Think Out Loud

How a training program is preparing babysitters in Oregon

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
March 22, 2024 1 p.m.

Broadcast: Friday, March 22

With spring break around the corner, many students will be enjoying their time away from school work, but some may find themselves picking up jobs as babysitters.


Margie House is the 4-H program coordinator at Oregon State University’s Extension program and runs a babysitter teaching program. She joins us to share more on the demand for the course and what students are learning.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. For decades, babysitting was both a job and a rite of passage. Now, it feels more like a symbol of a bygone American era. That was the thesis of a recent article in The Atlantic magazine. Their idea is that evolving expectations of parents and heavily scheduled adolescent lives have made babysitting less central to the American experience. The article briefly mentioned an Oregonian who is trying to change that. Margie House is a 4-H program coordinator at Oregon State University’s Extension program in Curry County. As part of her job, she teaches young people how to become babysitters. She joins us now to talk about it. Welcome to the show.

Margie House: Great. Thank you. Welcome.

Miller: Why do you offer this course? What’s the idea behind it?

House: This course was really developed to be career development based. So, we were aware that in Oregon, we had what’s called a childcare desert. That’s really a nationwide issue. And a gap in that system that we noticed was that the pipeline from getting kids interested or getting young adults interested in career pathways, working with young children wasn’t really something there was an emphasis on. So teen babysitters were definitely something that we thought might help in that regard. And so we began doing hands-on training, which is what the 4-H program is really known for in becoming a babysitter.

Miller: That’s a slightly different way to think about babysitting than I thought about it when I was a 12-year-old or so and babysitting myself, decades and decades ago, where it was just a way to make some money and maybe a way to get a little bit more, just practice at being responsible. As opposed to a pathway that I saw for a career in taking care of kids. So, but for you, it’s sort of a combination of the two?

House: Definitely a combination of the two. I think parents are looking for childcare from individuals that can provide safe, competent and caring nurturing for their children. But we also know that we have a shortage of people willing to go into the field of early childhood care and education. And the two kinds of reality go hand in hand.

Miller: What has demand for your class been like?

House: It is surprisingly, overwhelmingly big. So we do this training statewide and it’s a virtual training right now. That started during COVID and just we kept seeing the demand for it. So, across the 36 counties in Oregon, we’ve served over 800 young adults from the ages of 10 to 19 over the course of the last four-and-a-half years. Each class, we do about three a year,

has about 50 participants. So we have to cap it. And that’s just because of how many educators we have available to teach the class and just to keep the size of these virtual classrooms at a place where you can have good class discussion and not have it be just someone really watching a training. They’re really involved and we’re doing a lot of critical thinking. So demand is really high. I’ve actually had lots of outreach since that article ran in The Atlantic from people in Oregon that saw it and said, hey, I didn’t know about this and I’d really like to get my team trained.

Miller: What do you learn about why kids or young adults as you call them all…to me, 10 to 19, most of that is kids… [Laughter]

House: Yeah.

Miller: And then at the top end, you’ve got some young adults. But what do you hear from them about why they sign up and what they want?

House: I think a lot of them have been in that position where maybe they’re watching siblings at home or neighbors or perhaps, they are just looking for a way to make some money. Like we said in the beginning, at age 12 when we were growing up, that was something that you just sort of rite of passage sort of did. I think that still exists. So aside from that aspect, I think they’re looking at ways to be a little bit more marketable. The demand for childcare is definitely out there but parents are looking for the people that are coming into their home to have some sort of skills.

Miller: We asked listeners on Facebook for their thoughts or experiences on babysitting. Kate Comiskey wrote this: “It’s not the kids, it’s the parents. Parents don’t allow anyone to watch their kids anymore, especially older kids. It’s sad because learning from older kids is such an important part of childhood.”


Do you think that the expectations of parents have changed?

House: Yeah, I’m really interested to hear more about what comments that you received because I’m a parent myself. I do think that there is some shift in expectations. The world is definitely different than it was even just a decade ago. But yeah…

Miller: I think the idea here is that parents are more likely to be helicopter parents or to be anxious about entrusting their precious kids with anybody, and less likely to feel comfortable having their kids be watched by older kids. I think that was the gist of that comment. And certainly, that idea was embedded in The Atlantic article as well.

House: I think this training helps with that. It’s something that they’re able to say. I learned these skills and I took the time and this is why you should be able to trust me. We talked to them about getting started with babysitting and gaining experience and that can look like things like coming in and being what’s called a mother’s helper. So perhaps they’re in the home while the parent is there. These are things that, in this day and age, if we’re seeing parents that are a little uncomfortable with a younger teen coming in to watch their children, that helps build that trust level between parent and sitter. And we talk about that a lot in the class. We talk about ways to gain experience, whether that’s in a church group you participate in, there’s usually a daycare center in there or working with programs like 4-H. That is our model for learning from doing and being with other peers and having those leaders within the group work with the younger kids. So the 4-H program, I think, is uniquely situated to really help, in that regard, parent competence.

Miller: We got other comments from listeners. Sue Staehli wrote on Facebook about her experiences: “Reading the adult novels in their bookshelves, waiting for them to come home at 2 a.m...” That was her experience. Rachel Power Toleff said, “Interesting snacks.”

Kristen Gustafson said: “I made spending money babysitting. I learned how to navigate various relationships to represent myself and my family responsibly, and I learned a lot about how to motivate kids. It was a very valuable experience for me. I got a lot of positive reinforcement from clients and my family. As a parent, having trusted people to help look after my son was priceless. That said, I could not afford a babysitter these days. It costs so much.”

Your students, who are learning how to be better babysitters or maybe to become babysitters for the first time, how much do you talk to them about money?

House: We have a whole section. So our last session is called the “business of babysitting and beyond.” And a part of that is a segment called “dollars and cents.” So we talk to them about, you know, family budgets versus what the trend is in their area. One of the activities that we have is an interview, a parent interview or a neighbor interview. They’re tasked with taking this form and asking parents or a couple of people in their lives questions about when they hire a babysitter, what are they looking for? And one of those is, what do you pay? We talked about perhaps setting a rate and things like how many children are there? Are you being asked to do other things? Are there tasks like cleaning that they would like you to do as well? And then extra pay for extra hours.

So we don’t necessarily give them a price point. However, I do hear what that parent is saying. Personally, we pay our babysitters $10 an hour. I have two children, eight and five. And so I hear that. We definitely take that into consideration when hiring babysitters, but it’s really dependent.

Miller: [Laughter] Just as you mentioned the other skills or other tasks that may be asked for, I was reminded that a couple of years ago, my wife and I got a babysitter for our kids, and we had some dirty dishes in the sink. And we got home, and the sitter had cleaned those dishes and left the kitchen clean. We had never asked her to do it. She just did it and we both nearly wept with joy. I don’t even know what it says. I guess it just says I was a tired parent, how much it still stands out of my mind as a joyous moment.

What are things that you teach students in these classes that you think they really wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, just broadly?

House: First of all, I want to say, I think that’s great because that is a tip that I always give out to do a little extra because that’ll get them calling you back. So I love that, you need to call that babysitter back.

We talked to them about building what’s called a babysitter bag. And so after every class, there’s something that we asked them to find to put in their bag, I kind of like Mary Poppins. And so they’re showing up with a bag that has perhaps like activities. So they’ve talked to the family about the children that they’re going to be seeing and sitting with and what are their likes and what are their interests. And so perhaps they’re really into coloring or they’re really into board games and you know this and so you bring that in your bag along with you.

We have them bring their own small first aid kit. We talk about what might go into that. So activities we’re really heavy on. Prepare for those kids and do something really special for them. Build your babysitter bag. That’s one that I think is unique to this program. And I want to say that this program is built off of an existing curriculum from the 4-H Army Corps of Engineers. And so this is an adapted curriculum that we created to be virtual...

Miller: So these are Army Corps of Engineers certified-babysitting training tips.

House: Yes. And then we integrated into it a few extras. So one of the things that is a personal flair of mine is called the Five B’s of Babies. And this was actually a tip that I got from a friend when we had our first child. And it’s like if you don’t know what’s going on when the baby is crying, check their five b’s. Is it their belly? Are they hungry? Is it a boo boo? Are they hurt in some way? Do they need to go to bed? Are they tired? And so we teach them some tips like that. Those are things that you might not know. I didn’t know that as a new parent. We teach proper hand washing is really important for safety. And infant safe sleep, we definitely added that and highlighted it because that’s one of those things that you know, sudden infant death syndrome is not something you think about and it is terrifying. So infant safe sleep is really an important aspect of talking about caring for children of that age.

Miller: Margie House, thank you very much for joining us. It was a pleasure talking with you.

House: Thank you.

Miller: That’s Margie House. She is a 4-H coordinator for Curry County, for OSU Extension. And part of her job is to teach young people how to become babysitters.

Contact “Think Out Loud®”

If you’d like to comment on any of the topics in this show or suggest a topic of your own, please get in touch with us on Facebook, send an email to, or you can leave a voicemail for us at 503-293-1983. The call-in phone number during the noon hour is 888-665-5865.