They have also become fierce negotiators with each other, brokering deals to help one another, or to get out of the chores in the morning or evening by doing them all by themselves at the other time.

We had them grow and sell sweet corn over the summer, and that adventure helped them understand basic business and financial lessons. They had a small business plan, and learned about input costs, how to determine the price to sell their product at, as well as what taxes had to be paid on what they earned.

Are all farm families essentially free-range families? Or do you encounter helicopter parents within the farming community as well?

I’m sure that helicopter parents do exist in the farm community, however we don’t have time to helicopter our kids. We have work to do! I can’t and don’t have time to hover over them while they do chores or play outside. The great thing about them being close in age, though, is they really are always together, even if they’re not playing or working together. My kids have scars, bumps and bruises. But they have also learned about cause and effect from decisions they’ve made that caused the pain.

What’s a common rule or safety issue you won’t budge on? And what are you happy to disregard? (For example, my deal-breaker is car and booster seats. My kids stayed in them probably longer than they needed to, and I wouldn’t let them ride in a car without them. On the flip side, I’m lax about bike helmets.)

The kids do have rules and boundaries. When riding motorized vehicles or bikes, they know they can’t go on the road alone. Both kids also have guns. We have the guns put up and they are not to be used without an adult being present and with them. The same goes for the tractors. There is no firing up of the tractors without mom or dad. When it comes to the animals, we don’t want them in the pens with the animal if they are out in the barn alone. We have more of a buddy system on our farm.

And I’m not sure where our bike helmets are at currently. I know we have them …

How does your childhood compare to the way your kids live today?

I would say my childhood was very similar. However, my kids have cable tv, gaming systems, and get to eat out way more than we ever did.

Can you share a favorite memory of your kids’ childhood on the farm?

Both kids spent the first year of their life sitting in a yellow Little Tikes swing in our milking parlor. They would come home splattered in poop and happy as could be. It was the truest form of my kids going to work with their dad.

What advice would you give a parent who is anxious about giving his or her kids freedom and independence?

Seeing your child accomplish something all on their own is the most rewarding thing for a parent. My kids have grown their confidence and have become hard workers in our home because they have been rewarded with freedom, especially outside. I’m not sure what they are always doing, but I know that I can open the back door and yell for them. I will take an independent child who is outdoors exploring any day over my kid in the next room playing Xbox. I hate that I ever bought that stupid Xbox!

What is your favorite thing to do as a family?

We’ve started fishing. I don’t bait or unhook, but I love to take pictures. We also love going on long bike rides into town. (Yes, without helmets. We live dangerously.)

And now for a totally random question! Your favorite junk food you’ve loved since childhood is?

My mom never let us have sugary cereal, and I always wanted Lucky Charms. So I would ask for a box for Christmas! It’s still a vice as an adult.

Leah, thank you SO much for letting us get to know your family, and sharing how you free-range parent from the farm. You can read more about the Beyers on Leah’s blog, Beyer Beware (I especially love this post: What Do Farm Kids Do All Summer?). If you’d like to be interviewed for The Risky Kids, let me know! I’d love to include you and your family. Just shoot me an email at theriskykids (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Keeping the Summer Spirit Alive Through the School Year

Keep the summer spirit alive

One of the hardest things about going back to school is watching the last glorious days of summer unfold while you’re stuck inside. And while I won’t deny that we were all ready to get back to a schedule, none of us were quite ready to give up on summer. It got me thinking – what is it about summer that makes the season so special, and how can we keep that summer spirit alive as our days get both busier and shorter?

Keep the summer spirit alive: build a bonfire

Eat Outside

Picnics, deck dinners and cul-de-sac cookouts are frequent occurrences during the summer. Back to school doesn’t have to mean back inside! In fact, I find my kids need even more outdoor time in September and October, to make up for long days indoors at school. Have your afternoon snack outside on the patio, plan a picnic dinner, or build a bonfire and cook outdoors.

Keep Exploring

Keep Exploring

We’re great about planning road trips and vacations in the summer, but you can still travel and explore when school’s in session. Plan a day trip for the weekend, or become tourists in your hometown. Check out that new trail you missed over the summer, look for a new geocache nearby, or visit that playground that was too hot to consider last July.

Just Add Water

Just Add Water

It’s Murphy’s Summer Law: once the pools close after Labor Day, you will find yourself with the hottest, stickiest weather that will leave you longing for the pool. There are lots of fun water toys on clearance in the stores now, so stock up and enjoy them at home before you pack them up for the fall. Break out the sprinkler or the water balloons. I love to stock up on water guns (these are great) so that all the kids on the street can have a big water gun fight.

Game on! Cornhole

Game On!

This is also a great time to get outdoor games at great prices. Stock up on outdoor games and toys the kids loved during the summer, and add something new to the mix (we just got these OgoDisks and love them).

Protect the Empty Calendar

Protect the Empty Calendar

One of the beautiful things about summer is the feeling that you have entire days with no real obligations. No sports practices or math club. No homework or tuba lessons. While it’s a given that your calendar will fill up and your afternoons and evenings will be busier, you can still control it to an extent. It’s okay to say no, or to limit the number of after-school activities the kids participate in. Everything that comes home in the folders looks so fun and exciting at first, but when the reality of having something to do or somewhere to be 5 nights a week sets in, all the frivolity of summer flies out the window. We limit the kids to one extracurricular per season, and it works for us.

Another thing we’re trying this year to make our evenings less full is to do homework as soon as the kids get home from school. I refused to do this for years, being of the belief that the kids needed to chill before they attempted homework. Instead, I found that they had a hard time getting back into the homework mindset, and often homework stretched into the evening and too close to bedtime for my liking. Now, we have a snack while we get started on the day’s work. It seems to go faster and we all love the feeling of being completely done with our school obligations, leaving the evenings free for play. And if the day is just too perfect and the call of the outdoors too great? I’m okay with saying no to homework, too.

How do you keep the carefree spirit of summer alive throughout the school year in your home?

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do): Explode a Bottle in the Freezer

50 Dangerous Things: Explode a Glass Bottle

Task:

Fill and freeze a glass bottle, and see the natural power of ice in action.

Requires:

  • Sealable glass bottle
  • Plastic container (to hold the bottle bits post-explosion)

Possible Hazards:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Mess

How It All Went Down:

I can think of multiple times we accidentally exploded a bottle in the freezer as kids, but flipping through the 50 Dangerous Things book, I realized my kids have never experienced this. If you’re looking for somewhere small to start on your own 50 Dangerous Things journey, this is a good one. You probably already have everything you need, and it’s easy to do while you’re home and doing other things. Bonus: kids get really excited about breaking things, especially something as forbidden as glass.

The author suggests using a resealable soda bottle, but all of our glass soda and beer bottles had bottle caps, not screw tops. Empty glass vinegar, wine, or liquor bottles will all work. Just remember – the bigger your bottle, the longer it will take to freeze … and the bigger the mess!

Fill the glass bottle with water, and screw on the cap. Using a Sharpie, draw on the bottle where you think it will break. Place the bottle in a plastic container. This is a must, unless you want to spend an entire day picking broken glass out of your freezer. You can also cover the plastic container with a cloth to keep any stray glass shards from flying around your freezer.

Freeze a glass bottle

Now wait for your bottle to freeze. A standard home freezer will take at least an hour to freeze a small glass bottle. We used our deep freezer, which is colder and freezes faster. After an hour has passed, check the bottle by gently rocking the plastic container to see if the contents are frozen. Check back every 30 minutes or so to see if your bottle has broken.

Once the bottle has exploded (bonus points if you hear it!), carefully remove the plastic container and the broken bottle from the freezer. Observe your bottle and hypothesize about why it broke in the spots it did. You can repeat the experiment with different shapes and sizes of bottles, and compare how long they take to freeze and how differently they explode.

It’s kind of amazing how something as innocuous as freezing water can cause so much damage. How do you topple a mountain? Expose it to season after season of freezing water, which expands as it freezes and forms large cracks.

Exploded glass bottle

We joke about how most of the tasks we’ve completed in the 50 Dangerous Things book really aren’t dangerous at all, but this task gets the honors of producing our first real injury. I warned Eli over and over again that broken glass can be ridiculously sharp. Sure enough, he couldn’t resist and he sliced his finger open. I’ll warn you as well, but if your kids are anything like mine, it takes a teachable moment for the lesson (and the bandaid) to stick.

Broken glass injury

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).

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Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: How to Bake From a Box

In March I announced that we’d be starting a new series on The Risky Kids: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. The response was wonderful – it turns out you agree that there are many things kids need to know beyond what they’re taught in school. You agreed with our suggestions for the series, and came up with many more life skills you’d like to see added to the list. You can find posts from the entire series on the Life Skills Every Kid Should Know page.

Rainbow cake

You know that in the past, I struggled with how to get my kids involved in the kitchen. You gave me some great ideas, which turned into inspiration for our Life Skills series. It was suggested that I let Elena pick out a box mix of a treat she likes. And so that’s what I ended up doing, in a roundabout sort of way.

She came to me one rainy afternoon asking if she could bake a rainbow cake. She’d seen one on Pinterest and followed the link to a very complicated recipe. The situation could’ve gone a few ways. I could’ve said yes, knowing ahead of time that one doesn’t just jump into a complicated layer cake recipe for their first solo baking experience without the likelihood that something along the 32 steps will go wrong. After all, isn’t failure a great teacher? I could’ve said no, let’s find something more manageable for a novice baker. Or I could say yes, but encourage an alternate plan to get the same result.

Had I said yes to the original recipe, and had she failed, we both would’ve ended up discouraged and mad. Me, for the waste of ingredients. Elena, for the realization that what looks easy on Pinterest isn’t always the case. In the future, I’d be wary of letting her try other recipes, and she might shy away from attempting any future baking projects for a long time. Had I said no, Elena would be less likely to ask again. And even if she did agree to something easier, it was a rainbow cake she wanted, not brownies or no-bake cookies.

Instead I said yes, but encouraged her to swap the actual cake recipe for a box mix. She was totally okay (and even relieved) with my suggestion. Box mixes, whether for cakes, brownies, bars or muffins, are the perfect intro to baking for every novice. They provide just enough practice for measuring to hone those skills. The directions are short and simple to follow, giving fledgling bakers experience reading recipes and making decisions. They’re also inexpensive, so if for whatever reason they don’t pan out (oh yes, I went there), you’re not quite as mad as you might be if you dropped $15 on ingredients. There’s such a huge variety of box mixes these days, for every taste and dietary restriction, that anyone can find something they’d want to bake.

Kids in the kitchen

On her first effort at baking from a box mix, I stayed in the kitchen – ready to help but keeping a respectful distance. She made the cake batter according to the directions on the box, and then customized  her white cake into a rainbow cake by following a tutorial on a baking blog. She made a bigger mess than I would make, she did things differently than I might do them, but the end result was the same: a delicious cake.

Now I realize you might balk at the idea of baking as a life skill you need to know. Plenty of people get by without ever turning on the oven. If you need something for the office pitch-in or you’re craving a brownie, you can just buy one, right? True, but like many “easy out” options in life, you miss something by not learning the hands-on way of doing the task. In attempting to bake, you’re paying attention to your food. You’re learning how to read a recipe and follow instructions. You learn how to use different tools in the kitchen.

There are other valuable lessons rolled up into baking from a box as well. Getting the kids involved in the shopping for the mix teaches budgeting and grocery shopping skills. How much does a box mix cost versus buying individual ingredients? Do they have all the ingredients they need, above and beyond what the box provides? What about equipment? Do they have the pans they’ll need? And then there’s the clean-up afterwards. Being proficient in the kitchen means cleaning up after yourself and leaving your workspace as you found it.

Maybe the kids try it, and realize baking just isn’t their thing. That’s okay! At least they can say they tried, and move on to other pursuits. I shared with Elena that I love baking from scratch, but cakes aren’t my forte. I started out with box mixes, spent a few years attempting to bake cakes from scratch and failing, and came back around to box mixes. It’s not failure – it’s realizing where your strengths are and where you should step back and find another way. Like the way to the local bakery when your kids’ birthdays roll around!

Apparently, baking rainbow cakes is Elena’s thing! The first one barely lasted through the day. Last week, she baked another, completely on her own. She entered this one in our neighborhood block party bake-off, and it took first place in the kids’ category. She was so proud of herself. Of course, I’m all about encouraging the kids to try new things, so I’m stocking up on a few kinds of brownie mixes next. I mean, they need to practice these valuable life skills that involve chocolate, right? I’m selfless like that!

Have you let your kids bake with box mixes yet? If so, what age did you start? And how about you? Did you start out on box mixes and graduate to baking from scratch?

 

 

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The Unscheduled Summer: Putting the Break Back in Summer

Unscheduled summer

Well hello there {dusts cobwebs off keyboard}! It’s been awhile!

I had absolutely no intention of taking a break from blogging, but as I turned the calendar to August and the last days of summer vacation stared me in the face, I found the last place I wanted to be was in front of a glowing computer screen. It was both difficult and easy at the same time.

You see, I love a good routine. I love feeling productive. I love making lists (that are realistically too long to accomplish) and grand plans (that even with the best of intentions) are doomed to be derailed. And so there I was, fresh off the plane after being gone for a month, making detailed editorial calendars for this blog, dreaming up grand posts that would require hours of writing and editing, and trying to catch up on a month’s worth of emails. It sounded so doable in my head and on paper! But then I would think about sitting down at the computer and my chest would feel tight and all of the inspiration would drain out of me. It was just one more thing to do, in a summer that – while it was fun and amazing traveling the world – was begging me to stop and slow down.

In eight years of blogging, both here and on my personal blog, I’ve never just taken an unannounced break and walked away. I stressed about it a lot in the beginning and wondered if it was an okay thing to do. And then, once I’d spent a few days away, it was easy. I didn’t fill the time with anything else remotely productive. I just took each day as it came and enjoyed whatever came out of it.

Summer Reading Kids

The same could be said of my kids. They, too, took a break this summer. Normally my love of lists and grand plans spills over into our summer as well. We can’t be too idle! And so I sign them up for a few camps. I make plans for a few road trips and visits to local museums. We sign up for two or three reading programs. I set up detailed rules for screen use.

After spending the first half of the summer away, I decided the rest of the summer would be unscheduled. No camps, no reading lists, no bridge activities, no trips, and no screen time rules. I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t always pretty. We spent many a morning still in our pajamas with unbrushed teeth and hair at 11 a.m. The pile of books the school sent home with Eli still sits by the fireplace, unread. The house was messy, we were lazy, and we spent more than enough time watching dumb TV or playing mindless games on the iPad.

But …

The kids also played a lot. Lazy mornings more often than not turned into creative, fun-filled afternoons with friends. Not having plans or anywhere to be meant we were free to go to the pool when we wanted, play when we wanted, be bored when we wanted, and to be creative when we wanted.

In short, an unscheduled summer gave us the freedom to dream, relax and recharge. Isn’t that what a break is all about?

lazy summers

Now, I’m not saying each and every summer from here on out should operate like this one. We spent 4 weeks of one summer completely unscheduled. Any more time than that would’ve gone from wonderful to disastrous. The sibling squabbling had picked up and the bad kind of boredom was setting in. By the time school started last week we were itching for a regular routine.

But what if we took a few days or a week out of our school breaks or vacations and allow them to be exactly that: breaks. I think so often we look at blank days or weekends with a sense of guilt or shame. We should be doing something. We confuse doing nothing with wasted time. True – doing nothing does start out as an empty slot of time. But when we give the empty space time to fill on its own, we allow ourselves to be filled with things that bring us joy, inspiration, and fun. We walk away full, not depleted.

Beyond this gift, I also see the valuable lesson that unscheduled time gives ourselves and our kids. We are living in a time when we could fill every second of every day with some kind of activity or connection. We are slowly but surely losing the ability to cope with down time. We don’t know what to do when we’re not doing something! I want my kids to grow up knowing the value of free time. More importantly, I want them to make it a routine part of their lives. In order to teach that lesson, like so many important life lessons, I realize I have to model it in my own life.

And so I took a break myself. I’m relaxed and recharged and ready to dive back into The Risky Kids again.

Do you build downtime into your days, weekends or vacations? If so, what benefits have you seen? And if not, what holds you back from doing so?

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

popcorn

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. 

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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!

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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!

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