A New Kind of Playground + Summer Recipes and Activities for Kids

The first few years we lived here, I grieved weekly, daily about the fun things my kids were missing out on by living overseas. I did not want to hear one more person say something like, “But your kids are getting such a rich experience living in a different culture!” I couldn’t get over the fact that there were no libraries, no parks with green grass they can actually play on, no swimming pools (that I wanted to get in!), and maybe worst of all, few, if any, good friends.

As we all know, friends overseas come and go. There was a season when the closest other foreign family to us was an hour and a half away via subway, then, bus, then taxi. That was depressing.

Yes, there were local kiddos, but they were often in school all day, every day. My boys have had their moments playing with local kids, language barrier ignored, but they have been short-lived.

So, anything fun we did, I had to come up with. Let’s just say, my then 2-year-old thought going to the soccer field and running around in circles while occasionally kicking a soccer ball was pretty exciting. My creativity was in sad shape that year.

Since we’ve been around a few more years, I’m learning there are things to do. I mean, kids do exist here, too. And, even though their parents want them to study non-stop, they do actually like to have fun once in a while. It just takes effort to find those places and spaces! We’ve been in our new city 3 months now, and I already know there’s a water park (!!), parks with actual playground equipment for children, (not just the rusty old exercise equipment), a science museum, and ginormous indoor play places.

So what helped open my eyes to realize all of these things actually exist and I don’t just live in a dust bowl with billions of people? Well, one, language. I can ask our driver where fun things are. I can ask local mamas what they do for fun. Game-changer. But if that’s not you, we also ask our tutors and students tons of questions, too. They love helping us out, and if they think of a good place to go, because most locals have this innate ability to find a way to save every.single.mao they can, they help us get on the Chinese version of Groupon to find deals! Double win!

We are staying in our new city this summer instead of going back to the States. Part of me cringes at the thought of trying to entertain my kiddos without spending a ton of money. So, below are some ideas to one, help keep us cool, and two, have fun! And, since I’m the “foodie” of the writers (I claim that name loosely), I have to include some winner recipes, too! I have no doubt my boys will be in the kitchen, “helping.” My 6-year-old will actually be asking me how to help and follow my directions, while my 3-year-old will be asking me over and over if he can taste it yet. 🙂

Fudgsicles–These have been a winner for several summers! My kids beg for them! They don’t even notice there’s hardly any added sugar!


Magic Shell Topping–I love this stuff! There’s just something extra cool about the sauce hardening upon impact with the ice cream. And, for me, it makes the local ice cream taste better. It needs all the help it can get. (Says the lover of homemade ice cream and frozen custard.) And it’s SO easy!


Popsicles! and More Popsicles!–No popsicle molds? Just use a paper cup and a stick! Chopstick, kebob stick, tree branch….do whatcha gotta do to make some of these! Then can we post our kids or ourselves enjoying them on Instagram? Hashtag velvetashes, of course. 🙂



Grape Sculptures–Why not let the kids play with their food a little! For this mama who despises kid+food messes, this one, I can do! (Apparently I have passed on this non-messiness to my oldest. Yesterday, while celebrating a friend’s birthday, he looked at me in distress, saying, “I can’t pick up this cupcake without getting my hands dirty!” Oops.)



Sidewalk Paint–In our country, there is a LOT of cement. Why not make it pretty?! We did this a few years ago with friends, and I plan on whipping up a batch soon so the kids can paint the back “yard.” Make it fizzy using this recipe!


Frozen Toys—Who knew a block of ice with “hidden” toys and a hammer could be so much fun?! My boys loved busting apart every last piece of ice! (While baby sis watched over them.)


Summer Checklist–I love the idea of something visual for the kiddos to see and look forward to! Plus, it will keep me accountable to actually do the things we think of.



What do you like to do for summer fun in your country of service? Do you have any “cool” recipes to share?


  1. Kelly June 23, 2015

    Glad you mentioned frozen toys! It’s a favorite!!

    1. Ashley Felder June 24, 2015

      Ya know, it’s been on my Pinterest board forever. Glad I finally did it–we’ll definitely do it again!

  2. Julie June 24, 2015

    Thank you for these good thoughts! In a similar vein (more food-related than activity-related), I noticed when I was in Asia that some expats were so concerned about recreating their North American foods (ie: foods they were used to), and always buying or looking for specialty ingredients (like cheese or whipped cream). They didn’t really take the time to learn local foods (which were much more readily available, and much cheaper) and they talked about how cooking took so long, especially because everything had to be made from scratch. I lived with locals, and saw one expat family who cooked more like locals did, and I realized how life can be much less complicated abroad when we learn how the locals live and start doing things more like they do (even if it is our own version of what they do) – because obviously the supplies, ingredients, etc are available. This probably applies to entertaining kids, too – as you said, you can learn so much from the locals. Anyway – good thoughts – thank you!

    1. Ashley Felder June 24, 2015

      Julie, I admit, I’m one of those people. I think there are a few reasons…one, I learned how to cook here (from scratch, anyway), and I think it’s fun to explore all the recipes I grew up on. Two, I don’t love the local food. I mean, I have my favorite dishes, but if I have it more than twice a week, I’m ready to take a week off! I know I should learn how to cook more dishes with local foods only, though…maybe that’ll be a project for the summer. 🙂 Now, if I lived in India, I think I’d be quite ok with cooking like the locals several times a week!

      1. Julie June 24, 2015

        I understand 🙂 Food is such a comfort thing!

  3. T June 24, 2015

    One thing I’d add for toddlers is filling the baby bathtub and letting them get in and out and play w/water toys (in the living room/hallway/wherever works for you).  When it is just too hot, that can be a good option.  Plus, now that our kids are elementary school aged, we change our time all around like people here do…sleep in afternoon (read enforced quiet time w/permission for people to read books and/or play lego, etc, but usually isolated) and stay up late to go out to play.

  4. T June 24, 2015

    oh!  and our summers here, i make our own Summer Library Reading Program based on the one in my parents’ home town.  eg, read 10 books and get a prize, each kid keeping a log.   for older kids, it can be 100 pages or whatever.  we have a golden (wrapping paper) prize box w/prizes in it (pencils, erasers, stickers, little toys, suckers), and papers that say other prizes from the corner shop–like a chocolate danette (pudding) or a Mr. Flan that we don’t indulge in often.

    1. Ashley Felder June 24, 2015

      T, those are great ideas!! I especially love the baby tub idea. 🙂 And way to bring fun things from America to where you are! Totally doable!

  5. Jilida June 24, 2015

    Those are great ideas! I think Play-do is a great outdoors activity because I too hate the mess, and if it is made out of flour, water, and salt, I can just abandon it on the sidewalk with no hard feelings.

    As for simple recipes, if you like popsicles, you might like frozen grapes.

    And for local food, when I was in east Asia and wanted to eat cheaply, I often took tofu and stir fried it with a bunch of turmeric and garlic. It made it taste mostly Indian (which I can rarely get enough of), and was easy to serve over rice. Tasty and cheap!

  6. Jilida June 24, 2015

    Oh, I also made this recipe a lot, from the sister of a woman I used to babysit for. I left out meat if I didn’t have any, substituted extra vegetables that were around, used leftover ramen noodles (we had a lot at school after ramen Fridays), and used tofu for the middle, and occasionally the top, layer. With some flavoring and baking, the texture is similar to melted cheese.  http://hungerhabit.blogspot.com/2010/03/sweet-spaghetti-pie.html

    1. Ashley Felder June 25, 2015

      Thanks for your ideas, Jilida! I especially like the idea of playdough outside. I despise cleaning it off tables!!

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