Author Archives: Christine Connally

Positive Discipline – Rewarding Good Behavior

Years ago when my kids were younger, I had a cluster meeting at my house and a few au pairs commented on the chore and behavior charts I had posted in my family room. With four kids, I sometimes found it difficult to keep track of who had done what and who had gained or lost various privileges. So, over the years, I have used charts to keep everything on track.  I have also created charts for host families and au pairs dealing with behavior the children may be having.

I uploaded a few of these charts in case you may find them helpful.

Positive Behavior – Recognizing and rewarding positive behavior can often be a good way to reduce negative behavior. The goal behind lots of children’s actions is the same, attention seeking. Try to show them more positive attention when they do well and make less of a fuss over negative behaviors.

Explain how the chart will work and then look for times when you can call their attention to something they did that was kind or helpful. It is nice to have short term and longer term goals. For example, the thrill of putting a sticker on the chart can be exciting for toddlers and preschoolers and that along with your words of praise are instant gratification. Saying when you get 5 stickers you get a larger reward (trip to the park, extra story or video, special activity) is intended to make them want to keep up the positive behavior. Positive Behavior Chart

Tracking Privileges – For school aged children it can be helpful to tie how they are behaving to privileges they want to have. I used this chart with different colored push pins, so my children could see where they were on the ladder and I could remember who I had told they could do what. The ladder style chart is based on an idea of the Dilley Family (famous parents of sextuplets.) I figured if it worked for them with six kids, it might work for me- and it has for many years. You can tell my kids are teenagers now, because I have Gameboy and PSP listed. You can make this chart your own substituting the kinds of activities your kids enjoy.  Ladder Chart 

Chores – Having chores teaches children that they are an important part of the family and their efforts count. This teaches responsibility and promotes positive self-esteem.  Chore Chart with Basic Chores

These are just a starting point, you can make your own charts and even involve the children in the process.

#1 Tip – Be Consistent!

All adults in the house need to be on the same page. It takes time to change behavior. Don’t expect instant results.

 

Earth Day Activity: Planting Seeds with Children

In honor of Earth Day, our April cluster meeting topic was planting seeds with children. We met on Zoom with several other clusters from the DMV area and discussed different activities we can do with our kids planting seeds.

Here are some of the supplies needed to complete this activity with your host kids:

  1. Potting soil
  2. Cups for planting the seeds (biodegradable cups can be planted directly in the ground. If using small plastic cups, you’ll need to remove the plant from the cup after they sprout before you plant them in a bigger pot or in the ground). There are links below showing how to make your own biodegradable cups out of newspaper.
  3. Seeds (we planted Black-Eyed Susans – the Maryland State flower, but sunflower seeds are easy to find and grow).

Below you will find some of the resources we used during this meeting.

Information sheets on growing seeds.

Making your own biodegradable planting cups from newspaper.

This time lapse videos showing the growth process of a sunflower.

 

Drive-In Movies

Have you ever been to a drive-in movie? Drive-in movies are outdoor theaters where the movie is projected on a large screen and you watch from your car. There were once over 4,000 drive-in theaters in the U.S., now only a few hundred remain.

One of those still operating is right here in Maryland, in the Baltimore area.  Bengies Drive-In has been in business since 1956.  It is about an hour drive from most parts of our cluster, but since they are the only one left in the entire state of Maryland, that doesn’t sound so far.

During the pandemic, drive-ins have become popular with many regular theaters closed and people being concerned about the risks of going to an indoor theater. Drive-in theaters were social distancing before it was even a thing!  You either sit in your own car or outside in a chair in your parking space. Bengie’s is enforcing mask wearing when people are outside of their parking space and limiting the number of people inside the concession stand. You can check out their full COVID precautions here.

Bengies

Click photo to visit their website

I have been taking my kids to drive-in movies at Bengie’s for the years and we love it.

The drive-in is only open Spring-Fall.

Drive-In Movie Tips for First Timers:

  1. You pay one price whether you stay for 1, 2 or all 3 movies.  Tickets may be purchased online in advance or with cash only at the gate. Since you are driving a good distance to get there, I would recommend purchasing tickets in advance online.
  2. You may stay in your car or bring chairs to sit in in front of your parking space.
  3. If you go in the summer and plan to sit outside, bring insect repellent spray or bug bracelets.
  4. If you go in the fall when the weather is cool, bring blankets.
  5. You cannot bring in outside food or drinks, unless you purchase an outside food permit. I recommend you buy your snacks there. They have some interesting options that you don’t see at a regular movie concession stand and that’s part of the full experience.
  6. Before you go, read the information on their website about headlights. You need to know how to disable your headlights when you are inside the movie.
  7. You also need to figure out how to turn your vehicle to the “accessory setting” with your key. This will allow you to listen to the movie without draining your battery. VERY IMPORTANT
  8. There is a note on their website about how to enter their address with GPS.  There address is listed as “Middle River”not Baltimore on GPS.

As with all activities, please discuss this with your host parents first to make sure it fits with the social distancing precautions you all are observing.

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.

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

Solution:
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.

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

Solution:
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 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, 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.

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

 

Going Unplugged During Work Hours

Phones, tablets, and laptops are wonderful tools to stay connected and informed, but we need to be careful not to let them become distractions from real life interactions and most importantly our responsibilities.

Au Pairs – Imagine for a moment that you went to the hospital and you were in the care of doctors and nurses. How would you feel if those doctors and nurses who were there to care for you were more interested in texting or using their personal computer than caring for you?  How would that make you feel, about yourself and about them? Would you think that you were getting the treatment you deserved?  Would you feel like paying the bill after your stay?

Life as an au pair, it is a fine balance between employee and family member. You live with your host family and participate with them as a member of the family, but you also have clear responsibilities as a childcare provider. Being a childcare provider is truly one of the most important jobs I can think of, because you are helping to shape our next generation.  What message are you sending them when you would rather interact with a computer than with them? How will they feel about themselves and about you? Children feel as though everything is about them. They will see this as a rejection of them and they will be more likely to act out.

It also poses a safety concern when you are not paying enough attention to the children in your care. Accidents happen, but when an adult care giver is close by and appropriately supervising the chances of a major injury dramatically reduce.

During work hours, the following would not be considered acceptable:
-Texting*
-Talking to friends on the phone
-Chatting or messaging with online
-Using Skype or FaceTime
-Using Snapchat, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook or any other app or social media site
-Watching or posting videos on YouTube or TikTok
-Viewing or sharing photos on Instagram
-Anything else on the computer unless it is going to Nickjr.com together with your host children

*you do want to be on the look out for texts from your host parents

Think about this – even if you work 45 hours a week, that leaves you 123 hours per week for all of that other stuff, or about 70 hours (if you are getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night.)

Host Parents – You need to be clear about what you consider acceptable during work hours to avoid misunderstandings. Also, please understand that you are dealing with a generation of people who are very accustomed to being plugged in at all times. Their intention is not to be rude, they don’t necessarily realize how their actions will be perceived. Please use this information as an opportunity to begin a dialogue on the issue.

 

Helping Young Children Learn Language

Quinn Dombrowski baby reading

Being an au pair is an important role in a child’s life. When you are caring for young children up to 45 hours per week, there are lots of opportunities to help them learn language. Many host parents are eager for their children to be exposed to more than just English. If this is true of your host parents, you can try the suggestions below, in both English and your native language.

Below are a few tips to start with, for more ideas, check out Ready at Five.

  • Read – Read to them daily, point out pictures and ask questions. Even if they can’t answer the questions, this is still modeling conversation.
  • Talk – Point out objects around them, names of their body parts, explain what you are doing and places you are going. Long before babies can speak, they benefit greatly from being spoken to.
  • Sing – You can sing childhood classics or make up your own silly songs. If you are looking for song ideas, HERE is a great website with lists of songs, lyrics and links to youtube videos* of the songs.  Children’s music is also available at the public library and even on iTunes.
  • Words – As children move from toddlers to preschoolers begin to point out written language.
  • Writing – Toddlers and preschoolers can begin to learn pre-writing skills by drawing with crayons or doing finger paints.

*The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for babies under 18 months of age. For children 18 months to 5 years they recommend no more than 1 hour of high quality content. You can play the songs on youtube for the audio and not necessarily show the screen to the child.

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski (Flickr)

Making Plans for Future Travel

With the COVID vaccine production steadily increasing, we are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic. That is wonderful news and reason to be optimistic! However, Au Pair in America is still strongly discouraging travel at the moment for two reasons: CDC recommendations against travel and the constantly changing rules and restrictions for international and even interstate travel.

When travel is resumed for you, it will also depend on your specific host family circumstances. It is very important that you and your host family have very clear, honest communication about your plans and that you are both comfortable with the plans.

What can you do right now? Research and figure out where you want to go and what things you want to see and do there. Being a spontaneous traveler can be fun, but without planning you will often waste some of your precious vacation or weekend time figuring out things you could have looked into before you started your trip.

These ideas are to help you make general plans. You shouldn’t book any tickets or make any financial commitments until you know when travel will safely resume.

Planning can help you:

  • Save money
  • Make the best use of your time
  • Fit in more adventures
  • Visit places you might not have heard of before

It also extends the joy of the travel time. Planning all the thing you will do, gives you something to look forward to. We can all use things to look forward to right now.

If you are looking for travel inspiration and ideas or a place to keep your travel ideas organized, Pinterest is a great place to start. You can browse other people’s travel and bucket list pinboards. You can create your own pinboards for places you want to go and ones you have already visited.

These three apps are all trip planners and offer the ability to research places and create your own itinerary. Each one has its own look and feel and slightly different features. Download them and see which one is the best fit for you.

Road trips can be the ultimate adventure. You set your own pace and stop to see what you want. The journey can be as much fun as your destination.

  • Road Trippers is an app that helps you plan the ultimate road trip. It helps you determine your route and find interesting stops along the way.

We won’t be stuck inside forever. Once travel resumes, be ready with your plans!

Photo: Natacha R. from France

Protecting Privacy & Personal Information Online

We live in a time of constant sharing through social media. We often share pictures, plans of somewhere we are going or rants about problems, without thinking much about who will see it and what could be the consequences.

Before clicking “post”, stop to think:

  • Am I violating someone’s privacy?
  • Am I sharing personal information that could put me in danger?
  • Would I want my current or a future employer to see this?

This will help protect your privacy and safety as well as that of your host family. It is important to respect your host family’s privacy and not share personal details and information.  This applies to all kinds of situations, including personal conversations, email, and social websites.

For your own safety, it is a good idea to be careful what personal information you share about yourself as well. You should not give out information like your telephone number and address to people you don’t know. Safer to meet a new friend in a public place, than to give them your address before knowing them.

Once you post something on the Internet (even if you later delete it), it can show up elsewhere.  Unless you have specific permission from your host family, you should never post pictures of them, their children or their home on the Internet.

If you have a blog or website where you post in your native language, remember there is translation software. So, even if you say it in your native language, be sure it is not something that might be misinterpreted in translation or something you will regret saying.

Education Update 2021

Due to COVID-19, Au Pair in America has temporarily given approval for online/virtual classes, with a few conditions. Classes must be offered by an accredited school and registration must take place by 6/30/21. Au pairs must still produce certificates or other acceptable documentation confirming the completion of the class.

If in doubt, ask your counselor to check if the school is accredited. All class hours must be completed by the end of your 11th month in the program if you wish to extend.

ESL Specific Schools

Community Colleges

Other Languages

Weekend/U.S. Culture/Travel Courses

Online Class Websites – These platforms will list online courses all over the country. These courses come from a variety of sources and some are not accredited. You must be sure you are selecting a course that is from an accredited university.

*This class would be great for au pairs who have already taken or plan to take a PGCC Transition ESL class when things go back to normal. Those classes usually earn 50-60 hours, so this could be enough to complete your education requirement, in combination with one of those classes.

Want some ideas for online classes? 

Click HERE for a great list of online courses on a variety of topics.

Photo: Nenad Stojkovic