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Early Childhood Development and Au Pairs
Do Au Pairs Enrich Early Childhood Development?
By Summer Blackhurst
Hosting an au pair to leverage learning in early childhood may prove beneficial in school and later in your child’s profession. One overwhelming theme from my conversations with host families is that parents host foreign au pairs (instead of daycare or nannies) in order to teach their children about cultural diversity and to expose them to a second language.
Well-known child psychologist Jean Piaget’s work showed social interaction and environmental experience lends to the child’s ability to learn. Piaget’s concept, cognitive disequilibrium, categorized five stages of learning children move that ultimately contribute to their learning and development. The stages are: new situations, disequilibrium, accommodation, assimilation and equilibration. Hosting an au pair from a different culture introduces experiential learning that challenges a child’s way of thinking and promotes growth.
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s work seems to support Piaget’s findings. Vygotsky said children develop based on their surrounding culture and social agents. He notes learning always precedes development and believes children move on to the next development step once they are exposed to new information. He agrees that social interactions, like interactions with someone from a different culture, can speed up a child’s development.
This learning process is stimulated even more for host families asking their au pairs to expose their children to two languages everyday. A report given by the director of the district's Bilingual Education and World Languages Department, Dr. Joanne H. Urrutia, stated “…bilingual children scored significantly higher than their monolingual peers in verbal and math-standardized tests.” One explanation for scoring higher on the tests can be that cultural differences encourage language development.
Finally, while not a lot of research has actually been done on the impact a foreign au pair might have on a young child, plenty of research has been done with college students who participate in cultural exchange. A study published in the Journal of International Students* shows college students who interact frequently with cultural exchange students perform at higher levels than their peers and go on to be more successful in their career endeavors.
Host Parents may be on to something when they say they bring in their au pair for more reasons than just childcare. They may be getting a lot more for their child than just babysitting – their Au Pair may actually enrich the learning processes in early childhood development years. Ultimately, hosting an au pair may lead to your child’s academic success and in their future careers.
*Lou, J. & Jamieson-Drake, D. (2013). Examining the Educational Benefits of Interacting with International Students. Journal of International Students, ISSN: 2162-3104 Print/ ISSN: 2166-3750 Online Volume 3, Issue 2 (2013), 85-101, Copyright 2013-2014 JIS http://jistudents.org/