For several months after moving to Cambodia’s noisy, crowded capital city, life in our third-floor apartment felt like a tile and cement prison. Factor in two little ones, new culture, language learning, endless oppressive heat and I was quite often near meltdown. No yard to run around in, just a thin wrap-around “porch.” No grass, just the busy street below. No parks nearby, only our long, narrow halls to run through.
Some days my mommy’s heart felt stifled, trapped, too limited, frantic for escape—and why couldn’t there at least be just a small patch of grass within walking distance so our children could release their wild energy?
It took a monumental effort on my part (you’re looking at Not Super Creative With Littles right here), but eventually, I learned that I had to hunt for fun.
A few of our favorites:
1. Pinterest, of course, is loaded with all kinds of activity ideas for toddlers. But, I discovered, sad few that are executable in Cambodia. One that I did find doable and entertaining was homemade play-dough, using the recipe from Kids Activities Blog. Our oldest had a ball rolling out snakes and squishing his toy cars through it and laughing at the crazy creations we came up with!
2. I had also seen lots of ideas for sensory bins, so I created my simple version using a shallow plastic container filled with white rice (cheap!), and small toys or measuring cups. (Disclaimer: It was messy. Our kids loved it—so it was absolutely worth it—but the rice did get everywhere and wasn’t easy to clean up.)
3. Our first Christmas in Cambodia was incredibly special, brimming with all kinds of fun variations on our family traditions. My family always made cookies together—sugar cookies, peanut butter fudge cookies, peanut butter balls, butter cookies—and I longed to be able to continue that with our kids, even if we were living overseas. My family sent a package with Christmas-y cookie cutters and sprinkles, so together we stirred up, rolled out, cut, baked, frosted, and sprinkled our creations. There were many steps in the process that our oldest was able to do on his own, which he relished! We also managed to come up with a Christmas tree (which felt like a major feat!) and spent a day decorating the tree and our living room with lights and ornaments and candy canes. Our kids had such fun helping and then seeing the enchanting lights twinkling off the walls and floor. That same Christmas we set aside one evening for a family movie night. We filled bowls with snack mix (one of my husband’s family traditions) and ate cookies and watched Polar Express. Our son still talks about that movie night together!
4. This final idea I have to give my sister-in-law credit for: our living room was floor-to-ceiling tile, so she thought, why not let it be one big canvas for them? We only needed some dry erase markers, and our children could draw to their heart’s content. Brilliant! So entertaining! (Slight problem, though. I could never find non-toxic markers and our youngest liked to suck them dry. NOT GOOD.)
Bottom line? Creativity with small children overseas can be really hard. Maintaining sanity and enjoying one another, however, is essential for thriving! No idea was perfect (and I often resorted to Piano Guys videos on YouTube when I was especially desperate and nothing else was working out), but for the health of our kids I knew I had to try—and made priceless memories in the process.
What are some fun activities for little ones that you’ve discovered in your overseas living?