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What an Au Pair Needs to Pack

By Nicola Pearce

Last updated: 3rd November 2014

Two of our lovely au pairs have just finished orientation in NYC and are off to start their year with their host family. Keighley and Katelin, we salute you and all the peanut butter jelly sandwiches ahead of you!

Packing for a whole year is not easy. Remember you can ask your family or friends to send things to you once you’re with your host family. Pretty much as soon as you meet the children, your job will start, so just like Mary Poppins with her carpet bag, here are a few things it might be useful to have when you arrive:

Cadbury’s chocolate buttons – don’t let anyone try and tell you that Hershey’s is as good as Cadbury’s, it’s not. A bag of buttons make excellent bribery – and are good in an emergency, ration them out though.  Interestingly, Kinder Eggs are apparently banned in the US as considered a choking hazard, so don’t take any of those, just in case!

Books – find books that have British English words for everyday things that are different in the US, or spell things the British English way. It’ll be interesting for children to know that we use some different words for basic things: trousers, lorries, sweets, biscuits, baby’s dummy, baby’s nappy, jumper, toilet etc.  There’s a counting book called Ten Little Ladybirds…do you know what a ladybird is called in America? Don’t spend loads of money before you go though – pick up books from charity shops and car boot sales for next to nothing.  Don’t try to lug a crate load of hard back books, look for small, thin picture books and comics.  Look out for British favourites that might not be so well known, have different names, or look different in the US: Thomas the Tank EngineCharlie and LolaDennis the Menace, Paddington Bear and Horrid Henry for a start.  For older children, try classics: The Lion the Witch and the WardrobeTreasure IslandDr DolittleThe Wizard of OzStig of the DumpThe Magic Faraway TreeFour Children and It – reading slightly old-fashioned books can really develop a kid’s vocabulary.  For more up to date classics, try anything by David Walliams, Roald Dahl (born in Wales…be sure to stress he is a Brit!), Liz Pichon, Jill Murphy, Jacqueline Wilson…you’ll have your favourites see if they become your American kids’ favorites!

Pictures of your family, pets and friends – make a scrap book before you go, draw a family tree maybe, your kids will love looking at pictures of things from ‘your world’.  Include pictures of you as a child, in school uniform, ballet outfit, judo suit or similar. Include pictures of the house you live in, maybe include things from a local newspaper or tourist information – try to give a real flavour of what life is like for you at home.  Tell your kids to come and visit some day when they are grown up and you are back home!

Postcards from your home town – on the back write a message for your kids with your hopes and plans for the year together, then hide them somewhere to find in a few months’ time – have you done any of the things you planned? No? Get cracking, do them now!

Stickers – kids of a certain age will do anything for stickers, even in these electronic times! You can set up reward systems for picky eaters, give out stickers for reading a book instead of watching TV, stickers for politeness – keep it positive and they will love to try and earn them. Make a little book, or wall chart to fill with stickers which they can keep to show their parents how well they have been behaving with you!

British touristy souvenirs – these make nice presents to give the family. Be sure to avoid any choking hazards here too, but take stuff like: key rings, pens, bags, caps, mugs, t shirts, flags, fridge magnets, pens with Union Flags, Welsh dragons, Scottish Saltires, the Irish Tricolour etc.  How about masks of the queen and the other royals? Think light and cheap! (The souvenirs, not the royals – they are uber costly).

Old fashioned board games – snakes and ladders, ludo, twister – take an old/vintage version and tell them it was a family treasure that you only played at Christmas or something. Whatever the age of your kids, one of your main duties is going to be to get them to see life without a screen in the way.

First Aid/Get Better Kit – Plasters with cartoon characters or designs on them (‘plasters’ are confusingly called ‘bandages’ in the US); a gel pack to keep in the fridge for bumps; a forehead thermometer (practice using it before there’s a fever); anything with Mr Bump on it; special fancy tissues; a little ‘make you better’ teddy to hold (any teddy willing to take on the role for the year will do!); a muslin or piece of soft material to clutch. Don’t include any real medication and make the point that the children mustn’t go into the Get Better Kit without you. Take the opportunity to teach them the potential dangers of medicine.

Small cheap toys – then have a blindfolded ‘dip in the bag’ reward system – keep it really special, they have to earn a dip in the bag. Put in things like yo-yos, hair clips, chalks…

Children’s cups and plates with a cartoon character or design on – they will seem different and special because you’ve brought them from a faraway land, tell your kids they are to be used mostly for eating fruit and vegetables.

Potential pen pals– see if you can link up children you know of a similar age in the UK, or maybe link up a school in your home town with a local school in the US. Letters, drawings and photos can go back and forth, who knows what you’ll start, an international exchange programme all of your own maybe!

A big fold out map of the world – show the kids where you have come from and how far away it is from where they live. Be ready to explain that the United Kingdon of Great Britain and Northern Island is not one country, but four… but one, but…oh you’ll think of something. Show them the countries you have been to or would love to visit. Choose a country together and you can learn about it – find the capital city, add pictures of animals that live there.

Money – take some British currency and maybe some Euros to show, you can compare it to US dollar notes and coins. If you’re up for answering really hard questions, you could always mention that we are part of Europe, but we don’t use the Euro, maybe?

Tea– stock up your PG Tips if you are a tea drinker! Otherwise you are going to suffer…

So that’s my list…you’ll have loads of other things on your list of essential items, for yourself and the kids you are going to be looking after. If you are worried about baggage limits, contact the airline you’ll be travelling with before you go to see what the deal is. Once you know where you are going, you can start putting a box of things together to send to yourself by surface mail – think ahead and you can maybe pack your winter coat or summer shoes rather than trying to take a year’s worth of stuff when you first travel over. You can also chuck in extra chocolate and teabags, because you definitely won’t have taken enough of those.  Happy packing!

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