Au Pair Scheduling: How to count time around Drop-Offs and Pick-ups

by cv harquail on June 10, 2013

When does an au pair actually ‘stop’ being on the clock?  

Is it when the kids are off with someone else, or when the au pair is back at ‘home base’?

Before we even address this substance of the question, I need to point out  =>

If you have to count minutes down to the wire, then you are probably pushing the limit of your 45 hour/week, 10 hour/day guidelines.  


Do whatever you can to give yourself a little leeway.


A host mom writes for some perspective on how other host families deal with schedules and drop-offs:

If she leaves the house alone at 11am to pick up my son from school at 11:30am (i.e. she is traveling without my son to pick him up), should I count her working time starting from 11am (when she leaves the house) or from 11:30am (when she has my son with her)?

If she drops off my son at school at 9am and then can go anywhere she wants to because her break starts as soon as my son is in school, do I count her working time until 9am or until 9:30am when she gets back home?

My own guiding question is always– is the au pair completely free to do what s/he wants, or is this time ‘claimed’ by the childcare need?

With regard to picking kids up (and I know this is going to sound crazy but–) I have always guestimated the number of minutes it takes to get from home base to the pick-up location, and built those minutes into the au pair’s schedule.

— If the ballet class is 20 minutes away, the au pair is on duty 20 minutes before the end of class– no matter where or how far away she is coming from. I imagine that she’s coming from our house (aka home base) and driving sensibly to the ballet studio.

— If the au pair chooses to come from the library or the mall (both further away than ballet) it’s up to her to depart earlier and use her personal time to make up the extra minutes.

— If she’s coming from Starbucks (down the block) and only has to leave 4 minutes before class ends, that’s fine. I hope she enjoys the extra 10 minutes or so to relax!

On Drop-off I’ve done the same thing— assumed that our au pair was going back ato the house and needing all 20 minutes, even if she was going to Starbucks instead. Again, it’s all about the time it takes to get back to home base.

The principle is the same — the Au Pair is on duty for the time it takes her/him to execute the childcare activity from our home base.

One extra benefit of this scheduling strategy is that it leaves a little cushion if the au pair is tempted to schedule herself too tightly— she should plan to meet her pals at Starbucks at 0:20, and depart by 0:40… not rush crazily to or from an appointment.

Remember, too, that the au pair needs a good chunk of time between drop off and pick up if you are going to count this time as being ‘off duty’. In the case of school, where the duration of the activity is clearly long enough for an au pair to make good use of this ‘off duty’ time, that’s not a worry.

But, if you are thinking about how to count that 1 hour space during which the child is in ballet class? It counts as ‘on duty’, since 1 hour is not a ‘meaningful‘ break.

Parents– Have you managed drop-off scheduling using a principle like mine, or do you have another one you recommend?

What rationale works best for you?

See our earlier post on:

Scheduling Your Au Pair: Naptime, Mealtime and Meaningful Breaks



Busy Mom June 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm

We use the same principle as CV, building into the schedule (with rounding) the time it takes from/to the destination to/from home. If school pick up is at 2:30, then we count hours from 2:15 even though it takes just 8 minutes to make the trip.

2:15 to 2:30 is not really her free time so we count it toward our 45 cap.

we round to the nearest 15 minutes on our weekly schedule.

Host Mom in the City June 10, 2013 at 7:35 pm

This is exactly what we do.

JJ Host Mom June 10, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Same here.

emmiejane June 11, 2013 at 12:56 pm

We do the same. I schedule a leisurely amount of driving time before and after as if it were from home base.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Me too. The trip to our preschool usually takes 12-15 minutes but can be as much as 20-25 minutes in heavy traffic, so I count it as 30 minutes each way- therefore 4 hours of preschool is actually a 3 hour break (even though the AP can usually squeeze more time out of it).

Next year it’s going to be a little different because we’re going with a preschool much closer to our house- it’s about a 7-10 minute walk, 5 minute drive. I’m going to request the AP to walk at least one way (as long as the weather isn’t horrible) so that the kids get more time outside. If she takes the stroller it’s a 7-10 minute walk, if the kids walk who knows… so I’m just going to split the difference and call it a 15 minute commute- that way if the kids walk with her one way and she drives the other way it will all average out in her favor in the end.

Returning HM June 10, 2013 at 6:35 pm

We start our AP’s pick-up hours from when she needs to start gathering whatever is needed for the afternoon. So on days when she will, say, go directly from school to the pool or playground, I schedule 10 minutes to pack the pool bag / ball bag, get snacks, fill water bottles, and check for sunscreen in the backpack. My daughter’s school is 10 min away, pick-up is 3:05, so this means AP starts at 2:40 those days, building in 5 min extra for traffic. On days when she is doing pick-ups and coming straight home, her hours start at 2:50.

For drop off, I count as CV does, the time it takes to get back home from school.

We don’t use all our hours or even close at this point but I do remember the days of balancing to the minute. Finding a couple of hours that you don’t need AP help to free up and loosen the other days can really be helpful. I used to hire an 8th grader on Mon afternoons after school for a couple of hours ($8 per hour) to play with my little guy while I worked from home just to free up additional minutes in the week to allow for the AP to get to and from and have hours allotted to pack snacks.

Should be working June 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Same principle here. I also budget 1 hr/day for kid-related chores . . . But I know the chore time spent is less than that. Sigh.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm

While I mentally budget time for chores (telling the AP that she should do them on her work time during the weeks in which she works 45 hours per week), I do not schedule them. I prefer that my APs have to the flexibility to do the chores when they wish. While I personally wouldn’t spend more than 2-3 hours a week on the light cleaning and laundry I assign, I know that it can take longer for someone who hasn’t routinely had those chores at home.

Host Mom in the City June 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

We haven’t had any chores for our first two au pairs, but I will be definitely instituting a few kid-related things for my third au pair. Unfortunately, I’m thinking my “laid-back, take it easy and have fun with your au pair year” attitude was taken quite literally with au pair #2, who has basically decided to do the minimum possible and complain about what she does have to do. But I digress… back to scheduling.

I don’t think I’ll be adding in additional on-duty hours for these minimal chores (mostly kid laundry and making sure the kids pick up their play room) because I feel like they could be done while the kids play, which they do independently for relatively large chunks of time these days. This way, I can say “if the kids are really playing on their own, that doesn’t mean you get to sit and text on your iPhone – it’s the perfect time to get some chores done.”

Ack, I really need to read that post about not letting a bad experience rub off on your next au pair…

Should be working June 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Yeah, the laid-back approach was something I gave up after a rematch. Let the AP think I’m a strict, rigid person and discover otherwise slowly, over time.

I do schedule 1 hr/day for those tasks even though I have school-age kids, because I want NO excuse for them not being done. And indeed it can happen that the kids fight and the AP has LESS time than she would with a peaceful toddler.

AUAP June 28, 2013 at 8:50 pm

As a former AP, my second family was really into rigidly-mapped-out scheduling, and my first family was super-laid back… to the point that I felt like I was simultaneously never on-duty and always on-duty because I felt guilty for only “officially” being scheduled for 8 hrs/week.

I really liked rigid scheduling – it’s nice to know that you’re on the same page about what is expected, when you’re free, and when you’re going above-and-beyond or getting a break.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 10, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I follow CV’s guidelines and build in a bit of a cushion, so that the AP has sufficient time, driving at the speed limit, to get where she needs to be on time. Even with those built in (including 4 carpool shifts to a high school 30 minutes from our house) and a 5-hour weekend shift, we come in well under 30 hours most weeks.

In my opinion if your AP cannot do as she pleases, then she is not on “free” time, so if she needs to stay in the house while my kids are asleep then she is the adult on duty, if she needs to pick them up or drop them off she is working (especially since we provide an “AP car” separate from the family van used for transportation). DH and I frequently disagree on this point, but I work hard to follow the rules.

JJ Host Mom June 10, 2013 at 9:17 pm

On a related topic, do you have your AP drive other kids around on the carpool shift? Trying to figure out how this might work now that my kids are starting school.

Returning HM June 11, 2013 at 6:33 am

Yes, our APs have always driven our end of carpools, and they nearly always drive playdates as well. Only once in six years – last week, actually – did a playdate’s mom say she would bring her son from school to our house herself. I always tell people that it will be our AP driving, and people figure that if we trust the AP to drive our children, then they can trust her driving as well. When the children were young I was more proactively explicit about the kind of driving evals we did with them before we allowed them to drive. I don’t go into this anymore with playdates’ moms unless someone asks (and they almost never do).

Taking a Computer Lunch June 11, 2013 at 6:42 am

One of my children receives curb-to-curb bus service, the other caught a bus while attending a local public school. Now that child #2 attends a magnet school for which no bus transportation is provided, our AP drives almost 1/3 of the carpool shifts each week.

My advice – if your AP is picking up multiple children, expect to provide some navigation training at the start – don’t have her rely on multiple entries in a GPS. We did several dry runs and then DH sat with our AP a few times while she navigated her way to and from the school (we also do practice runs to the hospital where our child with special needs has many routine medical appointments).

After a couple of incidents with the AP brining friends along in the carpool vehicle, we banned them – the distraction proved too much for a good but inexperienced driver.

Returning HM June 11, 2013 at 6:45 am

Oh yes – we do dry runs several times AND meet the carpool kids in advance, plus I go along for first (or in last year AP’s case, fourth and fifth -haha) time to make sure AP feels comfortable and all is smooth.

Busy Mom June 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Yes, our APs cover our carpool shifts and our carpool-mates are clear (and okay with the fact that) we do this. There are a few parents who prefer that our APs not drive their kids, so those parents drive for those ‘playdates’ (can’t really call it that anymore for HS and MS kids…) but we don’t arrange routine carpools with those parents.

Momma Gadget June 11, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Same Here…

German Au-Pair June 11, 2013 at 7:09 am

At orientation au pairs are told not to stay alone with playdates because of insurance issues. They say that the parents can sue you if something happens on your watch. My HF said their insurances covered everything that happens in and on their property.
I would make sure that factor is clear.

I also would make sure that the kids she needs to drive around are well behaved. I would be majorly pissed if I had to deal with stranger’s children who refuse to buckle up or scream and kick the seats all the time.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I think that the majority of au pairs care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers and the orientation is aimed at them. In my experience, APs created their own playdates for children in that age range, often getting together with other APs caring for children of similar ages, because they weren’t interested in hanging out with the parents of my children’s friends. That was fine with me, and I arranged those sessions at the weekends when I was free.

However, once my children became school age, most of my APs have eagerly encouraged my children to hang out with friends (child #2 told me several years ago he was too old for play dates) because it meant less work for them. The trick now that both kids are teenagers, is to remind the AP that while child #2 may remain in the house alone, any friends that have been invited over must be sent home when she goes off shift.

Skny June 10, 2013 at 10:00 pm

As a mom/host mom I can see it BUT as a former au pair I would not feel comfortable driving other people’s kids.
Too much room for too many situations.
I guess if they were all teens and compliant… But getting 3 ou 4 energetic elementary sch age kids, get them all to mind me enough to give hands, cross street safely, put seat belt on, not bother/hit/annoy each other… What if the other kid decided to take seat belt off during ride? Will he listen to au pair as he would listen to friend’s mom? Should au par be subjected to possible problems/misbehaving?
If there was a car accident, with other people’s kids in car?
Again… I was au pair for 2 ys and while I drove 1 friend on a special day, I would not drive other kids on carpool frequency

Returning HM June 11, 2013 at 6:42 am

I have an energetic elementary age boy but believe me, if he ever did one of these things you listed as a possibility in the car, that would be the end of a lot of great things he enjoys so he knows better. And if a carpool child did this, that would be the end of the carpool as well. We have had a carpool – different ones over the years as we have moved a lot – as long as we have had APs, and there have been no issues with the driving either on the part of the AP or from the other family. The only “issue” at all that i can remember was when the children were really young and our AP brought cereal for a snack on the way home (it was a 25 min trip), the carpool mom asked me to have her bring fruit instead, which of course she did. Carpools feel so ordinary after a couple of days of kids driving together that it all becomes very humdrum and unexceptional shortly.

Busy Mom June 11, 2013 at 3:31 pm

We started routinely carpooling when each of our kids hit 4th grade (the start of our district music program). By then, you know which kids are well-behaved and which are not. We would never have set up a carpool with a kid who would not comply.

With 3 kids, 2 careers, numerous extra-curriculars and no busing after middle school, carpools are a way of life.

PA AP Mom June 10, 2013 at 10:58 pm

My AP can only drive certain friends of my kids when I have their parent’s permission. I tell the parents that my AP will be driving to the pool, for example. That gives them the ability to say they aren’t comfortable with the situation or to give consent.

That said, I wouldn’t make arrangements for my AP to drive someone else’s kids on a regular basis.

Host Mom in the City June 11, 2013 at 10:22 am

Me either. Maybe my kids aren’t old enough (4 and 6), but I can’t imagine asking our au pair to routinely drive other kids or on the flip side, being comfortable with an au pair from another family driving my kids. Seems like just asking for issues.

Au-Pair June 11, 2013 at 3:45 am

I should show this to my former hostmum ;)
They had big problems staying under the 30hours I was payed for even though they didn’t count time to get to or from school before/after pick up/drop offs etc.
That means I was never paid anything for the 20min walking to school and 30min home (BIG hill!! ;) ) I did without kids 3-4 times a week. I only adressed it once to a friend of mine, but she pointed out that I then was in the citycenter, where I did go once or twice a week. The question is, would I have done that anyway if I had time to walk back home? Probably yes.. So why should I get payed for time to myself shopping, getting library books or meeting friends?
It did annoy me though as I spent about 5 hours walking every week and then on top of that; the half an hour they “got hed up at work” once a week, the extra wednesday afternoon that somehow sneaked in and a helping hand at bedtime when HD was away. But hey, what wouldn’t you do when you love your hostfamily as a second family? I might be naive, but to me the good relationsship means everything and I wouldn’t have traded that for a family that counted every hour thorughly but treaded me as nothing more than an employee.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I think you have the right attitude about it.. there are always going to be things about a HF/AP that annoy you, but if you’re happy with the overall situation why stress about the small things? We’re experiencing that right now with our current AP. She is great with the kids and we generally really like her, but there are a lot of little things that we wish she wouldn’t do.. buys too much crap (with my money) for the house & the kids- but she also buys groceries and we now never run out of produce, and she also cooks AWESOME thai food for us and the kids. She is a little bit slobby- leaves her stuff lying around the house- but also does MY laundry and folds it amazingly nicely without my ever asking her to- and I’ve told her that I appreciate it but she really doesn’t have to do that. Also her attitude is amazing- she NEVER complains about anything. We know what it’s like to have a bad au pair and she is definitely a good one, so why sweat the small stuff?

FutureAP June 11, 2013 at 4:08 am

When I was an au pair, the girls had to be at school for 12:30 and I was scheduled until 12:45 and then I was scheduled from 3:00 and they were out at 3:20. There was a 10 to 15 minutes drive.

PA AP Mom June 11, 2013 at 10:14 am

Our boys ride the school bus. We count the AP’s work time as starting 10 minutes before our oldest son wakes up. Since she has to get up and get dressed, we count that as work time. She is “on duty” until our youngest gets on the bus and then we add 10 minutes. Our son gets on the bus at 818 and the walk home from the bus stop is less than 2 minutes but we say she is on duty until 830.

In the afternoon our youngest gets off the bus at 310. We count work time starting at 245 so she can get home, tidy up a little bit in the kitchen/play area and be at the bus stop on time.

We use about 27-32 hours per week so the extra time has never been as issue.

Host Mom in the City June 11, 2013 at 10:48 am

I guess it doesn’t really matter since you’re so under-hours, but you really count the time for your au pair to get dressed as work time? I posted above that we definitely count time from drop-off to home-base and from home-base to pick-up in 15 minute increments (e.g., it only takes a few minutes to walk down our block to the bus stop, but we count it as 15 minutes prior to bus arrival time). We also only use about 25-30 hours most weeks, so we’re not time crunched either.

But counting the time for her to get dressed before being on duty doesn’t seem necessary to me. If you don’t mind, would you explain your reasoning behind doing that?

PA AP Mom June 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Partially I do it because it’s just easier to round off the hours of work time to the half hour.

Otherwise, I do it because it is not her free time to do with as she chooses, so I count it. With AP #3, my boys were to be out of bed at 730am. I started work time at 730am on the schedule. She would come out of her room at exactly 730am, on the dot, and then go into the bathroom to brush her hair, brush her teeth, wash her face, use the toilet, etc. She ended up waking the boys closer to 745am and then having to rush around for breakfast, lunch packing, etc. A few times, maybe 4, the kids missed the bus.

To avoid any confusion, I find that adding that time fixes the issue. I know that not every family has the extra time that they can do that, but we do, so we add it.

Host Mom in the City June 11, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Ah I see. Yeah, we say in our handbook (just like most other jobs) that if you start at 7:30am, you START at 7:30am. So that means you’re downstairs, dressed, you’ve eaten (unless you’re feeding the kids), and you’re ready to begin work.

Seattle Mom June 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm

We’re the same way- I don’t get to count getting dressed as part of my work hours, and neither does the AP :).

Although we are often time-crunched as our preschool is not year-round. And in the first year only older DD went to school, so AP #1 had DD2 45 hours per week, almost every week (so the driving issue was a moot point).

3kids1dogHM June 11, 2013 at 10:44 am

I think it is fair to count the time to/from the home base as working time, unless as someone mentioned at 9:00am when the child is dropped off they could be off duty in a city center or near their gym, etc. to do as they please and that’s where they would want to be at that time. But how would you know this unless you had a decent relationship and discussed this? It’s better to err on the side of scheduling those hours, although I know this could potentially add up to 5 more “work” hours a week than if you didn’t schedule them.

Momma Gadget June 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

We also schedule in the travel time for drop off/pick ups based on leaving/returning to “home base”. If he chooses to go to Starbucks or to the gym in between which are closer, I really don’t care… as long as my kids are dropped off/picked up on time, fed and the chores ( laundry and basic tidying) are done.
If the kids have activities/lessons that the AP takes them too, this counts as “on time” even if he chooses to hang out at a nearby coffee shop and surf the internet until they are finished.

oranje_mama June 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

We follow the same policy – building in pretty generous travel time to/from the pick-up/drop-off site.

We also count the hours while the kids are in school as off the clock, and the hours when kids are in activities as on the clock. There is a difference between a 3-6 hour time block and 1-2 hour time block.

There are some gray areas, though. This summer our kids will be in swimming and tennis lessons at our swim club. We’ll count those hours as on duty (it’s not really practical for AP to leave the club during that time, but she is free to relax, sunbathe, swim laps, etc without having her eyes on our kids). On the other hand, when the kids are in a morning camp (9am-12pm), we’ll count that as 2 hours off duty. It’s on the short end, but I think a 2 hour chunk of time off (the discount is factoring in the travel time) is significant enough. Also, the camp is in an urban area, with plenty of shopping/starbucks/etc in the vicinity so, most likely AP will get to relax >2 hours.

I should also say that in the summer we go over the 45 hours. We pay $13/hr for every hour we go over. So from AP’s perspective: we could be hyper-technical and attempt to call time while kids are in swimming/tennis as “off duty” and then keep under the 45 hours, but I think our APs prefer us to call that time “on duty” and then pay them the hours we go over 45.

Host Mom in the City June 13, 2013 at 12:26 pm

We also count any 1-hour classes that the kids are in where AP is doing drop-off and pick-up as on-duty time since one hour isn’t really enough to count as free time.

But our kids are in summer camp from 9-1 on summer weekdays and we don’t count 9:30-12:30 as on duty time. Three hours is plenty to take a class, go to the gym, take a nap, have breakfast with a friend, whatever.

Texanadian APMom July 31, 2013 at 2:31 pm

In our case, we require significantly more coverage than the standard 45 hours/week, and so we plan to have our infant son in daycare for ~6 hours a day Mon-Thurs. Our AP’s shift starts in the early morning while we’re getting ready for work, and ends when he drops the baby off at daycare. The AP then has 10 AM to 4 PM to do with as they please, and their shift starts again at 4 PM with picking up the baby from daycare and ends at 8 PM. This way we always have 2 hours of buffer built-in on a given work day just in case, but typically we’ll be home the first and last 2 hours when the AP starts and finishes their shift. Travel to the drop off and from the pick-up are included in the schedule, but we do not offer additional time for driving to the pickup at 4 on the basis that we consider that time like as if you were driving yourself to work.

I should add that the daycare center is maybe 10 minutes (usually less) from our house tops, if you happen to be starting from there. If the commute were more like 20 minutes or more, we might re-evaluate our approach on this one, given that the primary work place is in the home.

Comments on this entry are closed.