At 16 months, Joey Garver is pointing to a puzzle letter and sounding out the letter D with a broad smile before toddling off through a plastic tunnel, where he is learning about dimension and shape.
His brother, Jack, 5, boasts that he already knows how to read, and shows off his budding Spanish vocabulary. The boys' caregiver, Janet Nimer, 27, beams.
Parents hoping to give their kids an educational boost at home are snapping up nannies such as Nimer who prefers to be called a "teachercaregiver" because of her college degree in early childhood education and student teaching experience. Nimer works through an agency called TeacherCare in Schaumburg, which finds teachers to work as caregivers for parents.
"People are understanding more and more how really critical those early years are now and how important that one-on-one interaction is," said Terri Brax, who founded TeacherCare five years ago and now is working with more than 100 families seeking teachers to care for their children.
Parents sometimes buy nannies their own cars as a signing bonus, ranging from Ford Escorts to Acuras, that they can use in their free time and to chauffeur the kids around. Other perks sometimes include trips to the family's summer home and tuition reimburse-
ment for nannies who take college courses on the weekends or in the evening, said Adrienne Murtaugh, of Village Nannies in Wilmette.
More people with teaching experience are seeking jobs as nannies, in part because they are able to provide individual attention to children at a time when classrooms are crowded with kids, Brax said.
But it is still tough to find enough college-educated nannies to meet the demand, Murtaugh said.
But many agencies hire recent college graduates who want to be a nanny for one or two years to help pay back student loans and take a break from school. Some of these nannies then return to school for graduate degrees and become teachers.Michelle Kipka, 25, who graduated from the University of Illinois in 1996 with a degree in secondary education has worked as a nanny for more than a year for a Lincoln Park family, taking care of a 4-year old boy and 6-year old girl.
Michelle Kipka, 25, who graduated from the University of Illinois in 1996 with a degree in secondary education has worked as a nanny for more than a year for a Lincoln Park family, taking care of a 4-year old boy and 6-year old girl.
She eventually plans to go to graduate school and possibly teach, but for now, she says her job is more fulfilling than teaching.
"It's an important job that involves problem solving, patience and organization," Kipka said. "I'm not solving the world's problems, but I'm raising children, and, to me, that's important."
Kipka, whose workday stretches from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., has used her musical background to encourage 6-year old Carrie to practice the violin. She works with 4-year old Nick on his vocabulary and reading.
Sarah and John Garvey, Hinsdale residents and both accountants, wanted to give their kids more intellectual stimulation when they hired Nimer.
"Janet and I have the same values, which is really key to having this stuff work," Sarah Garvey said. "It's so important in how to raise a child, how you teach them, discipline them and in terms of their safety. She treats them as though it was me."
Rather than requiring the boys to sit through structured lessons, Nimer incorporates learning into their everyday activities. Jack practices addition when he counts windows on houses on their walks. He learns fractions from the measuring cups he and Nimer use to bake cookies.
Joey's vocabulary has exploded with new words, in part because Nimer talks to him so much, Sarah Garvey said. Nimer has transformed part of the Garvey's basement into a learning center and playroom for the boys, with books, Spanish vocabulary charts, alphabet posters and pictures of the planets.
The boys also play basketball and ride tricycles to blow off steam.
"The way I see it, I'm more of a teacher now than when I was in the classroom," Nimer said. "I get to teach the whole child. They can learn at their own pace, and I don't have to worry about the rest of the class."
Merce Kerrigan, 32, says she was surprised to find out how much she enjoyed being a nanny after she graduated from Columbia College with a degree in radio broadcasting.
Kerrigan now takes care of four boys, ages 1, 4, 5 and 7 in Chicago and belongs to a group called the Nanny Circle that meets once a month in the Chicago area to discuss concerns of nannies and offer social interaction for what can be an isolating job.
"Our goal is to help stimulate children intellectually, socially and emotionally," Kerrigan said. "We look for that teachable moment with kids. We're not just babysitters."