How Many Handbooks?

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Over the last thirty years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about early learning program polices, how to share them, how to organize them, how to implement them, and other policy-related issues. Over most of that time, the programs I ran had two handbooks–a Parent Handbook and a Staff Handbook. Nothing exciting about that. It’s standard operating procedure for many early learning settings.

One of the issues we struggled with is how to keep everyone on the same page. Many times over the years a policy would be changed in the program’s Parent Handbook but not in the Staff Handbook. This led to confusion. Parents and staff would have different expectations concerning that policy until I figured out the problem and got everyone on the same page. Keeping the two handbooks in sync was always a struggle.

It also took more time and resources than I thought it should. Most policy updates meant editing both handbooks and that meant lots of cutting and pasting and printing and collating and distribution. I always wished for a simpler, more streamlined process–so did a lot of the other program directors I met with regularly.

The Three Handbook Method

Towards the end of my early learning program director days I stumbled upon the three handbook method and feel it’s a more effective way to organize program policies. Here’s a rundown of the three handbooks:

Parent Handbook

This document contains only information relevant to parents: emergency contact requirements, fees, when to keep a child home sick, etc.

Parents all receive a copy of this document.

Staff Handbook

This document contains only information specific to staff policies. Things like how staff vacation days work, staff training requirements, how to take a sick day, etc.

Staff all receive a copy of this document.

Operating Handbook

This document contains all the information pertinent to both parents and staff. Along with the program’s mission and philosophy, this handbook contains things like how the program deals with biting, how tornado drills are conducted, the program’s rough and tumble play policy, etc.

Both parents and staff receive a copy of this document.

Keeping It Simple

Having three handbooks to keep up to date may sound like more work, but it actually simplifies things. With this setup, you’ll rarely need to update more than one document. If the program’s fees change, you update the Parent Handbook. If your policy on staff cell phone use changes, you update the Staff Handbook. If you revise your rough and tumble play policy, you update the Operating Handbook. With all the communal information located in the Operating Handbook, you no longer need to update two documents when something changes.

Sample Policies

Here at Playvolution HQ, the sample policies we’ve created recommend which of the three handbooks the policy should appear in.

Playvolution HQ Founder at

I'm an early learning speaker, podcaster, content creator, author, and founder of Playvolution HQ and Explorations Early Learning.