Author Archives: Maria Clements

Big Kids Need Interaction Too

Just because a child is old enough to occupy themselves, doesn’t mean that they should be expected to do so the majority of the time.  Host families have a certain expectation of activity and involvement for their children. Get the kids engaged and active. You can be more fun than the TV or a video game.

But, my kids don’t want to do anything but watch TV or play video games.

Instead of saying,  “Would you like to (fill in the blank with any activity)?  The answer will often be, “No.”

Try this, “Now we are going to (fill in the blank with any activity.) or “Would you rather do  _____ or ______?”  Make sure both the choices are good options.
Your chances of co-operation are greatly increased. Even kids who are reluctant to try new things will usually get in the spirit of things and have fun if you pick a good activity.

I don’t know what to do with school-age kids.

Look for ideas online. Google “activities school-age kids” or “activities tweens”. You can also take part in an au pair webinar on this topic. Below is a list of some ideas to get you started.

  • Cooking
  • Making things (check craft stores like Michael’s for kits and models that are age-appropriate)
  • Going to fun places (pottery painting, jewelry making, farms, museums, mini-golf, go-karts)*
  • Sports (soccer, tennis, swimming, bicycling, roller skating, ice skating)*
  • Let them teach you to do something they enjoy. Kids this age love being the expert.
  • Get outdoors and visit local parks.* You can even make a project of reviewing all the local parks (what kind of equipment they have, is there shade, water fountain?)  They can write this up and keep it so they remember which ones they want to go to again and which ones to skip in the future.
  • Let them help you search and plan some activities.
  • Check on the APIA Pinterest page and here on our cluster blog for ideas.
  • If you have a GPS, try taking them geocaching. Here is a website with all the details.
  • Use technology to get them off the couch and sneak in some exercise. The phone app Pokémon Go includes activities that are unlocked by taking steps. There are Pokéstops and gyms at many places they might enjoy going for walks like parks, nature trails, walk/bike paths, and downtown areas.

*Always get permission from your host parents before taking the kids places and remember to follow social distancing and mask-wearing protocols.

Visiting Baltimore by Train

If you want to visit Baltimore but are worried about driving, the MARC train is a great option. Here is some information on how you can enjoy visiting Baltimore via public transportation. Prices and info are accurate as of January 16, 2023. Please check the links to verify prices and schedules before you go.

Getting from DC to Baltimore
The MARC Train Penn Line runs from Union Station (DC) to Baltimore Penn Station. Cost for a one-way ticket ($7-9). Considering the cost of gas and parking in the city, if you drive, makes the train a pretty good deal. Fares & How to Purchase Ticket

View the schedules here –> Weekend Penn Line & Weekday Penn Line

On Saturdays, there are currently running 9 trains from about 8:55 am (1st train northbound from DC) to about 9:15 pm (last train southbound from Baltimore.)  On Sundays, there are currently running 6 trains from about 10:25 am (1st train northbound from DC) to about 6:00 pm (last train southbound from Baltimore.) It is very important to be sure of the time of the final train back from Baltimore to DC. 

On Weekdays, the MARC Penn Line runs from about 5:40 am (1st train northbound from DC) to about 9:35 pm (last train southbound from Baltimore.) All you need to do is to take the Metro Red Line to Union Station and get on the MARC Penn Line there.

Free Way to Get Around Baltimore 

Baltimore offers a FREE Charm City Circulator service that features 4 shuttle bus lines and 1 water taxi line. The shuttle buses run about every 10-20 minutes, (depending on the line). The hours are Monday-Thursday: 7 am-8 pm, Friday: 7 am-12 midnight, Saturday: 9 am-12 midnight, Sunday: 9 am-8 pm.  Visit the website here to view the maps and schedules: Charm City Circulator 

To visit the Inner Harbor take the Purple Line from Baltimore Penn Station to stop #302 – S. Calvert St. & W. Pratt St.

Creating Ice Lanterns & Wreaths

With winter break and the longest nights of the year approaching, try a magical project that will wow your entire family – ice lanterns and wreaths.  Depending on the ages of your children, decide if a simple or more labor intensive project is in order.

For the younger ones, try filling a balloon up partially with water and freeze.  After an hour or so, adjust your icy orb to coax some of the remaining liquid up  the sides. Once solid, remove the balloon to reveal a vessel that will make Queen Elsa swoon.

Conversely  select an aluminum pie pan or plastic take-away tray and fill it with water.  Arrange cranberries, pine boughs and sliced oranges then freeze.  If you wish to make a hole in the ice to hang your creation, heat the tip of a skewer and carefully push it though the ice before suspending outside.

Finally try filling a bucket or large container with water. Carefully tape a mason jar down to displace the water (or alternatively try using a bundt pan) and freeze. Once solid, remove the containers and add a candle or small light and enjoy! More detailed  instructions can be found here.

For other unique craft project ideas, check out our Pinterest page!

Card Games for Kids of All Ages

I have wonderful memories of playing cards as a young child.  I was captivated as a 4-year-old when I first learned to play Fish. The way my older cousin shuffled the deck seemed like magic.  And then there was the overwhelming anticipation followed by horror if I unknowingly selected the Old Maid from the person next to me.  I couldn’t get rid of her fast enough.  Whether you have preschoolers or teens at home, here are 6 simple card games that everybody loves .


Prep a standard deck of cards by removing one queen card and shuffling the deck. Deal out all the cards to all the players until there are none left. Players remove the pairs in their hands. The dealer fans out his cards in his hands and offers his hand to the player on his left. That player selects one and adds it to her own hand. Any matches are removed. The process continues around and around the circle until everything is paired up except the queen. Whoever is left with it at the end of the game is the Old Maid!


The goal here is to get four of a kind. Deal out seven cards to each player. If you have seven or more players, use five cards a piece. Put the remaining cards in a deck in the center. Player 1 picks any other player to ask if he has the card she’s looking for – e.g., “Do you have any threes?” Hand over the cards if you’ve got them or tell the person to “Go Fish” for a card in the pile. As soon as you find four of a kind, put them face up on the table. Whoever runs out of cards first is the winner.


This game of luck can be totally addictive for kids. Divide the deck evenly among the two players. Each player turns over the top card on her deck at the same time. Whoever has the higher card takes both cards and puts them at the bottom of her stack. If the cards are the same, then it’s war! Each player counts out three cards (face down) and the next card is shown. Whoever has the higher card wins all the cards.


This game, played with UNO cards or a standard pack of playing cards, has one goofy twist: eights rule! Deal seven cards out to each person in a two-player game, or five cards for games with three or four players. The remaining cards go in a draw pile, and one card is turned over to start the play pile. The player to the dealer’s left must match the card’s number or suit from the face-up pile. A player who does not have a match may play an eight and change the suit to anything they wish. A player who has neither a match nor an eight must draw until he gets a card that can be played. The first to discard all their cards wins.


Turn a standard deck of cards into a game of concentration. Shuffle the deck, laying the cards out in rows, and hunting for “matches” of the red kings, black threes, and so forth. For little ones, use just the two red suits for a more manageable set.


This is a fun, super simple two-player game for the small fries. Place the deck between you and your child. Each of you grabs a card without peaking at it and places it on your forehead so that your opponent can see it, but you can’t. Have your little one guess if their own card is higher or lower than yours. If they’re right, they take the pair. If they’re wrong, it’s yours. Take turns and work your way through the deck. The person with the most cards at the end is the winner.

Preparing for Cold Weather

We’re at that time of year when temperatures in the District start dropping a bit. It can be 70°F (21°C) one day and 40°F (4°C) the next. With this fickle weather, many people begin to opt for indoor activities instead of outdoor ones. But there may be times when COVID case numbers are high and you just might want to be outdoors to minimize your risk of getting sick.

A wise Scandinavian once said…

If you come from a warmer climate this may sound impossible. Over the years I have noticed that the temperature difference is much easier on those who have a gradual adjustment. It allows your body time to adapt to the lower temperatures.  So, that’s the great news for all of you who are already here! Your body is already getting adjusted, so give your mind a chance to stay open to enjoying the outdoors too.

The next thing to do is get yourself the proper clothing and accessories. Start shopping for cold weather clothing: sweater, coat, gloves, hat, scarf, long underwear & boots. Ask your host family if they have some you can use and then start looking out for sales and checking thrift shops for the rest. Take a look at what you already have and think of ways to layer it. A long sleeve t-shirt under a sweatshirt may be as warm as a jacket. A pair of leggings or tights under a pair of jeans adds a lot of warmth.

It may also help to remind yourself that people in other parts of the U.S. and other countries experience much colder temperatures than we do here and still embrace the outdoors.

Pick your activities carefully. If you are sitting next to a fire pit or doing physical activity you will feel warmer. When you take the kids to the playground or out in the snow, don’t just sit on the bench and watch. You will feel warmer and have more fun if you are actively involved and enjoying a brisk day outside.

Poison Prevention and Treatment

When we think of dangerous poisons, items like rat poisoning or insecticides often come to mind.  But according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), the vast majority of poisoning cases involve common medications or household products – items that we use every day.

Managing an incident of potential poisoning greatly depends on the amount of exposure and the type of substance that has been ingested. If you ever suspect any kind of poisoning, US Poison Control is here to help. Do not wait for symptoms to appear. Support is available online or by phone at 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, expert, and confidential.

The top 5 toxicity queries made to US Poison Control each year are:

  1. Analgesics – pain relievers like acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (found in Advil and other products).
  2. Household Cleaning Products – including dish and laundry detergents (keep those colorful pods out of reach).
  3. Cosmetic and Personal Care Products – lipsticks, lotions, and other cosmetics, along with products containing fluoride, hand sanitizers and mouthwashes containing alcohol.
  4. Sedatives, Hypnotics and Antidepressants – of particular concern are benzodiazepines, which are sedatives like Valium and Xanax.
  5. Foreign Objects – think toys, silica gel packets, pen caps, glow sticks, button batteries (they can leak chemicals), sharp objects like a pin or nail, and magnets (which can damage tissue when they adhere to each other inside the body).

If you ever suspect a poisoning, remember these general guidelines:

  • Swallowed poisons: Don’t eat or drink anything before calling the Poison Control Center. Do not try to make the person throw up or give them syrup of ipecac.
  • Inhaled poisons: Get to fresh air right away. Open doors and windows to ventilate the area.
  • Poisons on the skin: Remove contaminated clothing and rinse the skin with water for 10 minutes.
  • Poison in the eye: Flush the eye for 15 minutes using a large cup filled with lukewarm water held 2-4 inches from the eye.
  • AND be sure to call 911 immediately: if a person stops breathing, collapses, or has a seizure.

Educational Apps that will Excite Everyone

Looking for some new ways to take in the great outdoors?  Here are 3 free phone apps that will make a walk in the park no less than exciting. Merlin Bird Call will help you to identify every bird you hear or see. PictureThis – Plant Identifier does an awesome job at identifying each flower, tree or plant along the trail. And SkyView Lite teaches stargazing to everyone. Simply point your phone at the sky to identify stars, constellations, satellites, and more. All 3 are available on the app store.  Before long, your family will think you have super powers.

Stopping for School Busses

With schools in session and many new au pairs who have recently arrived, I wanted to remind everyone about what to do in different situations with school buses. If you have questions, please ask me or your host parents.

The rules regarding stopping for school buses are:

  • It is against the law to pass a stopped school bus while its lights are flashing and its’ stop arm is extended.
  • On undivided roadways, with no physical barrier or median, vehicles must stop on both sides of the roadway.
  • Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
  • Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and children are getting on or off. Motorists approaching from either direction must wait until the red lights stop flashing before proceeding.

Police, who observe a motorist failing to stop and remain stopped for a school bus, can issue the violator a citation which carries a $570.00 fine and 3 points. There are also cameras on buses and the camera-generated fine is $125. Drivers failing to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk can be issued a citation for $80.00, and drivers failing to exercise due caution when encountering children can be issued a citation for $70.00.

For more information you can visit the DC Government website.