The Primary Caregiver …

Teacher and Child I am a huge proponent of the primary caregiver system – because it works!

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.

This entry was posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Training for Early Childhood Directors. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Primary Caregiver …

  1. Elizabeth Villaverde says:

    Hi, I work as an early childhood consultant in a QRIS system. I was recently asked by a director to observe a classroom to helping with biting issues they were having. I noticed immediately that their was no clear primary caregivers although people were assigned. This week when I asked the director what she wanted us to work on she said primary caregivers. She said, ” I assign them but then nothing happens”. I plan to take her and staff information about why primary caregivers are important to help to get them on board. Also I will point out that it can help with some of the behaviors issues they are having. But this is by far not the first center I have run across where staff struggle to make the room run efficiently using primary caregivers. It also is a challenge when there are people taking breaks or working part time. What wisdom would you offer to help infant/toddler teachers with the mechanics of making it work?

  2. Marcia Hebert says:

    Elizabeth – So much to say about this topic and so little space in this box. I’d love to talk with you over the phone – where we could have a back-and-forth conversation on the how to’s of primary caregiving. You can reach me through the “contact me” tab at the top of this page. Looking forward to putting two consultants’ heads together! Should be fun!

    • Crystal says:

      What are things to consider when making primary caregiving assignments?

      • Marcia Hebert says:

        Thank you for the question, Crystal.
        There’s no exact science, but we were always looking for a common thread between the three – when assigning children to a specific primary caregiver. Maybe the parent and teacher just clicked when they talked with one another. Maybe the child had a unique characteristic or situation that one of the teachers had experience with. Maybe the hours of arrival and departure for both the child and a teacher were the same – allowing for parent/teacher chats. Anything that might help the child bond with a specific teacher is worth considering when the assignments are made. Once only in my career did we change the primary caregiver – it just wasn’t a good fit. So, look for that one spark of recognition between parent, child and teacher – and go from there. Hope this helps a bit. My best!

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