Early childhood education is a subject for people who are passionate about helping young children grow and learn. Early childhood educators are responsible for preparing children from birth to the age of 8 for the formal education system. Creative play and movement are central components of early childhood classrooms and learning centers. But the job of an early childhood educator is not all fun and games. If you choose to study early childhood education, be prepared to spend several hours each week planning lessons, managing classroom behavior and assessing the academic and social progress of your students. Many early childhood educators find it rewarding to help children learn, but unfortunately, they typically experience low wages and few benefits.
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The amount of education required to work in early childhood education depends on the specific job you want and the state where you live. In some cases, you can work in a childcare center or preschool with an associates degree or less. But if you want to be an elementary school teacher, you will need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree through a teaching program approved by your state.
Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards.
Some schools offer certificate programs in early childhood education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It is important to understand that an undergraduate or graduate certificate in early childhood education carries less weight than a CDA Credential or a state-endorsed teaching license.
All public schools require that teachers earn a teaching license through their state. The state licensing process requires that prospective teachers earn a bachelors degree, undergo a 6-to 12-month student teaching internship and sit for an exam. You should carefully research any program that offers a certificate in early childhood education so that you will know exactly what qualifications you will hold after you complete the program. Private schools may have different requirements for their teachers and may not ask teachers to hold a teaching license.
An undergraduate certificate in early childhood education prepares students to work in preschools or daycare centers with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. But it does not qualify you to teach in public elementary schools. An undergraduate certificate is less valuable than the nationally recognized CDA Credential. However, you may apply the training hours that you receive through an undergraduate certificate program toward the CDA Credential, which requires 120 hours of formal instruction in early childhood education.
Graduate certificates in early childhood education are often called endorsements. Only people who have graduated from a bachelors program and hold a valid state teaching license can earn a graduate certificate or endorsement in early childhood education. A graduate certificate or endorsement is a good option for secondary school educators who are already teaching other grade levels.
Many schools offer associate degrees in early childhood education. An associate degree will teach you the basics of child development and techniques for teaching early childhood education. This level of degree is suitable for people who want to work at daycares or in preschools. However, it will not prepare you to teach grades higher than preschool.
An Associate of Arts (AA) in Early Childhood Education has a liberal arts focus, but there is little difference between this degree and the AS. The AA is designed for people who plan to transfer to another school to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
An Associate of Science (AS) in Early Childhood Education has a scientific and mathematical course focus. The AS is designed for people who plan to transfer to another school to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Early Childhood Education consists of courses that teach the most practical aspects of the career. The AAS is designed for people who plan to enter the workforce directly.
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Early Childhood Education requires more liberal arts courses so you will study the humanities along with early childhood education.
Bachelor of Science (BS) in Early Childhood Education requires more scientific and mathematical courses. There is little difference between this option and the BA degree.
A Master of Arts (MA) in Early Childhood Education is a flexible program that allows students to specialize in concentrations like child psychology or special education.
A Master of Science (MS) in Early Childhood Education allows students to take a scientific approach to studying education through research and evaluation.
A Master of Education (Med) in Early Childhood Education is not a teaching degree. It is the best option for students who want to pursue educational administration and run a school.
A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Early Childhood Education is designed to prepare students for leadership roles at all levels of early childhood education. This is a good option for people who want to become school administrators or university faculty.
A Doctor of Education (EdD) in Early Childhood Education is not a teaching degree. It is the best option for students who want to pursue educational research at the doctorate level.
Before you devote yourself to early childhood education, you should be aware of the challenging working conditions of the job. The best way to see what being an early childhood educator actually entails is to gain some work experience in a classroom or at a childcare center. Many programs at all degree levels will require you to complete either a full-semester internship or a shorter practicum in an early childhood education setting prior to graduation. Early childhood education programs at the bachelors level and higher commonly require you to have a number of documented hours of experience with young children prior to admission.
Use this directory to find Early Childhood Education programs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of preschool teachers overall is predicted to grow by an average of 19 percent between now and 2018, which is faster than the expected growth for all occupations. Job prospects are very bright for those interested in early child education because the field experiences high turnover. Trained early childhood educators should have little trouble finding a job in this field.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Childcare Workers
Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Association for the Education of Young Children
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
National Childcare Information Center
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
Council for Professional Recognition