Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reading is Essential!

No matter the age, reading is essential! Reading with babies is as important as reading with a toddler, preschooler or school ager. Making time in the day for reading is relaxing and enjoyable for everyone. I like to sprinkle the day with reading - 10 or 15 minutes in the morning, just before nap time and again to wind down before parents arrive home. It's a wonderful routine before bedtime, quieting and calming everyone.

As children get older and begin reading themselves it is good to encourage personal reading time. A period when everyone has a book to enjoy. Early readers are wonderful for side-by-side reading where child and adult share reading. One of the children would read the left page and I'd read the right, or some version of that. Then we'd expand until they were doing most of the reading while I might ask a question or two as we went along.

Choosing books from a variety of subjects is a great idea. It expands the child's world and introduces them to new ideas, places or people. I liked to have a chapter book going for all the children to enjoy together, it was always a great group activity. At the same time we'd have books for each age and level so that they could choose their own books during reading time. Visiting the library allowed us to sample a variety of authors, subjects and styles. We also built a very strong home library with classic books and favorites. Each child had their own book bin or shelf in their room, so there was always a book in easy reach. I brought a book bag in the car for trips or longer outings. If we were traveling or on vacation we'd still include books in our activities.

Infant and young toddler books are typically made of sturdy stuff - board or cloth books can handle the sometimes rougher use. Books for young children rely on strong illustrations, word rhythm and rhyme, as well as word repetition to deliver the story. Early reading books also use repetition along with simple words and basic sentence patterns. These early readers often allow for children to bring in phonic techniques to discover new words. The use of illustrations that help the reader decipher content is important. As children grow to be more confident readers the need for illustrations on every page starts to fade as they take the story context to a new level - one where they are seeing the story develop not in an illustration but in their own mind.

Encourage children to read by choosing books that feature their interests, making reading part of the every day routine and by modeling the joy of reading yourself. Children are watching what you do - let them see you reading.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Employment Agreements

From our friends at Breedlove & Associates . . . .

Hiring a nanny can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, especially for ultra-busy, sleep-deprived families. Often, the obsession with finding the perfect caregiver causes families to overlook important employment details.
In this issue of The Legal Review, we put the spotlight on employment agreements and the vital role they play in creating a successful employment relationship.
The Mistake
A Virginia family began searching for a nanny to care for their new bundle of joy. After an emotionally-draining 6-week quest to find the ideal nanny, they hastily agreed -- verbally -- on a work schedule and hourly rate. The nanny started work the next day without any kind of written agreement in place.
The Law
In some jurisdictions, a basic employment agreement is legally required. Whether required or not, we highly recommend that families use a placement agency or an attorney who can facilitate a comprehensive contract between family and nanny.
The discipline of drafting detailed job responsibilities, house rules, emergency procedures, work schedule, vacation/sick time procedures, compensation, pay frequency, communication/review procedures, etc. radically reduces problems and misunderstandings. It also tends to lengthen relationships because it makes the employee feel like a valued professional. Finally, it can be an important and cost-effective means of arbitrating any family/nanny issues.
The Mess
Within a few weeks, the honeymoon was over:
  • The family had trouble hiding frustration with the nanny's housekeeping habits. She was tidying up the baby's room and kitchen as well as cleaning toys and baby clothes. But the family had expectations of the nanny doing the family's laundry and light housekeeping.
  • The nanny resented not getting paid for Labor Day. She needed the money and had assumed that she'd get paid for major holidays.
  • When the nanny got her first pay check, she was confused by the tax withholdings. She thought the agreed-upon amount would be her "take-home" pay.
The Outcome
The family talked to friends and did some online research into the typical duties of nannies. They quickly realized that nanny job descriptions vary wildly and that they had done a poor job of articulating their desires at the beginning of the search process.
Similarly, although the family had done some research on household employer tax and legal obligations, they had not discussed the compensation and benefits offer at the appropriate level of detail for their nanny.
Despite the rocky start, the family really liked the way the nanny took care of the baby so they made a considerable effort to keep her. They created an employment agreement and sat down with her to discuss all the "relationship details" they should have discussed a month earlier.
Unfortunately, the nanny took another job shortly after their meeting. She did not feel valued or respected and opted for a fresh start with another couple.
The family hired their next nanny through one of our agency partners. The agency used a thorough job description process to focus the search on nannies who met the family's expectations. After a comprehensive vetting process, the agency held the family's hand through an employment agreement that left no room for misinterpretation or confusion. It's been almost 18 months and the relationship is going strong.
How the Whole Thing Could Have Been Avoided
When searching for household help, busy families are tempted to take short cuts. Aside from being pressed for time, it can feel somewhat awkward to have a formal contractual agreement with someone with whom there is such a personal relationship.
However, in our experience, the formal work agreement is the single-best predictor of the long-term success of the relationship. Without one, the relationship almost always seems to be rife with misunderstandings and resentment. With one, the relationship enjoys clear direction and increased professionalism.
We encourage families to retain a reputable placement agency that can guide them on employment agreements and other important aspects of due diligence involved with household employment. It dramatically enhances the odds of an endearing and enduring employment relationship.
If you have additional questions about this or any other aspect of household employment tax and labor law, please call 888-BREEDLOVE (888-273-3356) or visit us online. We're here to help.
Tom Breedlove's Signature
Tom Breedlove
Breedlove & Associates, LLC

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Logo!

Nannies from the Heartland has a new logo! You'll start to see our logo popping up on our Facebook page, Twitter, our blog and website. We're excited about this fresh look!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Just say thank you!

by Kelly Miller

I have been a nanny for 17 years, and I am working with my fifth permanent placement family.  I have enjoyed all of my nanny positions immensely.  One thing I have appreciated is when my employers simply say "Thank you."
I am currently a nanny for a 1-year-old boy, and I know exactly what my employers are thinking.  A quick note in the nanny log yesterday said, "Thank you for the mittens you made with T. We are so impressed by the art projects you can get him to do!  Thank you for taking him to the library and tot time.  We know he enjoys his days with you because he is so happy in the evenings."  Sometimes they have left me a quick note on one of T's drawing boards, propped up next to the nanny log.  They have also left me thank you cards with a small gift card enclosed to Barnes and Noble or Target.  I feel appreciated when my employer is going to the grocery store and he asks me if there is anything I'd like (for me, not for T).  When I arrive, many times he points out something for lunch, or a new tea, or a special dessert they made.  This makes me feel welcome in their home, and I feel comfortable to have any meals or snacks that I would like.  I also feel appreciated when I get home to discover a text from my employer, thanking me for something that I did that day.

It is quick and easy to write a short note, buy some flowers or candy and let your nanny know that you appreciate her.  Since I work for employer's that constantly make me feel appreciated, I find that I am writing them affirming notes, too.  I know they appreciate art activities, and I often make the extra stop to purchase needed supplies for a special project.  I know they like me to go on local, close-to-home outings, so I concentrate on what is in their area.

Saying "thank you" is quick and easy to do.  Take the time to thank your nanny for everything she does for your children and your family.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Importance of Independent Play

This is from an article I wrote many years ago for another nanny publication. As I was rereading it, I realized the basic information I wanted to share was still relevant. The children noted in this piece are now 19, 22 and 25. I use their names with their permission. Since the article was written when the 19 year old was 6, I now have a peek of the future I could have only imagined then. They are confident, independent young people who still value and enjoy time to play.

The Importance of Independent Play

"Will you help me tie this cape?" six year old Marissa asks.
"Sure, honey! What are you up to?"
"Oh, I can't say just yet. I'm not done planning," she responds.

This is typical play at our house -- totally child-created. As these children have matured they have sought positive ways to express their independence including creating their own activities and games and their own style of independent play.

True independent play is child-directed and child-driven, from their ideas to their outcomes. Nevertheless, children developing activities and play scenarios need to know that adults are close at hand. By keeping safe, appealing play materials within easy reach, and granting the freedom to use them, we can help children grow toward independence. The children could access items that were age appropriate and parent/nanny approved. As their interests and abilities developed we increased the items that were available to them.

Why is Independent Play Important?

Through independent play, children learn to think for themselves, work with others, and integrate new ideas and viewpoints. They develop autonomy, a synonym for liberty, independence, and freedom - all words that, for me, project a picture of the journeys ahead for children as they move toward adulthood.

We want to encourage those steps that help a child develop self-confidence and independence. Solo play supports social growth by letting the child build confidence in their abilities. In group play they draw on what they already know. Group play led by children (not by adults) is another form of independent play. Child-driven and child-centered, group play helps children explore the concepts, ideas and viewpoints of their friends.

Let me share a few examples.

When Cassie was three and her brother was about nine months old, she invented "The Office." He was a spirited baby and got into everything his big sister did. Out of frustration Casse said that she would be "better off in the playpen!" Interesting idea! So we placed her Little Tikes picnic table inside the playpen, and she set up a very efficient office. She enjoyed sending memos to me, receiving phone calls on her play phone and stamping her important papers with stickers. Alec was happy to surf the outside perimeters of the playpen, talking to his sister from time to time.

As a young preschooler, Alec too, found pleasure in doing his own thing. He discovered the joys of the play kitchen. Cooking up delicious meals, talking on the toy phone and stacking dishes occupied his time. He would occasionally invite others, usually his stuffed animals, to sample some new recipe. But for the most part he enjoyed the experience of being in total control.

Marissa, now six has always preferred the world of visual arts. Anytime she wants to be alone or with a friend, the art box is her preference. In creating her own masterpieces, she experiences infinite pleasure. She loves to share her art, even consenting to explain its deeper meanings, but her greatest joy is in the process itself.

The Adult's Role in Independent Play

As adults, we serve in an advisory capacity: we guide where needed, tie up that cape or become the audience. We begin as facilitator and work our way to consultant, called upon as needed by the child. Promoting independent play begins early by introducing toys and objects that are safe and intriguing for baby. We remain close at hand, but this playtime experience is under the child's control. I always found this a great time to step back and observe.

I remember many afternoons with Alec, happily engaged in playing with his Sesame Street activity gym, while Cassie and I read a book nearby. He cooed and "talked" to Big Bird and batted at Cookie Monster. When she was ready to find something of her own to do, he was often happy to continue his solo play. This left me a few quiet moments to jot down notes in their daily journals. Then it was his turn to have some one-on-one time with me.

As a baby, Marissa too, enjoyed independent play. Her favorite spot was the swing with its varied rattles, keys and characters on the tray. As a toddler she enjoyed a quiet corner of the family room taking a favorite book or doll with her. She made it her sanctuary, and it comforted her that we were available while she exercised some personal choice.

Now their ability to uncover new activities, develop individual interests and play independently has matured. I see them moving toward the confident, independent adults they will someday become, and appreciate the value of the time we'spent encouraging independent play.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ice Castles and Igloos

by Kelly Miller

Each February, I go to the store to purchase sugar cubes, white frosting and an assortment of candy (gummy bears, spice drops, conversation hearts and m&m's are my favorites). I gather the children I am currently nannying, and the fun begins!

Ice castles and igloos work well if they are built on cardboard with tinfoil wrapped around the top. We start by creating a castle base, and then we add towers and anything else we can think of. (This year we had an ice skating rink made with frosting and blue sprinkles, as well as gummy bears sitting around a campfire). School agers have the ability to make elaborate castles, and toddlers and preschoolers have fun with a simple castle.

Another idea is to use the sugar cubes to create an igloo. This year we had spice drops decorating the top of the igloo, with gummy bears inside. Be creative and have fun with sugar cubes!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Year End Tax Reminders

By Tom Breedlove, Breedlove & Associates (posted on

It’s that time of year again…tax season is officially upon us. We realize that most humans discard all tax information from their brain the minute they finish their returns. So, here are a few reminders/tips for this tax season:

1.By early February, you should receive a Form W-2 from each employer that paid you $1,700 or more during the year. (If an employer gives you a Form 1099, they have misclassified you as an independent contractor – which is illegal for the family and increases your tax burden). Your W-2 should reflect the total amount of the wages paid to you throughout 2011 and also show the taxes that have been withheld from your paychecks throughout the year. If you do not receive your Form W-2s by mid-February, you should contact your employer. If you’ve had a change of address, it’s your responsibility to notify each employer (or former employer) you worked for during 2011.

Note: If a family did not pay you $1,700 or more during 2011, they are not obligated to give you a Form W-2. However, the IRS still expects you to report those wages. On Form 1040, you should enter “HSH” and the total amount of all unreported wages on the dotted line next to box 7. On Form 1040EZ, the same instructions apply, but the unreported amount is entered on the line next to box 1.

1.By the end of February, your employer will file a copy of your W-2 with the Social Security Administration. This will credit your earnings record, which will directly affect how much you are paid during retirement. The greater your earnings record, the more golden your Golden Years will be.

2.By April 17 (the IRS tax filing deadline is April 17th this year due to a holiday), you will need to file income tax returns with the IRS and your state (in most states). You’ll use the Form W-2s you received from your employers to complete the 1040 or 1040-EZ. You can file using the paper forms, a software product like TurboTax, or the IRS’s e-filing program (it’s free if your Adjusted Gross Income is less than $57,000). For more information about the FreeFile program, visit,,id=118986,00.html?portlet=106

3.Many nannies – especially those who are single and have a child – qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC or EIC), which can substantially reduce your income tax obligation. To see if you qualify, refer to the back of your Form W-2 or visit,,id=96406,00.html

Good luck with tax season. And don’t forget to be grateful to your employer(s) who go the extra mile to ensure that you have the professional benefits and protections you deserve.