Nanny bag: 11 must-haves to bring on every job

Dec. 22, 2020
Image via Sydney Vuylsteke

For nannies, coming prepared to work is job No. 1. You need to keep everyone safe, comfortable and entertained. You want to think ahead so you come ready with some first-aid basics to address any little emergencies before they happen. And bonus points if you come with a well-stocked toolkit (aka your nanny bag) that makes you the most well-loved and well-prepared child care provider that family has ever seen.

“We always recommend that our nannies bring what we call a nanny bag to any job,” says Kaitlin McHugh, a placement counselor at Westside Nannies, who frequently advises nannies on what to bring. “We suggest they fill it with potentially useful items but also fun things that may interest a child. Plus, parents are always extremely impressed when a nanny shows up prepared.”

And fear not, she says. “A nanny bag doesn’t require that you spend a ton of money — you can use items you might already have at home or [find on a] stroll through the dollar section.”

Compiled with expertise from agency pros and working nannies, here's a packing list of what to keep in your nanny bag — whether you’re traveling far with your charges or just to the neighborhood park.

1. Change of clothes

Little kids often need frequent wardrobe changes — and so do the people who care for them. “I always bring a change of clothes,” explains Sydney Vuylsteke, a nanny based in the Sacramento, California area. “Anyone who has [or] works with kids knows that you never know what could get spilled, splashed or spit on you!”

2. First-aid essentials

Small, well-outfitted first-aid kits are affordable and widely available. Make sure yours has bandages, antibiotic ointment, antiseptic cleansing wipes and a pair of tweezers for splinters or other mini-emergencies.

3. Cleaning essentials

Hand hygiene is more important now than ever before, and hand sanitizer is key when you’re out and can’t wash up with soap and water. Also bring other essentials for keeping tidy, like wet wipes and tissues. 

Vuylsteke says she always carries a stain-removal pen, too. “This handy little thing has saved many articles of clothing,” she says. “Marker stains, food stains, the mystery stains whose contents are best left unknown … the Tide To Go pen has rescued shirts from them all.”

4. Utility knife

As long as you can keep it safe and out of reach of kids, you’ll find tons of unexpected uses for a utility knife’s features while on the job. “A Swiss Army knife can really get you out of a lot of situations that may come up,” says Adventure Nannies co-founder Shenandoah Davis.

5. Snacks

Carry snacks not just for yourself but for the kids in your charge, too. And while healthy snacks are important, a little treat can go a long way in a pinch. “Who isn’t motivated by a favorite treat?” Vuylsteke says. “I have found that now that kids are doing school virtually, it is extra helpful to have a rewarding treat on hand. Virtual class meetings can get long, and let’s be honest, a little boring. A few gummy bears in the middle of a meeting always bring a smile and usually a little boost in motivation and enthusiasm to make it through the school day.”

Image via Sydney Vuylsteke

6. Water bottle

Always have water on hand to keep yourself and the kids hydrated. You might consider investing in lightweight, collapsible water bottles to save room in your bag (and support the environment while you’re at it).

7. Sunscreen

Nothing sabotages a sunny outing faster than realizing you came without sunscreen. For babies’ and kids’ delicate skin, pediatricians recommend sunscreens that contain mineral ingredients like zinc oxide. Bring along lip balm with SPF for added protection. (And make sure to apply liberally, even on a cloudy day.)

8. Books or educational toys

When you produce a book or toy from your bag, you can distract, entertain and educate. And you can help soothe an anxious child, too: “It's also always good to have a spare toy or book the child loves in case you need to help calm them,” Davis says.

9. Phone charger

When your phone contains so much critical data, remember your ABCs: “Always be charging.” Make sure your bag has an extra wall charger, battery pack or whatever backup charging essentials you rely on, Davis recommends. And in case technology fails despite your best efforts, she recommends bringing a backup of your analog needs, including a “paper map and phone numbers and addresses just in case something happens to your phone.”

10. Planner or schedule

Make sure your bag contains the tools you need to keep your schedule on track. “You never know when you may want to note something or [when the] schedule may change,” explains Ashley T., a travel nanny currently based in Connecticut who has contracted with Davis’ firm Adventure Nannies. “I use both an app on my phone and a physical planner. I find having both filled out really makes a difference in keeping track of things for the family I am working alongside.”

11. Something (anything) new or surprising

What can you pull out of your bag in a pinch to surprise and delight your charges? “Some of the best parent feedback we receive is in response to a nanny who has taken the time to think of a craft to do ahead of time and brought supplies,” McHugh says. “Remember, it doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. It just needs to be something that will engage the child and get them excited about doing something different for a little while. And of course, it gives them something to be proud to show off to their parents at the end of the day.”

Travel nanny Ashley underscores the value of bringing “trinkets or activities” that will be new and unexpected for kids. “Having those stored in my bag was always a lifesaver for everyone,” she says. “Even if it’s not going to buy you an extra three hours, it can be a small way of bonding with the children you work with.”

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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