Do you know if your child’s preschool is accredited? Should you care? Considering the fact that fewer than 10 percent of America's preschools have gained accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, chances are your child’s preschool is not one of them. Most parents either don’t know about preschool accreditation, or don’t think it matters in the grand scheme of things.
But it should matter – or, at the very least, be a blip on your radar. Accreditation is gaining headway because it is the standard in grading a preschool for quality of care. Over time, quality can drop and organizations can grow complacent. That's why the NAEYC has upped the ante on their accreditation standards, putting in place more stringent guidelines for facility design, staff qualifications and programming, as well as health and safety, physical environment and administration.
It’s a long laundry list of issues. And some of them are new. The NAEYC has always had high standards in health and safety, for example. But under the new standards, accreditation is much harder to achieve. How hard? Ella Mayon, Founder and Director of Children’s House of Los Altos, a preschool in California which just achieved accreditation, says, “The new accreditation criteria required that I call in specialists in contagious disease control and an allergist to help us prepare an area free of dust and pollen for play. We were required to have our air conditioning and heating system checked twice a year for cleanliness. We had a hazard consultant point out any features in the school that might put children or adults at risk.”
Even more importantly, the NAEYC has focused equally on curriculum and teaching practices, raised the bar for teacher eligibility requirements, and added a new standard in leadership and management. Primary consideration is also given to the nature of the child's experience. So accreditation now better represents the whole picture – from the building itself to the quality of teachers and staff employed at the preschool. Kim Means, Associate Executive Director, of NAEYC Accreditation says, “Programs which are accredited by the association give parents the comfort of knowing their child will be well-cared-for, and educated by, a highly-qualified professional. Research, science and practical experience have shown that children benefit most when they are in a developmentally appropriate setting which enhances what a child is learning at home.”
For some schools, it’s not just the staff doing all the legwork. Parents are joining in, too. “Accreditation promotes teamwork and a more efficient and higher quality education for our program,” says Connie Acavedo, Site Director for the newly accredited Christopher House Lakeshore in Chicago, IL, “Our families were very involved with the process.”
Achieving accreditation is a big deal and it’s not something that happens overnight. A school must go through a 4-step process: the school needs to enroll in a self-study program, submit an application promising to complete candidacy materials within one year, become a candidate, and then meet the NAEYC Accreditation program standards.
Within six months of a program’s submission and approval of Candidacy Materials, NAEYC Assessor(s) will conduct an on-site assessment visit and evaluate the school against a list of 10 standards covering:
- Assessment of Child Progress
- Community Relationships
- Physical Environment
- Leadership and Management
At the end of the day, whether it’s homeschool or preschool, the goal of kindergarten prep is the same: give your child a leg up by reading to him often, teaching him letters and numbers and how to count, and engaging him with other children so he develops socially and is better prepared for the school yard. Accreditation is just one more thing to look for when searching for that perfect preschool program.
For more details on the NAEYC accreditation process, visit www.naeyc.org.