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What Does it Mean to Study Early Childhood Education?

The field of early childhood education (ECE) includes many different job opportunities. Since almost all careers in this field require hands-on work with children, students pursuing an early childhood education major should ideally enjoy interacting with children and have a strong desire to help them learn and succeed.

Earning an early childhood education degree can open the door to employment opportunities in a field that dramatically shapes and influences the lives of children. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the need for kindergarten and elementary teachers is expected to rise as older teachers reach retirement age in the next decade. The same is true for Preschool and Childcare Center Directors, whose jobs are expected to increase by 7 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Keep reading to learn more about early childhood education requirements and how you can get started.

Types of Early Childhood Education Degrees

Many aspiring early childhood educators and administrators earned their degrees during nights or weekends while they worked full-time. In many cases, professionals in this field also choose to pursue their early childhood education degrees online. Pursuing a web-based degree comes with major benefits including the fact you may never have to commute to a college campus — and that you can study at home and at any time that fits with your schedule.

Earning a degree online is also particularly useful for career changers who can't afford an employment gap. Current teachers who may be required to earn an advanced degree also benefit from the online experience. Online early childhood education degree programs are available at every level, from certificate to Ph.D., and are offered by many accredited colleges and universities. Regardless of degree level, most programs require students to complete a practical learning experience at a local early childhood education facility.

Certificate Program in Early Childhood Education

Typically, you need a high school diploma or GED before you can enroll in an early childhood education certificate program. Once you sign up and get started, however, an early childhood education certificate can help you learn skills relevant to this field.

Factors prospective students should consider

You can also work toward Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential™, which could lead to even more employment opportunities in this niche.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Courses you can expect to take during an early childhood education certificate program include Foundations of Child Development, Health, Nutrition, and Safety for Young Children, Guidance and Discipline, and Children's Literature.

Skills students can learn

Students learn about the different influences factors like biology, family and communities and culture can have on the early development of young children.

Jobs related to this degree

Once you complete your certificate program, a wide range of jobs may be available to you in daycare centers, private homes, preschools, and anywhere else children are present. You could find work as a daycare assistant, a teacher's assistant, or a nanny, although many other careers could be on the table once you complete this program.

Associate Degrees in Early Childhood Education

An early childhood education associate degree program usually covers a more robust curriculum than a certificate program, thus this study plan takes longer to complete. While certificate programs target skills specifically relevant to their field, an associate degree program often covers the basics of the field as well as general education requirements. Not only can you learn the fundamentals of how children learn and grow, you may also study the core tenets of discipline, childhood development, and creative play.

Factors prospective students should consider

This type of degree takes approximately two years of full-time study to complete, and you can study on-campus or online.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Common courses you may need to take include Early Childhood Literacy, Child Development, Curriculum Development, and Guidance and Discipline.

Skills students can learn

Students learn in-depth techniques for supervising children and encouraging creative play. Along with general education classes, you may likely learn the best practices for child care facilities and preschools as well as how to stay compliant with the law.

Jobs related to this degree level

Graduates may go on to earn positions as lead teachers in daycare or preschool settings, although it's also possible you could find work in a traditional school setting as a teacher's assistant.

Bachelor's Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education generally take four years to complete whether you pursue your studies on a college campus or online. Further, this degree program is often required for entry-level teaching positions in schools. For example, in order to teach as a kindergarten teacher in a public school, you must earn a bachelor's, which is also a prerequisite to earning a teaching license.

Factors prospective students should consider

You may be required to complete a capstone project and work in a supervised setting to complete the requirements for your online early education degree.

Type of courses and clinical experience offered

In addition to covering general education requirements, bachelor's programs typically focus on classroom issues and pre-kindergarten through third grade instructional methods. Specific curriculum varies by school but may include Social Impact of Technology, Art and Creative Development, Movement and Music, Human Growth and Development, and Cultural Diversity.

Jobs related to this degree level

A bachelor's degree in early childhood education could also lead to a leadership role as the Director of a daycare center or preschool.

Master's Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Earning a master's degree in early childhood education is a common step for those seeking employment in director and management positions. Many master's degree students are working adults who have already earned a bachelor's degree and completed prior experience in the early childhood education field. Online master's degree programs can be a great fit for these students, allowing them to meet the demands of their career while pursuing their degree at a time that's convenient for them.

Factors prospective students should consider

With a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or another field already completed, you may be able to complete master's level education in as little as 12 months.

Type of courses and clinical experience offered

Master's level courses often focus on curriculum development and administrative roles within the field. As a result, courses you can expect to take may include Organizational Design and Leadership, Program Measurement and Evaluation, Law and Ethics in Education, Finance for Education, and Administration of Elementary Curriculum.

Skills students can learn

You may learn how to communicate with a wide range of audiences, how to evaluate and implement educational software, and how to effectively manage a variety of early childhood education settings.

Jobs related to this degree level

Occupations after completing a master's degree may include:

  • Child care center staff worker
  • Early childhood practitioner
  • Kindergarten or primary-grade teacher
  • Preschool teacher
  • Child and family social worker

Ph.D. Programs in Early Childhood Education

These high-level programs are dedicated to the theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed to research and evaluate the effectiveness of instructional methods, individual institutions, and early childhood education programs at large. Completion of a dissertation is usually required.

Factors prospective students should consider

In addition to on-campus or online classroom instruction, some Ph.D. programs require a residency as well as a doctoral capstone project.

Types of courses and clinical experiences offered

Core courses you can expect to take include Research Methods for Education, Childhood Development Theory, Early Childhood Education Curriculum Planning, Tools for Doctoral Research Success, and Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis.

Jobs related to this degree

Doctoral programs in early childhood education typically lead to research-based positions in universities, research facilities, or public policy. Learn more about doctoral degree programs in early childhood education.

Online or Campus-Based Early Childhood Education Programs?

If you are hoping to earn your early childhood education degree but can't seem to find the time, you may be pleased to know that more colleges than ever are offering online early childhood education degrees which you can complete on your own time and from the comfort of your home. Schools that offer online degrees do so using a variety of technology, ranging from virtual learning platforms to online chat, webinars, and forums where students can ask questions and communicate with their peers.

Also note that most schools that offer online early childhood education degrees offer an on-campus equivalent that typically has the same coursework and study material. At the end of the day, the choice of an online or on-campus degree is entirely up to you and which path you believe would provide you with the best educational outcome.

Financial Aid for Early Childhood Education Students

If you want to access any financial aid that may be available to you, your first step can be filling out a FAFSA form, or a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form from the federal government usually helps institutions you're considering, if you're eligible for various types of aid, and if so, how much.

You can also apply for scholarships, including those that are specifically geared to the early childhood education major. You could consider a scholarship from the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation, for example, which could be worth up to $20,000 toward your early childhood education degree. You could also apply for a TEACH Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which could be worth up to $4,000.

Those are just a few examples, so make sure to search for additional scholarships, grants, and financial aid that may be available to you.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Early Childhood Education?

A variety of careers require a degree in early childhood education as well as related workplace experience. The following table shows the top careers in this field, how much professionals in these careers earn, projected job growth, and more.

Most positions in early childhood education involve working directly with young children (even leadership positions generally require this experience). Career options for an early childhood education major might include:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Childcare Workers561,520$25,510
Education and Childcare Administrators, Preschool and Daycare52,360$53,690
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education1,430,480$63,930
Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education124,290$60,210
Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education431,350$34,650
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Childcare Workers

Childcare workers operate in a variety of settings, but most frequently in daycare centers. As a childcare worker, you can expect to help children learn basic concepts, primarily through play. Childcare centers are typically open all year long and have opportunities for both part and full-time employment.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Though requirements vary from state to state, a high school diploma or its equivalent is usually the only education necessary.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Some states require that staff at daycare centers be certified in first aid and CPR. Additionally, some states may require staff members to hold a nationally recognized designation or credential in ECE, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential.

Preschool Teachers

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. As a preschool teacher, you can often expect to work part-time. You might begin as an assistant teacher and work your way up to teacher, or even lead teacher.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: At a minimum, preschool teachers are expected to have at least a high school diploma and an ECE certification. An associate degree is often required, but a bachelor's may better qualify you for the many opportunities for advancement in a preschool center.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Requirements vary by state and institution, however, nationally recognized credentials or designations are often expected. For those teaching in public schools, an early childhood education teaching license is typically required.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

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.

  • Minimum Educational Requirements: A bachelor's degree is required for all public school teachers in every state. Private school teachers are usually required to have a bachelor's degree in elementary education or an equivalent field.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: All public school teachers must be licensed or certified by the state in which they teach. Teachers in private schools may not be legally required to meet this requirement, although it can still be useful to do so.

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

Preschool and childcare center directors supervise the day-to-day operations of a preschool, childcare center, or school. These administrators oversee staff and curriculum, manage budgets, and ensure that their schools meet all educational standards set forth by their governing body. Preschool directors typically work year round, even through summer breaks. They are often required to attend nighttime meetings and fundraisers.

  • Minimum Educational Requirements: At a minimum in most states, a preschool or childcare center director is expected to hold an associate degree — although many positions require a bachelor's or master's in the field. Relevant work experience is also a must.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: As with other early childhood education careers, obtaining a nationally recognized designation or credential in early childhood education may be required. Childcare centers typically must also be licensed by the state in which they do business.

Early Childhood Education Associations and Organizations

Several associations and organizations offer support and development opportunities for early childhood education professionals. The following are three of the most prominent:

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAYEC) — The NAYEC seeks to connect ECE research, policy, and instructional methods to improve learning for children from birth to age 8. They offer professional development and maintain an accreditation system for postsecondary ECE training.
  • Council for Professional Recognition — This organization seeks to promote the professional development of early childhood educators to ensure their training meets the needs of children ages birth to age 5. They offer the widely recognized Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential for ECE professionals.
  • National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) — The NECPA seeks to recognize and promote excellence in early childhood education. They offer accreditation and the Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) designation.
Article Sources
Article Sources

Sources:

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  4. Preschool and Childcare Center Directors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2018-28, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed January 27, 2020. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/preschool-and-childcare-center-directors.htm#tab-6
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