Help Your Au Pair Plan for a Fun Summer

by cv harquail on June 17, 2012

As per usual, the summer has snuck up on me. Even though Target is already setting up the ‘back to school’ supplies display, I still haven’t gotten all the swimsuits and suncreen out of storage. And this week marks the last day of school!


Thank goodness we have only one week of unstructured vacation days before the girls go off to Grandma’s and then to camp. That’s just enough unstructured time to relax, then get bored, then bicker with your sister, and then be glad to have someone else impose structure on your day.

Kids need help filling their days with summer fun.

While school-age kids love the idea of free-flowing days of play, play, play, you just can’t leave kids to make their own decisions about how to spend their time. As much as I wish my kids could just entertain themselves sometimes, they aren’t able to organize fully satisfying days by themselves. Unless we find ways to help them use their time and direct their energy, they end up hanging around in the kitchen whining about being bored.

Your au pair will likely feel pretty challenged over the summer, unless s/he sets up a summer plan.  Without a plan, it gets pretty difficult to organize day after day, to come up with good ideas, and to managing the kids moods and the changing weather. S/he’ll need some resources and some coaching from you to create a plan so that s/he always has a sense of what can be done next.

You may have already signed your kids up for a few programs, like some day camp, or swim lessons or soccer clinics. But, even if these activities take up good chunks of their time, there will still be many open hours that your au pair will need to help them enjoy.

Your Basic Summer Plan

Summer schedules should include kid’s chores, learning events, easy outings, group playtime, and kid alone time.

Your plan should consist of two elements: structure and activities. Structure is the daily schedule, the weekly routine, and the calendar on the fridge helping the kids see what’s coming next. Activities are all the things you’ve set up for the kids (swimming lessons, library craft mornings) and the stuff that they want to do, alone or with friends.

Daily Structure

It’s always surprised me that even care-free kids who have no boss waiting for ‘deliverables” still like having structure and routine. Kids’ days should have punctuation points like a real wake up time, a real lunch time, a real nap time or quiet time, real snack times, and real bed times.

These punctuation points help an au pair organize around the day too, since they set up chunks of time for different sorts of play.

Weekly Routine

There’s a rhythm to a summer week. You or another parent might take a regular half-day working at home, or try to come home earlier on Friday nights. Your town might have an outdoor movie night every thursday. To the degree you can, it helps to have a weekly routine for the kids, too.

One year we were especially lucky that our neighbors with girls near our girls’ ages also had an au pair, and she and our au pair became good friends. They organized weekly outings– to the local zoo, the library, a picnic in the park, etc., which they usually did on Wednesdays. And, they coordinated with playdates, planning in one or two additional playdates with the girls together.

You might also consider different activities for specific weeks, to go along with other events. For example, what about decorating bikes with flags and crepe paper the week of 4th of July, for a mini-parade down your own street?

Assorted Activities

You can ask your kids to come up with a list of activities that they might want to do, that you can refer to when the kids have free play time but need ideas for what to do. My next door neighbor shared with me a list of all the playgrounds within a 15 minute drive. (Who knew there were over 30, including school playgrounds!!)  I made a list of the various outdoor toys we had stored in a chest on our back portch, free to borrow (wading pool, slip n’ slide, badminton set). We swapped lists, and hung them on our fridges.

The point of all these lists was to make it easier to remember just what was possible. Face it, when the kids are whining, it’s hot out, and your au pair is tired, it can be hard to get creative or even remember what options you have.

Use Lists, Use a Written Schedule, Use a Calendar on the Fridge

Put all the stuff in writing, and post it where the au pair and the kids can see it and use it. Let them go to the list and look over the ideas that they generated before — simply looking at a list, rather than asking the adult to remember and recount every choice makes it easier for the kids to come to a decision.

Also, having a list to refer to helps them take ownership (tather than blaming the au pair if s/he can’t come up with an idea they like).

Kid Goals, Adult Goals

Goals and Finales can also offer some structure and some motivation.

Some families like to have summertime learning goals for their kids (e.g., read x number of books by August 23rd, learn to swim the backstroke). If you have these goals already, it’s fun to put them into the calendar so that your kids have regular check-in moments, and you can create regular times to work on these goals.  My next-door neighbor made it a challenge to visit — you guessed it — all 30 playgrounds, and took pictures at each one.

Kids might enjoy short-term projects that take a few days and have a big ‘ta-da’.  Our kids have written, rehearsed and performed neighborhood plays.

Longer term projects are good too, since they help kids feel like they have accomplished something. You might have your kids do a ‘photo a day’ scrapbook or Tumblr, or tend a tomato garden, or train the dog to fetch the paper, or write a booklet of short stories, or visit every historical site in the county.

Get creative

Saren over at The Power Of Moms has had great success with organizing her kids’ days & weeks as “summer camp”. Saren has some terrific ideas in this post, and also sells a Summer Learning Adventure ‘kit’ with more complete plans.

My girlfriend Sharon gathered up a dozen ‘at home’ science experiments and had her kids try one each week, all summer long, on their Crazy Scientist Days. They wore white “lab coats” (Dads’ old shirts as smocks) and took photos for their “lab notebook”. Lots of folks also try their own ‘art camp’.

And, there’s always the Star Wars or Harry Potter Adventure week, where everyone wears a costume and carries a light sabre or a wand. Been there, done that, it’s fun.


We got a request for your best summer activity planning ideas from a mom who — thank goodness– is looking out for her new au pair. Share ideas below!

Hi. This summer our 6th au pair in the same number of years will come to us right after July 4th. Her first week will also be our kids first week home after school lets out and we get back from our family vacation. Our kids are now 9, 7 and 5 (two boys and a girl), so they’re big enough to do lots of fun things with.

Our family has been crazy busy with sports and ballet and various after school activities all school year, and I’ve been thinking that it’d be best to let the kids have a break from routines and schedules this summer. But, I’m slightly concerned about whether I’m giving our new au pair a great opportunity to have adventures and relaxed, unstructured fun with her new little buddies or a nightmarish quagmire with no routines. It can be hard enough to establish authority with kids that age when routines are in place. My kids are fairly good-natured and well-behaved, but aren’t perfect and are smart enough to take advantage of a power vacuum so they can do whatever it is that they might want at any given time. Am I setting our new au pair up for a summer filled with challenges, whining, moaning and power struggles?


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Calif Mom June 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Oh CV, you’re like my “au pair wife”, providing just the thing I need when I need it! You’re like a perfectly chilled cosmo as I walk through the door at the end of the day…

What a great post. Just the kick-in-the-pants I needed as I face yet another summer without a perfect schedule lined up.

The OP is absolutely right to be worried about power vacuums! Children smell fear and weakness and will exploit either/both. They are like wolf pups — truly!– they WANT leadership to be strong so they don’t have to worry about what will happen to their pack.

I will let go of Perfect — no perfect activities lists, no perfect schedule, no perfect whatever. Because Perfect is the enemy of “something to start with”. And “something to start with” is achievable, and will definitely help.

Those 3 days when I am training a new au pair are so exhausting and so much ends up not being explained well. These tools will help a great deal.

IN fact, I think I’ll take advantage of the next few days that I *do* have supervision from a wonderful person and assign some of these lists to my kids, and her.

Happy Summer, everyone! May our sunburns be few, and our rematches fewer! :D

Taking a Computer Lunch June 20, 2012 at 11:18 am

It is important to realize that summer fun changes as your children age, so what you write in your handbook and tell your au pair today, will be different from next year and the year after.

I usually start having the “summer is coming” conversation in April – it gives our AP 8 weeks to realize that her perfect “6 hours off in the middle of the day” schedule is going to come to an end.

Things to consider:

1) Are you offering your AP a budget to occupy the kids? Heading to the movies, going bowling, going to the zoo, etc., may all add up. If you don’t have a wallet for outings, then give your AP a list of free or inexpensive places to visit and encourage her to pack a picnic lunch. Remind her to pack enough water for everybody!

2) If she’s heading to the pool, is it enough to hang out with friends and let the lifeguard supervise the kids in the water? If you have toddlers and preschoolers, you’ll be thinking “No way!” while if you have ‘tweens, then it may not be a problem. Be explicit about what you expect of her – and if you belong to a pool then remind her that your friends will comment to you on her behavior. (In our case Make-
A-Wish gave our child with special needs an above-ground pool that all the neighbors use. I do state explicitly to parents that my AP is not the lifeguard.)

3) While the younger set may be content to play with the HK of her AP friends, the older set will not (mainly because there aren’t so many older HK compared to the younger). Encourage her to help your kids hang out with friends (my kids are in the older set and cringe at the words “play dates”) – remind her that hosting other people’s kids will lead to chances to offload one or two of her charges when others reciprocate.

4) I think it’s okay for older kids to be bored (the infant, toddler, and preschool set have the potential to wreak havoc when bored). When I was a kid my parents did not schedule my time. It only took a day or two to make my own adventures. Now is a perfect time to learn to ride a bike, head to the local library and read books, sit by the pool, go berry picking, and take it slow. I tell my AP it’s okay to bring up her laptop or read a book when the kids aren’t making demands on her (but then again I have a ‘tween and and a teen).

6) If you have the finances to do it, consider sending older kids to day camp. My typically developing child will be playing basketball, working on his rock climbing skills, skateboarding, and playing music this summer – skills on which he doesn’t have enough time to work on during the school year. We don’t schedule every week of the summer – he wants some down time just to be a kid. My child with special needs has half-day school for four weeks, but then is content to swim or play music the rest of the time. Because I pay for them to have camp time, I expect the AP to come up with inexpensive activities when she is in charge of them.

7) Reinforce requirements with kids. It’s not okay to ride off on one’s bike without telling the adult in charge. You must tell people where you are going. It’s not okay to be rude.

Old(er)AuPair June 20, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I believe summer is a hard time for AuPairs. When I first was an AuPair in 2007 I was in a family with no handbook, no rules, no worries. It ended up being good because I was able to plan all the activities but I was always unsure if I could do paid activities.

I am getting ready to be an AuPair again in the end of this year and I think now I am more prepared to stablish routines and ask for HP all the infos I need prior to planning the week.

I believe it really depends on the age. With toddlers and prescholers I believe you should be totaly hands on. Crafts, water playing, exploring. While with teens you might be up to have fun with them at some point, participating on the activities.

I also believe there should be some learning goals: reading a number of books by the end of the summer, practice writing, learning some new things.

Seattle Mom June 21, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Thanks for the reminder.. our AP is on vacation this week, and when she comes back she’ll have both kids 100% of the time- our older daughter (3) is usually in preschool 2 mornings per week. 2 mornings per week doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds a sense of structure to the week that will now be gone. I’m going to talk to the AP about things she can do in the summer with the kids. If the weather is nice this summer (knock on wood, since last summer it was very cold here) there are lots of things she can do that weren’t possible the rest of the year- wading pools, beaches, other outdoor activities. And we’ll have to talk about sunscreen etc. I’m really glad she has a couple of AP friends with similar-aged children who get along with mine, she has been good about setting up playdates and I hope that continues through the summer. It’s also nice that she gets along with one of my SAHM friends (who happens to be her age… but is a very unusual person), whose son is my daughter’s BFF.

I’m also going to try to “work from home” on a regular basis this summer (about once a week), to make up for the fact that due to my husband’s summer schedule (he teaches college) he will be around less than usual. I don’t want this to be an endless summer for the au pair, in a bad way!

Our AP has been with us now for about 6 months, and I’m already thinking of the things I can do for AP2 that will make the transition easier- one of them is writing a bunch of lists of different places to take the girls. That might actually be useful now, with our current AP. Maybe I assume she knows more than she does.

Leticia July 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm

HI!! I’m Leticia, an au pair from Argentina, i’m 23 y.o and I’m with Au Pair Care.
I’m in rematch. So, if anybody here knows about a possible host family i would be more than glad to contact with them and talk about their and my expectations, knowing the kids and giving the my references. They can call my current host parents or talk them by Skype to be more sure and ask some questions if they want to.

My e-mail is


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