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!



An Abundance of Cheer

As we slowly clean up the wrapping paper, read instruction manuals, and wipe cookie crumbs from our faces, The Risky Family would love to take a few minutes to thank you for being such loyal readers and for always inspiring us to play more and fear less.

We’d also like to take some time to reflect on what our New Year’s resolutions might be. And by resolutions, I don’t mean the guilt-inducing kind. There will be no discussion of “Eat more kale,” “Get through P90X,” or “Organize the junk drawer” here. Not that those aren’t fine resolutions, and if you need more kale in your life, then by all means, kale it up. No, what we mean is, what do you resolve to do in 2014 to make your life more playful and to let joy, not fear, be your guide?

So many resolutions center around what you feel you need more or less of in your life. I read this the other day on Seth Godin’s blog and I immediately knew it would become my touchstone for determining whether or not we would put our energy into something in the coming year. It is his reaction to the notion that we must operate with an abundance of caution:

Perhaps we could instead opt for an abundance of joy or an abundance of artistic risk or an abundance of connection. Those are far more productive (and fun).

Also: The things we have the most abundance of caution about are rarely the things that are actual risks. They merely feel like risks.

In this spirit, I’d love if you would share your thoughts on what you resolve to do this year to bring an abundance of joy, art, connection, play, risk, love, laughter, curiosity (you get the idea) into your family’s life in 2014. I’ll do the same, and shortly after the New Year rolls in I’ll share mine as well.

I think if you play your cards right, this may just be your most playful year yet. And to that we say, “Cheers!”

In keeping with the idea that we need more play and less work as the year comes to an end, I will be taking a short holiday break from blogging. In lieu of new posts, I will take the opportunity to repost a few of the most popular stories from The Risky Kids. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and I look forward to sharing even more adventures with you in 2014!


Always in Season: Giving (and the Gift of a Great Future)

I’m participating in a campaign on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  I received a promotional item as a thank-you for participating.

On the surface, it would appear that the goal of The Risky Kids is make life with kids as playful as possible.  It’s true, we do a lot of silly, playful stuff around here, and we’re proud of it.  But one of the underlying goals in most everything we do is to raise happy kids with lots of confidence and a strong sense of responsibility.

When my husband and I think about responsibility, it means so much more than putting your stuff away, doing your homework, or knowing how to make your own lunch.  It also means cultivating a sense of responsibility for others, especially for those in need.  It means teaching our kids how to give – of their time, of their talents, and of their money – and to give from the heart.

Throughout the year as we pay our kids their allowances, they’re always required to put aside a percentage for charitable giving.  They have full freedom to decide when, how and to whom they should give of their earnings.  It’s something we try to think about all year round, but it’s especially at the front of our minds during the holidays.

It can be hard to figure out how to get your kids involved in giving, especially at a young age.  I’m very happy to partner with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America to promote their Give the Gift of a Great Future Holiday Campaign.  Always thinking of kids first, the BGCA website is loaded with ways to get kids excited about giving this holiday season, including a fun make-your-own gift tag  generator and great tips to inspire giving as a family.  While you’re at it, be sure to vote in the Kids Give Back Photo Contest, where you can see Club Kids involved in their very own giving campaigns.  Check out your local Boys and Girls Clubs’ websites to find more ways to volunteer in your very own community.

Just like making a commitment to be more playful, it’s never too early or too late to teach your kids to be more giving.


The Risky Kids Holiday Gift Guide: 10 Screen-Free, Playful Gifts for Kids of All Ages

The Risky Kids holiday gift guide: screen-free, playful Christmas gift ideas for kids of all ages.

This post contains affiliate links, and includes some items I received for free. However all items are things we personally use and love!

This time every year the Internet is full of gift guides to fit every kind of recipient. While there are many wonderful guides out there, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t share with you some of our very favorite things. These are things that my kids play with year round, and best of all, none of them require a screen! We love them, and think the kids in your life will love them, too.

Kiwi Crate

1. Kiwi Crate subscription

We’re going on 2 years of being Kiwi Crate subscribers, and I’ve been so impressed with each and every crate. My kids love doing crafts, and I love it when they craft, but I’m not always so good with planning out crafts and having the right materials available. Kiwi Crate does it all for you, sending you everything you need to make at least 2 specially-themed crafts in every box. The crafts are well-thought out, the directions are easy to follow, and the art materials provided are always of amazing quality. A Kiwi Crate mail day guarantees smiles and fun!

Gibbon Slackline

2. A Slackline

We’re partial to the Gibbon Slackline, and they make several varieties, including ones specifically for kids and/or beginners. Put it up in your neighborhood and watch the kids flock to your yard, or pack it up and take it with you to the beach or camping!

3. Inline Skates

Last year we bought each of the kids these these inline skates, which have adjustable sizing – such a bonus when you have kids with growing feet! Soon every kid in the neighborhood was asking for skates! Fun for skating, family outings, or games of street hockey.

I'll trade you 3 sheep for some ore.

4. Card and Board Games

We like to gift ourselves a new family game every Christmas. This year it’s Carcassonne. Our family favorites include Ticket To Ride, The Settlers of Catan, Rat-A-Tat-Cat, Bananagrams, SKIP BO and Flash . When the kids were very little, Dancing Eggs was a huge hit. Make it a priority to have a family game night once a week and you have yourself the gift that keeps on giving.

5. Books

We always gift at least one book at Christmas. I especially like to gift books that encourage some kind of activity beyond reading, or that provide lots of detailed pictures and information that can be savored for a long time. This year Eli has especially enjoyed Unusual Creatures and Cool Creations in 35 Pieces. And while I usually find movie and TV character based books to be of terrible quality, I can’t say that for the Marvel Origin Stories. If you have a young fan of superheroes in your house, these books will be a hit. And if you’re the parent who has to read them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the content. Elena really enjoys Wreck This Journal (and its related books by the same author) as well as Craft-a-Doodle.

6. Stomp Rocket

The Stomp Rocket is such a simple toy, but yet so much fun. Be sure to buy an extra set of rockets, just in case you’re anything like us and get a little, uh, overambitious with your launching!

Penny Skateboard

7. Penny Skateboard

I balked a bit when Elena first asked for one. We had a skateboard already, and she was never very interested in it. But a Penny Skateboard is different. It’s smaller than a traditional skateboard, and made of plastic. It’s designed specifically for riding, as opposed to tricks. She opts to ride her Penny board over her bike and her scooter every time. I have to admit, with all the fun color combinations, I kind of want one myself!

8. Yo Baby

For those kids who aren’t quite ready for an actual skateboard, or for a fun indoor alternative during the winter, a Yo Baby Kick Flipper is a great choice. The Yo Baby is made to help you learn balance, coordination, and basic board skills. We use our indoors, but it can also be used on grass, sand or even snow.

Strider Balance Bike

9. Strider Bike

Skip the tricycle and the starter bike with training wheels and get your toddler or preschooler a balance bike. There are tons of different makes and models, but we loved our Strider bike. It had a metal frame, which seemed more durable than a wood frame, and it looks like a real bike. We got Eli one when he was 2. At 3 he was riding a regular bike without training wheels. Even when he could ride a bike with pedals, he still loved his Strider because he could go super fast on it.

10. Nerf anything

For such an inexpensive line of toys, I’m amazed at how much play time we consistently get out of them. The mini basketball hoop that mounts over a door gets all ages of kids playing in our basement. The Firevision line looks really cool. This year we’re upgrading our dinky guns (which have served us well for 3 years) to some bigger ones. Watch out when you come visit!

What are some of your favorite playful, screen-free toys for kids?


We’re Thankful for You!

The Risky Kids

Dear Readers,

On the eve of this Thanksgiving holiday, we want to let you know how thankful we are for you each and every day.  While my very own risky kids were the inspiration to start The Risky Kids, you inspire us daily to write and play.  We are so grateful that you read us, comment, and share us with your friends.  Without you there is no community, and community is what it’s all about.  We hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends, full of good food and most importantly, time to play (maybe some turkey bowling)!

The Risky Family – Angie, Mike, Elena & Eli Six


Minimalist Holidays: Do Less, Enjoy More

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care ...

Every year I become more and more adamant about simplifying the holidays. Don’t get me wrong – I love the Christmas season, and for that reason I have a hard time having realistic expectations about how much one can really pack into the season and have it still remain enjoyable for myself and my family. I want to do it all!

But it took a Christmas two years ago to realize my zeal for cramming every minute of the season with something to do was making us all miserable. We were decorating cookies on Christmas eve, the kitchen was wrecked with my last-minute baking and cooking dishes. Add to that two young children and too many options for decorating the cookies and what we really had was a recipe for disaster. Oh, and did I mention we had less than an hour before we had to leave for Christmas Eve services and none of us were showered? You can imagine the scene, more tears and harsh voices than happy holiday memory. I swore then that I wouldn’t let this happen again.

In years since, I’ve slowly pared our commitments down and worked hard to spread the work of the holidays out over November and December, instead of trying to cram it all in the 3 weeks before Christmas. We buy less, do less, and as a result? We enjoy the holidays more. It can be hard to cut back, to let certain traditions go that we feel are an essential part of the holiday experience. In hindsight, though, I realize this: you can plan 10 things to do and just go through the motions, or you can agree on 5 things that are most important to everyone in your family and enjoy every minute of those moments.

What did we give up? Breakfast for Santa. No one really enjoyed getting up early and getting dressed up on a Saturday morning. I love having cut-out sugar and gingerbread cookies beautifully decorated, but trying to involve the kids in the process made all of us upset. Now I make and freeze the dough in late November. I cut them out and bake them on my own. A few days before Christmas, we have a decorating session, but not before I get everything ready ahead of time (and portioning out a few decorations in muffin tins is genius).

I could go on, but what I’m really excited about is the new series that starts today over at Minimalist Parent. Beginning today, those who sign up for their free email series will get tips through New Years to bring back the joy to the holidays and lessen the stress and craziness we’re all too familiar with. Consider it a free, early holiday gift just for you and your family.

While I feel so much better about our holiday mindset than I did a few years ago, I’m always looking for ways to make the season even more meaningful without adding undue stress or busyness. I hope you’ll join me for Minimalist Holidays this year so we can all have the happiest of holidays.


Punkin Chunkin: Having Fun With Pumpkins After Halloween

Punkin Chunkin with The Risky Kids

There aren’t many things sadder than a jack-o-lantern a few days after Halloween. What was once a cute symbol of a fun fall holiday soon turns into a pitiful, molding vegetable taking up room on the front porch. Other than the one year we composted the pumpkin (only to find ourselves with hundreds of pumpkin seedlings in the garden the following spring), we usually just toss them in the trash.

This year I wanted to try something a little more fun.  I asked the kids if they would like to throw their pumpkins out our second floor window and see what happens. Let’s just say you don’t have to ask a kid twice to throw an object from great heights.

The kids and their pumpkins were positioned at our bedroom window while I took video down on the ground. It might not last very long, but punkin chunkin from the second floor is fun.

Our pumpkins were definitely broken, but still in large chunks. For the next round of fun the kids rolled the pumpkins, along with another pumpkin that didn’t make the jump, down to the wooded area in our backyard. I gave them each a baseball bat and let them go to town – Smashing Pumpkins for the under 5 foot crowd.

Boy vs. pumpkin. Boy wins.

It doesn’t seem like much, but this is exactly the kind of activity The Risky Kids is all about. Most of the time we’re telling kids to be careful, to restrain themselves, not to make a mess, don’t break anything. Punkin chunkin and smashing pumpkins frees them from the normal confines of daily life. They were downright gleeful.

When all was said and done, I had satisfied kids, a cleaned-up porch, and some tasty treats ready for our resident squirrels and chipmunks to eat. If you still have carved pumpkins sitting sadly on your doorstep, try throwing them around before throwing them out!


Halloween Hallelujah: When the Kids Can Carve Their Own Pumpkins

Tween carving pumpkins

Confession: I don’t like Halloween.

Let me clarify … I used to like Halloween, in two separate stages of my life. One, of course, was when I was a kid. The Jerry Seinfeld bit about Halloween pretty much sums up my experience of Halloween as a kid. Crappy costumes, the humiliation of having to wear your winter coat over said costume, balanced by the overriding joy of realizing there was a holiday with a sole purpose of getting candy.

Halloween lost its luster for a bit when I was too old for trick-or-treating and too cheap to enjoy buying candy for other trick-or-treaters. And then we became parents. There is this sweet spot for Halloween when you can throw a crappy costume on your toddler, parade them around for an hour, and keep all the candy for yourself.

Then one year Halloween rolls around and the kids have an opinion about what they want to wear. They have expectations about how the house should be decorated, thanks to that one over-achieving neighbor we all have. And they want to keep all the candy for themselves (except for the Baby Ruths and Tootsie Rolls, which … eww). I love Christmas and have no problem putting the extra effort into making it special, but the Halloween spirit eludes me. I dread it all and have a hard time getting into it.

The one task I dread more than any other is carving the pumpkins. It’s one of those things that always sounds like a lot of fun to do with kids, until you actually start doing it. Suddenly it’s an art project gone south, with the participants messy, grumpy, and armed with sharp objects.

Like previous years, I’d put off carving pumpkins until the I couldn’t hold the kids off any longer. We spread newspaper on the driveway, lugged over the pumpkins and got to work. We just got all of our supplies ready to go when a couple of the neighbor boys wandered over. Could they help scoop out the pumpkin guts? Job #1 that I can’t stand taken care of.

With the guts out of the way, we moved on to design. Eli wanted a simple Minecraft design, which I obliged, while Elena was able to draw her own. Equipped with a small, child-sized serrated knife, Eli got to work scoring the pumpkin along the lines I’d drawn. Elena, who has spent time in the kitchen this year learning some basic knife skills, carved her own.

Kids carving pumpkins

For the first time in my entire parenting career, I spent a good portion of pumpkin carving time not needed. Of course I stayed on hand to supervise, but I wasn’t the one doing all the work. Suddenly I realized how this could actually be an enjoyable activity, one in which pleasant holiday memories are made. Turns out, pumpkin carving just needed maturity, basic skills, and the ability of the parent to back off a bit to turn it into a pleasurable experience for everyone.

Funny, now that I think about it, that applies to a plethora of parenting experiences!

How do you feel about Halloween? In what ways do you let your kids claim some independence during this holiday? Do you let them carve their own pumpkins, trick-or-treat without you, or decide for themselves how much candy is okay to eat? Or do you feel like you have to monitor it all?