In this lesson, we’ll explore the role and history of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, one of the country’s foremost advocates for early childhood education.


‘The children are our future’ is a saying you hear frequently. It’s often used as a speaking point to reinforce policies or initiatives that are designed to improve the quality of life of children, both in the United States and abroad. One organization which clearly has this axiom in mind is the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC. In this lesson, we’ll investigate just what the NAEYC does and its role in the public domain.

History of the NAEYC

The organization that is known today as the National Association for the Education of Young Children was first organized in the mid-1920s as the National Association for Nursery Education. By 1929, this small group of roughly two dozen educators and researchers had published their first book, Minimum Essentials for Nursery Education. The organization spent the following decades advocating for increased educational programs for young children, and in the 1950s, began uniting and mobilizing like-minded organizations across the country.

In 1964, the organization renamed itself the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Membership in the organization continued to grow, and by 1990, it had over 90,000 members nationwide. In the 1980s, in reaction to growing concern over the quality of youth education, NAEYC began an accreditation process to rate childhood education programs. Through its annual conferences and public position statements, NAEYC became one of the premier organizations advocating for quality early childhood education in the United States.

In the 21st century, NAEYC continues to tweak its accreditation program for early childhood education programs in the United States. It has also expanded globally. For example, in 2003, NAEYC created the Global Alliance to liaise and cooperate with organizations around the world with similar goals.

Basic Role of the NAEYC

The focus of NAEYC is to foster high-quality education programs to give each child the best opportunity to succeed. NAEYC focuses specifically on young children, defined as age eight and under. The organization has over 300 affiliated organizations in the US, all of which are committed to providing quality education and support for early childhood professionals. One of its hallmarks is the NAEYC accreditation program, which is a series of stringent qualifications an early childhood education program must possess in order to gain NAEYC accreditation. In concert with partners like the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, NAEYC also vets the programs which train early childhood educators across the country.

Public Policy & Research

In addition to its direct role in early childhood education programs, NAEYC also serves a larger role in promoting public policy that positively affects early childhood education initiatives. With its home office located in Washington D.C., the National Association for the Education of Young Children is well-positioned to influence federal policies. It also exerts pressure and influence upon state and local governments wherever it deems its efforts could best affect public policy. Currently, NAEYC focuses its political efforts in areas where children are living in poverty, possess disabilities, or face challenges accessing quality education due to language barriers or skin color.

NAEYC determines the direction of its policies in part based on a wide array of research on early childhood education that it does its part to encourage. Indeed, the organization hosts and supports the premier conferences and academic organizations on early childhood education, including the NAEYC Annual Conference and Expo, the National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, and the NAEYC Public Policy Forum. These initiatives encourage advanced research and help create networks of like-minded individuals working in early childhood education.

Lesson Summary

The National Association for the Education of Young Children, is one of the foremost organizations promoting quality education for children age eight and under in the United States. Since its inception in the 1920s, it has grown to have thousands of members and hundreds of affiliated organizations across the US. NAEYC has carved out a role for itself which includes measuring and accrediting the quality of early childhood education programs and the programs that train the educators. The organization is also active in fostering academic research and has a significant public presence, taking positions on important issues regarding early childhood education and exerting political pressure at the local, state, and federal levels wherever it sees fit.