HomeFind a SchoolDefining Your Ideal School

What does the NAEYC seal of approval mean?

The NAEYC sponsors a challenging accreditation system to help parents identify high-quality preschools.

By Pam Gelman, M.A.

At preschool open houses, you may hear directors proudly state that their programs are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Dedicated to improving early childhood education, the association offers a voluntary accreditation process for high-quality programs. But not every preschool has the time or money to become accredited. To understand how hard it is to achieve this recognition, parents first need to learn about the NAEYC and the process of accreditation.

History of the NAEYC

In the 1920s, in response to the growth of nursery schools and concern for the quality of care, educators and researchers formed the National Association for Nursery Education. Membership increased dramatically in the ’50s, and the group reorganized as the NAEYC in 1964. By the early ’80s, it had begun a national voluntary accreditation system, which was revamped into a four-step process in 2006. Today there are approximately 8,000 early-childhood programs accredited by the NAEYC.

The 10 standards

Meeting the NAEYC program standards is the backbone for accreditation. These standards are based on the latest research in education, and there are hundreds of criteria essential for high-quality early-childhood education. However, schools aren’t expected to fulfill all criteria. Deputy Executive Director Barbara Willer, who overseas the accreditation process, explains, “Programs must meet 100% of required criteria and 80% of other criteria upon which they are assessed within each standard to achieve NAEYC accreditation.”

These standards are:

1. Promoting positive relationships between children and teachers.
2. Implementing a curriculum that supports learning.
3. Teaching that supports curriculum goals.
4. Establishing a system of assessment for children’s learning.
5. Promoting the health of children.
6. Employing teachers who have a professional commitment.
7. Maintaining relationships with families.
8. Identifying community resources to support goals.
9. Maintaining a safe physical environment.
10. Having program management follow policies to maintain high-quality experiences for children, families, and staff.

The four steps to accreditation

When a preschool decides to apply for accreditation, it begins a rigorous four-step process:

Step 1: Enrollment in a self-study of the essential criteria.

Step 2: Submission of an application with the understanding that the formal assessment must be completed within a year.

Step 3: Screening of submitted materials by the NAEYC Academy.

Step 4: Assessment by a trained NAEYC representative during a site visit, and after a period of review, informing the program of a decision: accredit, defer, or denied.