If you are talented at soothing crying babies or were the favorite babysitter on the block as a teenager, you may be a good candidate for an early childhood education degree. This diploma qualifies you to educate young children from infancy to the ages of about five to eight (depending on individual degree programs) and is the first step toward working with youngsters at day care centers, Head Start programs, preschools, or kindergartens.
Degrees in early childhood education come in a variety of levels, from certificates to doctorates. The higher the degree, the longer it takes to complete, but the more opportunities (including higher pay) it allows you to pursue:
- Certificate. You usually need a high school or GED (general educational development) diploma to sign up for certificate courses. A certificate in early childhood education generally takes only months to complete and focuses on specific skills needed in the child care industry. Many day care facilities now prefer their entry-level employees to hold at least a certificate. It is also a good qualification to have if you plan to become a professional babysitter or child care provider.
- Associate’s. An associate’s degree in early childhood education takes about two years to complete. The courses usually cover child development and growth as well as specific teaching methods. This level of degree can qualify you to become a head teacher in a day care center or preschool. It can also help you to transfer into a four-year degree program if you decide to go on and earn a bachelor’s degree.
- Bachelor’s. This early childhood education degree is the minimum qualification if you plan to become certified and licensed to teach in public schools. Private schools may not require a license, but they also usually require a bachelor’s degree. Your four years of classes for this level of degree will probably include general education courses; psychology and sociology in order to understand the emotional development of children; different philosophies of childhood education (for example, Dewey or Montessori); particular instruction techniques in childhood language development and motor coordination; training in leading a class and developing lesson plans for children from infancy through about third grade; as well as liberal arts courses such as English, math, and science. Most bachelor’s degree programs in this discipline also include field placement work in your junior and senior years, in which you will observe and participate in classes at various schools to see different educational philosophies in actual practice. You will also spend a certain number of hours student teaching in classroom settings before you graduate.
- Master’s. This is the degree you will go on to earn after your bachelor’s if you want to increase your pay, work as a school administrator or in other supervisory positions, or teach college students about early childhood education. It is also the educational level preferred in many states for certain focused areas of teaching such as special education. A master of education (MEd) in early childhood education can take from two to three years to finish and usually requires a thesis. You study advanced educational methods in various subject areas and theoretical foundations in early childhood education. You can also choose to specialize in certain areas such as curriculum development, organizational leadership, or technology.
- Doctorate. This early childhood education degree is for those who want to contribute to the body of knowledge in early childhood education by conducting advanced research into a particular issue. You will take in-depth course work in early childhood education, choose a research topic, and investigate it using qualitative and quantitative research methods, which will take you approximately four to five years. This credential can lead you to a position as a leader of a childhood educational advocacy groups, a government education official, or university faculty member.
Many early childhood education teachers also choose to obtain professional certification from organizations such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Early Childhood Education Jobs
Working with and educating young children will be a job always in demand, not only in preschool programs and the public school system but also in private day care facilities to meet the needs of two-income and single-head-of-household families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employee turnover in day care facilities is high, and more teachers for young children will be needed to replace the large number expected to retire between 2008 and 2018.
Among the early childhood education jobs you can find include the following:
- Au Pair. Au pairs are child care workers who travel to and temporarily live with host families in foreign countries, receiving room, board, and a small salary in exchange for child care duties and light housework. These jobs can usually be obtained through au pair agencies if you meet their requirements. Prior child care experience or a certificate or associate’s degree in early childhood education are always desirable for these positions.
- Child Care Administrator. These are positions of authority in child care facilities or preschools. You are responsible for developing curriculum, hiring and training staff, and supervising the daily operations. Educational requirements vary by state, but most public programs want a bachelor’s degree, while many privately owned facilities are satisfied with an associate’s degree. You might also have to apply for a child care license in many states.
- Day Care Assistant. Your duties as a day care assistant in a day care center usually involve setting up games and activities, helping to serve snacks, watching over the children during play, cleaning up after activities, storing supplies and equipment, and sometimes giving children direct guidance or instruction. All of these tasks are done under the direct supervision of the head teacher or administrator. You usually need a certificate or associate’s degree for these early childhood education jobs and may also have to submit to background checks and apply for a license.
- Kindergarten Teacher. As a kindergarten teacher, your primary responsibility is to lay a strong foundation for future reading and writing skills by intermixing basic knowledge of letters, numbers, colors, phonetic sounds, nature, and science into a variety of games and group activities. A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, including a period of supervised student teaching, is required by both public and private kindergartens. Public schools also require a teaching license or credential.
- Nanny. Nannies are usually highly experienced, private child care workers who find jobs through means of an agency and may or may not live with a family. Your main responsibility is full-time care of the children, which can include bathing and dressing them, preparing their meals, cleaning their rooms, doing their laundry, teaching them life skills, disciplining them, transporting them to school or activities, and caring for them during illness. Although there are no formal requirements for becoming a nanny, most agencies and employers prefer previous experience. Background checks are usually required, while first aid and CPR certification, a valid driver’s license, and a certificate or associate’s degree in early childhood education are always plusses.
- Teacher’s Aide. Most teacher’s aides perform a combination of instructional and clerical duties in public elementary school classrooms, preschools, or day care facilities. You may do things such as set out supplies, prepare learning materials, record grades, supervise the children during play and activities, and provide instruction according to the teacher’s lesson plans.
Early Childhood Education Online Degrees
Early childhood education online degrees are a combination of two of the most prevalent learning trends. According to The Best Degrees, early childhood education is one of the ten most popular majors in online degrees, while Campus Technology says that more than twenty-two million postsecondary students in the United States will be taking some or all of their classes online by 2014. Both of these facts reflect the growing status and reputation of online learning.
Early childhood education deals with the care and instruction of young children from birth to about the age of five years (although some experts extend the length of this stage to eight years). Education at this initial phase usually involves a child-centered philosophy in which teachers focus on helping to develop young children’s cognitive and social development through group play and activities. Some early childhood educational programs may use a family-focused perspective that offers family support groups and parent education programs.
Available early childhood education degrees and the approximate length of time it takes to complete them include certificates (six months to one year), associates (two years), bachelor’s (four years), master’s (two years), and PhDs (two to five years). Courses you can expect to take are child development, educational psychology, and classroom management. If you are planning to obtain teacher certification to teach in public schools, you will also go through a teacher education training program, which includes a certain number of hours of supervised student teaching. All of these courses and degrees can be completed online, with the mandatory student teaching taking place at local schools in your area.
Early childhood education online degrees are especially convenient if you are also working or raising a family while pursuing your education. With online learning, you can control your own schedule and course load; are not limited by regular classroom hours, geographical area, or bad weather; and can obtain your degree for a fraction of the cost of attending brick-and-mortar schools. Online degrees in education can be found through traditional colleges and universities or through distance education schools that deal exclusively in online learning.
You can find the best online schools by researching a particular school’s reputation, teacher credentials, alumni, programs, course content, class sizes, tuition and financial aid, and transferability of class credits. The most important factor in choosing a valid online school, however, is checking the school’s accreditation.
Most reputable online schools are accredited by one of the six regional accreditation agencies:
- The New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- The North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement
- The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
- The Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges
- The Southern Association of Schools and Colleges
- The Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Early childhood education online degrees from schools that are accredited by these agencies have the best chance of being accepted by employers. These agencies are the same ones that grant accreditation to traditional schools, and all six of them are recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
To verify an online school’s accreditation with one of these agencies, you can check the USDE or CHEA websites, which maintain up-to-date databases of legitimate schools and programs.