Author Archives: Christine Connally

Fall Traditions: Decorating Pumpkins

A treasured fall/Halloween tradition in the United States is pumpkin carving or making “jack-o’-lanterns”. Whether this is your first time decorating a pumpkin or you are a seasoned pro, these videos have a few tips and ideas you may find helpful.

How do I make it safe for the children? If you are carving a pumpkin with your host child(ren), remember to be very careful with them around sharp tools. You can purchase kid-safe pumpkin carving tools that cut without a sharp blade. If you don’t have those, let kids help with all of the tasks that don’t involve a knife such as: picking the pumpkin, scooping out the insides, choosing the design and adding any other decorative touches. You can buy or print pumpkin templates online and school aged kids can use a thumbtack to mark the pattern on the pumpkin. Here you can find a free template and instructions on how to do this.

How long do they last? Carved jack-o-lanterns begin to deteriorate after just a few days outside (depending on the weather). Temperatures over 60˚F (15˚C), rain, and freezing then thawing all make them rot more quickly. So, if you want your pumpkin to be fresh on the big night, don’t carve it more than a few days before Halloween and/or keep it in a cool place.

Check out Au Pair in America’s Halloween Fun Pinterest board and our Fall Bucket List for more fall traditions and activities to try.

Here are video readings of two of my favorite pumpkin stories.

Image: Jeff Kramer

Preparing for Cold Weather

We’re in that time of year where Maryland temperatures start dipping a little lower. It can be 70°F (21°C) one day and 40°F (4°C) the next. This is a time when many people begin to opt for indoor activities instead of outdoor ones. As the pandemic continues, we may be rethinking that this year. CDC guidelines state that outdoor gatherings and activities are generally safer than indoor ones.

There is a Scandinavian saying about this…

If you come from a warmer climate this may sound impossible to you. 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 adjust to the lower temperatures. So, that’s the good news for all of you who are already here. Your body is already getting adjusted, give your mind a chance to stay open to enjoying the outdoors.

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 and are still able to enjoy 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 sit on the bench and watch. You will feel warmer and have more fun if you are actively involved and having fun with them.

If you have tips on enjoying the cold weather, please share them!

CONTEST: The first au pair in our cluster to message Christine or Lisa with their favorite cold weather activity will win a prize!

Image: Canva.com

Fun Fall Activity Ideas

Looking for fun fall activities to do with your kids?

Check out Au Pair in America’s Halloween FunFall Holidays pinboards on Pinterest.

Looking for even more fun fall activities, to do on your own, with friends, and/or with your host family?

Print out our Fall Bucket List full of fun fall traditions and activities to try.

pumpkin patch

Photo: Angela Severn (Flickr)

October is Fire Prevention Month

October is Fire Prevention Month. This is a great reminder to make sure you and your host kids know how to prevent fires and how to escape a house fire.

Control Kids’ Access to Fire

  • Keep all matches and lighters out of the hands of children. If possible, keep these sources of fire in locked drawers. Consider buying only “child-proof” lighters—but be aware that no product is completely child-proof.
  • Children as young as two years old can strike matches and start fires.
  • Never leave children unattended near operating stoves or burning candles, even for a short time.
  • Teach children not to pick up matches or lighters they may find. Instead, they should tell an adult immediately.

Fire Safety at Home

  • Smoke alarms should be installed on every level of the home, especially near sleeping areas.
  • Smoke alarms should be kept clean of dust by regularly vacuuming over and around them.
  • Replace batteries in smoke alarms at least once a year. And replace the entire unit after ten years of service, or as the manufacturer recommends.
  • Families should plan and practice two escape routes from each room of their home.

Tip: Make sure children know not to hide in the event of a fire. Explain that firefighters wear lots of equipment to protect them from the fire and smoke. Show them some pictures of how firefighters look in their gear and explain that they don’t need to be afraid of them.

Photo: Dawn Endico

Avoid Falling Victim to Scammers

There are always people out there who are looking for ways to trick people out of their money and personal information. Below I will explain some scams and how to protect yourself.

 

SCAM #1 – Calls asking for your PIN, password, personal information or payment.

  • Your bank will not call you and ask you for your PIN number or password.
  • IRS and Social Security Administration will not ask you for payment or personal info over the phone. Government agencies usually handle issues like this by sending a letter.
  • The number shown on the caller ID can be manipulated, don’t take that as a sign that a call is legitimate.

What to do? Whenever you are in doubt, hang up and call the bank (or company) directly using a number you already have for them.

SCAM #2 – Email asking you to click a link to verify your personal information or share your password or PIN.

  • Be very suspicious of emails asking you to click links.
  • Scammers are very good at creating official-looking emails and web pages.

What to do? Whenever you are in doubt, go directly to the website (not using the link in the email).

SCAM #3 – You see an offer online telling you to send them some money and they will double it or a pop-up ad says that you have won a great prize and just need to give them your information.

  • When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

What to do? Do not give your personal information or any money to people you don’t know.

SCAM #4– You receive a call and you are told to stay on the phone while you go transfer or withdraw money from the bank and if you don’t you will be arrested or your bank account seized.

  • They are using the idea that this is an urgent situation to make you act quickly without thinking to avoid the consequence they have told you.

What to do? Do not follow their instructions.

Whenever you are in doubt, do not do as the caller or email asks. Check with your host parents or community counselor.

One last note on protecting your personal information…

It is very important to keep your social security number private. 

There are very few situations where you will need to share this (bank, IRS, department of motor vehicles). Those are times you are taking an action and need to provide it. At other times, leave your Social Security card safe at home. There is not a legitimate time where someone would be calling you on the phone or emailing you asking for that number.

Image: Canva.com

Where to Get Your Flu Shot

Many au pairs and host families are looking for places to get flu shots this time of year. Au Pair insurance does not cover immunizations, but there are lots of places to get flu shots for $35 or less. If the host family is urging their au pair to get the seasonal flu shot and she agrees to get it, the host family would be responsible for the expense.

If you are planning to get the seasonal flu vaccine, it is recommended that you get it as early as possible.

Anne Arundel County Health Department – Free flu shots are available by appointment and at some vaccine clinics, registration is required.

Montgomery County Health Department – Free flu shot clinics, online registration is required. will be added as they are scheduled.

Prince George’s County – Free flu shot clinics, no appointment necessary.

State of Maryland – Find a vaccine clinic search feature, this does not seem to have all of the local health department flu shot clinics listed. Check back for updates and check your specific county health department website for more options.

I have been told that Kaiser Permanente is offering free flu shots as well.

Flu shots are also available for a fee (usually $25-35) at pharmacies such as Target, CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, etc.

Hints for Success – Homesickness/Culture Shock

Almost everyone experiences culture shock and homesickness when they come to a completely new environment. Everything is different: the language, the food, and the people.

Here are my Top 5 Tips for
Dealing with Homesickness

1. Make friends – Don’t wait for other au pairs to reach out to you, reach out to them. There are other new au pairs who are feeling the same way you are right now. Set a goal to reach out to a few of them each day. Some will respond and some will not. Don’t let that discourage you. No one will ever be mad at you for sending them a message to say hello or ask if they want to do something together. Make friends from various countries and you will also get a chance to practice your English skills together.

2. Stay in touch with your home country, but not too much. Skyping or talking on the phone every day with your family and/or friends back home normally makes homesickness worse. Try texting instead and reduce the Skype and phone calls to once a week, until you feel stronger. It’s much harder seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those you miss.

3. Get out of the house (or your room specifically) – Go to cluster meetings, have coffee, go to the park, and/or go places with other au pairs. If someone invites you out, say “yes” whenever possible.* Also, don’t be afraid to do the inviting. If your host family invites you to do things with them, say “yes.” This will help you get to know each other and contribute to your overall happiness.

*Since we are in a pandemic, talk with your host family about what they are okay with you doing and what precautions you should take.

4. Share your culture with your host family – If you are missing some favorite foods from home, find ways that you can make them here and share them with your host family. There are many international markets in our area, you should be able to find most of the ingredients you need. If you are not really a cook, search online for restaurants and bakeries that have a taste of home. Your host family is probably just as excited to learn about your culture as you are to learn about America.

5. Make plans – Create your own Au Pair Bucket List (places you want to go, new foods to try, new things to experience during your year in the U.S.) and start doing them now. Post on our cluster Facebook or WhatsApp group to find others who may want to join you on your adventures.

Realize that it definitely gets easier with time.

All au pairs experience homesickness to some extent and nearly all of them stay and have a successful year (some stay for two years.) So, it must get better, right? Once you get past the initial homesickness, most au pairs report how quickly the year goes by.

Photo by:  Shimelle Laine (Flickr)

Federal & School Holidays

As you may be aware, the public school children are out of school several days in September and October. These are regular workdays for an au pair, unless your host parents tell you otherwise. As with any “school holiday” start making plans for activities with the kids now.

In addition to holidays in September (Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur) many public schools are also out additional days for teacher development and the end of the grading period. As with any holiday, it is up to the host family’s schedule whether you will have the holiday off. Please check with your host families before you assume you have this day off. Do not make any travel plans until you have received confirmation that you will not work on this day.

Host parents, please check your schedule to make sure that you are factoring in these hours and make adjustments as needed to stay within the State Department regulations not exceeding 10 hours per day or 45 hours per week (or 30 hours her week for Educare.)

Photo: Dafne Cholet

Camp Au Pair – Art Experiences

This week’s Camp Au Pair theme is Art Experiences.

Crafts, recipes, activities, and games related to art can all be found here on the Camp Au Pair – Art Experiences pinboard.

Field Trips can be a great way for kids to learn and have new experiences. Get permission from your host parents before any outings and be sure to take all social distancing precautions. Some museums are requiring advanced tickets or have reduced hours due to the pandemic.

  • National Gallery of Art in DC has resources and programs for kids and families.
  • Renwick Art Gallery in DC was featured in this blog post  with great information on visiting the museum with kids.
  • American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore is not your typical art museum. You can tell that when you see the school bus covered in mosaic glass or the mural on the sidewalk outside.
  • Other Art Museums
  • Paint Your Own Pottery Studio
  • Clay and Ceramics Studio

Online Art FunHere is a great website with lots of art activities including ones for older kids.

Webcams – You can do a google search for art websites with webcams. Here are a few to get you started:

Pottery & Ceramics webcam
Glass Blowing webcam

Videos – Look for fun videos on YouTube about drawing and all kinds of art.

Books – Stop by your local library and look for books on famous artists and art.

Check YouTube for books on art being read aloud:

Image: teachkidsart.com

Camp Au Pair – Summer Olympics

This week’s Camp Au Pair theme Summer Olympics. The 2021 Summer Olympics are taking place in Tokyo, Japan, July 23-Aug 8.

Crafts, recipes, activities, and games related to the Summer Olympics can be found here on the Camp Au Pair Summer Olympics pinboard.

Videos – On YouTube you can find many great videos of about the Olympics.

Books – Stop by your local library and look for books about the Olympics.

Some good ones include: Olympig!, G is for Gold Medal: An Olympic Alphabet, How to Train with a T-Rex and Win 8 Gold Medals, Wilma Unlimited, America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, Way to Go Alex!, Touch the Sky, Pele: King of Soccer, A Picture Book of Jesse Owens & Babar’s Celestville Games.

You may also find some of these books read aloud on YouTube.

Fun Fact: The Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions, used alone, in one or in five different colors, which are, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red. The Olympic symbol (the Olympic rings) expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.

Image: Project Nursery