Pop-Up Adventure Play: Adventures in Cardboard

Cardboard box play via The Risky Kids

Have you ever heard of child-directed play? You may not have heard of it, but chances are you’ve probably engaged in it with your own kids. It’s spending time playing with a child, but letting the child decide what to play and how to play it. The adult can observe, take directions from the child, and interact with the child, but the main focus is letting the child lead the way. The adult doesn’t make suggestions or ask lots of questions about what the child is doing, they simply let themselves get swept along in the magic that is play.

In order to foster child-directed play, a child needs to have play things around them that inspire them to play, create and build. Loose parts (materials that can be combined, taken apart, moved, and put back together again in multiple ways) are the perfect inspiration for child-directed play. Items such as stones, blocks, fabric, balls, buckets, sticks, PVC pipe, rope, tape are the perfect things to keep on hand for child-directed play. Of course, the grandaddy of them all, the one thing that will set off a child’s imagination like nothing else, is the cardboard box.

Pop Up Adventure Play

Pop-Up Adventure Play, whose mission is that “together, we can all support child-directed play – one cardboard box at a time,” is an organization dedicated to supporting play in all communities. I first heard about after seeing photos from one of their Pop-Up Tours this winter. I loved the idea of communities getting together and giving kids free run to play as they wish, with loads of cool, upcycled materials, in the presence of supportive adults.

The tour is almost over, and I was bummed that it wasn’t coming anywhere near me, but that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t encourage this kind of play as well, either with our families or in our own little communities. Pop-Up Adventure Play wants to help get you started. Sign up for their mailing list and they’ll send you a free Mini Pop-Up kit. To learn more about Pop-Up Adventure Play, visit their website or follow them on social media. In the meantime, I’m gathering all kind of loose parts and hoarding cardboard boxes for our own pop-up adventure this spring!


The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights

Our Spring Break begins today, and as I look at the 10-day forecast it seems as if our break will have at least a few days of the wonderful spring weather we’ve been dreaming of. As the kids and I brainstormed and made a list of things we’d like to do over the break, I was reminded of another list I picked up while attending the Indiana Children and Nature Network meeting a couple of weeks ago.

It’s the Indiana Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, and you can download a copy for yourself from the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s website. While it’s geared toward getting Indiana’s children outside and connecting with nature, it obviously translates to children all over the world. I love the list format. I don’t know about you, but my kids love a good list! There is such satisfaction in checking off the things you’ve done.  And how satisfying will it be to finally get outdoors again without layer upon layer and check this fun activities off one by one? Here’s the list:

1. Explore and play outdoors in a safe place.

Follow a nature trail via The Risky Kids

2. Follow a trail and discover native plants, wildlife and history.

Fishing with kids via The Risky Kids

3. Experience traditional outdoor activities like fishing and hunting.

4. Discover and celebrate Indiana’s past (or whatever part of the world you call home).

Camping with kids via The Risky Kids

5. Camp under the stars.

Climb a tree via The Risky Kids

6. Climb a tree.

Visit a farm via The Risky Kids

7. Visit a farm.

8. Plant a seed or tree and watch it grow.

Play in a stream via The Risky Kids

9. Splash and play in streams, lakes and ponds.

Geocache Tree

10. Enjoy the outdoors using all the senses.

11. Ask questions, find answers, and share nature with a friend.

What would you add to your own Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights?



10 Ways to Ring in Spring!

Tomorrow is the first day of spring! Can I get an amen for those of us who feel as if this winter has overstayed its welcome? To celebrate, I came up with 10 playful ways to ring in spring’s arrival.

Fly a kite

1. Fly a kite.

Take advantage of spring’s blustery days and fly a kite! I don’t buy fancy kites, and I’ve been known to scoop up a few when I see them on sale. If we lose one or the string is hopelessly tangled we just move on to a new one!

Enjoy a spring shower

2. Enjoy a spring shower.

Stomp in the puddles, twirl your umbrella, make friends with the worms! Who says you can only play outside when it’s sunny and dry? Not us!

Geocaching with kids

3. Try letterboxing or geocaching.

Spend the dreary days learning about letterboxing and geocaching so that you’re ready to go when good weather and inspiration strikes.  If you’re just starting out, it can be easier to locate the cache in the spring, before the heavy foliage of summer takes over. While you’re searching, take note of what you see. What’s budding and blooming? Then return in the summer, fall, and winter and note how the location has changed through the seasons.

wild mushrooms

4. Forage for mushrooms or edible plants.

Find some guidebooks to help you. Not only are they a valuable resource, they can provide hours of quiet time on icky weather days as kids leaf through the pages. Last fall we discovered that we can forage wild hickory nuts in our neighborhood. Who knows what we’ll find this year? I’ve got my fingers crossed for morels!

5. Play with chalk and puddles.

Colorful sidewalk chalk is another item I keep on hand year-round and buy extras when I see them on sale. We call mixing chalk and water making a “colorful river” at our house, and it’s beautiful fun.

make up an outdoor game

6. Learn a new outdoor game (or rediscover a childhood favorite).

Or make up your own, as we did in the photo above! (The game was War Ball. Everyone dragged out a variety of balls from their garages, lined them up in the middle, and split into teams. When the game starts, everyone rushes to the center, grabs a ball, and starts throwing. Like Dodge Ball, when you’re hit, you’re out.) Sure, you remember playing hopscotch, foursquare, and red rover … but do your kids know how to play? Get a group of kids involved in a game and then slowly back away and let the magical childhood memories commence.

7. Search for tadpoles.

We’ve been scoping out what we think is the perfect tadpole habitat. It’s still too cold, but in a few weeks we hope to collect some tadpoles and watch them grow. Stay tuned for details!

play in the mud

8. Play in the mud.

Little toes were made for squishing in the mud. Heck, so are big toes, for that matter!

Of course the weather doesn’t always cooperate, and spring doesn’t necessarily mean sunshine or warm showers. For days that look more like winter, try these activities that will still get you in a spring-y mood:

Nature Center Animals

9. Explore your local nature center.

Bring the outdoors indoors! Many nature centers switch their exhibits and programming for spring. They might even offer some special spring-themed hikes or activities. Click the link above for more information on how to find a nature center near you.

10. Give indoor rock climbing a try.

This is on our Spring Break must-do list. My kids have been begging to try!

What are your favorite activities to ring in spring? Be sure to share them in the comments! For more outdoor inspiration,  follow The Risky Kids Pinterest boards!


Risky Reads: The Headless LEGO Edition

LEGO scenes with minifigures

We’re in the process of finally decorating Eli’s room, and he wanted a LEGO theme. I thought it would be fun to have a few canvases hanging up with LEGO pictures blown up, so I asked him to create some scenes for me to photograph. I think this is my favorite one … nothing says “Sweet dreams, son!” like an image of decapitation.

Here are a few more of my favorite things I found around the internet in the last month …

How Family Games Taught Our Kids Many Skills (via the Wall Street Journal): You know we love playing games together. This just reinforced my belief that beyond the bonding you get by hanging out as a family, there are valuable lessons to be had in Family Game Night. It also reassured me that my ultra-competitive husband isn’t scarring the kids for life by never letting them win.*

I was just thinking that it might be time to toss the Play-dough, as my kids are moving past that stage and never really play with it anymore … and then I saw Electric Dough from Classic Play. I think we’ll hang on to it a little longer!

As the weather gets warmer, I bet your kids are itching to get out and play. And yet it’s also the season of ramped up homework, standardized tests, and spring sports leagues. Before you sign up for another activity or insist on extra study time, consider the reasons why giving kids the gift of time to play will benefit them.

I read this and I just wanted to hug my kids’ teachers and say thanks. They have so much responsibility on their underpaid shoulders. And this particular teacher is amazing.

How cool is this Kickstarter project for Hello Ruby, a children’s book that teaches programming fundamentals through stories and activities? When was the last time you swooned over the illustrations in a coding book?!

Finally, I’m still goofing off with math over at Bedtime Math. Last month we came up with some silly balloon games, found math in our King Cake, and marveled at frozen bubbles.

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!

*This used to bother me a lot. I wouldn’t let the kids win all the time, but every once in awhile I’d “accidentally” make a dumb play or sneak a Candy Land card back in the pile. The other day, after playing him for weeks and losing, Eli handily beat Mike at Mancala. You should’ve seen the sheer joy on his face, knowing he bested his dad fair and square. I’ll never “let” them win again.



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!


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!


Tiny Games, Big Fun

tiny games app review

As families are often on the go, you can find yourselves with pockets of time where you’re just waiting. Waiting for your appointment time. Waiting in line at the store. Waiting for your meal to arrive. Waiting in the carpool line.

Often, it’s not a long period of time that we’re waiting. But 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there … it can add up.  It brings up a conundrum when you’re waiting with others.  On the one hand, thanks to technology, we can fill these pockets of time with our handheld devices. We can keep the kids happy with Angry Birds or leave them to their texting. We can catch up on Facebook or scroll through our emails. We can be in our own little worlds, heads down, while time passes us by. On the other hand, what kind of moments are we missing?

I’m not going to lie, we do this a lot ourselves.  But there are times when I wish we could fill this time better, connect somehow.  And sometimes we do fill it with activities that connect us.  But there are times when my ideas are met with grumbles.  No one wants to talk about their day or play tic-tac-toe with crappy crayons.

That’s when I’m happy to pull my own phone out of my purse and use technology to keep us connected and having fun.  I downloaded the Tiny Games app (available from iTunes) after seeing it mentioned on Bernie DeKoven’s blog Deep Fun.  I’m always looking for apps that are fun, not totally mindless, and that can engage us all.  They’re very few and far between.  The idea behind Tiny Games is to fill those empty pockets of time with something playful that can keep you connected and engaged with those around you.

Tiny Games app

You start by letting the app know where you are. While the app is free, it only comes pre-loaded with games for home.  We added games for waiting in lines as well. You can add games to your collection for $1.99 or add all the games for $5.99.

Once you tell the app where you are, it will ask you a few more questions, like what kind of a line you’re in:

Tiny Games app

It will then ask how many are playing:

Tiny Games app

Once the app gathers the information it needs, it will present you with a game.  You can read the premise and rules of the game and decide if you want to play or if you want the app to choose a different game for you.

Tiny Games app

We played a game called Race Horse Commentary while waiting for our food at Steak-n-Shake the other day. We each had to take a turn narrating part of a race horse, inserting a made-up horse’s name each turn. The catch? We also had to include the name of the horses the players before came up with. And the horses names had to go in alphabetical order! We never made it very far before one of us would forget a horse’s name, but it was hilarious hearing the names everyone came up with and the wild tales of our horse race.  No one bickered about whose turn it was with the phone, no one complained about how long it took our food to arrive, and instead of retreating into our own worlds we spent the time waiting having fun and connecting with each other. Before we knew it, the waiting was over.

I should note, not all of the games on the app are appropriate for children. However you can easily skip those and ask for a different game. Still, if you have younger children you’re in luck. There is another version of the app called Sesame Street Family Play for the younger crowd.

I just love it when you can use technology in a way that brings people closer.  Next time you’re waiting, give a Tiny Game a try and let me know what you think!

This post was not sponsored or endorsed by Tiny Games. We just enjoyed it as a family and thought you might enjoy it, too!



Risky Reads: The Polar Vortex Edition

This is what our neighborhood looked like just over a week ago today:

Polar Vortex 2014

The kids missed an entire week of school! I didn’t get a great photo, but the snow piles were so high that the kids were able to dig holes in them to make mini igloos. As the temperatures warmed up and the snow softened, they even connected some of the holes to make a system of snow tunnels. That’s the stuff childhood memories are made of!

Being stuck inside for days in a row gave me lots of time to get lost in my favorite blogs and Pinterest. Here are a few things I came across that I thought you might enjoy as well:

Snap Circuits Jr. was a big hit at Christmas last year, and it’s one of those toys that consistently gets played with in our house. I came across this tutorial to hack your Snap Circuits to make spin art. So cool!

I’d love to put together some of these DIY Explorer Kits and give them as gifts (thanks for sharing them with  me, Sacha!). I kind of want one for myself!

I thought this was an interesting read from a mom who struggled with a not-so-black-and-white parenting decision. Doesn’t it sometimes feel as if all of the decisions we have to make fall into the gray areas of parenting?

Do you watch the X Games as a family? Eli LOVES them. They’re coming up on January 23. While we were snowed in Eli reenacted the X Games indoors, with Elena playing filmmaker.

Lastly, I’m very excited to be a contributor to Bedtime Math’s parent/educator blog, Add It Up! I’m adding our risky touch to some fun activities and sharing the math that lurks within. So far we’ve wrapped a kid and played with giant dice. And don’t miss this cool interview with skatepark builder! I hope you’ll take a minute to check it out the blog.

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!


What If We Did the Opposite? An Alternative to Publicly Shaming Parents


Warning! Unattended child! Someone call the authorities!

I’ve had this post on the back burner for quite some time. It first came to me after reading this post from Lenore at Free Range Kids.  Take a few minutes and read a mom’s story about leaving her 3 year-old daughter unattended for a few moments in a restaurant while she helped her other child in the bathroom.

This is the kind of thing that both inspires me and terrifies me at the same time. On the one hand, I know that as more of us take those steps to show what common sense and parenting can look like together, more people will get comfortable with the idea that our children aren’t in danger every single second. When another parent sees me telling my son he can use the public restroom by himself, or sees my daughter biking to the pretzel shop with a friend, they can feel better about letting their own children spread their wings. The message is “This is normal behavior. I’m not a freak. We can look out for each other.”

On the other hand, I don’t want to be the parent subjected to that kind of public humiliation, especially in front of my kids. Or even worse, I don’t want to be the parent who has to hire a lawyer because some “well-meaning” yahoo called the police for leaving my 6-year-old in the car while I run in to pick up the pizza. And so I walk the fine line between trying to be an example for common sense, hysteria-free parenting and trying to stay under the radar so as to not draw undue attention to ourselves.

It was this line specifically in Lenore’s post that had me reconsidering what life for parents like myself could be like, if people would just stop and think for a moment:

“Why don’t onlookers realize that they are PART of the safety net that looks after our kids and not the shame brigade?”

What if we did the opposite? What if we took the energy it required for us to shame, condescend, judge, or complain and turned it into some positive action instead? So maybe that women at Taco Bell wouldn’t make the same choice. Maybe her gut, as a parent, tells her that she’d feel better taking both kids to the bathroom. That’s okay! I’m not going to rip you a new one because I think you’re making things unnecessarily hard on yourself. But when I think of the energy it took for her to shame another mother, I get angry. Why not use your energy to help?

Offer to keep an eye on a toddler so a mother can take an older child to the restroom. If you see unattended kids in a car near a place of business, hang out for a minute and asses the situation. If the parent comes back out in a few minutes and the kids are oblivious, smile and get on with your business. You feel better in that you’ve made sure no harm is coming towards the kids, the parent doesn’t get shamed for doing something our parents did day in and day out when we were kids. If you see kids playing outside without adult supervision, observe for a few minutes. Are they having fun? Playing appropriately? Good! You are an extra set of eyes looking out for the next generation, as other adults did for generations before this one.

Shaming wastes energy and helps no one. It wastes public resources when CPS is called to handle cases of no consequence while actual abuse is happening to children elsewhere. It pulls police officers away from real crimes. It turns good parents into fearful ones, who in turn pass the fear onto their children. Then, in a few years, these same “helpers” will bemoan the fact that we have raised a generation of kids who can’t function as responsible adults. They will blame technology, the government, the parents, the school system, but they will never think for one moment of the part their judgement played on how children are raised today.

Have you ever been shamed publicly like this mother? Or have you ever felt the need to call someone out on their parenting in public? How can we handle situations like these in the best interest of the kids involved?


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.