Miami Children’s Museum early childhood program receives national accreditation

Miami Children's Museum early childhood teacher Ana Luz Garcia reads to students on Wednesday, April 8.
Miami Children's Museum early childhood teacher Ana Luz Garcia reads to students on Wednesday, April 8. For the Miami Herald

Miami Children’s Museum early-childhood initiative program recently received accreditation from the leading organization for childhood care professionals, the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

To earn accreditation, a program must offer services that reflect the latest research and best practices in early childhood development. Fewer than 8 percent of early childhood programs receive accreditation.

After an extensive self-study and visits by association assessors, it was determined that the school on Watson Island met met all 10 of their accreditation standards for early childhood education excellence.

Director of Education Betty Aguiar-Perez spearheaded the application process, which required that the program look at everything from the size of their cabinets to their engagement with parents. She says the evaluators commended their application and sent them an email soon after the review in late March informing them of the accreditation news.

“It’s an exciting moment,” Aguiar-Perez said. “When your program is accredited, it validates what you are doing.”

Part of what made the program’s offerings competitive is its ability to use the museum galleries as an extension of its curriculum. The program’s 80 students, whose ages range from 18 months to 5-years-old, have playtime in the galleries to explore. Currently, the Pirate Island exhibit is a favorite of the students. It boasts a ship display where children like to gather with their teacher to read pirate books.

“We use play as a vehicle for learning,” Aguiar-Perez said.

The program’s six classes also work on projects throughout the year that are displayed in the galleries. Parents are invited twice a year for the exhibition.

“The exhibits do such much in building self confidence and there is such excitement to show their parents,” Aguiar-Perez said.

Social skills are stressed in all activities, and students are asked to reflect on what they learned and what they want to continue doing at the end of each day.

“There is a lot of emphasis placed on social skills,” said Deborah Spiegelman, the museum’s executive director. “The way they are treated is important.”

Aguiar-Perez says they consulted parents throughout the association’s application process.

“The biggest success in the process was family involvement,” Aguiar-Perez.

Parent involvement is evaluated by the association. The school boasts an open-door policy for parents and documents the children’s days so they can know what is going on in the classroom.

Recently, parents were invited to school for a cultural celebration. Families at the school are very diverse, Aguiar-Perez said.

Students dressed up in the clothing of their heritage, and parents brought in food and music.

“We do an incredible cultural celebration,” Aguiar-Perez said. “It feels like a school family.”

An earlier version of this story reported that the Miami Children’s Museum early-childhood initiative program was the first in Miami to receive accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. In fact, there are 37 NAEYC accredited centers in Miami, one of which is in the same ZIP code as the Miami Children's Museum early childhood program.