Why raising bilingual children is “a must”…

A spare hour between two meetings today called for catching up on e-mails with a delicious latte made with locally roasted coffee at Carolina Roasters… nothing like the comforting smell and delicious taste of freshly roasted coffee to boost my productivity level! More often than not, I associate a place, its warmth and smell with events and people. That cup of coffee took me back to the days of the local French ladies monthly “petit-déjeuner”, where I used to enjoy getting to know other “French ex-pats” and bilingual moms. 

I recalled a conversation about a shared passion for raising bilingual children, where we shared personal experiences about ways to achieve a native level of fluency in two to three languages. “It is important that each parent or caregiver speaks their native language only to the child, for consistency and to help the child associate a language with each person involved in their upbringing.”, said one mom. “That is what we did with our two children, and I was amazed to see that instead of learning things slower as some would expect, my children learned twice as much vocabulary as other children… If they learn about biology in one language, they then discuss it at home in the other!” 

There has been a lot of research over the years about the benefits of exposing children to a foreign language a young age, with the formation of additional pathways in the brain and the ability to create any speech sounds (“phonèmes” in French) before the age of 3 years old. But the truth of the matter is, more and more parents understand that having the ability to speak a second language gives their children an advantage in the global marketplace. The question is: how can American parents expose their children to a foreign language if they only speak English or work full-time? 

Simple: according to an article in The New York Times posted an article on August 18, 2010 entitled “Looking for Babysitters: Foreign Language a Must“, they hire bilingual childcare providers who can help their children learn a second language through study & play. Whether the children are already learning that language in school and parents needs an after-school care provider who can help with homework and practise, or they have infants and pre-schoolers whom they want to learn foreign sounds, the trend for bilingual care applies beyond New York City

Una niñera bilingüe puede leer a sus niños en su lengua materna.

According to the article, although learning multiple languages simultaneously “doesn’t make kids smarter” (or maybe a little?), multilingual children: 

  • learn additional languages more easily
  • do better at complex tasks like isolating information presented in confusing ways
  • do well in subjects like science and math due to the flexibility of their thinking 

While some parents initially enrolled their children in classes to help them learn a second language, they all felt that wasn’t enough for their kids to become fluent. Hiring an in-home caregiver who spoke the language of their choice was a preferred choice for them. 

The article mentions the options of foreign nannies and babysitters, but many American parents with those aspirations for their children also choose an au pair, due to: 

  • the affordable cost
  • the flexibility of the hours
  • live-in childcare
  • cultural exchange for the whole family beyond just childcare
  • length of stay (committment of at least one year, with an option to extend for a second year)

What ways do you expose your children to a second language? A full immersion program in school, a baby-sitter, nanny or au pair? 

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Au pair childcare is more affordable while childcare costs continue to rise

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false] As a recently released NACCRRA report found, childcare costs are rapidly rising, even comparable to the cost of a year of college tuition. For some, costs are so expensive – particularly for multiple children – it is almost prohibitive, yet parents need childcare to be able to provide for their families. Though the term “au pair” is often confused with “nanny” and mistaken as childcare for the wealthy, for many families (especially with 2 or more children) an au pair is actually the most affordable childcare option.   

In its report, “Parents and the High Cost of Childcare: 2010 Update,” the National Association for Childcare Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) states that the highest statewide average cost for full-time childcare for one infant in a center is $18,750 per year; for a 4 year old, parents paid $13,150 a year for full time care; and for school-age children, parents paid an average of $10,720 per year for part time care in a center. 

In comparison, the average cost of an au pair is on average $340 per week, or $7.50 per hour, regardless of the number of children.  Additionally, the au pairs live with the family and provide up to 45 hours per week of childcare, giving the family maximum flexibility. Those hours can also include light household chores, help with meal preparations, driving the children to school and extra-curricular activities.

ABC reported: “We do not generally think of child care as that expensive, and families, when they have an infant, are basically on the lower end of their earning power as opposed to a family who’s got a child in college,” Linda Smith, executive director of NACCRRA, told “Good Morning America“.

The report described monthly child care fees for two children of any age as exceeding the median monthly rent cost in every state, and were nearly as high — and in some cases higher — than the average monthly mortgage payment in every state.

What are your thoughts on this report? Do you feel you are receiving the quality of care and one-on-one attention you require for the money you spend on childcare?

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Planning back-to-school with your au pair

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false]For many international host families, with summer being the arrival season for most au pairs (particularly European and Central American), their au pair may have arrived in the middle of family vacations, summer camps and other activities planned for the children. Although it is a great time for the au pair to get to know the family and feel comfortable with caring for the children, the transition back to the school routine will affect him/ her too. It will be important for host parents to take the time to set expectations and train them for the transition.

The au pair can help with homework, crafts and planning a back-to-school party.

Setting Expectations
Host parents can explain what a normal routine is like, explain the typical schedule, household chores required while the kids are at school (and while the au pair cares for a pre-schooler possibly) and how the children’s school normally functions. Especially with dual-working parents, the au pair may be the main point of contact between the school teachers and the parents, so it is important to explain the level of communication usually expected when dropping off/ picking up the children. Most importantly, parents may clarify that the school-year does not mean less work for the au pair, but simply an adjustment to a different schedule and maybe some evenings if additional hours are available.

School Reconnaissance

Keeping in mind that their local school system may differ greatly from their au pair’s home country or another State, it is important for host parents not to take anything for granted. During school orientation, the au pair can familiarize herself with the school location, access, meet the teachers, understand homework requirements and the types of materials and projects the kids will be expected to review and complete. It is also important for the teacher to understand the type of help that is available to support their students after school, especially with a second language they may be learning this year.

The au pair’s training should also include locating the bus stop or which way she will need to accompany the kids by foot, or drive them to school. Especially with heavy traffic, safety will remain the focus of that training, whether behind a wheel or around a bus. The children should come along and also understand they need to remain very cautious around vehicles and crossing streets.

Back-To-School Family Party

Another idea to get the whole family prepared for the big day and the new routine, is to plan a back-to-school family party with their au pair as a surprise for the children. The party could include fun crafts such as decorating their school notebooks, bracelets and fashion items they will wear at school or putting together a scrapbook of the fun memories shared during the summer. This will help the children to look forward to back-to-school and understand that while that time is approaching quickly, they can look forward to it and they will have the support of their parents and their au pair.

Finally, on the big day, parents can ensure they are more present and involved in getting everyone ready, creating a special memory with a picture as they are sending the kids off to school, putting a fun note in the children’s lunch bag and encouraging them to embrace their new routine. With adequate training for their au pair, s/he will be ready to step in and provide all the additional help parents may need on back-to-school day and moving forward during the school year.

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Transitioning from the summer back to school

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false] Summer is so much fun for children, with more family time, vacation, summer camps, fun outdoor activities, water fun and just pure bliss. Summer time represents a break from the old routine and a chance to just “be kids”. Summer also means having the children at home full time and the au pair’s role is crucial in coordinating all the activities, providing transportation and filling the gaps between summer camps, swim team and scheduled times with the grandparents.

Summer fun...

School summer assignments
Although most summer activities are dedicated to providing a fun break from the school routine, parents and their childcare provider can make a plan to balance these activities with the required reading and homework assignments provided by the school. These assignments can be spread out throughout the summer, or scheduled during times at home between trips and camp, and more heavily concentrated closer to the return to school. The au pair’s help is crucial to help parents implement that plan and follow through with the kids, who will be better prepared to return when their skills are still up-to-date and have not been forgotten over the summer months.

Remembering routines
Although it is important to take a break from strict schedules during the summer, the au pair can help parents slowly transition the children back into scheduled mealtime and healthier eating habits (less ice-cream, more protein!). A time after lunch, before outdoor activities and when it is hottest outside, can be focused on “homework”. The bedtime routine and schedule should be slowly transitioned back to what it is during the school-year (earlier dinner time, no caffeine 6 hours before bed, a calming bedtime routing, etc.).
School-year routine may also include less TV time and games, but more structured extra-curricular activities such as sports or music lessons. It is important for both the parents and the au pair to speak positively about back-to-school and what changes will occur for the whole family. The more prepared with positive expectations, the smoother the transition.

Getting ready
There are several ways the au pair can help the children getting ready for back-to-school: 1) Speaking positively about the timeframe to return to school, 2) Discussing individual goals and issues with each child regarding grades, sports, friends and discipline. 3) Talking about things learned in summer assignments and last year, in math, biology, reading, history, etc. so the kids are re-familiarized with those topics. 4) Getting the kids excited about picking their school supplies with their parents and getting organized. It is important for the parents to discuss those plans with their au pair openly, so s/he can reinforce their efforts with the children when they are in charge.

 

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Responsibilities beyond childcare…

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false]While the primary responsibility of au pairs is to care for your children, au pairs can also help with “light household chores”. Beyond an expectation for a program that is focused on childcare, it is also a U.S. Department of State regulation that host families abide by when joining the program. Let’s define what “light household chores” are and what tasks au pairs can or can’t do.

An au pair can:

  • Pack up the children’s school bags in the morning
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Help to take the trash out
  • Prepare meals (breakfast, lunch (boxes), snacks and help with dinners if they are still on duty)
  • Pick up and sweep main family area after meals or play
  • Pick up toys, organize the children’s belongings and keeping main areas clean
  • Wash/ dry/ put away the children’s laundry
  • Drive the children to different activites, to/ from school
  • Help with anything related to the children during their assigned working hours

An au pair can not:

  • Clean the whole house
  • Scrub the toilets/ clean all the bathrooms
  • Provide house maintenance or make repairs
  • Wash the parent’s laundry or clean/ pick up their room
  • Be the chef and be responsible for all meals, and not beyond their working hours
  • Be the maid… they main focus is childcare
  • Work beyond the 45 hours per week/ 10 hours per day, which include both childcare and chores

However, as a part of the family, au pairs are expected to also help according to the common sense of a good “roommate”. So for example, if they are off duty but eat dinner with your family, they will help you and the kids getting the table ready and putting the dishes away.
Additionally, they are also responsible for cleaning their own room (and bathroom if they have their own), washing their own linens, clothes, shopping for their own toiletries, etc.

Any questions, suggestions or clarifications? Comment here or contact me.

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Do I need an au pair for my school-aged children?

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false]As full-time childcare is usually mainly required before the children attend school, the au pair program option is considered an alternative to full-time daycare or a nanny. However, there are many busy families with children ranging from 3 months to 14  years old, that also choose the au pair program option. Today, we will discuss the advantages of an au pair for families with children from 6 to 14 years old:

FLEXIBILITY

An au pair provides complete flexibility of schedule, including the ability to work split shifts, with some hours in the morning, and some hours in the afternoon through evening. An au pair is also available to fill in gaps in school-care during snow days, teacher work days and school breaks.
Additionally, they can work some evenings and week-ends to help with family or sports events, or provide parents a date night per week. No matter what, they are available up to 45 hours per week/ 10 hours per day, with 1.5 consecutive days off per week (one of those being a full week-end per month).

A SECOND SET OF HANDS

Au pairs can help get the children get ready for school each morning, and drive them or walk them to the bus station. Some additional time can be scheduled for daily chores, from picking up the living room area, emptying the dishwasher to handling the children’s laundry and getting their sports bags ready for soccer class.
In the afternoon hours, they can also help with taking the kids to extra-curricular activities, assist them with homework, and getting dinner ready.

THE EXPOSURE TO A SECOND LANGUAGE

With an au pair that has a good level of English, your children will enjoy their relationship with a “big sister” figure, there to help them, be part of the family for a year and provide exposure to their native language and culture. Older children will have a better understanding of the au pair’s background and have the opportunity to keep in touch beyond their year (or two) together.
And if they take the au pair’s native language in school, what a great opportunity to practise what they learn at home!

If you have school-aged children and are considering hiring someone to help you, we can discuss your needs and expectations and figure out the au pair profile that would be a great match for your family!

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The Importance Of Interaction And Nurturing

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false] While reviewing an ARTICLE from Reuters titled “Study shows consistent benefit of early daycare”, I was reminded of the challenges parents face while evaluating options for entrusting their most precious beings in the hands of a childcare provider. There are so many studies out there though that either support or discredit the concept of “childcare” versus full-time parenting.

The Parental Role vs. Childcare

So much of the media and “parent peer pressure” instills a feeling of guilt in mothers who go back to work to help to pay the bills or pursue a full-time career. That feeling is created by the notion that opting for childcare is giving up a portion of your parenting role. However, parental responsibility includes providing, in the form of a home, food, education… and love! Parents should never be made to feel guilty for pursuing their professions and ensuring they will be able to provide the best for their children, in all areas of their lives. Children are more likely to pursue a specialty and profession when their parents are continually growing, reaching their own goals and therewith instilling fulfillment and ambition in their offspring, whether they decide to pursue these goals at home or through a career.

The Childcare Provider’s Role in Early Education

The article explains that high-quality childcare helps to boost academic performance in later years. It then underlines “the importance of interaction between children and their daytime caregivers,” and that the researchers are seeing “enduring effects of the quality of staff-child interaction.”

There bring up several important points covered here in more detail:

1) High-Quality

How is “high-quality” defined? Is it the adult-to-child ratio? The academic level of the program? The credentials of the childcare providers? How clean and sanitary the facilities are? How small & selective the enrollment is? Although all those questions may come into play, the article only discussed the daycare option, and did not expand into other forms of high-quality childcare such as a nanny or au pair, who provide 1-on-1 care with siblings, in the comfort (and sanitary) of their home environment?

2) Boosting Academic Performance

I would be interested to find out what aspects of early childhood education these studies concluded were instrumental in boosting academic performance. I understand it is probably a combination of reading, learning games, playing, speaking, sports… How about bilingualism? I have found that the abilities early exposure to a second language provide, extend beyond communication, but also to logical thinking/ math, tolerance of people from other nationalities, outstanding people skills, an acute ability to adapt to new situations and environments, etc.

3) The Interaction

That aspect of childcare is truly key. A childcare provider is not only responsible for “watching” children (making sure they remain safe, feeding them, etc.) but also for nurturing them with love, compassion, care, patience, understanding, two-way attentive communication. Interaction is more limited when the ratio of adult per child is low, and when daycare workers are so busy keeping the group running that they may not have the ability to provide individual care. 

Additionally, while the relationship between provider and child may be more professional with the daycare option, it is also more distant. Although it can be a little frightening at first for parents to see their children grow so close to an au pair who will leave their family after 1 or 2 years, these are bonds that are often nurtured beyond their au pair year. They prepare children for the relationships they will develop in school and in life, with some that are kept beyond a shared class, or others that may have to end because of distance or moving. The impact their nanny will have will be long-lasting and help children in their social skills, in addition to setting them up for academic success.

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A Featured Au Pair Salon Guest: Ingrid Kelly Nathalie, 20, from Sweden

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false] Nathalie is already in the USA and in transition, which means that she needs to find a new host family as soon as possible. Any interested families please contact me directly!

“My name is Nathalie and I am 20 years old. I am from Sweden, I have been in the U.S 4 months and right now I live in Bridgeport, CT. Why I wanted to be an au pair is simple. I have always liked to take care of children and I have always felt comfortable with them. Before my au pair year, I worked at a kindergarten and I felt so creative and active when I spent time with the kids. I think they enjoyed their time with me, too. All of the kids wanted to be with me, and I think they looked up to me. I am in rematch and need to find a new family.

I am a good au pair, I love kids in all ages, and have a lot of experience. When I am babysitting I usually do a lot of activities. For example, going out for walks in the woods, going to the beach or playground, coloring, painting, building with blocks, teaching the kids some Swedish, singing and dancing. Some time we also play some soccer or basketball.

As a person I am a really nice and kind person that almost is always and happy. I am considerate, mature, responsible, and have a lot of energy.

In my spare time I like to be active. I like to do jogging and going out for walks. My friends are also really important in my life, and I love to spend time with them. I love music, I always listen to music. In the summer my friends and I play some soccer or basketball outside, and I really enjoy it.”

Additional information about Ingrid Kelly Nathalie:

  • Infant-qualified
  • 1,900+ hours of childcare experience
  • Has babysitting experience with children aged 3 months to 11 years old
  • Has First Aid, CPR, and Lifeguard certifications
  • Enjoys writing her own stories and camping
  • Total Childcare Hours: 2288
  • Au Pair ID: SES491446

I am interested in Nathalie

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Bridging The Distance With An Au Pair Candidate During The Phone Interview

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false] A face-to-face meeting between the new host family and the au pair candidates is usually not possible, because an au pair will come directly from his/ her home country on a J-1 visa to live with the host family. However, there is the possibility of interacting through a live Skype conversation including a webcam, via e-mail and most importantly by phone. 

The phone interview is a key portion of the selection process for an au pair. In addition to some questions suggested in my earlier post “Interviewing An Au Pair Candidate“, I wanted to share advice from Elisa Elkin-Cleary,  LICSW, a Cultural Care Au Pair Program Counselor on “THE INTERVIEW”:

Preparing for a phone interview with a potential au pair can be daunting. The objectives for the interview are to find a person to care for your children and to live in your home, as well as to build rapport, evaluate their personality.  Choosing the time for the interview and considering the challenges of language and telephone communication can help you create a situation more conducive to learning the true nature of the young person. A carefully planned process can lead to a competent individual who is also a good match for your family. This process will set the stage for a positive beginning and relationship. 

Begin the interview process by thinking about the characteristics of your ideal au pair, as well as defining your expectations for the role. 

  • What personality type do your children typically respond to? 
  • Does she need to be a competent driver? 
  • Does she need to have the same interests as your family, such as skiing or hiking? 
  • Can you live with a highly social au pair or would you prefer someone who enjoys to spend time with family?

Other characteristics you may want to explore in the interview would be the au pair’s critical-thinking skills, ability to self start, willingness to learn, self-confidence and professionalism, as evidenced by examples from their past work experiences.  

Call the potential au pair to schedule an official time to talk. The first call is an opportunity to connect and get a general feel for the au pair as you introduce yourself and state your purpose for calling. You can ask her about her schedule and possible times to interview each other. Designating a specific time allows both parties to prepare properly and will provide privacy, quiet, and time during the interview which will help you both get a sense of each other. 

Once you have determined a general sense of your expectations for your au pair’s role and have designated a time to meet, finalize a list of questions to explore with the au pair. Traditionally, people have been taught to interview using open-ended questions, such as “Tell me about yourself.” This line of questioning provides minimal accountability at best. A better alternative is behavior interviewing which is objective, and provides you with a sense of a person’s character. 

Begin questions with prompts, such as: 

  • How would you handle _______?
    Example: “How would you handle difficulty with a parent or manager? How did you resolve the conflict?”
  • Tell me about a time _______.
    Example: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a medical emergency.”
  • Describe a situation_______.
    Example: “Sometimes it’s easy to get in ‘over your head.’ Describe a situation where you had to request help or assistance with a child in your care.”     

Be sure to follow up with questions to explore the au pair’s coping and problem-solving abilities. 

  • “What were you thinking at that point?”
  • “Tell me about your decision process in that situation.”

Expect that this process will require more than one phone call. Both parties should have an opportunity to ask questions and discuss key issues. It is important to keep in mind that au pairs are young adults whose skills are developing, and with some nurturing and training, these skills and traits will grow. By acknowledging our expectations, we can plan appropriate questions geared at learning the character and skill set of the au pair. This also provides a foundation for the first weeks of training the au pair through the identification of key areas pertaining to your child’s specific temperament, schedule, and needs.

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A Work-At-Home Mom’s Perspective On Hosting An Au Pair

[tweetmeme source=”FrenchNad” only_single=false] Valerie Rempe is a veteran host mom and has balanced a full-time career with her family life through the au pair program for over 10 years. In today’s article, she shares her experience and unique perspective on hosting an au pair for full-time childcare: 

“When my husband and I decided to start a family 12 years ago, we were very excited about the prospect and also anxious to find a trustworthy and responsible adult to help us care for our first child, as dual-working parents.  We settled on hosting an au pair, as it provided one-on-one care for our daughter.  12 years later, we are still utilizing au pairs for childcare help!  

Our Italian family visiting one of our favorite Au Pairs, Elena Turchi of Pisa, Italy! We have vacationed there twice recently, and were able to meet both times, including attending her wedding!

I have worked from home for all 11 years, and believe I have the best of both worlds: responsible and loving childcare, not to mention the most affordable option for as many hours as we need help, combined with the ability to also have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my children!  I am on the phone many weekends and evenings, and having our live-in au pair here, allows flexiblity in my work day and hours.  I would not change one thing in regards to the childcare choices that we have made. 

Daughters with Au Pair Elena in Piza Italy

Au Pair Elena with Val's Daughters

Our life has been wonderful with a high level of affordability and flexibility in response to our needs for help with our children.  I have never washed children’s laundry, have help with grocery shopping, can get a workout in the morning before my work day begins, and have had a date night with my husband once per week for 11 years! 

All the way around- the best solution there is…  Hosting a mature, loving, and responsible Au Pair is as good as it gets!  My children are outgoing, happy, and natural when speaking with adults as a result of bonding with adults other than their parents for their whole life!”

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