We are a Russian-Canadian-American family of five – Tania and Dima (both 31 years old), Nina (6 years old), Alex (4 years old) and Anna (1.5 years old). Both Tania and Dima were born in Russia, moved to Montreal, Canada when they were 8 years old and associate with Montreal as the “place we grew up in”. This is also where we met and got married. After finishing university, Dima got a job offer in Charleston, South Carolina and at 25 years old we both moved to the United States. This is where all our kids were born. We live in a separate house about 25 minutes outside of downtown Charleston in a middle-class residential neighborhood with quiet streets, a community pool and many other families with small children. In our spare time, we like to explore the bike trails in the nearby woods, go to the beach, spend time with our friends and inventing new games with the kids. We speak exclusively Russian at home, but our two oldest kids also speak English as they interact a lot with the local kids as well.
What kind of toys do your kids like to play with?
Nina (6 years old) – some of her favourite activities right now are drawing and making bracelets/necklaces with beads. So her favourite toys are pencils, markers, crayons and beads. She also loves to climb as high as possible (on trees, statues, etc). We are currently building a treehouse in our back yard for this purpose. On weekends, she likes to play with dolls/small animals and inventing stories with them. Most often, she plays that with Alex. Alex (4 years old) – he loves building stuff. Any type of building blocks would do. We also have an electrical circuit building set that he loves building circuits out of. He loves playing catch with balls, balloons etc. And he also likes to be with Nina and play with her. Anna (1.5 years old) – she loves being outside. Exploring her walking skills, playing in a sandbox, splashing in water. She wants to draw like Nina, but she cannot stay within the bounds of the paper, so the table and floor in the kids room is very colorful! Although Nina can read at a beginner level in both English and Russian she still prefers for us to read to her rather than reading herself. All kids like flipping through picture books and encyclopedias though.
What are the local snacks for kids?
We prefer fruits, vegetables and nuts. Crackers are probably most common when I look at what other parents give their kids.
Do you cook for children?
Absolutely! We cook at home 95% of the time and would sometimes go to a restaurant for a meal. Nina would sometimes help with cutting vegetables, but Alex is the one most interested in cooking (especially when we’re baking cookies!)
What are the roles of parents in your country? What duties do belong to mother and to father?
Hard to say, since all the families we know are so different. A lot of times the father would be the one bringing income and the mother would stay home with the children (this is our case). Some mothers work part-time, while others work full time leaving their kids in daycare or with a babysitter. Quite a few mothers homeschool their children as the homeschooling laws in South Carolina are pretty easy to follow with a lot of liberty given to the parent.
Can you say something more about homeschooling in the USA?
Homeschooling is very different depending on which state you are in. In some of the “high regulation states” like New York, it is necessary to submit a learning plan and quarterly assessments. New York requires the parents to submit a quarterly report. According to HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) this report should include the number of hours of instruction during the quarter, a description of the material covered in each subject, and a grade or narrative evaluation in each subject. An annual exam is also required, but can be administered at home. Parents need to provide an immunization record as well. (Some parents decide to homeschool their kids because they are against vaccines, but it wouldn’t be possible in states like New York.) There are also states where there is no notice required for homeschooling your child (Texas, for example). You just don’t take him to school. They say you need to teach your child math, reading, spelling and grammar and have some sort of curriculum, but there are no “exams” or other assessments for your child. South Carolina, where we live, is somewhere in between. There are different options for homeschooling your child in our state. One option is more like New York. You contact the school that is in your district, say your child will be homeschooled, but still associated with that school. So you do all the learning at home and the child goes to school for tests and exams. The easier option is to adhere to a homeschooling group and follow their curriculum. You need to keep records of your child’s work and send it for semi-annual review by some board (talking to some homeschoolers, they have no idea if this actually gets reviewed).
Does the country help families with kids?
Daycare is generally pretty expensive and the only way the government helps is that you can get a tax break if both parents work full-time and have to place their child in daycare. But that is really not a lot of money. Once the kids get to public school (which they start at the age of 5), education is free.
Do you vaccinate your children? If so, against what? Is it mandatory to vaccinate kids?
We follow the doctors’ advice and vaccinate our children. Not sure if the list is complete, but this is the list of vaccines that I know they have received: Hepatitis B, MMR, Prevnar (rotavirus), Chicken pox, T-Dap. Vaccination is not mandatory, but some vaccines are required for the child if they are going to school. Families that are against vaccination usually homeschool their children.
Is it safe to travel with a child in the USA? Do you think your country is friendly for families with kids? What are the local tourists attractions for families?
Traveling with kids in the USA is very easy as long as you have a car (a car is really mandatory if you want to get around in the US unless you’re in a big city). When traveling by car, there are always places to stop, rest areas, playgrounds, grocery stores to buy food and other attractions. As far as safety, I have never felt threatened or insecure about my safety or my kids’ safety. Just use common sense and teach your kids about safety, how to interact with strangers, etc. People in the US are generally very welcoming and helpful, especially in the southern states like the one we live in. Overall, if you’re not afraid of driving long distances, the US is a great place to travel with kids. Charleston, which is the city we live in is well known for being one of the oldest in America (founded in 1670) with some beautiful colonial architecture. It is also where the American civil war started in 1861. So a lot of families visit Charleston for those reasons. The coast has plenty of beaches and the water is pretty warm starting in May and really warm from June to August. September and October are a bit cooler, but you can still swim comfortably. In the northern part of the state, there are a lot of state parks at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. There are plenty of hiking trails, waterfalls and campsites to stay in.