Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kids in the Kvartira

As you know, I'm living in an apartment (kvartira po-russki) in Moscow with a family, including two young children. Russian kids, as far as I can tell, are the same as kids everywhere. But in Russian culture (or at least in our kvartira) I've noticed some quirks in the way kids are raised.

My observations include: (1) They drink a lot of milk. Are kids really supposed to drink so much milk? I don't think American kids drink quite this much milk. (2) The kids are not allowed to eat or drink anything cold, because it will (supposedly) give them a sore throat. That means no ice cream. Ever. Really? Even when it was 100 degrees and muggy in Moscow over the summer?? Nope, never.** (3) Kids are, however, allowed to drink tea. But no alcohol. Nope, no vodka, pivo or wine for the little 'uns.

Hmmm... non-food-related stuff is harder, since kids' lives seem to revolve around eating and sleeping and running around the apartment screaming at the top of their lungs.

One interesting thing is that school doesn't start here until kids are about 7 years old. Seven!! Kindergarten is not mandatory and is not at all like it is in the US, where kindergarten is our first year of school. Russian kindergarten is more like our daycare and kids can go there from about age two until they start school. My kids (that is, the kids I live with) are about 3 and 4 and a half years old and they don't go to kindergarten. Instead they have a nanny that takes care of them during the day while their parents are at work. In the US, I always associate nannies with posh rich people, but here nannies seem to be more common. I mean, the family I live with is definitely not posh and rich (though smart and nice!). Olya, their nanny, is also really nice and cool, but I'll blog about her some other time.

Olya usually takes Tanya and Gosha outside in the middle of the day to play in a playground for a few hours, except when it's raining. Just a few weeks ago they also started going to lessons in things like drawing, singing, and dancing. At home they play with toys, ride around on a little bike or scooter, and watch a lot of cartoons.

Toys here seem to be the same as in the US. Russians also socialize their kids early on with "gender appropriate" toys -- guns and trucks for boys, dolls and mini household items for girls -- and behaviors pattern accordingly. So Gosha, the little boy, is fascinated with trains and other vehicles and Tanya, the little girl, dresses in pink and wants to be pretty. (Yes, yes, I'm hinting at a lot more than just toys☺)

It's interesting to live with kids -- not just Russian kids but kids in general -- because of all the things I never realized before about children. For example, I didn't know that kids cry so often. I think they cry every day. They cry when they're tired. They cry when they don't get to eat what they want or play with what they want. They wake up crying in the middle of the night. One minute they're laughing and happy and the next minute they're crying for no apparent reason. It's a roller coaster ride of emotions!

I also never realized the many things kids need to be taught how to do that they can't just do automatically. Like holding a fork. Or coloring. I didn't realize how hard it is to color within the lines. But as I watched Tanya and Gosha painstakingly attempt to color a simple tree and sun I understood that coloring in the lines is a skill that takes time to learn.

I often have difficulty understanding Tanya and Gosha when they talk. Sometimes it's because they say things that are so non sequitur to my mind that I can't even place the sounds with any kind of potential meaning. Another problem for me is kids' pronunciation. Neither Tanya nor Gosha seem to be able to pronounce a certain set of sounds (a subset of fricatives), such as "sh" -- similar to English ship -- and "zh" -- sort of like the sound we make in English when pronouncing the "g" in mirage. These sounds are in a lot of Russian words and I have to ask them to repeat what they say over and over again since they'll often pronounce, for example, 'car': masina and not mashina, or 'yellow': zolty and not zholty, and so on.

And those are my impressions of Russian kids so far. Well, at least of two of them.

** I bet you're wondering how they drink all that milk then, eh?


Sandra said...

NO ICE CREAM on a HOT DAY???? That seems definitely unreasonable! So sad... so sad....

Christine said...

I agree. No ice cream is just cruel. I found this blog very interesting. I guess, mostly, it seems kids are kids. I am interested in the different expectations about school. I have a FB friend living in London. There, I guess many, many kids are reading by 4. Funny how differently different cultures approach this. Are Russian cartoons funny? We've moved on from Dora to Sponge Bob. You might not believe this, but I'm pretty happy about it.