Choosing a Program

High quality preschool and child care programs can have lasting benefits. There are a number of characteristics associated with high quality programs. Based on NAEYC’s Accreditation Criteria, here are some things to consider as you visit programs:

Are the children in the program generally comfortable, relaxed, and happy, and involved in play and other activities?

Happy, relaxed children who are enjoying themselves as they play and learn is one of the best signs of a good program. See if there is an ample variety of materials for children of this age group. Would your child enjoy this setting?

Are there sufficient numbers of adults with specialized training in early childhood development and education?

The younger the child, the more individualized attention is needed. The Academy’s Criteria recommend that all groups have at least two teachers. Infants should be in groups of no more than 6 to 8 children; 2- to 3-year-olds should be in groups of 10 to 14 children; and 4- to 5-year-olds should be in groups of 16 to 20 children. Specialized training in child development and early education helps assure that staff understand how children grow and learn so they can be more effective teachers and caregivers.

Do adult expectations vary appropriately for children of differing ages and interests?

Groups for infants and toddlers will look quite different from groups for older children. Toys and materials should vary by age as should teachers’ expectations for children. In addition, teachers and caregivers should recognize and respect individual differences in children’s abilities, interests, and preferences.

Are all areas of child’s development stressed equally, with time and attention being devoted to cognitive development, social and emotional development, and physical development?

High quality early childhood programs do much more than help children learn numbers, shapes, and colors. Good programs help children learn how to learn: to question why and discover alternative answers; to get along with others; and to use their developing language, thinking, and motor skills.

Do the staff meet regularly to plan and evaluate the program?

Planning should reflect a balance of activities between vigorous outdoor play and quiet indoor play. Activities should allow ample time for children to work and play individually or in small groups, with the focus on activities that are child initiated as opposed to teacher directed. Flexibility, however, is also key. Staff should be willing to adjust the daily activities to meet children’s individual needs and interests.

Are parents welcome to observe, discuss policies, make suggestions, and participate in the work of the program?

Close communication between parents and staff is vital. Staff should regularly discuss highlights of the child’s experiences with parents and show respect for families of varying cultures and backgrounds.

Which types of early childhood programs does NAEYC accredit?

All types of early childhood programs–child care centers, preschools, kindergartens, and before- and after-school programs–are eligible to apply for accreditation. Programs may apply whether they operate on a full- or part-day basis or whether they are for profit or nonprofit. All information on candidate programs is confidential. Programs must be operational for at least one year before accreditation may be granted.

How will I know if an early childhood program is accredited by NAEYC?

The current list of accredited programs is posted on-line and updated monthly. In addition, accredited programs may display the Academy’s insignia–a torch–on their stationery and promotional material. Also, NAEYC-accredited programs receive a large colorful poster depicting the characteristics of accredited programs along with a certificate of accreditation. Look for the poster and certificate in any program you visit.

What if a program is not accredited by NAEYC?

Ask if and when it plans to apply for accreditation. Some programs may already be in the midst of their self-study, while others have not yet begun the process. Programs go through accreditation at their own pace; generally the process takes between 9 and 12 months. Some programs may not have even heard of NAEYC accreditation. A parent’s encouragement can provide the needed incentive to take the first step.

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