One of the most frustrating aspects of searching for a daycare and preschool can be sorting through the qualifications of caregivers and preschool teachers, and determining whether a child care center or home daycare is able to provide the best possible learning environment for your child. First off, it's important to note that obtaining a child care license (or child care permit) from a state or county does require a minimum standard of training for child care providers, as well as health and safety requirements for the facilities.
Child care and preschool accreditation, on the other hand, is a much harder process that holds daycare centers and family child care providers to a higher standard. The details can vary as there are a large number of daycare accreditation programs, but in general, accredited daycares and accredited preschools will have caregivers and teachers trained in specific early childhood education strategies aimed at facilitating social and skill development. Non-accredited child care and preschool programs might be equally good, but will generally require more investigation from parents to make sure that they offer quality early education.
The first major child care accreditation program was piloted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in 1985, but today there are around 20 reputable child care accreditation organizations, including well-known names like the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC, which focuses on accredited in-home daycares) the American Montessori Society (AMS) for Montessori daycares and preschools, or the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA).
Given the sheer number of options, it can be difficult to determine which daycare accreditation is the best, but the NAEYC is the largest, in addition to being the oldest, so it's a good place to start if you're looking for a nationwide organization that will likely have an accredited daycare or preschool near you. NAFCC is quite large as well, and is a great option if you're looking for an accredited home daycare. There are also several religiously affiliated accreditation programs, and if you like the Montessori philosophy, then AMS is the largest of several affiliated organizations.
Finally, it's worth noting that there are early childhood teacher certification programs that mimic the standards of child care and preschool accreditations, but only for individual teachers. One example of this is the certification required by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America for all of its teachers. No matter the details, when you encounter an accredited daycare or preschool, it's always worth asking questions about exactly what that distinction means. The best accreditation organizations are quite transparent about their criteria, and a good child care provider or preschool director should be happy to share what they did to achieve their accreditation!
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