NAEYC has set 10 standards for early childhood programs that can help families make the right choice when they are looking for a child care center, preschool, or kindergarten. The standards and criteria are also the foundation of the NAEYC Accreditation system for early childhood programs. To earn accreditation, programs must meet all 10 standards.

Based on research on the development and education of young children, the standards were created with input from experts and educators from around the country. The standards define what NAEYC—the world’s largest organization of early childhood professionals—believes all early childhood programs should provide.

Review this guide to help identify programs that meet NAEYC standards for high-quality programs.

The Standards

Standard 1: Relationships

Standard 2: Curriculum

Standard 3: Teaching

Standard 4: Assessment of Child Progress

Standard 5: Health

 

Standard 6: Teachers

Standard 7: Families

Standard 8: Community Relationships

Standard 9: Physical Environment

Standard 10: Leadership and Management

 


Standard 1: Relationships

The program promotes positive relationships among all children and adults. It encourages each child’s sense of individual worth and belonging as part of a community and fosters each child’s ability to
contribute as a responsible community member.

Warm, sensitive, and responsive relationships help children feel secure. The safe and secure environments built by positive relationships help children thrive physically, benefit from learning experiences, and cooperate and get along with others.

What to look for in a program:

  • Children and adults feel welcome when they visit the program. Teachers help new children adjust to the program environment and make friends with other children.
  • Teaching staff engage in warm, friendly conversations with the children and encourage and recognize children’s work and accomplishments.
  • Children are encouraged to play and work together.
  • Teachers help children resolve conflicts by identifying feelings, describing problems, and trying alternative solutions. Teaching staff never physically punish children.

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Standard 2: Curriculum

The program implements a curriculum that is consistent with its goals for children and promotes learning and development in each of the following areas: social, emotional, physical, language, and cognitive.

A well-planned written curriculum provides a guide for teachers and administrators. It helps them work together and balance different activities and approaches to maximize children’s learning and development. The curriculum includes goals for the content that children are learning, planned activities linked to these goals, daily schedules and routines, and materials to be used.

NAEYC and the NAEYC Accreditation system do not prescribe a specific curriculum; programs can design their own or choose a commercially available curriculum that meets NAEYC’s guidelines.

What to look for in a program:

  • Ask about the program’s curriculum and how it addresses all aspects of child development. The curriculum should not focus on just one area of development.
  • Children are given opportunities to learn and develop through exploration and play, and teachers have opportunities to work with individual children and small groups on specific skills.
  • Materials and equipment spark children’s interest and encourage them to experiment and learn.
  • Activities are designed to help children get better at reasoning, solving problems, getting along with others, using language, and developing other skills.
  • Infants and toddlers play with toys and art materials that “do something” based on children’s actions, such as jack-in-the-box, cups that fit inside one another, and playdough.

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Standard 3: Teaching

The program uses developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate and effective teaching approaches that enhance each child’s learning and development in the context of the curriculum goals.

Children have different learning styles, needs, capacities, interests, and backgrounds. By recognizing these differences and using instructional approaches that are appropriate for each child, teachers and staff help all children learn.

What to look for in a program:

  • Teachers carefully supervise all children.
  • Teachers provide time each day for indoor and outdoor activities (weather permitting) and organize time and space so that children have opportunities to work or play individually and in groups.
  • Children’s recent work (for example, art and emergent writing) is displayed in the classroom to help children reflect on and extend their learning.
  • Teachers modify strategies and materials to respond to the needs and interests of individual children, engaging each child and enhancing learning.

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Standard 4: Assessment of Child Progress

The program is informed by ongoing systematic, formal, and informal assessment approaches to provide information on children’s learning and development. These assessments occur within the context of reciprocal communications with families and with sensitivity to the cultural contexts in which children develop.

Assessment results benefit children by informing sound decisions, teaching, and program improvement.

Assessments help teachers plan appropriately challenging curriculum and tailor instruction that responds to each child’s strengths and needs. Assessments can also help teachers identify children with disabilities and ensuring that they receive needed services.

What to look for in a program:

  • The program supports children’s learning using a variety of assessment methods, such as observations, checklists, and rating scales.
  • Assessment methods are appropriate for each child’s age and level of development and encompass all areas of development, including math, science, and other cognitive skills; language; social-emotional; and physical.
  • Teachers use assessment methods and information to design goals for individual children and monitor their progress, as well as to improve the program and its teaching strategies.
  • Families receive information about their child’s development and learning on a regular basis, including through meetings or conferences.

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Standard 5: Health

The program promotes the nutrition and health of children and protects children and staff from illness and injury. Children must be healthy and safe in order to learn and grow. Programs must be healthy and safe to support children’s healthy development.

What to look for in a program:

  • Teaching staff have training in pediatric first aid.
  • Infants are placed on their backs to sleep.
  • The program has policies regarding regular hand washing and routinely cleans and sanitizes all surfaces in the facility.
  • There is a clear plan for responding to illness, including how to decide whether a child needs to go home and how families will be notified.
  • Snacks and meals are nutritious, and food is prepared and stored safely.

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Standard 6: Teachers

The program employs and supports a teaching staff with the educational qualifications, knowledge, 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 provide positive interactions, richer language experiences, and quality learning environments.

What to look for in a program:

  • Teaching staff have educational qualifications and specialized knowledge about young children and early childhood development. Ask, for example, how many teachers have Child Development Associate (CDA) credentials, associate’s degrees, or higher degrees.
  • The program makes provisions for ongoing staff development, including orientations for new staff and opportunities for continuing education.
  • Teaching staff have training in the program’s curriculum and work as a teaching team.

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Standard 7: Families

The program establishes and maintains collaborative relationships with each child’s family to foster children’s development in all settings. These relationships are sensitive to family composition, language, and culture. To support children’s optimal learning and development, programs need to establish relationships with families based on mutual trust and respect, involve families in their children’s educational growth, and encourage families to fully participate in the program.

What to look for in a program:

  • All families are welcome and encouraged to be involved in all aspects of the program.
  • Teachers and staff talk with families about their family structure and their views on childrearing and use that information to adapt the curriculum and teaching methods to the families served.
  • The program uses a variety of strategies to communicate with families, including family conferences, new family orientations, and individual conversations.
  • Program information—including policies and operating procedures—is provided in a language that families can understand.

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Standard 8: Community Relationships

The program establishes relationships with and uses the resources of the children’s communities to support the achievement of program goals. Relationships with agencies and institutions in the community can help a program achieve its goals and connect families with resources that support children’s healthy development and learning.

What to look for in a program:

  • The program connects with and uses museums, parks, libraries, zoos, and other resources in the community.
  • Representatives from community programs, such as musical performers and local artists, are invited to share their interests and talents with the children.
  • The staff develop professional relationships with community agencies and organizations that further the program’s capacity to meet the needs and interests of children and families.

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Standard 9: Physical Environment

The program has a safe and healthful 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.

An organized, properly equipped, and well-maintained program environment facilitates the learning, comfort, health, and safety of the children and adults who use the program.

What to look for in a program:

  • The facility is designed so that staff can supervise all children by sight and sound.
  • The program has necessary furnishings, such as hand-washing sinks, child-size chairs and tables, and cots, cribs, beds, or sleeping pads.
  • A variety of materials and equipment appropriate for children’s ages and stages of development is available and kept clean, safe, and in good repair.
  • Outdoor play areas have fences or natural barriers that prevent access to streets and other hazards.
  • First-aid kits, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and other safety equipment are installed and available.

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Standard 10: Leadership and Management

The program effectively implements policies, procedures, and systems that support stable staff and strong personnel, and fiscal, and program management so all children, families, and staff have high-quality experiences.

Effective management and operations, knowledgeable leaders, and sensible policies and procedures are essential to building a quality program and maintaining the quality over time.

What to look for in a program:

  • The program administrator has the necessary educational qualifications, including a degree from a four-year college and specialized courses in early childhood education, child development, or related fields.
  • The program is licensed and/or regulated by the applicable state agency.
  • The program’s written policies and procedures are shared with families and address issues such as the program’s philosophy and curriculum goals, policies on guidance and discipline, and health and safety procedures.
  • Appropriate group sizes and ratios of teaching staff to children are maintained (for example, infants—no more than 8 children in a group, with 2 teaching staff; toddlers—no more than 12 children in a group, with 2 teaching staff; and 4-year-olds—no more than 20 children in a group, with 2 teaching staff).

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Families on NAEYC-Accredited programs

“Valued teachers lead to valued children … Accredited programs tend to attract employees who not only view themselves as educators, they consider themselves child advocates.”

 

“Choosing a preschool for my first child was somewhat overwhelming, so when you find a program accredited by NAEYC, it adds peace of mind that you’re making a good choice for your child.”

 

“NAEYC is an organization that can be trusted with the future of my child’s education … That is why I chose an NAEYC-Accredited center—nothing but the best.”

 
— Kate in San Antonio, Texas. Her child attends an NAEYC-Accredited program. — Jen in Torrance, California. Her child attends an NAEYC-Accredited program. — Jennifer in Newark, New Jersey. Her child attends an NAEYC-Accredited program.

 


© National Association for the Education of Young Children — Promoting excellence in early childhood education