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Early childhood (from birth until age 10) represents an extremely critical time during which formative learning, skill building, and social growth take place. Children who have successfully mastered these areas are much better equipped to navigate their way through the academic and societal rigors that confront all students and professionals later in life. This is why schools, families, and local governments place such a heavy premium on early childhood education degree programs.

Thanks to Internet technology, many of these education programs have gone online, thus offering you greater convenience and flexibility as you work towards an associate's, master's, or doctorate diploma. These programs cater to adults balancing other life commitments such as full-time jobs and raising a family. Classes may be completed on the student's own schedule from home.

Early Childhood Education Degree Programs

Early childhood education programs range from certificates to doctoral degrees.

The certificate is a brief course introducing the basics of child development. It is geared to students seeking an entry-level assistant position in a preschool or day care facility.

The associate's degree offers a broader curriculum, including both general liberal arts and sciences courses and applied instruction in early childhood education. Courses include teaching methods for young children and child growth and development. The two-year associate's degree qualifies graduates for a teaching position in a preschool or day care center.

A bachelor's degree in early childhood education is the standard qualification for public school teachers. The four-year program begins with core liberal arts and sciences requirements, before moving to specific childhood education courses. The focus at the bachelor's level is on classroom management skills, elementary instruction methods, and literacy education.

The Master of Education (MEd) in Early Childhood Education is the predominant qualification among early childhood education administrators, curriculum developers, and program directors. Teachers are increasingly pursuing master's degrees as well, particularly those in advanced areas of child education such as special education. Graduate master's degree programs generally take two years to complete. Courses focus on the theory of childhood development, research on child pedagogy, as well as practical classroom techniques. In addition, master's students may specialize in an area of their choice, such as curriculum design, educational technology, or educational leadership.

The PhD in Early Childhood Education is appropriate for aspiring educational researchers, professors, educational policymakers, and high-ranking administrators. Coursework at this level focuses on specific areas such as administrative issues, policy development, child psychology, research methods, and curriculum development.

Career Outlook for Early Childhood Educators

No program can guarantee starting salaries after graduation, but according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the mean annual salary for preschool-kindergarten teachers was approximately $47,750 in 2007. Elementary school teachers earned $50,040. But as social sciences, educational research, and more government funding continue to shed light on the numerous benefits associated with early childhood education, it's likely that this median salary will rise more quickly than income estimates for other occupations.

The outlook is good for early childhood education careers. The changing dynamics of the modern household promises rising demand for trained educators. Because parents are working longer hours, parents are placing greater emphasis on qualified childcare providers and educators.

Pursue your Early Childhood Education major today…