It works for children; it works for parents; it works for teachers; and it works for directors. It is the glue that holds teachers responsible and accountable for providing consistent, appropriate care and learning experiences for each child.
In order to provide the highest quality care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, effective teamwork within the primary caregiving system ensures that our young children will develop secure attachments in a safe, nurturing, learning environment.
Each child is assigned a primary caregiver. The purpose of the primary caregiver system is to insure that children receive individualized care in response to their specific needs, and that each parent has a primary contact. The parent relationship is as important as the child relationship.
“Primary caregivers” are a child’s special teacher – each child’s advocate within the early childhood program. They are responsible for the child’s care routines, observations, discussions with family, writing progress reports, sharing progress during parent/teacher conferences, and setting appropriate learning objectives in partnership with parents.
This does not mean that a child and his or her primary caregiver maintain an exclusive relationship. Rather, the primary caregiver becomes the “in-center” expert on the child, within the team, and has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the program and environment work for that child!
As primary caregivers, teachers:
- Communicate – The teacher is the essential link in the communication chain between parent and program, between child and program.
- Advocate – The teacher empowers parents and children by translating their individual concerns and needs into actions.
- Care – The teacher tunes in to the child and develops a special bond while insuring that all needs are met.
- Facilitate Learning – The teachers makes sure that the learning environment works for each child and that there is a balance of developmentally appropriate materials and experiences, with neither too much nor too little stimulation.
- Monitor and Evaluate – The teacher makes sure that the child’s experience in the program is positive and that parent concerns are addressed.
Primary caregivers do not “own” the children. All teachers have some responsibility for all children and collective responsibility for maintaining the learning environment. But, primary caregivers make sure that it all works for their primary children.
Generally, the teaching teams, along with the Director (or supervisor), decide upon primary caregivers. There are many factors to consider when making these choices. Ultimately, each teacher should have about half of the children in the class as primaries (if 2 teachers are on the team); about one third of the children as primaries (if 3 teachers are on the team). Each teacher should have a balance of ages as well.
It is workable for a teacher to:
- focus on one-third to one-half of the children in the group
- observe one-third to one-half of the children in the group
- determine ‘who needs what’ for one-third to one-half of the children in the group
- plan appropriate and relevant experiences for one-third to one-half of the children in the group
- write progress reports for one-third to one-half of the children in the group and,
- to have parent conferences with one-third to one-half of the parents in the group.
And, it is wonderful for the children and their parents to have one special teacher – one who knows them well, listens, supports, and acts on their behalf.
As I said, this system works for everyone! It is effective, and it is efficient. It is best practice. And, as a Director, I wouldn’t manage my programs without it.
If you haven’t been using primary caregiving in your program, please consider implementing it. I am happy to share more information with you; if you are interested, contact me.