We came to Romania with only the essentials in toys – Lego and Duplo, a few Barbies, favorite dress-up clothes and a favorite stuffed animal. I wondered how the children would entertain themselves in their new environment. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.
1. The girls, ages 6 and 4, spend inordinate amounts of time drawing and coloring on blank paper. I once asked an artist friend what I could do to cultivate their interest in art, thinking she would recommend a class or lessons. She said the best thing for children is to keep the paper and writing utensils out and available for use anytime. In the U.S., we had a table in the guest room that remained consistently cluttered, the kind of clutter that inspires art. Piles of paper, crayons, pencils and markers, glue, scissors and tape were always at the ready. The kids would walk in the room, see everything ‘ready,’ and get to work.
In Romania, we only have one table indoors. At one end sits the paper and crayons, always at the ready. But we’ve also discovered something new that has encouraged their artistic bent – online drawing tutorials. Namely, we have discovered artforkidshub.com. I don’t take a reliable and cheap ($12/month for internet and cable) internet connection for granted and we take full advantage of it. Art For Kids Hub has hundreds of tutorials. The artist, a dad, sits next to his kid and teaches simple drawing. Some tutorials are even geared for children ages five and under. The viewer watches from a birds-eye perspective while the dad moves at a pace suitable for young children, with a cheery disposition and encouraging words spoken thoughout. I like it because my girls see the teacher’s art, but they also watch a student try to emulate the teacher, with results much more consistent with what they might be experiencing on this side of the screen. From minions to ballerinas to dolphins and sock monkeys, my kids have spent hours drawing and have begin incorporating things they’ve learned, such as how to shade eyes, into their independent art.
2. This month we discovered the best use for old or single socks – Barbie clothes. Little P (age 6) cuts holes and sews old socks onto her Barbies. She helps Little Peanut (age 4) do the same. I have been continually surprised by their designs and fashion sense. They definitely didn’t get that from me.
3. The children have begun to participate in more adults forms of occupying time. Dare I call them hobbies? They are learning to bake. In the United States, a more structured schedule, without many sequential hours not filled with planned activities, limited the types of things we could do without being rushed. If I wanted to bake something quick I did not involve the children. Here, with hours a free time, they spend more time in the kitchen with me. Little P can now make a batter for muffins on her own. Between the two girls, half the batter gets eaten before it’s in the muffin tin. I join her in the kitchen when the muffin tin needs to be greased, filled and put in the oven. She also enjoys making fruit salad.
4. We watch TV together. Television time used to be ‘mommy-needs-some-time-alone’ time. They got their 30 minutes of entertainment and mommy got a free babysitter. They still get their 30 minute show to watch when they’ve finished their English homeschool (they attend Romanian school in the mornings), but sometimes we watch cooking shows together. The cooking cable channel here screens shows from Australia, Canada, the U.K., other EU countries and even the occassional Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart. Frequently the shows are culinary travelogues as Luke Nguyen (Australian show) travels France and fuses Vietnamese and French cooking or David Rocco (Canadian show) travels to India and fuses Italian and Indian cooking. With their newfound love and greater understanding of cooking processes (since they participate in cooking with me in the kitchen), the girls are interested in what’s happening on the show and the ingredients and presentation. We discuss as we view and, on more than one ocassion, Little P has hopped off the couch, run to the kitchen and started making something inspired by a show.
5. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my two-year-old boy. No new revelations here, just confirming what everyone already know. Little boys are content with cars, sticks and unfettered access to the outdoors. With a large, secure yard, Little Man walks around outside in his wellies, a matchbox car in one hand and a stick in the other. He’s in toddler heaven.