Hunting For Fun

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?


  1. Heidi July 9, 2018

    My mom wasn’t able to go outside on her own (wheelchair bound) so she would play games with me like “hide the thimble” which she could do relatively easily from her chair; she would lay items on a tv tray (any kind of item, it doesn’t matter at all) and tell me to memorize what was there, then when I could say all of them well she would have me close my eyes and she’d take one away, then I had to tell her which one(s) were missing (I loved this game); take a deck of cards and play memory; use toothpicks to build with (marshmallows work well and are a fun snack); have a picnic on the floor of the living room; dance parties; do “school” by printing worksheets from the internet; I love to sew and my girls are wanting to learn with me so I’m teaching them to hand sew; paint with water at the table (hours of fun); listen to podcast stories.

  2. Leigh July 9, 2018

    (Hi, Beth! I’m a friend of your SIL, V, and live a few hours from her). I also have two Littles so returning last year I was nearly brought to tears when I saw the answer to my prayers that the nearby crumbling Soviet era park would be re-done. Bonus including a beautiful new playground! Anyhow. yes, at home we play lots of hide and seek, color, and paint. and visit some indoor playgrounds during long winter months. I also make LOTS of use of free preschool printables online. Chores appropriate to age are another great “game” around our apartment.

  3. Jennifer July 9, 2018

    We lived in the Philippines when my boys were pre schoolers, I relate! We also loved the sensory rice bin! We used it with matchbox diggers.
    As far as large scale painting, our tile floors were terracotta colored and turned darker when wet so I used to let them “paint” with a mop!
    I think the craziest thing I did was let my boys mix their own “cement”. I used some leftover morter plus extra dirt and rocks. That made it weaker and then I let them break it apart with a hammer outside on the patio.

  4. Sarah Moulding July 11, 2018

    We used to live in an apartment in La Paz, instead of rice as a sensory bin we used dried maize as is was a bit easier to clear up than rice, and occasionally added some pasta for a change. Friends of ours had a small trampoline which helped to burn off some of the excess energy their child had. When our daughter was a little older we began homeschooling so did a lot of unit studies which helped to vary the activities we did.

  5. Meegie July 15, 2018

    A few of our crazy ideas….
    -Kid sized pop up tents are super cheap where we’re at…. for whatever reason corn kernels, rice, or oatmeal in the bottom with toys buys me at least an hour. Easy cleanup (as long as your kids don’t hop in and out)…. just pour the stuff back into a container for next time or straight in the trash.

    -We dumped leftover flour all over our bathroom floor, put swimsuits on, and let the kids play “beach”. There was literally flour everywhere (especially their hair!), but what I couldn’t sweep up on the floor got hosed into the squatty potty. This gave me a whole afternoon of peace on like day 3 of “when daddy’s away”…

    -Gather all your sock bundles and play “Snowball” fight

    -Google “Minute to Win It” games for a bunch of easy setup fun

    -And this is a bit old school, but a sheet fort (bonus, add in a movie)

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