The Key Person Approach

The Key Person Approach

The Key Person Approach 1792 1024 Nursery Story

Supporting close attachments between children, families and staff

The Key Person Approach was developed by Elinor Goldschmied and Sonia Jackson in the 1980s. Their work was influenced by John Bowlby’s attachment theory, emphasising the importance of secure attachments between children and caregivers.

They conducted extensive observations and practical work in nursery settings, noting the positive effects of a dedicated caregiver-child relationship and highlighting the significance of a consistent, nurturing adult figure (the key person) in a child’s life, especially in group care settings like nurseries.

benefits of key person approach in nursery and daycare

Goldschmied and Jackson emphasised the need for caregivers to be responsive to individual children’s needs and cues, fostering a sense of security. Their research highlighted that children who formed secure attachments with a key person exhibited better emotional well-being and were more likely to explore and engage in learning activities.

Goldschmied and Jackson believed that if children’s well-being and physical needs are met with positive, warm and meaningful interactions from their assigned key person, the result was a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress and feelings of abandonment. While their work may not be associated with specific research studies, their ideas and insights have had a profound impact on early years education and the development of the Key Person Approach, which is widely implemented in early childhood settings today.

The key person approach helps children in nurseries develop secure attachments with a familiar adult, fostering emotional well-being, as it focuses on personalised care and attention, catering to each child’s unique needs and preferences. The approach also helps children feel a sense of belonging and continuity as they build a strong relationship with their key person and eases the transition from home to nursery, reducing anxiety and promoting a positive nursery experience. Using the key person approach also supports partnership with parents as it helps to facilitate effective communication with parents, ensuring a holistic approach to a child’s development. The role of the key person includes closely observing a child’s progress and providing targeted support when needed, tailoring activities to the child’s interests and abilities, enhancing their learning journey.

Peter Elfer (a Principal Lecturer of Early Childhood Studies at the University of Roehampton) has built upon and refined the work of Goldschmied and Jackson by conducting research, providing training and guidance, and advocating for the continued importance and implementation of the Key Person Approach in early childhood settings. His research centred on the emotional needs of children under three and the importance of the connection and closeness between children and a consistent key person in the care and routines. Elfer’s research has helped to further develop and strengthen the approach within the field of early years education and underpins the attachment practices that are used in settings today.

Having a key person for each child in a nursery setting is essential because it has numerous benefits for children’s development and well-being. Here’s why it’s crucial for each child to have a consistent key person:

Secure Attachment:

The key person provides a consistent, nurturing relationship, allowing the child to form a secure attachment. This attachment fosters emotional security and resilience.

Emotional Support:

Children can turn to their key person for comfort and reassurance during times of distress, helping them manage their emotions effectively.

Individualised Care:

Each child is unique, and a key person can tailor care and activities to meet the specific needs and interests of the child, promoting optimal development.

Smooth Transitions:

For many children, nursery is their first experience away from home. A key person helps ease this transition, reducing separation anxiety and promoting a positive nursery experience.

Communication with Parents:

The key person serves as a bridge between the nursery and parents, ensuring effective communication about the child’s progress and well-being.

Observation and Assessment:

They can closely observe a child’s development and provide targeted support or interventions when necessary, ensuring that each child reaches their full potential.

Building Trust:

Children learn to trust and build relationships through the key person, which is a foundational skill for future social interactions.

Enhanced Learning:

With a key person’s guidance, children can engage in activities that meet their developmental stage and interests, enhancing their learning experiences.

The presence of a key person for each and every child in your setting is essential because it promotes emotional well-being, individualised care, effective communication, and overall positive development for each child. It creates a safe and nurturing environment where children can thrive.

For more information about how to use Nursery Story to support the key person approach in your setting visit

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