Guide to College Majors in Early Childhood Education

Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons.
--John Ruskin, 1862

What is Early Childhood Education?

The growing field of early childhood education includes many different job opportunities. Regardless of the position you seek, if you are considering a degree in early childhood education, you should enjoy children and have a strong desire to help them learn and succeed.

As an early childhood education major, you might enjoy a variety of career options after you graduate. Professionals may work with children of different age groups, depending on their specialty; the age range covered usually goes from birth to age 8 or so (third grade). An early childhood education major enjoys the opportunity for employment in a field that dramatically shapes and influences the lives of children. Early childhood educators enjoy teaching and are capable of teaching skills using a variety of instructional methods. They are flexible, and enjoy an autonomous work environment. Above all, professionals in the field of early childhood education must have a true love of young people.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects favorable growth in the early childhood education field over the next ten years. As baby boomer teachers retire and school enrollment increases, the need for educators and child care workers will increase as well. In some areas, where the need for teachers is high, schools are offering bonuses and higher than average pay.

Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Early childhood education courses vary depending on the degree you pursue, but you can expect to take courses in child growth and development, guidance, and theory application. Many employers require day care workers, preschool teachers, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers to hold at least a certificate or associate degree in early childhood education. A public elementary school teacher must earn a bachelor's degree or higher. Those who would like to move up to top-level job opportunities in school administration should earn a master's degree or a PhD in early childhood education.

New career opportunities open up to you at each educational level.

Online Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Many aspiring teachers and administrators now choose to earn their education degrees online while maintaining their current jobs. This is particularly useful for career-changers who can't afford an employment gap, and for teachers whose school districts require them to earn an advanced degree within a few years of being hired. Online degree programs in early childhood education are available at nearly every level, from certificate to PhD, and are offered by accredited online colleges and universities.

Certificates and Associate Degrees in Early Childhood Education

To enroll in a certificate or associate degree program in early childhood education, you must have either a high school diploma or GED equivalent. The certificate or diploma is a short course of study that teaches basic professional and industry-specific skills. An early childhood education certificate will prepare you for an entry-level career in a daycare facility or in a similar childcare setting.

An associate degree in early childhood education is a more extensive program that, upon completion, can offer a wider range of career options or career advancement. Employees with an associate degree in early childhood education are often lead teachers in daycare and preschool settings. An associate degree takes approximately two years to complete; they are available both on-campus and online. Courses include child growth and development, as well as methods for teaching young children.

Bachelor's Degrees in Early Childhood Education

If you are interested in becoming a public school teacher, you must earn a bachelor's degree, which is a prerequisite for a teacher's license. To teach in private schools a license may not be required, but a bachelor's degree typically is. The degree generally takes four years to complete and is the most common entry-level requirement for an education career with advancement opportunities. In addition to covering general education requirements, bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education typically focus on classroom issues and pre-kindergarten through third grade instructional methods.

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Learn more about online early childhood education degree programs offered at these universities:

Stratford Career Institute, Walden University, & Capella University

What can you do with an Early Childhood Education Major?

Most positions in the field of early childhood education involve working directly with young children (even leadership positions generally require this experience). Your education level determines your eligibility for various types of job opportunities in the education field. The higher the degree you attain, the more positions you may pursue, and the higher the salary you can expect. Here are some career options for early childhood education majors at different levels:

    • Child Care Worker. Child care workers operate in a variety of settings, most frequently a day care center. As a child care worker, you can expect to help children learn basic concepts, primarily through play. Child care centers are typically open all year long and have opportunities for part or full time employment. There are usually few opportunities for advancement. Though requirements vary from state to state, a high school diploma or its equivalent is usually the only education necessary. For administrative positions, however, a child development certificate or associate degree is generally the minimum requirement.
    • Preschool Teacher. Preschool teachers typically work with children from age two until they're ready for kindergarten. Teachers are responsible for introducing basic skills and concepts such as colors, numbers, and letters. Again, the primary method for learning is through play. Preschool teachers are usually required to have an associate degree at minimum, but a bachelor's degree will better qualify you for the many opportunities for advancement in a preschool center. You may begin as an assistant teacher and work your way up to teacher, or lead teacher.

      As a preschool teacher, you can often expect to work part-time. Preschools usually follow a ten-month schedule, with two months off in the summer.
    • Teacher, Kindergarten or Elementary School. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers teach students skills in the areas of science, math, language, and social studies. They must be able to employ a variety of instructional methods and work with students of all different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities.

      All states require that public school teachers earn a bachelor's degree and a license from the state in which they teach. An assistant teacher, however, is usually required only to have an associate degree. An assistant teacher functions as the lead teacher's helper in the classroom, often performing duties such as bus attendant and lunchroom attendant. Private school teachers are usually -- but not always -- required to have a bachelor's degree.
    • Education Administrator. Education administrators oversee the day-to-day operations of a preschool, child care center or school. Typically, an administrator will have a master's degree or a PhD. Administrators oversee staff and curriculum, manage budgets, and ensure that their schools meet all educational standards set forth by their governing body. School administrators typically work year round, even through summer breaks. They are often required to attend nighttime meetings and fundraisers.

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  • Postsecondary Teacher. A postsecondary teacher instructs students pursuing education after high school. Typically, these teachers are college and university faculty. A postsecondary teacher is usually required to have at least a master's degree, as well as related work or other academic experience. In the field of early childhood education, a postsecondary teacher may teach courses for bachelor's degree candidates in early childhood education.

    Postsecondary teachers must stay current on the technology and research in their field. They enjoy flexible schedules, but must occasionally teach night or weekend courses. Enrollment in colleges and universities is expected to increase over the next decade, opening more positions in postsecondary teaching.

Certification, Licensure and Associations

In order to teach in the public school system, a teacher must obtain a teaching license. This license normally specifies the subject area or age group in which the teacher specializes. Early childhood educators typically obtain a license allowing them to teach kindergarten through third grade.

The first step in getting a teacher's license is earning your bachelor's degree. You must also complete a teacher training program approved by the state in which you are seeking a license. Most bachelor's degree programs in education include the teacher training program as part of their curriculum, but some do not.

Supervised practice teaching and a competency test are the final requirements for teacher licensure. The competency test varies from state to state, but the most widely used test is the Praxis Series. The Praxis tests general pedagogy, principles of learning and teaching, as well knowledge of the subjects the candidate will teach.

In addition to a state license, teachers may also obtain a national accreditation from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. This certification is recognized by all states and often provides the teacher with special benefits, including higher salary and money for continuing education. To obtain this national recognition, the applicant must submit a portfolio demonstrating their classroom work. An exam evaluating their knowledge is also required.

It is important to remember that requirements for gaining a teacher's license vary from state to state and change often. Visit your state department of education for more information on gaining a teacher's license in your state.

Other Associations and Certifications

  • American Association of School Administrators (AASA)
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD)
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
  • The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  • The International Reading Association
  • The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals (NASSP)
  • National Education Association (NEA)
  • National School Boards Association (NSBA)
  • Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK)
  • Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE)

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