Does creative play seem like a good thing to do during a workday? Are you interested in the processes involved in learning? Do you enjoy activities like lesson planning or helping kids to learn? If so, you are probably an ideal candidate for a career in early childhood education.
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Early childhood education usually refers to what takes places at childcare centers, but also covers education up to grade three. You can use what you learn in your training to shape a career in many different areas. From public schools to administrative roles, people who study and earn degrees and certification in early childhood education have a lot of options.
What you need to study, which degrees or certificates are required, and the total amount of education you must pursue will vary according to the state in which you want to work. Some can start to work with an associate’s degree, or even less. Some need to continue to the highest levels of education to reach their career goals.
However, all who work in early childhood education share a passion about helping children learn and grow during one of the most critical developmental stages of human life. Working in this field is really playing a lead role in the future.
It is the education that children receive from birth to age eight. It can come from their daycare providers, preschool teachers, kindergarten experience, and their first three years of schooling. It is not the same as a traditional teaching career because the emphasis is on preparing kids for education. This is why it involves physical movement and creative play, and why the role of an early childhood educator can include assessing children’s progress and development as well as teaching them.
No. In fact, you may not even need an associate’s degree to begin, but if you are interested in advancing your career, higher education is essential. Every state has different requirements, and what course you follow relates directly to the career you want. For example, if you want to teach in an elementary school, you will need a bachelor’s degree and probably even more certification in order to teach.
Those who succeed best in early childhood education careers are usually people comfortable assuming leadership roles, and who really enjoy a lot of interaction with others. They can stay calm when things get a bit chaotic, and yet they are also playful people who really appreciate the opportunities for creative learning and movement that are part of early childhood education. Organization is important, and being an observant person is a very valuable trait.
While you can do a tremendous amount of coursework online, almost all degree programs require that you work in a classroom or professional setting. Documented hours of experience are part of almost all degree programs, and so you cannot get your full certification or degree online due to the six to twelve months as a student teacher most are required to accomplish.
Every level of academic degree is available to those in early childhood education, including undergraduate and graduate certificates. You can pursue an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate level degree, but will have to choose your path according to the type of setting you want to work in, which state you’ll work, and if you are interested in public or private schools. Remember too that childcare centers and preschools may demand a Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential. This is not a certificate or a teaching credential, and it can often be earned while the student is still in high school. We discuss this a bit later, but it too can be part of the educational requirements.
Remember you can always pursue a tremendous amount of your degree work online, but to graduate with your early childhood education degree, you will usually need time in a classroom and under observation. There are some “hybrid” opportunities allowing basic coursework to be completed through an online program and then real world training in the appropriate settings, however, these are very uncommon. If you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher, you may want to avoid the online degree options because few have student internship opportunities – and these are essential for anyone looking to become an teacher in a public school setting.
One significant factor to keep in mind is that any teaching certification you wish to obtain must be through an accredited program. No public schools will hire teachers of any level trained in programs that are not through accredited institutions.
Additional resources for researching accredited degree programs of study:
If you are interested in finding accredited programs visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children website and view their long list of accredited programs.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education is also helpful.
Associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are the most common pathways to earning a degree in early childhood education. The courses that these programs emphasize will be based on whether you pursue the arts or the science core.
In the case of the AA or the BA, your coursework will emphasize the humanities as well as the general education studies (math, science, etc.). When it is the AS or the BS, the focus is on the math and science areas with general requirements and also includes some humanities.
All students in early childhood education programs will have to learn about child development, child psychology, educational technologies, special education principles, child health, safety, and classroom management principles. A four-year program will include a teaching internship. Some associates programs also incorporate this component.
You may complete your course of study with the need to take the state-licensing exam, or you may pursue your CDA.
Though you may obtain advanced degrees in early childhood education, if you do not obtain teaching certification, you will be unable to find work in a public school system. Ensure your programs are accredited as well since advanced degrees from colleges lacking accreditation also null the option of using those degrees to advance in your career.
To become an early childhood educator, you will need training. The most basic would be the CDA or a certificate program. The requirements vary according to state, and whether or not you wish to work in a public or private setting and because early childhood educators also work in childcare centers and preschools, they too might have specific demands for their staff.
The most basic requirements are:
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
Noted as a growth industry, early childhood education is expected to grow by almost 20% over the next decade. This, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out is, “Faster than the expected growth for all occupations.”
Because this industry is known for having a high turnover rate (because many early childhood educators decide to advance to higher grade levels), it is a relatively easy field in which to find employment.
However, although it is seen as a remarkably important and rewarding field, it is also known to be a low paying industry. Though earnings do vary according to location and the level of education that the individual has obtained, most agree that it is those with bachelor’s level degrees (or higher) taking the higher paying positions with the better benefits options.
The median earnings for someone working as an early childhood educator in 2012 were $27,130 per year. This is someone with an associate’s degree working in a preschool setting. However, the elementary school teachers in the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook were noted as earning a median income of over $41,000 per year. What this tells us is that those studying early childhood education that are willing to take the lengthier programs are going to experience an increase in earning potential.
The early childhood education student is going to learn a great deal about many different things during their years of study. This knowledge base can be seen as a range of marketable skills. These skills include:
If you are interested in earning a teaching license you are required to do a teaching internship within an approved program. You will have to work with your school and according to state guidelines before you can obtain an internship, but it is invaluable towards your degree and career.
You may also want to pursue other internship options during your years of study. Remember to carefully document any such experiences in order to have them count toward a degree. The following is a list of internship possibilities for an early childhood education major:
BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook for Preschool Teachers
BLS Data for Childcare Workers
National Association for the Education of Young Children
Council for Professional Recognition