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The NAEYC Accreditation System

What does the accreditation system entail?

The system is founded on criteria that measure the quality of preschool programs (from birth to age 8). The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)‘s criteria were established by considering current research in education and early childhood development, as well as input from experts and educators. System requirements stipulate that prior to applying for accreditation, program directors must thoroughly familiarize themselves with NAEYC’s defined quality standards. Once the application is made, a self-assessment must be carried out and it will be followed by an external evaluation carried out by a committee integrated by specialists in preschool education. The accreditation process requires a significant investment of time and money, but allows for great improvements in quality and lends prestige.

Why is important to understand NAEYC’s standards and what are the benefits of accreditation?

First, the NAEYC accreditation system represents an effort to improve early childhood education programs (birth to age 8). Research shows that quality early childhood education programs have a positive impact on personal development and overall health. Quality early –education programs prepare children appropriately and contribute to future educational success. There are currently more than 9,000 programs in the United States that boast NAEYC accreditation.

Second, NAEYC accreditation provides parents with a quality seal of approval and thus helps them to make informed decisions regarding their children’s education. Being familiar with NAEYC’s quality standards helps families and community stakeholders set goals and aspirations over the course of a child’s education.

Third, carrying out a self-assessment, in accordance with these standards, enhances existing academic offerings, while making these learning environments better suited for early childhood learning and development. This exercise grants programs the opportunity to recognize program strength, while identifying areas that need improvement. Educators will find their professional skills strengthened by this process.

In sum, the dedication and effort invested in improving a program to reach the quality standards of the NAEYC accreditation process represents an opportunity to impact public policy regarding early childhood education. As a result, we can improve the quality and service provided by preschool programs throughout Puerto Rico, increase the educational level of future citizens; thus, creating a better world.

What are the quality standards that stand out in a NAEYC-accredited early childhood program?

The standards are divided into the following categories:

  • Children
    • Standard 1: Relationships
    • Standard 2: Curriculum
    • Standard 3: Teaching
    • Standard 4: Assessment of Children’s Progress
    • Standard 5: Health
  • Educators
    • Standard 6: Teachers
  • Family and Community Partners
    • Standard 7: Families
    • Standard 8: Community Relationships
  • Program Administration
    • Standard 9: Physical Environment
    • Standard 10: Leadership and Management

Each of these standards is further divided into specific criteria, all of which can be found on NAEYC’s website, along with other important documents: The document NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation (2007) is also available for purchase.

Compliance with the aforementioned standards requires all program staff to be fully committed to their study and implementation. They should be open to recommendations and willing to work out a development plan to make improvements, if necessary. Success requires teamwork to achieve these goals and to seek the support of families and the community to promote and encourage the best educational practices.

What does each standard represent and what criteria do they entail?

Standard 1: Relationships


The program will promote positive relationships among children and adults to encourage each child’s sense of individual worth and belonging within their community, as well as fostering each child’s ability to contribute to society as a responsible member.

To support such positive relationships, it is important to maintain a safe environment in which the child feels cared for and is surrounded by attentive, encouraging adults who offer guidance. This will help the child develop a sense of confidence and security that will support a spirit of cooperation and appropriate behavior important to their interpersonal relationships.

Positive interaction will be observable in the classroom, and both adults and children will feel integrated into the group. Teachers will be able to effectively manage the child’s transition from the home environment to school and encourage behaviors that lead to friendships. All staff will maintain professional behavior, while stimulating conversation and recognizing the children’s efforts and achievements.

Standard 2: Curriculum


The program will implement a curriculum that promotes the children’s holistic development, a curriculum that is consistent with its goals for the children and promotes learning and development in each of the following areas: social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive. Work will focus on literacy, math, science, technology, art and creativity, health and safety, and social studies.

The curriculum is laid out as a guide for decision-making for both teachers and administrators; and includes activities, materials, and schedules, as well as learning objectives. Rather than being given a curriculum designed by NAEYC, each institution can create their own, provided they adhere to the established standards.

A well-articulated curriculum is flexible and focuses on a broad range of development and content areas. Experimentation and play are the foundation of learning and development and, along with individual and group work, are combined with other teaching strategies, such as the use of various tools and materials, to engage children in the learning process. Each child’s developmental needs and interests will be individually attended to by focusing on communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and other important skills. All learning will incorporate contact with art and nature, taking place both inside and outside the classroom.

Standard 3: Teaching


The program will use developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate and effective teaching approaches that enhance each child’s learning and development within the context of the program’s curriculum goals. As unique individuals from diverse sociocultural backgrounds, children grow and develop in their own way, each with different learning techniques, needs, and interests. Teachers must be sensitive to these differences and use various educational techniques to address the learning needs of each child.

In order to adequately address each child’s learning needs, the curriculum and lesson plans must be flexible. Teachers must also be able to observe and direct children with care as they work at their own pace, individually and in groups of various sizes. The materials and techniques employed must be tailored to the interests and needs of each child. In addition to highlighting each child’s work, there must be a focus on and a celebration of cultural diversity in all activities.

Standard 4: Assessment of Children’s Progress


The program will be informed by ongoing, systematic assessment approaches, both formal and informal, to provide information on children’s learning and development. These assessments occur within the context of reciprocal communication with families, with sensitivity to the cultural contexts in which children develop. Assessment results are used to benefit children by informing sound decisions about teaching and program improvement.

These assessments help identify potential learning disabilities in children, who may be referred to specialists for further diagnosis and/or treatment. They also help teachers evaluate their curricula and adapt them according to their children’s needs and strengths

A well-designed program uses several methods of assessment, such as observation, checklists, rating scales, etc. Evaluations are carried out in accordance with the age and developmental stage of each child, taking all fields into consideration: cognitive (math, science, etc.), emotional intelligence, physical development, and communication. Meetings to discuss the results of these evaluations will be held with family members in order to reinforce each child’s educational development. Teachers will also use these results to set new goals for the children and improve their educational program and strategies.

Standard 5: Health


The program will promote children’s health and nutrition, protecting them, as well as staff, from illness and injury. Health and safety are fundamental aspects of any program that promotes a child’s growth, development, and learning.

Staff must always be familiar with pediatric first aid. Institutions have to ensure that all materials are in compliance with safety regulations (i.e. cribs, toys, bottles, eating utensils, clothes, etc.). Hygiene regulations must also be enforced at all times; this includes regular hand-washing, maintaining the cleanliness of the facilities, and disinfecting all surfaces. Babies must be laid down to sleep on their backs and supervised at all times. There must be a detailed contingency plan in case of child illness, including how to contact family members. Additionally, nutritious snacks and meals must be provided and stored appropriately.

Standard 6: Teachers


The program will employ and support a teaching staff that has the knowledge, educational qualifications, and professional commitment necessary to promote children’s learning and development and to support families’ diverse needs and interests.

Teachers who have specific preparation, knowledge, and skills in child development and early childhood education are more likely to engage in warm, positive interactions with children, offer richer language experiences, and create more high-quality learning environments.

All quality-approved programs recruit teachers whose academic background is in earlyeducation, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. They also promote and support ongoing professional development by devoting time and resources to continuing education for teachers. Additionally, accredited programs offer orientation and training to new recruits on the program’s philosophical foundations and on thecurriculum that sustains it.

Standard 7: Families


The program will establish and maintain collaborative relationships with each child’s family to foster children’s development in all areas. These relationships are sensitive to family composition, language, and culture.

The relationship between the program and the family is essential to bring about the children’s learning and development; thus, programs need to recognize the primacy of children’s families, establish relationships with families based on mutual trust and respect, support and involve families in their children’s educational growth, and invite families to fully participate in the program.

Each program will plan activities meant to encourage family participation in all aspects of education; policy will both allow and invite parents to visit the school at any given moment. Teachers will take it upon themselves to become familiar with the various family compositions, parenting philosophies, and the children’s sociocultural contexts in order to incorporate these when planning their educational goals, choosing their teaching methods, and preparing their daily plans. There will be constant communication, both oral and written, with families in the form of one-on-one conversations, parent-teacher conferences, family orientations, and so forth. All program information and policy will be communicated in a straightforward and easy-to-understand manner.

Standard 8: Community Relationships


The program will establish relationships with community and use its resources to support the achievement of program goals.

It is important to forge and maintain ties with community organizations and institutions. In this way, programs can achieve their goals and provide the necessary support families need to take advantage of their community’s resources to the benefit of their children.

Programs will collaborate with various community organizations in order to optimize learning opportunities for children, including museums, libraries, parks, zoos, theatres, and educational outreach from police and firemen, among others. Furthermore, community figures such as artists, musicians, and public servants will be invited to lead developmental activities in the schools. Working relationships will also establish different community organizations to widen the scope of the program’s support for families and children in the areas of health, nutrition, recreation, and special education.

Standard 9: Physical Environment


The program has a safe and healthy environment that provides appropriate and well-maintained indoor and outdoor physical environments. The environment includes facilities, equipment, and materials to facilitate child and staff learning and development.

A program that supports learning, health, and safety for both children and adults will provide an organized learning environment with all the necessary educational equipment and tools. Facilities are designed to allow for the monitoring and observation of children; they are appropriately furnished taking into consideration the children’s physical needs and include sinks, toilets, tables, chairs, shelves, sleeping mats, cribs, etc. A wide variety of necessary tools and learning materials will be available and will be age-appropriate. Items such as first-aid kits, fire extinguishers, and fire alarms will be appropriately stored, and personnel will be trained in their use.

The learning environment will be clean, hygienic, attractive, and visually stimulating; it will incorporate contact with nature and the exterior will be as well maintained as the interior. Outside play areas will be fenced in to protect the children from accidents and other hazards.

Standard 10: Leadership and Management


The program will effectively implement policies, procedures, and systems that support stable staff and strong personnel, fiscal, and program management so all children, families, and staff may have high-quality experiences. Excellent programming requires effective governing structures, competent and knowledgeable leadership, as well as comprehensive and well-functioning administrative policies, procedures, and systems.

The program director will be an effective administrator with the academic training necessary for this role, including a university degree and courses in early childhood education and development along with other related fields. Directors will be responsible for ensuring that all necessary permits and licenses have been obtained from the proper local authorities (i.e. occupancy permits, fire safety, health inspections, and others). All institutional policies and procedures will be available to families. As a leader, the director will work with educators to lay out and implement the program’s objectives, lesson plans, orientations, disciplinary framework, and other aspects of the program philosophy, as well as health, safety, and emergency policies. Student-teacher ratios will be respected, keeping with the following: infants will be divided into groups of no more than 8 with two teachers, small children into groups of no more than 12 with two teachers, and preschool-aged children into groups of no more than 20 with two teachers.

To learn more about the established criteria for each standard, visit the NAEYC website:

What steps should be followed in order to begin the NAEYC accreditation process?

Study and become familiar with the standards and criteria so that the four steps to accreditation may be followed (each step outlined below).
Register for the Self-assessment (Step 1).

  1. Complete the registration form and pay the fee, which will vary according to the number of children registered for each program.
  2. Execute the self-assessment.
    1. Become familiar with the process and all that it entails.
    2. Gather information through the self-assessment tools.
    3. Determine the program’s strengths and weaknesses.
    4. Develop plans for improvement.
    5. Make improvements and document the process.
    6. Evaluate the results and determine the next steps to be taken.
  3. Make preparations to comply with eligibility requirements.

Become an Applicant (Step 2)

  1. Complete the form and choose the submission date for application materials, pay the fee (determined according to the number of children registered in the program).
  2. Comply with the eligibility requirements.
  3. Carry out a formal self-assessment.
    1. A complete self-assessment that includes input from families, teachers, and program administrators.
    2. Document the way in which the standards are met.
    3. Demonstrate that the program complies with 80% or more of the criteria. For a single class, 70% of the criteria must be met.
  4. Prepare for compliance with candidacy requirements.
  5. Complete candidacy materials, including execution of documents for the selected criteria required by NAEYC.

Become a Candidate (Step 3)

  1. Submit the candidacy materials and fee on the chosen date.
  2. Comply with candidacy requirements.
  3. Prepare for the NAEYC assessment visit.
  4. Continue gathering information that shows execution and make improvements.
  5. Comply with the standards.
  6. Receive a site visit from NAEYC evaluators that includes:
    1. Observation within the learning space.
    2. Analysis of the program.
    3. Review of program and classroom files.
    4. Review of student and employee records.

Accreditation Decision (Step 4)

  1. If the program is accredited, the same quality must be maintained for 5 consecutive years; any changes must be documented in the annual reports. During this period the programs will receive unannounced visits and will have to pay any applicable fees.
  2. If the program is not accredited, NAEYC will offer a follow-up according to the recommendations given in order to reconsider the decision; this requires resubmission of supporting and application documents, as well as payment of verification fees.
  3. Accreditation can be revoked if programs do not comply with annual reporting requirements, or if it is determined that they no longer meet quality standards.

Para conocer en más detalles sobre el proceso de acreditación, visite la página electrónica de la NAEYC, en

Esta información está basada en NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards.