The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is an organization that advocates on behalf of children up to 8 years old. NAEYC, the largest accrediting agency for early childhood programs in the United States, aims to connect practice, policy, and research through rigorous steps of certification. The organization outlines 10 different standards that intend to promote “program excellence” through positive relationships and a set curriculum.

What does it mean to have NAEYC accreditation?

NAEYC Early Learning Program Logo

Centers who fall under this category are part of an elite group; only six percent of early childhood programs in the U.S. are NAEYC accredited.

So, parents and childcare providers throughout the U.S. see NAEYC accreditation as an indicator of high-quality education, which can give NAEYC-accredited centers a competitive advantage.

One study of 60 accredited and 320 non-accredited child care centers found significant difference in quality of work life for staff, specifically. In an earlier study cited in the aforementioned one, self-studies of 106 programs achieved an “improved” rating in terms of curriculum and administration. Such improvements are recorded as results of educational program and resource support reviews, including random site visits to ensure standards are being met.

What’s required?

NAEYC-accredited programs must:

  1. Promote positive relationships between the kids and adults, both families and teachers. This includes creating a sense of community and responsibility so the child feels like a valuable contributor to the group.
  2. Include curriculum that promotes social, emotional, linguistic, cognitive, and physical development. The curriculum should be “well-planned,” including daily schedules and proactive routines.
  3. Possess developmentally, culturally, and linguistically effective approaches to teaching. Differences in background, learning styles, and interests must remain in the foreground of teachers’ minds.
  4. Complete and submit assessments to NAEYC that outline the center’s child development progress.
  5. Actively promote health, nutrition, and safety. Some requirements include first-aid training, routine handwashing, and sanitary food prep and storage.
  6. Employ a teaching staff with the proper educational qualifications, knowledge, and commitment. Teachers should have Child Development Associate (CDA) credentials, and the employer should offer orientation and training for new staff members.
  7. Include collaborative relationships with children’s family members. This is meant to promote development not only in the center, but at home.
  8. Develop relationships with community resources like museums, zoos, parks, and local arts groups.
  9. Provide organized and well-maintained indoor and outdoor physical environments. This includes equipment — from cots to fire extinguishers — to facilitate learning and development.
  10. Carry out effective management and operations. An administrator, for example, must have a degree from a four-year college with a child development-related degree in order to implement best practices.

Programs are required to meet all that falls under these standards.

Sold on NAEYC accreditation? Here’s what you need to do to get it.
Step 1: Enroll

To begin, a center must pay a $495-$895 fee — depending on center size (by child) — to enroll. Enrollment is not the same as the application process. Under enrollment, a program enters their organization information, along with fee and payment information.

Step 2: Apply

The application process consists of an additional $250-$475 fee. To apply, the center must be in the U.S. or affiliated with the U.S. and licensed; be center- or school-based; and children must be 8 years old or younger. Centers that meet these criteria can fill out the application form.

Step 3: Candidacy

If the application is approved, the center qualifies as a candidate and is eligible for a site visit. The cost is anywhere from $825-$1,425.

To meet the requirements for candidacy, a care center must submit four things: a program portfolio, program observation, class portfolio, and class observation.The center must also have a license within the past year or since the last inspection. The center must demonstrate collaboration among administration, teaching staff, and families through a self-assessment. NAEYC provides assessment tools on their website to better assist applicants in the process.

​Step 4: Meeting the Standards

NAEYC will perform a site visit. During this visit, the center must achieve a satisfactory performance on at least 80 percent of NAEYC standards, meet all required assessment items, and meet at least a 70 percent assessment rate for each class observed. Following the site visit, the center will receive a notification they were approved, accredited with additional verification required, or denied.

So, you got it. What now?

Programs are required to maintain a five-year term of accreditation. This is designed to regularly monitor a center’s performance to ensure programs are continuously meeting standards and improving.

To maintain NAEYC accreditation, programs must complete certain tasks:

  1. Submit an annual report and annual fee at the end of the first through fourth years of NAEYC accreditation. In the annual reports, programs should reflect on quality improvement practices that were completed in the past past year. Annual fees can be anywhere from $550-$885 depending on center size. If the center accrues additional fees, from late payments or postponed site visits, NAEYC outlines those prices.
  2. Submit a remittance notice and annual accreditation fee at the end of the fifth year of accreditation.

At the end of the five-year term, a center can reapply for accreditation. The renewal date depends on when the term ends. If the program reapplies in their required window, they will receive a site visit before the current term ends. If that’s the case, the center will receive an accreditation decision post site visit.

If a program misses a renewal due date, they can submit renewal materials in a late submission window. After the late submission window has passed, the program’s accreditation will be invalid.

To regain NAEYC accreditation, the program will have one year to reapply through the original four-step process. After accepted as an applicant, a new set of candidacy materials must be completed along with any fees required in those steps. The center will then go through the candidacy site visit, and from there NAEYC will permit or deny accreditation.

More information regarding NAEYC and the accreditation process can be found online or by email at To find out what centers in your area are accredited, use the NAEYC program search tool.

Was this useful? Get more advice and tips!

Join 4,000+ fellow care professionals! We're building the largest community of providers, staff, and teachers. To receive our newsletter and access exclusive content, tools, and resources, just supply your email address.