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?



Screen-Free Week 2014

Screen Free Week 2014

Next Monday, May 5, kicks off the beginning of Screen-Free Week 2014. Presented by the Campaign for a Commerical-Free Childhood, Screen-Free Week is an annual event that takes place around the world every spring. The goal of Screen-Free Week is to encourage families to take a 7 day hiatus from using entertainment screen media, such as iPads, video games, movies and television. It’s nearly impossible to take a complete break from screens – we use technology daily for work and school – but it is possible to go a week without using screens for distraction and entertainment.

Instead of looking at screen entertainment as a good or bad thing, we can instead focus on the adventure of finding new things to do without the crutch of technology. Taking a break from screens gives us an opportunity to reconnect without distractions, and to reflect on whether our consumption of media is balanced or not.

Of course, any of us can opt to take a break from screens at any point in our lives. But one of the huge benefits of Screen-Free Week is doing it in the company of others. Imagine if every family on your block participated! After school the front yards could be filled with kids running, laughing, and playing together. Parents could reconnect with neighbors, building community that lasts long after Screen-Free Week is over.

Screen Free Week

How can you participate? Start off by taking the Screen-Free Week Pledge. Then decide what a Screen-Free Week will look like for your family. Will you totally disconnect? Maybe you’ve never tried to monitor screen time, so you’ll choose to limit it to 30 minutes or an hour a day. Maybe you’ll choose a few days to go screen-free. The details aren’t important, and you can’t fail Screen-Free Week. The important part is taking some time to really think about your media consumption, and how best to incorporate into a life that also includes plenty of time for distraction-free connection, creativity and play.

Once you’ve decided to participate, spend a few minutes browsing the Screen-Free Week website. Find a Screen-Free Week event near you, or check out their helpful guide on how to prepare for a great Screen-Free Week.

Whenever we take a break from screens, I find that the most resistance occurs right at the beginning. Let the kids have their space to complain for a few minutes. Listen and empathize (we know it’s hard – we love our screens, too!). Ask them how they think they can participate. Prepare yourself ahead of time to have some suggestions and activities ready to go, and before you know it they’ll be discovering the joys of life unplugged.

On Monday I’ll share some screen-free suggestions of our own. Be sure to come back and check them out … and then get ready to disconnect from screens and reconnect with the ones you love!

Will you be participating in Screen-Free Week? What would a successful Screen-Free Week look like for your family?


Cure for the Common Playground: Just Add Water

We talk a lot about how today’s playgrounds are too boring for kids.

Wet Playground

They need variety!

They need the freedom to take more risks!

We need to worry less about safety and more about how we can challenge them!

Apparently all they need is your standard playground slide and a rainy day.

Rainy slide

Disclaimer: Despite photos that seem to show otherwise, no children were injured while playing in inclement weather on a deserted, CPSC-approved public playground.


Kids: DO try this at home. May result in muddy pants, giddy smiles, and laughter.

Muddy playground



Say Yes To Outdoor Play On a Rainy Day

rainy day play

Perhaps it’s because we’re finally coming out on the other side of the coldest, snowiest, and longest winter I can remember, but the kids have been itching to get outside more than ever. They want to go outside on nice days, of course, but they also want to go outside on chilly and drizzly days.

Somewhere along the way, we lose our desire to want to play outside in the rain. But just because we’d rather curl up with a blanket and a good book, that doesn’t mean we have to keep the kids inside.

One of the most magical things about childhood is seeing everyday things transformed by the weather and the elements. Warm spring rains are the perfect backdrop for kids to explore how things change when rain begins to fall.

Where are the best puddles? Why do puddles form here but not there? What happens when I jump in a puddle? What if I bounce this ball in a puddle?

puddle play

In addition to water play, there are worms to examine, mud to poke around in, and umbrellas to twirl. We had a really heavy rainfall a couple of weeks ago and the kids were mesmerized by how quickly our backyard turned into a temporary pond.

play in the rain

Set aside a set of old play clothes, invest in a pair of rain boots and some cheap umbrellas, and you have everything you need. Next time the kids ask if it’s okay to play outside on a rainy day, say yes! You can either join them, or enjoy the peace and quiet with that blanket and book.


Risky Reads: The Laundry Basket Edition

Asleep in the laundry basket

For about a week last month, Eli became mildly obsessed with the laundry basket. Sadly, it had nothing to do with folding the clothing in the laundry basket. But he did drag it around with him through the house, using it as a boat, a jail for his LEGOs, and a cozy, blanket and pillow-filled reading nook. One evening I checked in on him before bed. He was sleeping in the laundry basket! He did this for a couple of nights. Can you imagine if we tried to sleep like that? My neck would never be the same again!

While Eli found 101 uses for a laundry basket, I found a few things around the internet I thought you might enjoy (and that won’t give you a crick in the neck).

Have a kid that’s interested in coding? Check out this fabulous roundup of 20 resources for teaching kids how to code.

Homework can be such a burden on some families. This dad worried about the amount and intensity of his 8th-grade daughter’s homework, so he decided to do her homework for a week. The result is this essay, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me.”

If that has you down, get ready to be inspired! Have you seen Childhood Unplugged? A group of photographers submits photos monthly of kids engaged in the art of play. All is not lost, friends.

This insect hotel, made of natural materials, would be a beautiful and practical addition to a natural backyard. What a great project for kids to study beneficial insects in their own backyard!

I love this DIY Upcycled Inventor’s Box. It would keep my kids busy for hours, and I’d love to see what creations they’d come up with.

I write for the parenting blog over at Bedtime Math. Last month we explored tessellations, made our own lava lamps, and created some cool domino cascades. This week we found a way to color Easter Eggs volcano-style. Lots of cool stuff going on over there – be sure to check it out!

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!


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 Case for Messy Play: Magic Potions & Kitchen Concoctions

Magic Potions and Kitchen Concoctions via The Risky Kids

This post contains some affiliate links.

I know, I know … you’re ready to hang me by my toenails before I even begin! First I ask you to let your kids run around like hooligans outside, now I’m imploring you to let them make big messes inside! Soon you’ll be asking if The Risky Kids is actually written BY kids posing as parents, with the hidden agenda of making your life as crazy as possible.

But no, I assure you, it’s me writing … a real, actual parent. And this real, actual parent actually despises messes. Yes, I can be that parent that has to restrain herself from walking around behind children and guests, tidying as I go. I realize, though, that making messes is a child’s work. And by forbidding messy play I am getting in the way of not only the sheer joy of making a mess, but the developmental processes that messy play encourages. I also firmly believe that when kids don’t have an outlet for making messes, they’ll just find their own way to meet their need for messy play. Have you ever discovered a mess in your pantry, or follow the trail of quiet to see a mad scientist at work in your makeup stash? Then you know exactly what I mean!

Today I’m going to focus on ways you can encourage messy play with common kitchen items. My kids are always asking if they can experiment, in which “experiment” is a code for dumping kitchen ingredients together and seeing what happens. Would I rather they make mud pies outside? Yes. But the weather and their mood doesn’t always cooperate. Would I rather they read or draw or play a game together? Yes, but they need this kind of play, too. Would I rather have a tidy kitchen and children glued to a screen? Absolutely not.

Messy Play

I’ve found a few tips and tricks that merge the best of both worlds. The kids are happily engaged in messy play, while the mess is contained and clean-up is rather minimal.  Here are some items that facilitate messy kitchen play. Keep them on hand and you can encourage experiments and magic-potion making whenever the mood strikes.

  • Trays: Essential for keeping liquids contained.
  • Small pitcher: Perfect for letting little hands pour their own water.
  • Squeeze Bottles: We use these all the time – in the bathtub, for snow painting, cookie decorating, and more.
  • Mason jars
  • Test tubes: Ours came in a Kiwi Crate (a subscription service I can’t say enough good things about). Not necessary, but they definitely make little mad scientists feel more legit.
  • Pipettes (Plastic Droppers)
  • Measuring utensils
  • Ice cube trays
  • Empty water bottles

Now that you have your equipment ready, here are some common household items that provide hours of messy fun:

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Food coloring
  • Alka-seltzer tablets
  • Corn starch
  • Shaving cream
  • Gelatin

A few tips for success and fewer headaches:

  • Keep old towels handy for clean up.
  • Wear old clothes or have smocks for messy play.
  • Set up items while children are asleep or at school.
  • Only introduce a few items at a time.
  • Back off! It’s not fun for them if you’re nagging or admonishing them for every spill or mishap.

Finally, for some inspiration. Here are a few “experiments” to get you started.

Watching Ice Cubes in Oil

Melting Rainbows/DIY Lava Lamps

Fill an ice cube tray with water and add a drop of food coloring to each tray. Freeze. Once colored cubes are frozen, fill a clear jar with oil. Add frozen cubes and watch what happens as they melt. Once they’re done melting, add an Alka-Seltzer! If you haven’t prepped ice cubes, try filling an empty water bottle 2/3 full with oil. Fill the rest with water. Drip food coloring into the bottle, then drop in an Alka-Seltzer and watch the magic!

Homemade Foam Dough (via Bedtime Math) 

For a truly tactile experience, try making foam dough using shaving cream and corn starch.

Magic Potion Lab

Mad Scientist

Let your child come up with their own experiments and concoctions. Pouring, touching, guessing, observing … these are all valuable skills that come from messy play.

Have any tips, ideas, or photos of messy play in your home? We’d love to see them! Share them in the comments or post your pictures on our Facebook page!



Life Skills Every Kid Should Know: A New Risky Kids Series

Life skills every kid should know via The Risky Kids

Shortly after starting The Risky Kids, contributor Lisa and I met up in Louisville for a Risky Summit. In all actuality, it was just a cover for us to hang out for a couple of days under the guise of “official blog business.” To  keep it honest, we did have an actual meeting where we discussed our vision for The Risky Kids. So what if that meeting just happened to be in a bar, over drinks? Still counts.

One of our ideas was to have a series of posts detailing life skills we thought every kid should know before leaving home.  It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, because it’s one I personally struggle with. Maybe you can relate. As a stay-at-home mom for many years, the bulk of the household tasks have fallen on me. I felt as if things such as laundry, cleaning, planning and cooking meals were my job. And to be honest, I actually enjoy these domestic tasks. Even more so, now that both kids are in school, I enjoy doing them alone and in peace! And so while I knew my kids were old enough to fold laundry, clean bathrooms, and help with meal prep, I often did this things while they were in school. It was just easier.

This past year, though, life has changed a bit. I work around 15 hours a week outside the home. In addition, I’ve been focusing on blogging as a business and doing some freelance writing as well. Not only are my hours in which I can dedicate time to these tasks diminished, I’m also realizing that my kids are getting older. Not only are they more than capable of taking of tasks on their own, they need to learn these things before they leave home. Otherwise I’ve done them a grave disservice as a their parent. Beyond household tasks, there are many other valuable life skills they’ll need to learn before they strike out on their own.

I realize it’s time to bring this series to life. As with many of the things I write about on The Risky Kids, it keeps me honest. It forces me to walk the talk, if you will! And in following along, I hope it will help and inspire you. Here’s a list of topics I’ve come up with so far, in no particular order. If you think of anything that’s missing from the list, please share it in the comments. This is by no means a finite list – I’d love to see it grow and become a valuable resource to parents who want to raise competent, confident adults who can function in society.

Life Skills Every Kid Should Know:

  • Manage their money
  • Basic car maintenance
  • How to change a bike tire
  • How to mow the lawn
  • Meal planning and preparation
  • Baking
  • How to build a fire
  • How to do laundry
  • Basic household cleaning
  • Phone etiquette
  • How to use basic tools
  • Simple mending.
  • How to handle basic household problems (shovel, replace lightbulbs, check the circuit breaker, turn off the water)
  • Basic knot skills
  • Manage time

What do you think? Anything else you would add? Do you feel like your kids are pretty proficient in most of these things already? I’ll get the first post in the series, on managing money, up soon. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from you!



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!


Explore Your Local Nature Center


What do these questions have in common?

  • How can I explore nature when the weather’s (too cold, too hot, too rainy, etc)?
  • How can I expose my kids to nature when I hate being outside?
  • How can I entertain my kid’s obsession with animals and/or insects without going to a zoo?
  • How can I keep my kid entertained in the winter without resorting to screens or a germy indoor play area?
  • Where can I learn more about the plants, animals, and insects around me?
  • Where can I find inspiring and fun nature-based activities to do with  my kids?

They all have the same answer: Visit your local nature center!

Explore a Nature Center

We’re big fans of our local nature center, but I’m always surprised to find out how many families are unaware both of their existence and the treasure trove of benefits they’re missing out on. We visit our nature center often, and definitely at least once each season. Sometimes we just need something interesting to do. Sometimes I need something to do that won’t cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes we want to learn something specific. No matter what our purpose is for going, we always have fun.

Nature Center Animals

Each nature center will be different, but here a few things most nature centers offer:

Interesting things to see:  Most nature centers will have a few animals for kids to see up close and personal. Ours has turtles, lizards, snakes, rodents and insects. It also has a bird viewing area, with binoculars to use for an even better view.

Nature Center Bird Watching

Fun activities to do: Many nature centers will offer a craft or some activity pages for kids to do while they’re there. Most offer special programming, such as crafting projects, story hours, or child-centric hikes.

Resources: Think beyond the library! Nature centers often resources at hand that you can explore, such as identification guides and books to spark or entertain your child’s interests.

Nature Center Resources

Help: The naturalists at your local nature center are there to assist you. They’re happy to help answer questions or to give you ideas about how to incorporate nature into your everyday life. Chances are, whatever question your child has asked that has you stumped, they’ll be able to answer (or point you in the right direction).

Linda from Rain or Shine Mamma has some more great reasons as to why you should explore your local nature center. If you need assistance finding a nature center near you, NatureFind can help.

Have you ever paid a visit to your local nature center? What’s your favorite activity there?