February 3rd, 2015

Do You Read Me?

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I was once certified to teach although this is a bit of ancient history. I share this only to lend credence to my opinion on an issue in education today. Truthfully, I remember very little about my education courses except Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development or as I always refer to it Piaget’s Theory of Readiness. For some reason, that concept really struck a chord with me and I have referred to it often during the years since college graduation. This theory describes the incremental, developmental learning of babies and children. Recently, The Washington Post had an article written by a distressed Virginia pre-school teacher entitled: “I pushed my pre-K students toward reading. And I feel guilty about it.”

read-booksI hear you, sister. My kids did not read particularly early. Based on what I know, they were normal –read: average. Normal is apparently no longer good enough. I know there are children who start reading when they are 3 and 4. That information is enough to make any secure parent insecure. I just want to reiterate that there is no evidence that hurrying kids to read really helps them. They get it when they are ready. Ergo, my love of Piaget. Parents, please read this next sentence from the article: “No research documents long-term gains from learning to read in kindergarten.”

The article also points out that the more time teachers devote to preparing pre-Kers to read, the less time there is for the kids to play. Play is what is truly important at pre-school age, but it seems to be so undervalued and out of vogue these days. Parents, take heart. Your kids are going to read someday—whether that day comes in pre-K or K or first grade doesn’t matter. Surround them with books, read to them, and let them experience your love of reading. Your child will read when he or she is developmentally ready. In the meantime, take the pressure off you and your kids. Let them play!

January 22nd, 2015

Politics Aside

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Putting politics aside, there were two messages in particular that struck close to home for me in Tuesday’s State of the Union. I especially liked the following:

“It’s time we stopped treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”

White House Nannies can help only a limited number of families find childcare, but I have always been conscious of the greater need for better access to affordable and quality childcare for all families, no matter whether they are inside or outside our service sphere. Here’s what a dream come true would look like: In addition to the increased tax relief for families with children that the President mentioned in the speech, I love the idea of making community college free so that, among other things, those people interested in making childcare a career could get trained and earn an Associate’s degree in child development. And I’m not just talking about recent high school grads taking advantage of this opportunity.

There is a whole pool of people who work in the childcare field who can’t afford to go to college and who would benefit from a free two-year degree certifying their expertise and experience. The benefit is two-fold. More people might enter the field if given the opportunity to earn credentials and parents hiring these childcare providers would be assured that the people taking care of their children have professional training. As it stands, there is no uniform set of standards to help parents figure out what their caregivers know or don’t know. This free community college proposal reminds me of the old NNEB (National Nursery Education Board) certification in England—a free two-year certification. Every time we met a nanny with that credential we knew we had found someone with meaningful, practical training. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have the equivalent here?

January 14th, 2015


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food for thought

It’s January, so it’s the time of year when every weight loss program in existence is counting on the fact that you have over-indulged during the holidays and are feeling the bloat of those extra pounds you’ve packed on. Many of us are focused on food. Not only in January, but every month of the year. During every nanny interview at WHN, we discuss the importance of nutrition and cooking fresh food for children. Nutrition is an especially important part of the job since the nanny is often responsible for preparing two to three meals each day for the children in her charge.

The Washington Post recently published a pertinent article: “Nine do’s and a don’t” (January 1, 2015) about kids and nutrition. If you are making New Year’s resolutions for yourself about eating less and more healthy, I would love to share some of my favorite tips from the article and from my own experience that could also be resolutions (and new habits) for your children and your family:

1. Feed babies whole foods from the moment they start solids. For those of us parents who introduced a variety of real foods from the beginning and ended up with great and adventurous eaters, we know this is good advice.

2.Explain nutrition to kids at an age-appropriate level. Help your children learn why they need protein and a variety of vegetable and fruits and help them to understand why certain foods with a lot of sugar are not a good choice.

3. Teach your kids how to cook and allow them to be a part of the process even though it gets messy. They’ll be more invested in eating what they had a part in preparing. They will also be learning an incredibly useful life skill.

4. Include protein in every meal and snack.

5. Make family dinners a priority even if you can’t do it every night.  Science has proven that there are many benefits of eating together as a family, including higher SAT scores.

Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy 2015!

December 15th, 2014

‘Tis the Season

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Wondering what to give your nanny? Every year we get calls for help from our client families who are trying to figure out just the right gift for their nannies. Once again, we went directly to our nannies and asked them to tell us what they really wanted. We hope the following suggestions can help you when making your shopping list.

This year there was almost unanimous response to our query. Everyone wanted either a bonus or a raise or something related to money. When we asked last year, nannies said they would like something they wouldn’t give themselves: Spa treatments, gift cards for favorite stores and restaurants, tickets to shows, concerts and the theater were requested by many. Others brought up the gift of gifts – an iPad or a more reasonable alternative, a Kindle. In 2014, no one mentioned technology.

I have always contended that cold hard cash is the most desired and most needed gift. Nannies tend to live pay check to pay check. Often they are the head of their households, sole supporters of their children. As for how much–that’s up to you. The dollar amount tends to relate to length of service and sometimes just how much you like your nanny. Some people do give a week’s salary for every year worked. (I realize that if your nanny has been with you for many years, this equation may not be feasible.) Some combine money with a gift and/or gifts from the children. While hand-made gifts from our children are lovely gestures, some amount of cash is definitely the preferred gift. This extra cash allows your nanny to buy for her family. Give what you can. I know it will be appreciated.

There is no better time to reward the person taking care of your children than now. I know how much your gifts are appreciated.

October 28th, 2014


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Halloween. The name and date are the same. There are still pumpkins, costumes and candy. But the times, they have changed.  I just read a blog in the Huffington Post comparing Halloween of the 70’s with the current incarnation. I am still laughing. For me, I love the family traditions that create lasting memories.

I tried polling some of my friends (old) about their Halloween habits and memories. The results indicate that most of us made our costumes when we were old enough. There weren’t a lot of options for purchasing ready-made costumes, especially in small towns. Our big concern was whether we had to wear our jackets OVER our costumes. November in the northeast was cold. The coat over the costume mandate was always a downer. Here’s the other old-fashioned requirement. If you wanted to score any loot in my hometown: You had to recite a poem. I’m not kidding. We all wrote poems. Never did we get away with just saying “trick or treat” and digging our hands into a basket filled with treats. We had to earn our take.  Not sure where that tradition came from, but I clearly understand why it didn’t catch on –or last.

With most parents working now, few have the hours to devote to a time-consuming costume making project. And, there are now so many stores where you can drop so much $$$$. But this is also an opportunity for our great nannies to step up to the challenge. Some nannies are really creative and crafty. Over the years we’ve seen they’ve shared with us some terrific examples of handmade costumes for their charges.

While Halloween was always a fun-filled, if spooky, occasion, it started to get really scary when crazy people began putting razor blades in candy, among other dastardly deeds. Then parents had to be really vigilant and outlaw all the non-wrapped goodies. Those homemade popcorn balls were not going to be eaten no matter how good they looked or might taste

That brings me to the latest Halloween twist: teal pumpkins. Here’s the story:

The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to place a teal-painted pumpkin outside their door if they’re offering non-edible treats such as small toys, stickers and crayons.

Food allergies can be life-threatening, and they affect 1 in 13 children in the United States. We are thrilled to see so many people embracing the Teal Pumpkin Project as a way to ensure kids with food allergies can enjoy a safe, fun Halloween experience just like their friends, says Veronica LaFemina, spokeswoman for Food Allergy Research & Education.

Hope your children have a great Halloween and that the weather is nice enough for the jackets to be kept at home!



Ghost graphic provided by:http://i365art.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/oct-14.jpg

September 30th, 2014

Professional Success

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photo 2

How does anyone manage to keep a job they love for more than a decade? This weekend in Orlando I had the privilege of seeing Kellie Geres, a White House Nanny, receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Domestic Estate Managers Association (DEMA). When I placed Kellie  in her current position 11 years ago, she had already been named Nanny of the Year by the International Nanny Association (INA). Kellie started her childcare career right out of high school. She also started volunteering early in life. She continued to join organizations that helped her grow professionally. I first met Kellie when we both served on the Board of the INA. When she moved to the DC area for her job, she joined a local nanny support group called ADCAN (Association of DC Area Nannies). And then—no surprise - she became its president. More recently, she was asked to head up the local DC chapter of DEMA. I know, lots of acronyms and also lots of time devoted to nonprofit organizations that count on people with her organizational skills to survive.
The point is that most nannies age out of their jobs. No, let me restate that. Most children age out of their nannies. Many childcare providers are great from ages 0-3 or until 5. Then the kids are off to school. It’s hard for nannies to have their work day shrink to 4 hours a day from the 10 that supported them. They love those kids, but they see the limitations of their usefulness. They think they need to move on to the next family with young children.

There is, however, another path for those nannies who see themselves as service professionals and want to stay with their employer families. They go from nanny to nanny manager to household manager. A nanny manager tends to work in households where the children are school age but still in need of supervision when they are home. During school hours, the nanny manager assists with all manner of errands including grocery shopping, dry cleaner runs, and birthday party gifts to name a few. They help keep the house stocked with supplies. They may also oversee workers in the home or simply be on site for deliveries. They are, of course, still in charge of anything to do with the children: laundry, cooking, cleaning children’s rooms, etc. When the children are at home, the focus of the job shifts to them. Carpooling to activities and overseeing homework become their primary functions.

A household manager oversees the general operation of the home. Household managers generally have the responsibilities of planning, organizing and coordinating events, managing household calendars and schedules, arranging appointments, scheduling and supervising home maintenance projects, paying household bills and completing any other requested administrative tasks. On average nanny managers and household managers work between 40 – 55 hours per week and may either live-in or live-out of the residence. Their combined duties and years of experience also translate into higher salaries.

Kellie figured out how to make herself indispensable to her current employers by improving her knowledge of the many things she could do for them to make their domestic lives run more smoothly. She now manages their household because the kids pretty much manage themselves. One went off to college and the other is in high school. So Kellie went from nanny to nanny manager and is now household manager.

It was great  to be able to be part of Kellie’s celebration and to raise a glass in toast to someone who has achieved both personal and professional success.

August 15th, 2014

“Toogood” to be True

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“Manassas principal resigns, loses teaching license after allegedly faking résumé”
That’s Wednesday’s headline in the Metro section of the Washington Post about former local elementary school Principal Robin Toogood, II, who was found to have falsified all of his education credentials. Here’s the sad truth: People do lie about their credentials. These fabrications are found at every level from undergrads to PHDs and CEOs. Padding resumes is unfortunately part of our culture.

It happens in the nanny world, too. I personally learned a big lesson in my early years at White House Nannies. It was embarrassing and also instructive. A young college woman said she had graduated from George Washington University. We called all her references but didn’t check with the university to verify her degree. As luck and pure happenstance would have it, the client I passed her information onto was on the board of trustees of that university. She checked and found out that our candidate had been a student there but had never graduated. While the degree was not a pre-requisite for the nanny position, honesty and trustworthiness certainly were. That lie left her dead in the water despite the fact that she was great with kids.

Every parent wants to know that the people hired to take care of their children, whether in a school system or in their homes, are who they say they are and that their resumes and applications are true reflections of their experience. For those doing the hiring, it’s all about due diligence. We expect our schools to be doing a better job of screening their employees. In this case, Mr. Toogood had a long list of admirers. He was good at his job. But he lied. Repeatedly. Somebody should have caught his embellishments along the way.

Recently, there has been a rash of bad caregivers hired from online sites who purportedly have clean background checks. Unfortunately for the public at large, the world of background checks is murky. Even for those of us in the field, understanding what constitutes a thorough check is not always easily grasped. For example, a check of the National Criminal File sounds impressive — but it is not and should never be relied on its own. Most people have no idea. Parents deserve peace of mind when it comes to the care and education of their children . The Association of Professional Nanny Agencies is working on an educational tool for parents right now, so stay tuned!

June 20th, 2014

Swim—or Sink

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Summer has just begun and already there has been a rash of drownings. All are devastating and often avoidable tragedies. When we interview nannies, we ask if they can swim since there is a great likelihood that they may end up in the water with the children they care for. It’s always surprising to us that people who grew up in island countries never learned to swim. I am convinced that relying on the lifeguard at a pool is not good enough protection, especially in the case of younger children who do not know how to swim or who are not yet confident swimmers. Someone needs to be in the pool next to the kids. I have a strong memory of my son at three when he raced in a flash to the steps of the high dive and jumped off. Only one problem: he did not know how to swim. Fortunately, my husband was able to rush in and catch him as he rose to the surface. The next week we enrolled him at an American University swim program where he learned to swim. I can still replay that scene as if it were yesterday.

Now in addition to worrying about your standard drowning, there is something called secondary or dry drowning. This is quite scary. The CDC reports that there are ten such drownings a day. Secondary drowning involves the inhalation of water into the lungs, either after a near drowning or as the result of a sudden rush of water.

“They initially look well, and then over — usually the first six to eight hours, but it can be as much as 24 hours out — they can develop a lot of increased trouble breathing,” says Dr. Erik Schobitz, medical director of the pediatric emergency room at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

After a near drowning, a child can develop an inflammation or swelling of the lungs called pulmonary edema, which limits the body’s ability to get oxygenate blood.  Inhalation of pool water can also lead to chemical pneumonia, or lung inflammation caused by the chemicals in the water.

“That is why we have to watch them carefully after any one of these near drowning events,” Schobitz says.

Lindsay Kujawa, a blogger (Delighted Momma), who went through this frightening experience with her own child suggests that “… if your child has experienced a near-drowning experience, watch for a sudden change of personality or energy level. You can save your child’s life if you act quickly and get them medical treatment immediately.”

Summer and lazy days spent sunning and splashing at the pool are synonymous, as they should be, but it never hurts to be reminded that even our favorite sunny day activities involve risks. Have a wonderful summer and please swim safely!

May 30th, 2014

A Bad Rap

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One out of four adults has a rap sheet (NPR, All Things Considered, May 29, 2014). Seriously, that does seem like a lot of people. Why am I writing about criminal records?  It’s not about the obvious: weeding out those really bad potential caregivers. Here’s the deal. There are tremendous “collateral consequences” resulting from youthful indiscretions. How many college students have some form of alcohol or other substance abuse on their records? I’m here to tell you a lot and too many. Who ever thinks about his or her future while at a frat party? Who is thinking her underage partying may impact job offers  after college? No one. The biggest issue under consideration for many teenagers and college students is who’s got the cups and booze for beer pong and where are we setting up the table?

Flash forward 5 or 10 years, and a background check is run on this young adult who is now out in the real world. The report comes back clean. Phew. Thank goodness that the crucial 7-year mark has passed. Look again. Those charges that were dismissed or thought expunged can still show up on some online judicial case searches. Oh, the glory of the internet and the glut of information to be found on it. Many data banks have outdated and incorrect information listed. Too bad.  This data, whether accurate or inaccurate, is in the public domain. Anyone who looks hard enough can find all those stupid things today’s young adults did in their youth (assuming they were caught). These inanities will follow them. They also present us with the unpleasant task of telling prospective employers that the terrific candidate they are about to hire has a past, however harmless it may be.

Here’s where I come down on this issue.  I am all for forgiveness if the charge was long enough ago and petty. Clearly, anything that could be construed as potentially harmful to children is another story and that candidate is history. I know I have evolved to this point of view. Before I had teenagers, I was much more of a hard-liner. Now I can see the gray and understand youthful indiscretion much better. Trust me, this evolution was not without pain. The take away: Make sure you have a very thorough background check performed on anyone who is going to take care of your children. If something does come up, forgiveness may be what the situation calls for. Or not.

April 30th, 2014

Parental Involvement Overrated?

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I read it in the New York Times, so it has to be true. Right? The title of the article was “Parental Involvement is Overrated.”  Yikes. That headline is not going to sit well with a lot of parents.

In fact, most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it.

Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris authors of “The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education”

Through the years, I’ve known lots of friends of our kids whose parents were overly involved in projects and papers. In addition, they spent a lot of time helping out at their kids’ schools. It made this working mom feel a bit guilty to be sure. But when I heard a friend say how hard seventh grade is “for us,” and “how much homework we have,” and that “we won the science fair contest”—it took everything I had in me not to cringe. She might want to read this Times article.

My parents never helped with homework even though they had both been to college. My husband and I followed suit. For me, any math assistance ended for real in 4th grade. It always annoyed me to death that schools assigned projects in lower schools that kids could only do with parental help. Who’s in third grade here?

A lot of the findings in the authors’ study are counter-intuitive. The 655 comments were as interesting to read as the article itself. But there were some takeaways from the research that resonated. The authors suggested that parents set the stage, talk about how important education is, and allow children space to figure it out on their own. I know there are so many exceptions where parental involvement is necessary, but in many cases it’s simply helicoptering. One teacher respondent felt that the most valuable kind of parental involvement was making sure that children have loving homes with well defined boundaries and limits. Not a bad idea.

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