Our Favorite Free Range Kids Books

And now, for something completely different…

Since Christmas is right around the corner and you’re likely shopping for gifts, I’d like to share some of our favorite children’s books.

It just so happens that many of our favorite books have a common theme of “free range kids” or, as they used to call them: kids.

You know, the kind of kids who are full of wild ideas and are super creative and curious and who spend time by themselves doing wild and creative things.

Andrew Henry’s Meadow and The Summerfolk, Doris Burn

Roxaboxen, Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

Blueberries for Sal, Robert McCloskey

Oh, Were They Ever Happy and Bored, Nothing to Do, Peter Spier

A Walk In The Woods, Christin Couture (currently out of print)

The Railway Children or The Book of Dragons, Edith Nesbit




So if you’re looking for a great gift for your kids this Christmas, a book that you’ll enjoy reading as much as they will, check one of these out.


Where We Play: Eden Park

photo from historylines.net

photo from historylines.net

Eden Park– Walnut Hills

* This a guest post by Steve Carr, a husband, father, and pastor in Walnut Hills. Visit him online here.

Overview: Eden Park, located in Walnut Hills and bordering Mt Adams, is one of Cincinnati’s most popular parks. Yet those who visit often miss out on the wide range of opportunities hidden throughout the park. It occupies a strip of land between two hills overlooking the Ohio River Valley and boasts ample open spaces, trails, and numerous water features.

A system of paths connect the divisions of the park. Starting at the south end of the park (at Mt Adams Drive) is the Playhouse in the Park. Behind the theater is a “mini-park” area with a CRC pool. Descending the hill, you encounter the Art Museum and (down the hill) the Seasongood Pavilion. Behind the pavilion is a path to Mirror Lake, a popular walking destination. From here you could descend down the hill toward basketball courts and the remnants of the old reservoir wall (bigger kids love climbing up the incline of the wall since they’re practically steps). Usually, people opt to ascend the hill toward Krohn Conservatory. While the conservatory now charges an admission fee, it’s still an incredibly popular Cincinnati destination.

At the northern end of the park, up the hill from the conservatory, is the Twin Lakes—a place where children can feed the ducks and play on the playground. Yet this isn’t the end of the park, as you can ascend even farther up the hill toward the Eden Park Water Tower and scenic Author’s/President’s Grove. From there, you can cross the Arch Bridge to the Overlook, one of the park’s many scenic vistas.

General Cleanliness: Despite the high-traffic throughout the park, it is often very clean. The Twin Lakes area is a popular Sunday picnic location so it’s most chaotic then.

Parking: Parking is available throughout the park. If you decide to explore areas up the hill and don’t want to walk, you can move your car. If you decide to visit the Art Museum, you can save money by parking on Mt Adams Drive and taking the short walk to the museum.

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, in two locations: next to the parking at Mirror Lake and by the Twin Lakes at the top of the hill.

Picnic Areas: There are designated areas throughout the park. Still, the Twin Lakes tables are the most popular destination.

Playground: There are two playgrounds in the park. The most popular one is located at the Twin Lakes and was recently renovated. The lesser known playground is by the pool by Playhouse in the Park and is a great place to let smaller children explore a play set without getting trampled by older children.

Other Amenities: The Gazebo by Mirror Lake is very popular. There’s now a paved walking path leading from there up to the Magnolia Grove which is another hidden gem. You could visit this park over and over again and have a new experience on every trip.


Look for a separate review of Eden Park’s Hinkle Garden in a future post!

*This is the fifth in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Where We Play: Burnet Woods


Burnet Woods– Clifton

Overview: My introduction to Burnet Woods was through leading field trips as an educator with a local nonprofit. During the field trips, we stopped for lunch and a program at the Burnet Woods’ Trailside Nature Center, which is positively one of the hidden gems of our city. The park itself is 90 acres and includes multiple amentities, including the nature center which is (as far as I can tell, and am sorry to report) rarely open to the public. It’s the perfect stop for a quick hike near to downtown and is easily accesible by foot or by car from the Uptown neighborhoods of Corryville, CUF, Avondale, and Clifton.  We’re there a few times a year and the last time we went–as evidenced by the photos–was prime season for wildflowers and mulberries!

General Cleanliness: A few littered spots in the high foot-traffic areas. The trails are not super well-maintained, but it only adds to the “wild” feel, which I actually prefer. Some areas could use updating. (There has been a lot of talk about proposed improvements to the park.)

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, though I’m not certain of the open hours. According to the park map, there are three separate facilities.

Picnic Area: Multiple picnic areas, including covered shelters and a gazebo.

Parking: Street parking is available along the edges of the park and on a few access roads. There is no central parking lot.

Playground: There are two playground areas that I know of: one, near the nature center, with an older set of swings and a fantastic concrete slide; one near the Clifton Ave. access point with a more modern play structure. (Our usual hiking route takes us from one to the other and back again.)

Other Amenities: Our favorite parts of the park are definitely the concrete slide and the hiking trails. The nature center, as I mentioned, is worth the trip if you can figure out when it’s actually open. There is also a Stonehenge-style sculpture that we’ve never seen in person, though it’s visible from the road. And the pond is a very popular place for visitors.


*This is the fourth in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Where We Play: Queensgate Playground

Queensgate Playground – West End, on Court St


* This is a guest post by Emily Benhase.

Overview: This is our neighborhood playground, less than a block from our house, so we frequent it often when the weather is nice. The city recently finished putting in two new (and very nice) play structures, as well as a set of swings. Plus there is enough open green space that I feel comfortable letting my children run free without having to worry about traffic. There are almost always other neighborhood children there, so it’s a great place to interact with the community and meet new people. It’s also close to the Lincoln CRC Pool as well as the Museum Center and would make a great place to have a picnic before or after a visit to either of those places.

General Cleanliness: overall fairly neat, especially the newer section. There is sometimes a little trash on the ground.

Bathroom Facilities: no bathrooms on site, although there is one portable restroom.

Picnic Area: There is one picnic table near the older playground and one near the new playground, as well as a lot of grass (some under trees for shade) for picnics

Parking: street parking, free

Playground: There is a small, older play structure on one end of the park. The other end has a new, fairly large playground, with swings. There is also a smaller structure for younger children, as well as baby swings. In between the playgrounds is a baseball diamond and an open, grassy field, perfect for kicking around a soccer ball or tossing a football.

Other Amenities: Located near the new play structure is a charcoal grill, which I’ve often seen groups using on the weekends. And it seems to be a popular spot for cookouts and birthday parties this time of year. There is also a line of trees that look perfect for climbing!


Thanks, Emily!

*This is the third in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Where We Play: Mount Echo Forest

Mt Echo Park– Price Hill

Overview: Mount Echo is one of Cincinnati’s lesser-known parks and is located just west of downtown, in Price Hill. Back when I worked in East Price Hill, I often stopped at this park for some solitude. But, to be honest, I don’t think I ever got very far out of my car. The view of downtown isn’t always the best from the westside–due to the industrial areas in Queensgate and Camp Washington. But, even if it’s not the BEST view of the city, this parks hosts a spectacular view of the Ohio river and Kentucky, as well. It seems like this park is easily accessible to a few subdivisions in East Price Hill and there were a few basketball and tennis courts and a baseball field that I can imagine are frequently used. We walked most of the park, but didn’t venture onto any of the wooded trails. Maybe next time!

General Cleanliness: Most of the park was clean and well maintained, but the main playground area was a total disaster. (I’m thinking–hoping–we just happened to be there the morning after a messy fast food picnic, before Parks staff could get to it.)

Parking: A few parking lots.

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, though we didn’t check to see if they were unlocked.

Picnic Area: A few picnic areas, including a really nice covered shelter, plus a few benches and lots of open grass.

Playground: One older plastic playground and a smaller area on the other end of the park with swings.

Other Amenities: The Pavilion is really neat, as is the shelter. There are ball fields and playgrounds, as well as hiking trails. The open greenspace and overlook views are the strength of the park.


*This is the second in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*


Related Posts:

Go Play Outside!
Go Play Outside: Alone?
Go Play Outside: In The Cold
Urban Families: How To Get Them & How To Keep Them
Where We Play: Lytle Park


Where We Play: Lytle Park

Lytle Park Central Business District (CBD)

Overview: Lytle Park is located in a historic district of downtown, just over a mile walk from our home. It’s next to the Taft Museum and just a few blocks from the Purple People Bridge (which leads to Newport, KY) and Sawyer Point. The park is neat, well-maintained, and has a fantastic view of the skyline. It feels like a truly “urban oasis.” The playground itself is a bit small and outdated and doesn’t keep my kids occupied for very long, but there is a large open field to run in and a few trees to climb. The park is used (mostly, it seems) by downtown workers on their lunch break and older, CBD residents walking their dogs. In the half-dozen times we’ve been to Lytle Park, we’ve never seen another child. The hallmark of this park is the historic bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln and the large, landscaped field. Even though it’s a small park, this would be a great side-trip for families exploring downtown or visiting the Taft Museum.

General Cleanliness: Very neat and tidy.

Parking: Street parking, metered.

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, though we didn’t check to see if they were unlocked.

Picnic Area: No tables that I remember, but many benches and lots of open grass.

Playground: Small, with no swings.

Other Amenities: The seasonal flowers are great. There is a large amphitheater-type paved area that we’ve never seen used. We also spotted a bocce pit and there is a small firefighters’ memorial in addition to the awesome Lincoln statue. There is a water fountain, too.


*This is the first in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Choosing A Small Living Space

When considering housing options, one of the most common concerns among parents is space: physical space, square footage, acreage. For this reason alone, urban living is almost immediately crossed off the list of options. To move to the city may require sharing a building with neighbors, sharing bedrooms with siblings, or limiting outdoor space for play.

molinecourtMoline Court, Northside. photo credit

As the mother of a growing family, I understand this concern and I’m sympathetic. Our home has plenty of square footage for our family, but the space is not arranged very well. Currently, we only use two of our available bedrooms as sleeping spaces, which means that my two children share a room and Baby #3 (due in September) will bunk with us (as the other two have for their first few months) and then eventually with her brother and sister.

Three kids in one room.
In 21st Century middle-class America, that is simply absurd.

As our family grows, we get more and more questions about what we’re going to do with that new baby once she’s born. Reconfiguring our home to use 3 or more bedrooms will require a large financial investment and a lot of work (and time). For now, it’s not on the agenda. I like our current situation. And, apart from the logistics of different sleeping habits and bedtimes, it doesn’t bother me at all to have a bunch of young children sleeping in the same room. (Now, when they’re teenagers, this might be a bit trickier…)

Contrary to the popular belief of my peers, it’s not impossible for a large family to live comfortably in the city. It simply requires sacrifice, creativity, and wisdom about the best way to use a limited amount of space. Most urban families–those who live in the city by choice, not necessity–have reconciled their sacrifice of space for the sake of other benefits of life in the city. And, with a clever use of space (alongside purging unnecessary stuff and using good organizational skills), I think living in small space could actually be easier than a large sprawling home. (Imagine how much easier it would be to clean a house half the size!)

On a related note, I came across this article in Apartment Therapy last night. This woman only has two children, which is not really a large family, but she offers a good perspective on why choosing a smaller space is often not really a sacrifice, but is actually a good thing for family life.

What about you?
Have you considered down-sizing to a smaller space for the sake of a different way of life?
Do you already feel squeezed too tight?
Have you already given-up on small spaces?
For those living in small spaces, what lifestyle (and organizational) changes have you made to make it easier for living?

For some related stories (with great photos!) check out these other recent Apartment Therapy posts:

Emily’s Nursery Nook in the Bedroom
Something For Everyone
(a shared room for three boys)
Jack, Finn & Rowan’s “Undone” Room (another shared room)
Before & After: Closet Turned Nursery
A Small Space Nursery Triumph in Manhattan

And for general encouragement that small-space living can actually be great, check out these links:

Small House Bliss
Honey, I Shrunk The House
Tiny House Swoon

Becoming a TV-Free Family

One of the best decisions my husband and I ever made was to ditch our television set and never replace it.

This happened over three years ago, a few months after “the big switch,.” For those of you who missed it, a few years ago, free television programming switched from analog to digital and viewers were forced to either subscribe to cable, purchase a new, digital television or purchase a convertor box.

Our son was a a few months old at the time and we lived in a loft apartment. This meant that, at bedtime, we either kept quiet or risked waking the boy. When it came to television, it was out of the question. It just wasn’t worth it. And, during our son’s waking hours, we simply didn’t want him exposed at such a young age to the weird stuff that flashed on the screen.

Our television set was older than dirt, only had one working speaker, and could barely pick up a signal. I hadn’t had a television myself (or a personal computer) for almost all of my post-high school years, so I had a lukewarm relationship with the thing. John and I mostly used it for movies, anyway. We bought our laptop around the same time so, when we did watch any sort of entertainment, we watched streaming tv shows or youtube clips of movies huddled on our bed in front of the computer, sharing a set of earbuds.

Needless to say, we were fair-weather tv-watchers. So, when “the big switch” happened and regular tv sets went black, we tossed the tv and never looked back.

When I tell people that “we don’t watch tv,” it illicits a bunch of different reactions. Some assume we’ve taken some high-and-mighty anti-culture position and judge tv-watching as a sin. Some assume it means we entertain our children with puppet shows and charades, instead. Some assume that we, like them, just mean that we don’t watch it often.

So, let me explain what being a TV-free family means to us.

retro tv

Why are we choosing to be tv-free?

1. Television programming is, in general, a total waste of time. There are about a million more important/creative/world-changing things I can (and should) do with my down-time.

2. Most television shows and movies are full of crap. I’m no prude and I am not, as a rule, offended by crude language. But, turn off the popular media stream in your mind for a few months and then re-introduce it. You will be amazing by the loads of disgusting crap you never noticed yourself ingesting before. Everything from the language and gratuitous sex to the general philosophical lessons of popular culture and the hyper-commercialization of the omnipresent marking. The more you take it in, the more desensitized you become and the more “normal” you think it all to be. Wake up and look at what you’re actually consuming.

3. My children should entertain themselves. As tempting as it is to sit my kids in front of some form of hands-off entertainment (computer, tv, iPhone, etc.), it is not profitable for them, developmentally. Creative, child-led (or parent-led) play is important for both artistic and academic reasons. Plopping a kid in front of a screen that requires no real interaction teaches children to be consumers of entertainment rather than creators–consumers of culture rather than culture-makers. I’m not exaggerating. Look 15 years down the road at the lifestyles of tv-lite kids compared to their screen-addicted peers. They are more socially adept (at least with the real world, if not their peers), are less likely to develop destructive habits, tend to be more physically active, and have more academic and career success ahead of them.

4. It is not “harmless.” Nothing is devoid of influence and when children are most impressionable and easily-influenced, we should never assume that the obnoxious whining cartoon character on the television screen isn’t making its way into their subconscious. It all makes its way in, my friends.

5. The branding of children’s products is enough to make me stay away. Everything–from fishing poles to diapers to Memory games to gym shoes–is branded with lame cartoon characters. I will not allow my children to be lured by this manipulative marketing and I refuse to argue with my child over buying that cereal or that juice box because it has their favorite character on it. If it’s as simply as only allowing my child moderate access to the branded characters themselves, I will spare myself a million headaches.

So, how does being “tv-free” actually play out in our family? (This it to prove that we are not insane, culturally isolated, or all-around tv-haters.)

– We do not have a physical television set. But we do have a laptop computer and both my husband and I have iPhones.

– Our laptop does have a DVD-player, but it has been broken for about a year and we have not had it fixed.

– We do not subscribe to any paid online television or movie service. If we want to watch a tv show or movie, we must either watch it streaming for free on a site like Hulu, or must download it from iTunes.

Our son knows how to use an iPhone, but does not have access to either our computer or our phones on any average day.

– I have a few select television shows downloaded from iTunes on our computer, but my son is only allowed to watch them on special occasions. This translates to about once or twice a month. About once a week, I allow him 20-30 minutes with my phone to watch clips on YouTube–mostly vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons. At our home, he has seen about 6 full-length movies in his lifetime. (He has never seen Cars, Toy Story, or the majority of children’s movies made in the last 10 years.) He does not usually have access to either the computer or my phone while his sister is around. This is very (intentionally) limiting.

– My daughter is 18 months old and is not allowed any “screen time.”

– When visiting friends and relatives, we don’t encourage screen time, but we aren’t stingy about allowing our children to watch shows. If I though something was actually objectionable, I would politely ask to change the show. But, I would rather not cause a fuss. I mean, we might be idealists but we’re not jerks.

– My husband and I have a few tv shows we watch online each week, totaling maybe 2 hours a week. I have another show or two that I catch online sometimes during naptime, maybe once or twice a week.

– With my phone, I can get any information I need about popular culture and/or a world news feed at the touch of a button. Television, for me then, is simply superfluous since I don’t need it for entertainment.

– Without access to normal television programming or a DVD player, our kids don’t ever have un-attended screen time. Chances are, unless I’m in bed vomiting or experiencing something similarly debilitating, you will never hear me say, “Here, son, play with my phone while I do this other thing in the other room.” Any show watched, movie seen, or iPhone game played is chosen and approved my me or John. And it is always used as entertainment–not time-filler while I do other things. When my kids are older, they will likely have more freedom to choose what media they consume and have access to it more often. But, for now, we call the shots.

– The curse of a smartphone is that it never leaves my side and it could quickly become just as much a distraction from parenting as a television set would be. For this reason, I try to avoid spending too much time on my phone while around my children and try to limit my serious phone use to naptime, bedtime, and odd “the kids are playing so nicely together they don’t even notice I’m here!” times. These times don’t come often and I am, admittedly, not awesome at living up to my own expectations much of the time.

We know dozens of other tv-free or (what I’d call) tv-lite families and they all do it for different reasons. And it looks different in every home. Some families have the tv set tucked-away in a closet for special times. Some families have tv and movies, but enforce strict time restraints for older children who deserve a little more freedom. I would never give someone a hard time for making a different decision for their family, especially if we can at least agree that our time is usually best spent doing something else.

I know that parenting is hard and–believe me–I completely understand why someone would want to be able to send their kids to the living room to watch cartoon early on a Saturday morning. There are times when I am really tired or it’s really early or I really want to take a shower or I really need to wash the dishes and I (literally) say to myself, “Gosh, I wish we had a tv.” And, this sometimes means that I have less time alone to myself and less time to do things other than entertain, teach, and play with my kids. Which means, by necessity, less time to clean “in peace” and fewer creative pet projects around the house. But, in the end, it’s worth it to me. And, no, I don’t think we’ll be getting another tv someday. And I’m pretty resolute to not apologize for the decision we’ve made for the benefit of our family. In fact, I think it’s a decision we should be proud of–and it’s a decision I would encourage YOU to make.

Also, on a personal note, it should be said that I do enjoy some contemporary television programming. (Heck, I almost joined a support group when Lost ended a few years back.) And I really enjoy movies. BUT. I really don’t miss watching them. And, if I really wanted to, I could find a way to access them. In fact, I have a few shows waiting in my Hulu queue as I type this.

And, that’s how I prefer to consume entertainment–in small quantities, when the time is right, and only the shows I actually enjoy and find valuable. And, hopefully, that will be the lesson I teach my children: TV is not “bad,” but it’s like junk food. Consumed in small quantities, alongside a steady diet of nutritious, creative play, it won’t kill you. But it’s not going to make you any healthier than you’d be without it.

Cheers! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whpf4Xs2ww8