Things I found helpful with orphan hosting

father of fatherless hospitalityThere’s no sense or order to this, and others out there probably have better ideas and definitely more experience, but I needed a good place to put things I want to remember for later.
Many of these resources are definitely specific to kids from Russia or Ukraine. Some are specific to orphans. Others could be used in general for any situation where somebody who doesn’t speak your language is in your house for a while.=)

This Russian Bible story site.

Youtube– the global gospel videos of Bible stories- esp handy because they have English subtitles if you want them.

The Jesus movie (in many different languages and the paid for app itranslate. Useful because the kids from the orphanages are often not good spellers, or they are too young to spell well consistently, so you can use the microphone and just let the kids speak into it. Not perfect, because the translator will still mess up, or they may pronounce things differently than the translator has been programmed to understand, but still, immensely useful. Our boys called it the ‘blah blah blah,’ and were very comfortable using it, but we did hear of some children who, for whatever reason, were too shy or embarrassed or something and wouldn’t speak aloud into it.

Also helpful, reverse translate to see if what you get back makes any kind of sense. This is very important or you may find yourself telling the young teen boy to remember to take his birth control pills when you meant to remind him to take his medicine. Be flexible, use caveman sentences, use nouns rather than pronouns, use synonymns, keep in mind that many English proper names are also English verbs (Mark, Bill, Will, Skip, Nick, Rob, Wade, Ward, Josh, etc, and so will play havoc with translations), and be liberal with pictures and gestures.

Games such as Uno Card Game, SKIP BO Card Game, Jenga Classic Game, Connect 4 Game, Dutch Blitz, go fish, and memory games. At first, just play- when they play a wild card, they can point to the colour, but as play goes on, give them the English where required, and later, ask them to repeat. But there’s not not a lot of language needed for those games.

We also enjoyed an old memory game we had that we turned into go fish and English practice. The pictures on our memory game are every day items, apples, bananas, balls, bikes, car, motorcycle, horse, dog, plate- just random stuff. The first few times we played I let the boys show me the picture, and I said the word for them, then they had to say the word after me, and finally, they had to come up with the English word on their own. Make it more competitive by having them teach you the word in their language, and you have the same requirement. You can make your own by getting two sets of flashcards like this: Picture Words Flash Cards
You can laminate them. I intend to flip them all face down, spray paint the backs in a solid colour, and maybe then spray paint again with a clear finish/sealer. There are various sets, for toddlers, for foreign language. If they have pictures of common objects (or activities that might be used in conversation, then they work.

We had fun with Simon Electronic Carabiner Hand-Held Memory Game in the car on the long drive from the airport.

Family photo album- useful for language practice and work on names, especially between, say, an English speaker and somebody from an Eastern European or Asian country where names are very dissimilar. It’s hard to remember first names in many cases, and it’s awkward to practice and review face to face.  However, be sensitive about this if you are orphan hosting.  Orphans are probably not interested and not encouraged by seeing photographs of your parents, grandparents, and extended happy family.  What our boys did enjoy was seeing pictures of the people they knew as babies- they liked to see baby and childhood pictures of the FYB and FYG especially, as they were closest in age, and also the HM and me.

Almost any movie can be educational and useful for language learning if you turn on the English subtitles (or Spanish, or Korean, whatever the new language is). Talk about it (briefly, don’t turn it into a test)

Online movies:
Masha and the Bear- oh, my goodness, these are darling and enjoyable for parents and kids alike. Just check youtube. There are some in English, but really, you don’t need the English:

Sources for Ukrainian or Russian:
These are voice over (with annoying ads):…rsnja.html

Russian, maybe better sound, also with ads, but not quite so bad:

Thumbs up, thumbs down: most people know this. I found it helpful when presenting the children with food to taste.

Food: Orphans typically have food issues.  They have known what it is to be hungry and unaware of when their next meal will be.  Also, it’s just awkward to be in somebody else’s house where you do not speak the language and are unsure of yourself or the customs.

I set out a small buffet of healthy snacks on the kitchen island every day- I swapped things around as I discovered their likes and dislikes. I used a disposable deviled egg container somebody else had left at the house.  Our kitchen was cold enough I did not need ice, but if I had, I would have put that over a bowl of ice.  In the various egg compartments I tried: pickles, olives, carrots, celery, radishes, cucumbers, cubed cheese, sausage, pickled eggs, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, green onions, beets.  I also had a  basket of basic fruit- bananas, apples, oranges, pears.  The deviled egg platter was perfect, containing just enough space in each compartment for maybe half a dozen samples of the same food.  I set it out after breakfast and checked again at lunch, whisking away the things nobody had liked, and replenishing things they did.

I also learned to leave out a couple other things- I made a big batch of pancakes every morning and left the uneaten ones out, and the boys often grabbed one when they came in from biking.  I made some cheese sandwiches one day that they turned up their noses over, but I found when I left them out, they snacked on them the rest of the day (these sandwiches: whip egg whites into stiff peaks.  Combine egg yolks, grated cheese, sharp mustard in a separate bowl.  Gently combine, spoon over bread- hamburger buns, english muffins, rye or pumpernickel)- spreading to edges.  Broil for a few minutes, watching closely.  Cheese mixture will get puffy and golden.  Remove when golden.  I add green chiles or green olives to the cheese mixture for us, depending on what I have, but for the boys I just left them plain)

Quickly discover something inexpensive that they really like and try to have some of that at every meal so there is always something they can eat.  Traveling overseas is really hard on anybody, culture shock is real, and even the most willing experimental eater sometimes just craves something simple and homely.

If you are orphan hosting, likely your organization will give you loads of helpful information, ideas, and experience.  But be flexible.  Our boys actually liked almost none of the foods we were told they would love, with just one or two exceptions.  We had almost none of the issues we were warned would come up (with one or two exceptions), but we did have a couple issues we weren’t really prepared for- this is because children are born persons, they are individuals, and while you can say that, for instance, that Americans like hamburgers and hotdogs and pizza, you cannot say this is true of every single one of us.


Flexibility is key to everything you do in orphan hosting.


 flexibility orphan hosting

Have a planned list in the back of your head of things to do- whether you have a schedule or not, have some ideas in back up for those moments when you really need to change the direction of the day. Also, keep some things in reserve for moments when you need to redirect them in a big way. Some things I found useful:
A small box of magnets, paperclips, and various small things to move around with magnets
one of those water-colour colouring books where the paint is on the page, you just need a q tip or paint brush and water
cookie dough in the fridge to roll out and cut with cookie cutters
a bird feeder to install
magnifying glass
cleaning out your junk drawer
cookies to make from scratch- the electric mixer was hugely popular
a project you need help with- moving something, lifting- my boys liked to help me, and enjoyed the feeling that I needed their help. So this worked well for me- sweeping and asking them to move a couch or chair, carrying a load of laundry up or down the stairs.
Things I kept in reserve and brought out at the last minute- jump ropes, hula hoops, a rebounder, frisby, going for a walk, and a couple of times a last minute trip to a park.

Origami and duct tape crafts and legos held no interest for my guys- they were more physical. One of them did like puzzles, easy ones, about two dozen pieces. And that one liked to draw if I was drawing with him.

He could not be left alone almost ever, which really made my day rough if I was unable to get up in time to get myself and the Cherub dressed before everybody else left for the day. I found this app for my cell phone invaluable- I could lock him into some educational games for English practice and trust him to sit with the phone on the couch for fifteen minutes while I scrambled to get the Cherub up and out.

It’s hard work. We loved our experience, but it was exhausting. We also had kids who were basically pretty happy to be with us, even though they had their moments. Ours were basically good-natured kids at heart. Not all kids are like that. Some are grouchy, just like us. Some are unable to cope with the change after all, and they had no way of knowing that ahead of time. Some find the change so hard to deal with that they pull in and shut you out. Some seem miserable, but actually are thrilled. We heard all kinds of stories from other host families.

Most important- it’s not about you. It’s about them.

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