Increasingly, the world is realizing which workers are truly essential. When it comes to affecting young lives, those involved in early childhood education are enormously influential. Not to mention that it‘s one of the most satisfying careers available. People choose this career path because they care deeply about young children and their intellectual and social development.
Back in 1986, Robert Fulghum published the best-seller, “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. It has been in print ever since. The point made by the author is that, if adults followed the same rules children learned in kindergarten - from early childhood educators - the world would prove a better place. Early childhood educators, along with parents, teach those basic rules for success in life: Play well with others, share, clean up after yourself, and balance your life between working, playing, and learning.
An early childhood educator prepares their students for life. Their students really will learn everything they need to know to grow up to be responsible adults.
Components of A Successful Career in Early Childhood Education
Anyone seeking a career in early childhood education must want to help children flourish and reach their full potential. Along with earning a degree in the field, those planning a career in teaching young children must possess both patience and energy. Good communication skills are also essential.
Perhaps the greatest component of enjoyment in early childhood education is watching those young children progress. As children grow, you realize that you and every other teacher in their lives are important to providing a strong educational foundation. Success is knowing you contributed to that foundation so that these young people grow into responsible, caring adults.
How to Earn a Degree in Early Childhood Education
What Does a Career in Early Childhood Education Entail?
Careers in early childhood education focus on providing young children with the skills they need to learn and develop. Early childhood educators design lesson plans for each of their classes. They teach children basic number and letter recognition skills, involve them in arts and crafts, music and movement, and read them stories. Such teachers need stamina, because they must keep their young charges active and engaged while at school.
Teaching young children also requires a certain amount of caregiving. Monitoring students at all times is a critical part of the job. The good news is that the overwhelming majority of early childhood educators report a high level of satisfaction with their jobs.
Outside of public and private preschools and elementary schools, those pursuing a career in early childhood education may work in libraries, day care centers, and facilities for children with special needs. They may also find employment as tutors or in-home nannies. Those in the field of early childhood education often communicate with parents, attend staff meeting, meet other school requirements, and continue their professional development.
Typical ECE Degree Requirements
Only students with a high school diploma or GED may apply to a college or university to pursue an early childhood education degree. While some preschools will hire teachers with an associate degree, those who wish to teach at the kindergarten level and beyond must earn a bachelor’s in nearly every situation.
Most schools require a minimum 2.0 GPA for acceptance into an early childhood education degree program, whether it is an online program or not. Along with the application, you must send your official high school transcripts. If you previously took any online or traditional college courses, you’ll need to have those transcripts sent as well. Some schools may require a personal essay and letters of recommendation.
Typical Early Childhood Education Certifications Needed
Certifications for teaching in the early childhood education field vary by state. Specifically, applicants must finish a teacher preparation program that has been approved by their state’s Department of Education and then pass an examination that proves they are ready to teach at a specific grade level. This often means that you must take your degree courses in the state where you want to teach. There is some mobility within the US, but that also is state-specific. You should check with your state’s Department of Education to get the details for your state’s requirements. Each state also requires an in-person teaching experience, which makes completing the degree completely online impossible, though many of the courses can be completed online.
To receive a degree in early childhood education, students must maintain a certain GPA while at school. That average ranges between 2.5 and 3.0, depending on the school. They must complete all required coursework and college practicums. As with many majors, even if your GPA is high enough, you will likely have to retake any major courses in which you earn less than a C grade. Once you’ve successfully completed all courses, you will need to meet certain standards for your state’s licensure exams.
Exams and Experience Needed
Before enrolling in a degree program, it is wise to gain as much experience as possible in working with young children. That might involve volunteer or paid work at a school, camp, religious program, sports program, or similar activities.
Before graduating, students will undergo a practicum, or student teaching. This means they must work hands-on with preschoolers under the supervision of a qualified teacher or program director. While some online universities can arrange local practicums for students, that is not always a possibility. In these circumstances, after receiving their online degree the graduate must fulfill the practicum objectives working as a childcare assistant under the supervision of a program director or teacher before taking the state examination. Without such hands-on experience, the person cannot teach in a classroom.
Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education
Students pursuing an associate degree in early childhood education must complete at least 60 credits to receive their degree, of which around 24 credits relate directly to their major. Many students complete their associate degrees at a community college. Students gain understanding of how children learn, develop, and behave. After completion, graduates may qualify for jobs as preschool teachers or as teacher’s aides in kindergarten and elementary schools. In recent years, however, more preschools are requiring a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite for teaching.
Example Courses for the Associate in Early Childhood Education:
- Introduction to Child Development :
You’ll examine childhood development principles from birth to puberty. Students learn child development stages and milestones. They will also learn the best environments for aiding children’s cognitive, social, and language growth.
- Introduction to Curriculum and Instruction in the Early Childhood Classroom :
Students will create developmentally appropriate curriculum and instruction programs for their classroom. The course helps students integrate cultural and individual differences into the curriculum.
- Introduction to Early Childhood Behavior Management :
This course addresses some of the challenges that behavior management teachers might encounter and strategies for boosting self-esteem and enhancing classroom management. Students will learn about appropriate behavioral expectations for each age.
Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education
A bachelor’s degree requires completion of 120 credits. Upon completion, the person may teach children from preschool through high school.
Example Coursework for Bachelor of Early Childhood Education:
- Behavior Guidance and Classroom Management :
This course teaches students how to manage behavior so that children can learn effectively. Various forms of behavioral management exist including punishment, rewards, and modeling modes. Student also learn the standards for appropriate classroom behavior at this level.
- Growth and Development of the Young Child :
This course examines the growth of the child from the prenatal stage to mid-childhood. It focuses on the child’s physical, social, intellectual, and emotional growth at various stages. This foundational course includes reviews of well-known developmental theories and the role played by the family, nutrition, and overall health.
- Children with Special Needs and Their Families :
Young children with special needs are included in early childhood education classes. This course provides information on making simple modifications for special needs children, working with special education instructors and other professionals, and keeping parents informed of the skills the child is mastering.
Master of Science Early Childhood Education
You can expect to take one to three years to complete a master’s degree in early childhood education. Some universities offer a combined bachelors and master’s degree in early childhood education, allowing students to earn the combined degree within five years. This degree permits those in the field to pursue work in school administration, supervision, research, and early childhood-related issues outside of teaching. For that reason, a master’s degree, earned online or on-campus, does not always require hands-on teaching. If necessary, online master’s degree programs will usually arrange for the degree earner to teach students in a local program. Since those seeking a master’s degree are generally already employed in the field, it is often possible to incorporate the applicant’s current student population into the practicum requirements.
Example Coursework for the Early Childhood Education:
- Standards-Based Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment :
Educators must balance what they want their students to know, value, and have the ability to perform, and what the district, state, or federal government want students to know, value, and have the ability to perform. They will learn to consider indicators, learning opportunities, performance criteria and concepts, skills, and processes.
- The Early Childhood Learning Environment :
Review best practices for the developmentally appropriate early childhood learning environment, including organization and management. Certain features maximize the young child’s ability to engage and learn. That includes the use of nature-based environments as part of the classroom experience.
- Early Childhood Reading and Literacy Instruction :
Literacy is one of the best indicators of school achievement. Early literacy standards must reflect consistency with overall program goals. Evaluate multiple methods for improvement of early childhood literacy instruction.
- Associate :
The cost of an associate degree in early childhood education ranges from approximately $5,000 to $28,000 annually, depending on the school and whether the program is online, on-campus, or a combination of the two. Residents attending state universities will pay less than non-residents or those attending private colleges or universities. Associate degrees are generally earned in two years.
- Bachelor’s :
The cost of a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is similar to that of an associate degree, at roughly $5,000 to $28,000 per year. Residents attending state universities will pay less than non-residents or those attending private colleges or universities. Bachelor’s degrees are generally earned in four years.
- Master’s :
The cost of a master’s degree in early childhood education ranges from $11,000 to 34,000 or more. Online degrees are less expensive than those from brick-and-mortar institutions. Residents attending state universities will pay less than out-of-state residents. In some situations, an employer may reimburse all or part of the tuition for the employee earning a master’s degree.
Those wishing to teach on the university level or develop curriculum for young students may go on to earn a Ph.D.
Earning Potential for Early Childhood Education Degree Fields and Occupations
Those seeking a career in early childhood education are likely not doing so for the money. There are other occupations requiring a college degree that pay more, but that may not be as satisfying.
With an associate degree, it is possible to teach preschool, but the salary for entry-level, mid-career, and late career preschool teachers are similar. Once a person has earned his or her bachelor’s degree, they may become licensed to teach kindergarten and elementary school classes. These teachers earn more than those only qualified to teach on the preschool level.
Without an advanced degree, it is not possible to progress beyond the role of classroom teacher. However, teachers at public and many private schools receive good benefits and summers off. With each degree earned, you become eligible for better-paying jobs within the early childhood field.
Those with master’s degrees earn, on average, $13,000 more annually than those holding a bachelor’s degree in this field. However, many pursuing master’s degrees are seeking entry into school administration positions, such as principal or curriculum developer, rather than teaching positions. Administrative positions pay higher salaries than teaching positions.
|Occupations||Entry Level Salary Range||Mid-Career Salary Range||Late Career Salary Range|
|Elementary School Teacher||$39,700||$45,400||$58,400|
|Childcare Center Director||$40,900||$42,200||$48,700|
|Special Education Preschool/Kindergarten Teacher||$40,500||$49,200||$60,800|
|Elementary School Principal||$67,600||$81,200||$92,700|
Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)
How long does it take to earn an early childhood education bachelor's degree online?
If pursuing an online degree in early childhood education full-time, you should expect to take between three and four years to complete it. Taking courses all year rather than taking a summer break can help you earn the degree more quickly. If you can only take courses part-time, you should expect to earn your degree within five to eight years.
How much does an ECE bachelor’s degree cost?
The cost of an ECE bachelor’s degree depends on various factors. There is of course the school’s tuition, but also whether you must pay for room and board, books, lab fees, meals, and more affects the cost of a degree. Expect to pay roughly $5,000 per year for a quality education online, and perhaps $14,000 annually for tuition at a state college or university. The cost of a private college education is even higher, $30,000-$50,000 per year. However, many students receive scholarships and grants which can offset some of the costs of a bachelor’s degree.
Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?
A school offering a degree in education may not offer a degree in early childhood education per se. Some offer degrees in secondary education or elementary education, but nothing for those who wish to teach preschool. Look for an affordable school well-regarded in the field of early childhood education and be sure to call the education department of the school to see if they meet the requirements for teachers who are looking to go into early childhood education in your state. If you are still unsure, your state’s department of education should have a list of acceptable teacher preparation programs in your state.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
The graduation rate of a particular school tells you a lot about the institution. The graduation rate is measured by the percentage of students starting out in a certain year graduating within six years for four-year programs and three years for two-year programs. High graduation rates indicate the college or university has a good support structure for students and quality teaching staff. Usually, schools with high graduation rates are more selective. They want to maintain this high rate by accepting more qualified students.
Schools with low four-year graduation rates are best avoided, as the low rates could mean students are receiving inferior academic support. Perhaps faculty or affordability issues play a role in the low graduation rates. A lower graduation rate is not necessarily a dealbreaker, but it is a factor to consider.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
Look for a school accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Schools that have general, regional accreditation are also an option, but it would be best to check that these school’s teacher preparation programs are approved by the state before signing on.
Software, Technology and Skills Needed
Early childhood educators need the standard tech skills of using email, texting, and social media for communication purposes. They should also become familiar with interactive technologies suitable for use with young children. The use of technologies such as computers, apps, and devices by children can help them become more engaged in the learning experience and is becoming a larger part of the education experience all the time.
Early Childhood Education Scholarships
While many educational scholarships include early childhood education, there are those specifically geared toward early childhood education majors. Along with national scholarships, look into early children education scholarships offered by your state and school.
Noteworthy scholarships include:
American Montessori Society Teacher Education Scholarships:
AMS scholarship applicants must either be enrolled in or accepted to an approved AMS Infant & Toddler, Early Childhood, Elementary (I, I – II, II), and Secondary (I, I – II) program to qualify. Consideration is based on financial need, a compelling personal statement, three original letters of recommendation, and official verification of acceptance into an AMS program. These scholarships are designed to support professional growth.
Sponsored by Bright Horizons, a leading provider of employer-sponsored childcare, this scholarship offers opportunities for aspiring early childhood education teachers nationwide. Recipients are awarded funding used toward the purchase of books, fee payment, laptops, or other expenses related to education. Scholarship eligibility includes high school seniors, students at two and four year colleges or universities and graduate students enrolled in accredited colleges or universities in the US.
Sponsored by Teachers.org, this scholarship is available for new teachers beginning the career journey or seasoned educators continuing their education. The funds are used to pay education-related expenses, and the award amount varies. Both full-time and part-time students may apply. Applicants must attend a university, a two-year or four-year college, or a vocational-tech school.
Sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), various scholarships for free entrance into conferences are available for early learning center director or assistant directors, primary grade classroom teachers, emerging leaders in historically underrepresented populations, and a scholarship geared for a student pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, a doctorate degree in early childhood education, or a post-doctoral research fellow working in the field for less than two years.
Minnesota State University Moorhead:
This school offers numerous scholarships for students majoring in early childhood education. Some of the scholarships involved are designated for early childhood special education majors, while others are reserved for the children of military veterans or those in other specific categories. Several are geared toward Minnesota residents.
Teacher Education And Compensation Helps (T.E.A.C.H.) Early Childhood® Program:
Sponsored by the T.E.A.C.H. National Center, this program provides scholarships to childcare teachers, directors, and family childcare home providers. The scholarship allows recipients to complete coursework in early childhood education. It also helps them boost their earnings. Due to these funds, early childhood educators can become credentialed and earn degrees because they can afford the time and expense of attending classes.
Early childhood educators are fortunate in that there are many organizations promoting their professional development, along with advocating for the needs of young children. Joining such organizations allows members to stay current on the latest issues and research in the field. Membership benefits may include educational, conference, and other discounts as well as access to substantial resource material. In addition to national organizations, early childhood educators should join state and regional associations.
Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Division of Early Childhood Education:
The CEC’s Division of Early Childhood Education promotes policies assisting the families of children from infancy to age 8 with special needs. Those early childhood educators specializing in students with disabilities or developmental delays will find the CEC an invaluable resource. The organization presents plenty of professional development opportunities, including webinars and conferences.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC):
NAEYC’s motto is “Promoting high-quality learning by connecting practice, policy, and research.” This organization comprises approximately 80,000 teachers and other members of the early childhood community, making it one of the largest such professional associations. There are more than 50 affiliate branches. NAEYC is dedicated to ensuring young children reach their full potential.
National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) :
The NAFCC’s mission involves improving the state of early childhood education and enhancing its development. In addition to advocacy on childcare regulation and legislation, the organization provides preschool development grants. NAFCC offers accreditation to childcare providers. Applicants may enroll in an online, self-study course.
National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) :
The NBCDI is dedicated to developing high-quality and affordable early care and education for African American children from infancy through age eight. These are critical years for the foundation for all learning and development, and the student’s future educational and emotional success. It is also committed to ensuring workplace cultural and racial diversity.
National Head Start Association (NHSA) :
Focusing on Head Start students and families, NHSA advocates for Head Start services and policies. Head Start staff receive training and professional development opportunities. Members can also avail themselves of the NHSA research used to create quality resources for the Head Start community.
Choosing an Accredited College
It is crucial that any college considered for your education is accredited. Federal and state financial aid is not available for schools lacking accreditation, and the receipt of most scholarships and grants is contingent on attending an accredited college. To put is simply, attending an unaccredited college is a waste of money. For early childhood education, look for a college accredited by the NAYEC’s Commission on the Accreditation of Early Childhood Higher Education Programs.
The six regional accreditation bodies in the US are:
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Commission on Higher Education
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission
Make sure your college is accredited by the appropriate regional body.
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
Whether receiving your education online, on-campus, or a combination of the two is the best choice is a question only you can answer. If you are working or caring for family, an online program offers you the flexibility to take courses on a convenient schedule. With an online program, you can choose between synchronous and asynchronous classes. In the former, students all log in at the same time. They can speak with the professor and each other, similar to a live classroom. In the latter, students log in on their own time to listen to lectures or perform coursework. Interactive technologies allow classmates to communicate with each other.
Traditional on-campus studies are good for those who learn better in group settings and prefer a more hands-on approach to learning. When it comes to early childhood education, a hybrid approach is often best. Students can take classes online that do not involve working with children, and then work under the supervision of a teacher to learn classroom management and other practical skills.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will this degree ensure I have licensure to teach?
While you’ll need to check with each school individually to make sure of what they promise, there is generally no assurance that any degree you earn will 100% provide you with teacher licensure, though most programs are meant to prepare you to obtain licensure. The reason they can’t ensure it is because most if not all states require a test be taken and passed before a graduate of one of these programs can receive initial or full teacher licensure. Most states use the PRAXIS exams to test whether or not you have learned what you need to be able to teach kids at your chosen level. PRAXIS exams offer an Early Childhood Education exam meant for those who aim to teach at this level. They are given by computer, though there are some accommodation options. Study topics include the following.
- Language and Literacy (Emergent literacy, reading, writing, speaking and listening, etc.)
- Mathematics (Emergent math, numbers and operations, etc.)
- Social Studies (Identity, social, and emotional development; culture; people, places, and environments; etc.)
- Science (Concepts and processes, physical, earth and space, life science, etc.)
- Health, Physical Education, Creative and Performing Arts
What is the highest paying job in early childhood education?
Early childhood educators aren’t exactly top-of-the-list when it comes to pay. In fact, those who teach very young children and don’t have master’s degrees can often expect to make the least of any teacher in a public school system, despite the fact that the job they are doing is one of the most important to the children themselves and society as a whole. (Private school systems have different pay scales than public systems and, therefore, depending on where you live and what types of schools are nearby, this may or may not be different if you choose to work in a private school.) However, there are always exceptions to the rule and the exception in early childhood education is often the special education teacher. This position requires more focus, more time, and more compassion than some other positions, as well as requiring an endorsement to ensure that you have the qualifications to teach children who have special needs. In response to these requirements, special education teachers can make significantly more than teachers in other roles.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
Look for a college offering employment placement opportunities after graduation to help you land your first job as a teacher. A school may offer job fairs to accomplish this, but the best option is a school that has connections to nearby school districts, either as a way to allow their students to get their in-classroom experience or with alumni connections to local teachers. Make sure you ask about these possibilities before you commit to a program.
Why You Need to Consider How Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
A well-known, highly rated school can boost your job prospects. You should attend a school with a solid reputation for turning out well-prepared early childhood educators. When all else is equal, the candidate who did well at a good school receives more consideration than the applicant who graduated from a mediocre institution. Seasoned administrators know the benefits and shortcomings of many early childhood education programs. And, even if they aren’t aware of any shortcomings, they may judge the institution based on it’s ratings or what accreditation it holds.