Many grandparents play a significant role as educators and carers of children in the preschool years. Recently, this role has become the focus of much early childhood research as challenges facing grandparent carers and grandparent-headed households increasingly become an economic and social issue. Using survey data from china we explore the role of grandparents who have a primary care responsibility for a young child and discuss this contribution to the family in relation to quality of care and education. We argue that grandparents play a significant role in terms of home education of the young, workforce support for young parents, cultural identity within families and community capacity building. Grandparents are therefore deserving of more sustained attention from policy makers and educators when considering the young child’s developmental environment. 2009 Sage publications.