2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Creative Gifts for Playful Families

The Risky Kids 2014 Holiday Gift Guide: Creative Gifts for Playful Families. Christmas gift ideas for boys, girls, tweens and teens!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

As much as I’d like to believe the holidays aren’t right around the corner, the 2 inches of snow and the 8 foot Christmas tree display at my local Target have convinced me otherwise. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with gift-giving at the holidays. My kids are not immune to the school bus chatter and the thick, glossy ads in the Sunday paper. The newest iPhone, an XBOX with its enticing array of inappropriate games, toys that talk, light up, and do all the playing for you … these wants and wishes conflict with the kind of play I want my kids to experience.

As frustrating as it can be to look at the store circulars and commercials this time of year, I always find that there are really great toys out there. You just have to look a little harder. They may not be as flashy, and their companies may not have the advertising and PR budgets to compete with the big guys, but they are fabulously fun and deserve a spot under the tree! To save you the time and the struggle, I’ve pulled together some of our favorites. Our criteria? It has to be fun for the whole family, and it has to have play value that will last long after the decorations are packed up and the snow has melted! Here are The Risky Kids picks for this holiday season:

The  OgoSport OgoDisk RAQ is one of my favorite purchases of the year. We used it in the summer and fall outdoors (it’s awesome at the pool, too!), and now we’ve brought it in for basement play. It’s easy enough for little kids to play, but still fun and entertaining for grownups, too.

The PlasmaCar  is on our wish list after Eli played with one in Spain. I always assumed it was a little kid toy, but Eli loved it. It moves by using centrifugal force, friction, and kid power … or even adult power! It holds up to 220 lbs, so give it a spin!

plasma car

We got our starter Snap Circuits Jr. kit for Christmas 2 years ago, and it’s one of those toys that keeps seeing playtime. The best part about it is that you can easily add on and expand as your kids get more into it. This year the Elenco Snap Circuits Lights Physics Kit is on our list. My kids love mixing tech and toys, so I know they’ll be way into this.

I have my eye on the Hoberman Switch Pitch color-changing ball for a fun stocking stuffer after seeing it mentioned by a few other parents. We survive winter by letting the kids go crazy with balls in the basement, and I think this fun contraption would be a game-changer!

The Diggin Active Dodge Tag game is another perfect indoor/basement activity for kids that need to get rid of some pent-up winter energy! I think it would be a great alternative for NERF guns, too – whether you’re opposed to toy guns or you’re just tired of hearing arguments about who got hit when. The ball sticks to the vest, so if you’re hit, you know it! How fun would it be to get everyone in the family their own vest and have a big, rowdy family game of dodge tag?

We didn’t bring any toys with us to Spain, and only a couple of games. But my cousin had a puzzle similar to the Perplexus Epic at his house and it kept the kids, well, perplexed!

Bounce-Off is one of those games that I’m seeing everywhere right now. I love the concept. You have to bounce your balls so that they land in the same pattern as the challenge card you draw. It’s an active game, which will definitely appeal to kids who might not enjoy sitting down for a traditional board game, but at the same time it can be played by all ages. I think this one is going to be a hit not only with our family, but with the kids on our street, too.

We’re big fans of just about any game Blue Orange puts out. Our latest Blue Orange favorite is Brave Rats. It’s similar to  War, but the cards have special powers that can overrule the number. I keep it in the car for travel and long waits at restaurants, since it’s a fast-paced game and the small carrying tin slips easily into a purse or backpack. It would make a great stocking stuffer for any game-loving kid!


Chances are, if you’ve got a kid between the ages of 7 and 12, you also have a Minecraft fan in your house. As much as I love the creativity of the game, I don’t love hour after hour spent in front of a screen. That’s why I’m super excited to see that LEGO has come out with a line of Minecraft-themed kits just in time for the holidays. There are several, but I especially like the LEGO Minecraft Crafting Box. I see endless hours of kids creating their own LEGO Minecraft realms and using these bricks with them. And maybe, just maybe, building sets like this will help parents to finally understand the difference between a creeper and an enderman.

While my gift guide criteria requires that my choices are fun for the whole family, I do realize that tweens and teens are in a category all their own (in more ways than one)! Here a few special suggestions for the older kids on your gift list:

I’ve recommended (and purchased) a Kiwi Crate subscription for years. I was dreading the day the kids aged out of them … but no more! They’ve recently introduced three new members to the Kiwi Crate family, and two of them are perfect for tweens and teens. The Tinker Crate is geared toward ages 9 and up, and integrates science, engineering and technology into a fun project. The Doodle Crate is geared toward girls ages 9 and up, and features a creative and crafty DIY project each month. We’ve played around with both crates, and I’m happy to report that they were big hits. I continue to be impressed with the quality of the materials and the longevity of play value these crates consistently provide. As an added bonus for you early shoppers, you can get 60% the first month of a new subscription to any of the Kiwi Crate family brands. Just shop the Black Friday Sale and use the code HOLIDAY60. Gotta act quick, though! This offer expires 12/1/14.

Tinker Crate

Doodle Crate >>

I’m sticking to my promise to make the book UNBORED Games my new, go-to gift for birthdays and holidays. (I reviewed it last month, in case you missed it.) A copy of this fabulous book (maybe even paired with its partner, Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun) would be a fabulous choice for those picky tweens and teens. Finally! An alternative to just giving them iTunes gift cards!


These Orion Astronomy Binoculars are on my tween’s wish list, and I couldn’t be happier. She’s taken a big interest in astronomy lately, and loves to spend evenings outside gazing at the stars. Good telescopes are pricey, and can be difficult for kids to use. These are affordable, easy to transport (how awesome would they be on camping trips?!), and seem easier to for older kids to use on their own.

I spotted the Joy Of Zentangle in our local library and checked it out. Have you ever tried making your own zentangle drawings? It’s so relaxing! You can find tons of ideas on Pinterest, but this book, paired with a nice set of thin markers and a sketch pad would be a cool gift for a tween or teen. And it’s not just for girls! The graphic art aspect of zentangle is just as appealing to boys (hint: even parents who don’t think they’re artsy can easily get into making zentangles).

I hope this helps make your holiday shopping a little easier! If you’d like even more ideas, check out last year’s gift guide. We still love all the toys on that list, too! If you like anything you’ve seen here, be sure to pin it for reference while you’re shopping. The best gift you can give me this holiday season is to share this gift guide with your friends – I’ll be happy, you’ll look awesome, and your friends will be thankful. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

Happy Holidays, friends!



Book Review: Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Disclosure: I received this book for review consideration, however I have not be compensated in any other way for this post. I love this book so much I’d share it with you no matter what! This post does include some affiliate links.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Can I gush for a bit? I hope you don’t mind. But the other day I opened the mailbox to find the new book from the creators of UNBORED: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun (another book I gushed about a few months ago). It’s called UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone, and it just might be one of my favorite books for kids and families ever.

Where the first UNBORED book focused on all different kinds of activities to get you, well, not bored anymore, the new book focuses solely on games. This isn’t just a regurgitation of games we’ve all heard of before. It’s a modern mish-mash of old and new, popular and obscure. Just like the previous book, it’s a mixture of activities, interviews, stories and cool illustrations.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

It’s divided into 4 sections:

1. Pwnage

I never knew this term until Mike taught me some online-poker speak. It basically means that you are superior to your opponent on all levels. And so the games in this section have clear-cut winners (they’ll leave the trash talk up to you). It contains a great list of “Best Ever Quick Board Games, including two of our favorites: Blokus and Ticket To Ride. I’m also pumped to get a Bike Rodeo set up in the cul-de-sac for the neighborhood kids.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone: Bike Rodeo

2. Home Games

Home is where some of the best games are, right? I was happy to see Doughnut on a String in here. We played it at our neighborhood Halloween party last year and it was hilarious.

doughnut on a string

There’s a great roundup of Parlor Games, which makes me want to invite the neighbors over and get all vintage with our game-playing. I also really liked the section on apps to play with a grownup, proving that not all screen time is wasted time. It can be a source of really great quality time with your kids, too.

UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

3. Game Changers

Have you ever thought about how games can be a source of good? Or a force of change? This section focuses on games that promote activism, community building, and cooperation.

4. Adventure Games

This section focuses on some of The Risky Kids favorites: games that encourage experimentation and exploration. We’re especially pumped to try our hand at a smartphone scavenger hunt. And when the temps warm back up again in the spring? We’re totally having an Alka-Seltzer squirt gun battle.

Besides all the awesome ideas and inspiration the folks behind UNBORED provide, I love the premise and the tone of the book. Sure, we love to go outside, and we love to disconnect and play board games with each other. But we also love our tech, and we love to be online. The writers recognize this, and more importantly, recognize how important this facet of playing is to today’s kids. And so the book reflects this, with tons of great suggestions for playful tech and online experiences to go along with outdoor games and good, old-fashioned board and card games.

UNBORED Games has something for every kid and every adult, whether you want to play alone or in a group, no matter your mood or location. I double dog dare you not to find a game you can’t wait to play!

You can pre-order UNBORED Games: Serious Fun for Everyone on Amazon. But don’t worry – you won’t have to wait long! The book will be released on Tuesday, October 14th. In the meantime, be sure to check them out online at Unbored.net. You’ll find all kinds of cool games and activities to hold you over until your own copy arrives!


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

50 Dangerous Things: Explode a Glass Bottle


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


  • 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).


Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: How to Manage Personal Finances (Part 2)

This post is part of a Risky Kids series: Life Skills Every Kid Should Know. You can find all the posts in the series on the Life Skills Every Kids Should Know page. This is Part 2 of How to Manage Personal Finances. You can read Part 1 here

Personal Finance Skills For Kids

In our last post, I gave you the background on our journey to learning about personal finance, and explained why we’re so adamant that our kids will master this essential life skill. In this post I’ll share how we’re passing the knowledge on to the kids, as well as give tips and resources to help you along. Just like we struggled with finding our own footing on the path to financial competency, we also struggled with how best to get the kids started on the path with us. There are so many opinions and ideas on the subject, that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and just throw your hands (and their money!) up in the air. Your options basically boil down to three philosophies on kids and money:

  • Pay for everything, throw a few lessons in along the way, and let them figure it out.
  • Give them an allowance that is unrelated to chores and personal responsibilities.
  • Give them an allowance that is tied to completing chores and personal responsibilities.

As parents who have tried all three methods at different times along this journey, we feel pretty confident that we can speak to all of them. They each have their pros and cons (yes, even the first one!). I’m happy to talk about what the advantages and disadvantages are with anyone who has questions, but I won’t do that here. Why? Because after dabbling in them all, I truly feel that there is no right answer. It all depends on the age of your children, your core beliefs about money and work, and (most importantly), which philosophy feels right to you. Because if you struggle with it and feel like it’s out of sync with the way you parent? You won’t stick with it. In the end, I don’t think it matters so much what you choose to do. I think what matters is that you pick a system that works for you and stick with it. As long as you are consistently teaching kids financial literacy and giving them opportunities to learn and practice finance skills along the way, your kids will be way ahead of the game when it comes time for them to live independently of you.

Here’s what we’ve done with our kids at various ages and stages:


At this age, we didn’t do much. We basically paid for everything. We did introduce basic chores and responsibilities at this age, but they weren’t tied to money. I find in this stage, kids are eager to help around the house and don’t need any financial incentive to do so. See the chore list in the Resources section for a great listing of chores by age group.


We began this stage using Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Junior with Elena. Along with financial lessons geared toward younger kids, Financial Peace Junior introduces the concept  of working for “commission.” You do your chores, you get paid. No chores? No money. This system works great  if 1.) You are committed and consistent with keeping up with some kind of chore chart and 2.) Your child is motivated by money. We were neither of those things. We could never quite find a system that we could keep up with, and Elena was never motivated by money at this age. She’d rather go without money if it meant never lifting a finger around the house!

So what do you do if you find yourself the same situation? Well, you could just give up, pay for everything, and never require your child to help around the house. But I’m guessing that if you’ve read this far, that’s not the plan you were looking for. Instead, we opted to still give an allowance, but not tie it to chores. You’re still giving your child the opportunity to learn about money, but taking the chore aspect out of the equation. Here’s the thing: every kid has their own “currency.” Elena’s wasn’t  money, so taking away her allowance did nothing for her work ethic. However if we took away screen time or friend time, she took notice. Please don’t do what we did and feel that this is somehow selling out, because you don’t have a chore chart and you’re not doling out money every time your kid dusts or empties the dishwasher. There are plenty of other ways to teach your kids personal responsibility!

One part of Financial Peace Junior we did hold on to was the Give, Save, Spend system. When the kids receive their allowance, they must put 10% into a fund for Giving, at least 10% in Savings (they can opt to do more if they’re saving up for something in particular), and the other 80% is for Spending.


This year we took the system we’d been using for Elena and put it in overdrive. Once she hit 6th grade and was more independent, we found that she was requiring more money. Trips to Taco Bell with friends, ice skating on Friday nights, clothing she wanted (but didn’t need) … it felt like every day we were handing her money for something else. It was time to put her in more control of the money.

Through our bank, we set up a separate account for her with her own debit card. We decided to up her allowance quite a bit, and instead put the responsibility of how to spend her money on her own shoulders. Where previously her allowance was for discretionary spending, now she has to budget her money for some expenses. Things we previously paid for that are now her responsibility include: cell phone bill, school lunches, clothing (beyond basic necessities), and entertainment. We still don’t directly tie allowance to chores, but if she’s slacking we retain the right to cut her budget (which affects her social life, which is a HUGE motivator for her).

This has been a huge success for us. She’s already made some really mature decisions, such as deciding to pack her lunch more often in lieu of expensive school lunches, researching her cell phone plan to cut out unnecessary charges, and budgeting. These are the kinds of financial thinking skills that are so important as an adult. She’s made mistakes as well, making purchases she’s regretted as well as overspending early and not having money to do some things she wanted to do at the end of the month. These lessons are no fun, but much easier to learn at 11, when running out of money means no Baja Blasts with your friends, as opposed to not being able to pay the rent and getting evicted.

How much should you pay?

Ask and you’ll receive a hundred different answers. We give Eli (age 6) $10 a month. Elena (age 11) gets $125. You want to find the sweet spot between giving them too little (where they are discouraged and can never buy or save up for anything of value), and giving them too much (where they have no incentive to budget or save).

When should you pay?

Whenever you find is the time that you’ll consistently pay. We could never remember to pay on a weekly basis. Now we pay on the first of the month, when we do our personal budget.


What are some good resources for teaching kids how to manage their personal finances? Here are some of our favorites we’ve relied on through the years:

The Plan:

A fabulously comprehensive outline of what chores and responsibilities can be expected of kids at developmentally appropriate ages, via Merrilee Boyack’s “Training Children To Be Independent.” It includes some non-applicable (for us) religious aspects, but when modified for your own family it is extremely helpful.



  • The Queen of Free: Written by my good friend, Cherie Lowe, she offers practical advice on saving money, getting out of debt, and teaching kids important money lessons.
  • The Simple Dollar: Covers all kinds of personal finance issues, including younger kids and money.
  • Life Your Way: I rely on this site for all things home related, but Mandi has some great ideas on kids and money, as well as some useful printables if you’re looking to utilize chore charts.

Are we doing it perfectly? Of course not, and you will most likely find a different, better way that works for your family. But hopefully you’ve found something helpful here, or have been inspired to finally get moving down this path with your kids. The only wrong way to teach your kids personal finance skills is to never teach them anything at all.

How are you helping your kids learn this essential life skill? Where have you struggled, and what’s worked especially well for you?  

Looking for more resources? Check out our board Life Skills Every Kid Should Know on Pinterest!


Disconnect & Reconnect: Screen-Free Family Activities

screen-free family activites

Today kicks off Screen-Free Week 2014! Last week I wrote about the purpose behind Screen-Free Week, and how the details of disconnecting can be different for each family.

Screen Free Week 2014

What does Screen-Free Week look like for The Risky Family? Well, in full disclosure we’re not disconnecting completely. However, as a holdover from the winter that would never end, we’ve fallen into a bit of screen dependency. I’m viewing Screen-Free Week as a chance for us to cut way back on our consumption of media and reboot our tech habits, if you will. Here’s our plan for the week:

  • The kids are allowed to use the iPad or watch a show in the morning before school. We are not a morning people, and this always eases them into the day. It’s a very short amount of time that they’re using screens, and I never have issues with it interfering with getting ready or getting out the door in the morning.
  • During the school week, we won’t be using screens after school, unless needed for homework.
  • I will also refrain from using television, social media or mindlessly surfing the web from the time the kids get home from school until the next morning, unless it pertains directly to work.
  • On Saturday we can have an hour of screen time.
  • On Sunday all bets are off. It’s Mother’s Day, after all, and I would like to have a relaxing day! For me, that means catching up on reading other blogs and perusing Pinterest (as well as non-screen related activities such as sleeping, reading, more sleeping … you get the idea).

For some of you, this may look like a normal week, and for that I applaud you! But I want to be transparent, and show other families that we struggle with screen usage just like many of you.

If you’re taking the plunge, you’ll most likely be faced with kids who aren’t sure what to do with themselves. Here are a few screen-free ideas to help you celebrate Screen-Free Week:

Read Outside Screen-Free Week

Turn to Books

After school we’ll be making a trip to the library to load up on books for the week. Besides fiction, there are lots of non-fiction books to inspire you with projects and ideas. Some of our favorites are:

Reconnect with nature Screen-Free Week

Reconnect with Nature

Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Even if it doesn’t, there’s nothing wrong with playing in the rain! A few other ideas for getting outdoors:

Tinkersketch art journal

Unleash your inner tinkerer, scientist, or artist


Try a new family game each night and find your new favorite. We love:

Slackline screen-free week

Master a new skill

Perhaps your somersault needs perfecting. Work on your fire-building skills and treat yourselves to dinner or s’mores cooked over the open flame. Give slacklining a try. Go kayaking with the kids.

whip cream fight screen free week

Take the time to be silly.

Between school, work, and spending mindless time in front of screens, one of the first things to disappear is our ability to goof off. While screens can certainly relax us and take our minds off of things, we forget about the restorative power of laughter. Roughhouse with the kids. Have a whip cream fight. We like to play a game to see where we stand in a circle and each do something ridiculous at the same time. The last one to laugh wins. The truth is, when we let our guard down and get silly, we all win.

Do you have anything fun planned for Screen-Free Week? Or are you just seeing where your undistracted imaginations take you?



Book Review: Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

From time to time, I review books that I think you might enjoy as well. This particular post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase something via the link I share, I earn a small percentage of the sale. 

One of my favorite things to do in the library is to peruse the new book shelves, both in the adult and children’s sections. I never know what I might find, or what will spark my interest. I almost always choose the library over purchasing books, because 1) I’m cheap and 2) I need to know if I really love a book before I buy it.

Unbored book review

The other day, I spotted Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun and I knew we had to take it home. After having it around for a few days, I can tell you it’s a huge hit. Not only will I be purchasing it for our personal library, it’s going to be my go-to gift for kids ages 10 and up.

Unbored is a cool mash-up of tutorials, activities, stories, lists and comics. The authors, Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen, wrote the book to “encourage a hands-on approach to creating a personally meaningful life.” What does that mean for kids? It means Unbored is a tool to unlock your own passions and creativity, and to find ways to create instead of consume. And, of course, to answer the eternal question of , “I’m bored. What should I do?”

The book is divided into four sections: You, Home, Society, and Adventure. I couldn’t possibly list all the awesome ideas and projects in the book we want to tackle, but here are a few of our favorites:

  • farting games
  • circus tricks
  • clapping games
  • how to short-sheet a bed
  • experimenting in the kitchen
  • yarn bombing
  • game hacking
  • bike and skateboard maintenance
  • knot tying
  • make a secret book safe

At the end of each section, there is a HUGE listing of resources so kids can delve even further into the things that interest them the most. Kids will love this book because it’s so different from anything else out there. It might look similar to the Daring/Dangerous books for girls and boys, but where those books seem to reflect on older pastimes, Unbored is planted in the now with an eye to the future.

I also think kids will appreciate the tone. It’s never condescending. On the contrary, it encourages kids not to fear mistakes and that ignorance is no excuse for not trying something. It’s the exact opposite of the “Danger! Don’t try this at home!” mindset. Naturally, it’s a perfect fit for our household!

Summer is approaching, and I know I’m always looking for ideas and resources to keep the tween active and engaged. You can bet that by the end of the summer, our personal copy of Unbored will be dog-eared and well-loved.

Have you read Unbored? What did you think? If you have any books you think The Risky Kids should review, let us know in the comments!


Book Review: Go Wild! 101 Things To Do Outdoors Before You Grow Up

This post contains affiliate links.

As soon as I saw this book I knew it was something I’d have to read and share with you! And what better timing than Spring, when we’re all anxious to get outdoors.

Go Wild! 101 Things To Do Outdoors Before You Grow UP

Go Wild!: 101 Things to Do Outdoors Before You Grow Up, written by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks, was written to to inspire kids between the ages of 11-16 to explore and enjoy the wild, and to make it a part of every day life. The authors wrote it with an emphasis on fun, but also with a passion for making outdoor skills real and attainable. They noted that many kids are familiar with extreme survival shows. And while they may happily watch on them TV, they never realize they can attempt actual (though less dramatic) outdoor expeditions in real life.

While the book is geared toward tweens and teens, I found several activities that I could tailor to include Eli (6), such as making a one-person leaf hut, making a tepee, and knot tying. However the emphasis of the book is teaching outdoor survival skills to older kids with the idea that at some point you can turn them loose outdoors by themselves.

The book is divided into 8 sections: Shelter, Fire, Foraging, Cooking Outdoors, Tools & Weapons, Bushcraft (wilderness) Skills, Water & Keeping Clean, and Keeping Safe. It would serve as a valuable resource not only to adventurous kids, but to families or adults who want to learn more about outdoor camping and survival skills.

Go Wild! Shelter Building

image via gowild.net

A few activities we’ll be trying for sure? Crayfishing, for one! The authors describe how to build a simple crayfish trap, using a small,plastic basket with holes for the water to drain, some string, and raw bacon. While we probably won’t eat them, I know we’d enjoy trapping and observing them for a bit.

How about slingshot paintballing? Fill paper towels with flour, twist them up and tie or tape them shut. After you have enough ammo for a fight, use slingshots to launch them at each other. They’ll explode on impact! It’s totally unnecessary for outdoor survival, but sometimes you have to lure kids (especially older ones) away from screens with the promise of great fun first. From the weapons section I’d also love to make our own peashooters.

I particularly enjoyed how the authors used anecdotes of their own experiences and photographs of their own children. They acknowledge that with their own kids, they worried and wondered if they were irresponsible in the freedom they gave them. I appreciated their honesty. It makes me feel better to know that other parents struggle with the fine line between letting our children experience life, with all its inherent risks, and protecting them from harm. This quote from the authors helps to put it in perspective:

“Perhaps the biggest risk young people face is taking no risk at all.”

Indeed it is. Check out “Go Wild” and start taking some fun (yet valuable) outdoor risks! You can learn more about the authors and their other books at www.goingwild.net


Starting from Scratch: Empowering Kids in the Kitchen {Book Review & Giveaway}

Starting From Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking book

Somewhere around the 10-year mark, kids hit a phase where the sleepover is the end-all, be-all of social plans. I’m not sure if it’s this way with boys, but with Elena rarely does a weekend go by when we aren’t met with a request to schlep her to someone’s house or have a friend here for a sleepover.

I remember this being a thing when I was her age, too. Some of my fondest memories of these overnights involved the “cooking” my friends and I would do when we were together. I remember assembling quesadillas, making chocolate chip cookies that somehow never ended up in the oven, and sleepily throwing together Bisquick muffins or pancakes in the morning. Our mothers must’ve been saints, because I’m sure we were loud and incredibly messy.

We’ve got the loud and messy nailed down for this generation’s sleepovers, but you know where they’re not getting messy? In the kitchen. I’ve written before about my struggle to get my kids interested in cooking. The bug has finally bitten Elena, and while it hasn’t seemed to translate into kitchen sessions with her friends, I’m happy about it. I’m also willing to do whatever it takes to nurture that desire.

Teaching kids to cook via The Risky Kids

A book came my way the other day that I think has the potential to do just that for a new generation of cooks. Starting From Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking is a new book from author and journalist Sarah Elton. Sarah wanted to write a book that would empower kids with the knowledge they need in order to cook a meal. And empower it does. The book is a great bridge between books that could seem childish to a budding cook, such as Mollie Katzen’s Pretend Soup , and books that could overwhelm them, such as Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything . Both books are wonderful, and I recommend them for every kitchen. However Elton’s book is perfect for the beginning, older cook.

Kids in the kitchen

It’s not a cookbook, although there are a handful of recipes. Instead it is a resource for knowledge and inspiration. It explores the science of food and cooking. It teaches the important steps in cooking that go beyond the recipe: what tools you need, how to grocery shop, how to prep, measure and substitute ingredients, how to make sense of a recipe, and understand cooking terms. Instead of asking you to follow an exact recipe every time, she challenges readers to learn the building blocks of meals (base, protein and vegetable, plus toppings) and riff on it from there, with suggestions for tried and true flavor pairings.

I also love that she realizes how our paranoia about dangers in the kitchen are crippling our kids’ desires to learn the necessary skill of feeding themselves. She says,

“While we obsess about safety in North America, when I was on a research trip in France, I found that people there believed you just needed to teach kids how to be safe. I was at a chef’s school where they offered kids’ classes and saw a long line of sharp knives hanging on the wall. I commented to the man who ran the program about the risk of putting sharp instruments into small hands. He looked at me, perplexed, ‘Well, we wait until they are old enough!’ he said, ‘They have to be at least six-years-old!'”

I can see this book fitting just as well in the hands of a 10-year-old as I can in the hands of a high school or college graduate. Whether you’re looking to find a book that will satisfy a kid who is curious about the kitchen or a book that will gently and wisely educate someone completely new to the cooking experience, Starting from Scratch will be both a valuable resource and an inspiration to cook for yourself and those you love.

Would you like to see for yourself? I have a copy of the soon-to-be-published book to give away to one lucky reader. Here’s what you need to do to enter:

1. Leave a comment telling me the first thing you learned to cook as a child.

2. Earn an additional entry for following The Risky Kids on Pinterest. In order for your entry to count, please leave a comment below letting me know you follow us.

3. Earn an additional entry for being a subscriber. Not a subscriber yet? It’s easy! You can subscribe to get your Risky Kid updates via email or RSS. Leave a comment below letting me know you subscribed!

The giveaway will end Sunday, March 9 at 11:59 pm EST. Winner will be notified via email and have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is chosen. Remember, in order for your entries to count you must leave a separate comment for each entry. Thanks, and good luck!



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!


What Should We Read Next?

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BRRR!!!! As I sit here at my computer I’m looking out at about a foot of snow and a temperature of fourteen degrees below zero.  Between winter break, the holidays, and now this bitter weather that’s keeping us indoors, it feels as if the riskiest thing we can do is get along with each other!

The cold is a good excuse to curl up on the couch with a book. With the end of The Idle Parent Manifesto series, I was wondering if you might be interested in a new book series? We could either do it as an online book club or continue in the format I used for The Idle Parent.  Or I could just scrap the idea of a book series and review books here and there that I think you might be interested in.

Here are a few books I think could work well as an online book club or series of posts:

Can you do me a favor and leave a comment with your preference? If you’re interested in this idea, let me know which format you prefer, as well as which book sounds interesting to you. I’m very open to your own book suggestions as well! If you’d rather I just stick to a book review here and there over a series of posts I’d love to hear from you, too. In the meantime, stay warm!