- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

U.S. Department of Agriculture. The parents of three young children, the Zuckmans naturally are interested in giving them the best quality education.

Problems arose, however, when their oldest, Noah, now 6, resisted the pre-kindergarten program he was attending. Jennifer took stock of his emotional refusal to attend, and finally considered home-schooling — to the surprise of everyone, including herself.

“My husband insisted on having him evaluated at Johns Hopkins, where they found he was a couple of years ahead of his age group academically and was socially well-adjusted. On that condition, he gave his blessing to home-schooling,” Jennifer says.

Fortunately, the Zuckmans already were participating in the Cultural Care Au Pair program, hosting a young Australian woman, Joanne Irwin. Having about six years experience in child care, she already had been working with the Zuckmans when they began considering home-schooling.

“At first, the idea was a challenge, because I hadn’t done it, but I had a positive attitude. Jen and I worked like sisters, and developed a schedule. Mostly, we watch and let the kids initiate the learning, so if [4-year-old] Sophie is into worms, we draw pictures of worms, study them, go out and look at them. We grab onto what they want to learn, and expand it.”

The Zuckmans read aloud to the children and work with them in the evenings and on weekends.

“We do an all-year schedule, learning seven days a week, any time of the day,” Jennifer explains. “Last night, just before bedtime, Noah asked a question about an atlas. So we stayed up late, exploring that. It’s a way of life.”

Jennifer works two days from home each week, which allows her additional flexibility. Joanne may supervise the children on a computerized math program or workbooks, and has been learning Spanish along with them.

“She’s a whiz at arts and crafts,” Jennifer says. “She’ll get them doing science experiments — she’s always reading books on child development, always learning.”

For Joanne, now 23, being an au pair allowed her to combine her love of children with her love of travel.

“It let me do what I love,” she says. This experience gave her insight into what happens “behind the child care center — at home. I have a better idea of the child as an individual, not just the children as a group.”

Her plans include working as a group leader in a child care center, and, eventually, being the director of a child care facility, or doing home-based child care.

“With the right material and environment, kids can learn in any situation,” she said. “I’m learning that every day.”

The Zuckmans are fortunate Joanne was so experienced and was willing to participate in home-schooling. Now, as her two-year term is ending, they have been trying to find another au pair who can fill her shoes — not an easy task. Luckily, Cultural Care Au Pair helped them locate an American girl living in Australia who is open to the home-schooling aspects of the position.

Parents considering hiring an au pair through Cultural Care Au Pair should know it requires a separate room in the home, fees that cover health care, visa applications and travel costs, and tuition for two courses per semester for the au pair to take. The compensation to the au pair is not exorbitant, but lodging and food are the responsibility of the host family, as is access to a vehicle.

Cultural Care Au Pair has more than 1,000 au pairs currently placed with families in the Marji Epstein (301/424-0040) or send e-mail ([email protected] care.com).

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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