Early Childhood Education Degree

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What is Early Childhood Education?

Early childhood education is a field that focuses on educating children between the ages of 0-5 and is responsible for guiding the development of children and preparing them for formal education. Educators will need to design classroom presentations, maintain discipline in an education environment, resolve behavioral & education issues, and monitor children by detecting signs of developmental delays.

Individuals can pursue various levels of education when pursuing this degree and available jobs will be reflected in the degree acquired. The goal of an early childhood educator is to ensure the safety of the children he or she oversees and provide an environment that engages and educates children, providing an atmosphere of play and growth that allows children to ease into elementary education with ease.

What Does an Early Childhood Education Teacher Do?

An Early Childhood Education teacher equips children with the love of learning in a safe, nurturing environment.  Enjoying learning is only the beginning as practitioners are able to peel back a few layers only to discover a world awaiting eager learners.  The list below represents time-tested principles in early childhood education that help children enjoy learning and equipping them with the tools of tomorrow.  Early childhood education teachers help children in the following ways:

Active Learning: Children are active learners.  Science supports such a postulate thus educators and parents must allow children the capacity and opportunities to explore their environment.

Appreciate Diversity: All children have a unique set of skills and diverse needs.  Creating a playing field infused with mutual respect and understanding accounting for these differences allows children to optimize learning opportunities.

Process Trumps Outcome: In today’s learning environment, the process of learning often takes a backseat to the outcome, which is completely backwards.  It is the process of learning that should drive learning not the other way around.  Creating systems and supporting pedagogy facilitating problem solving, creative thinking, language development, and self regulation is quintessential to academic success.  Being effective at memorizing does not adequately prepare young children with the necessary skills and attributes to effectively compete in the coming decades.

Learn Within a Proper Context: Research supports the fact that children learn best when learning is couched in meaningful contexts.  Thusly, allowing children to readily identify with various situations and better relate to the subject matter in a personal way.  The converse, of course, is the contrived, artificial contexts emphasizing rote memorization.

Establish Life Skills: The most effective forms of learning take place when social and emotional needs of the child are met while learning life skills.  Examples include flexibility, self regulation, compromise, and the uniquely human ability to understand the perspective of others.

Social Beings: We are all socials beings and children are no exception.  As such, we must carefully craft environments to promote effective learning environments that cater to and promote social interactions with engaged peers and competent, nurturing adults.

Age and Ability Appropriate Learning: Science and research-based studies have indicated time and time again we should demand age and ability appropriate curriculum for children.  However, political forces have driven the tide another direction.  Much like the outmoded idea of IQ, we must reject the notion of absolute ages and scores to determine the proper milestones and trajectory for your child.  The most appropriate approach includes two important markers of growth: ranges and patterns of growth.

How Do I Become an Early Childhood Teacher?

In order to become an early childhood education teacher or administrator, you will need to follow a series of steps.  Like other professions, you will need to invest in your education and hone your craft before advancing in the field.  The steps below will help demystify the process and help you understand how to become an early childhood education teacher or administrator.

Step 1 – Research Schools

Step number one in the process to becoming an early childhood education teacher or administrator is to research colleges.  Locating a list of accredited online colleges and traditional colleges that meet your exacting standards.  Quickly assemble a list of ECE degree providers with our proprietary matching portal or by requesting information below.  Early childhood educators with a CDA, college certificate, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree will have an advantage over those lacking the academic qualifications.

Step 2 – Apply to ECE Programs

Your college application should be submit early and highly all relevant work experience with children.  Include volunteer projects, student-teaching assignments, church work, and summer jobs in preschools.  Work experience not only will help you gain admissions into an accredited ECE program but may serve to reduce classes based on life experience.

Step 3 – Attend College

Once you have registered for classes and scheduled a meeting with your advisor, it's time to get to work.  A 2-year associate degree will provide you with a well rounded education involving early childhood studies along with general education courses such as philosophy, math, and English.   Undergraduate and graduate certificate programs also exist within early childhood as hyper-focused program targeting core curriculum over a shorter period of time.

Step 4 – Graduate, Exams, Certification, & Work

After earning your ECE diploma, you will need to begin work to address all state-based teaching requirements.  Most states will require ECE teachers to successfully pass bloodborne pathogen training, fingerprinting, state tests, and background checks prior to starting work.  Checking the boxes with all state action items, you can apply to teach in a licensed early childhood education facility.  While interviewing, make sure to ask specific questions about job roles and the school's primary pedagogy.

Top Degrees in Early Childhood Education

There are a wide range of degree, certificate, and diploma programs to select from within early childhood education.  Given the vast choices, where do you start?  Dig in and make a list of key priorities after reading our Guide to the College Admissions Process.  Equipped with the knowledge and tools to make a quality decision, you will be ready to begin your journey in early childhood and make an indelible impact in the lives of young children.

Certificate in Early Childhood Education

Online certificates in early childhood education can come in two flavors: undergraduate and graduate.  The undergraduate certificate programs and diploma programs are designed to provide students with the basics in early childhood education and lead to entry-level positions in the field.  Meanwhile, graduate ECE certificates are tools for qualifying teachers to expand professional skills in early childhood.  Graduate certificates will require students to meet all lower-level courses and prerequisite courses prior to matriculation.

Early Childhood Education Associate’s Degree

An online ECE associate’s degree is a twenty-four month program that covers foundational elements of teaching.  Students will take core early childhood classes along with general education courses like sociology, creative writing, and philosophy.  The core classes in early childhood education include classes such as the fundamentals of early childhood education, principles of education, learning theory, portfolio development, childhood wellness, classroom management, educational philosophy, and childhood psychology.  Students graduating with an associates degree will be equipped to launch a career in a variety of programs such as preschools, tutoring centers, churches, or homeschooling centers.

Early Childhood Education Bachelor's Degree

The online bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is a 4-year program that goes wider and deeper than a certificate program or associate’s degree.  Students in a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Early Childhood Education will gain exposure to liberal arts classes such as human biology, creative writing, communications, history, philosophy, and math.

On the other hand, core classes in the BA track of early childhood education will typically include classes like portfolio management, learning theory, principles of education, educational philosophy, classroom management, educational philosophy, childhood psychology, exceptional child, and student teaching in a real-world setting.

Early Childhood Education Master’s Degree

An online master’s degree in early childhood education is a 1-2 year program that requires all lower-level classes be met prior to matriculation.  The purpose of the master’s degree track in early childhood education is to prepare professionals for leadership positions in the field.

Whether it is a leadership position working for a state-agency supporting preschools or a director at an early childhood education facility, graduates will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to confidently move forward.  In addition to a capstone course, the master’s degree will often include upper-level courses in: early learning research, childhood development, principles of exceptionality, curricular design, behavior management, supervision, and leadership.

Early Childhood Education Doctorate Degree

The online doctorate degree program in early childhood education is a PhD granting degree known as a terminal degree.  The terminal degree is defined as the final degree to be conferred within a specific discipline or area of study with no degrees beyond it.  The PhD program in early childhood education will be a 3-5 year commitment after all prerequisites are met.

The doctorate program in early childhood education may be found in a course catalog as a EdS (Educational Specialist) or EdD (Director of Education).  Most accredited colleges and universities request students select an area of concentration within doctorate programs in track such as elementary education, educational leadership, early learning, curriculum & instruction, middle-grades, secondary education, or special education.

Benefits of an Early Childhood Education Degree Online

As more and more schools add quality learning programs to their course catalog, there is a rapidly emerging trend of online learning or distance learning in higher education.   The benefits of earning a certificate or degree in early childhood education online include:

  • Schedule Flexibility – Online programs allow students to join class on their terms not bound by the physical requirements of an on-site class. Flexibility is a big win for working professionals and those hectic schedules with a focus on growing professionally.
  • Access – The ability to hop online at any time does not restrict students to being in a specific location at a given time. With fewer restrictions in the way, students have a broader array of degree options to choose from across the board.
  • Completion Time – Online degree programs in early childhood are frequently self-paced allowing students to invest as much time as they see fit towards completion. With many schools starting online classes bimonthly, distance learning students are no longer bound by traditional school year schedules.
  • Cost – Overall costs, direct and indirect, tend to be less than traditional programs. Online learning provides students with the flexibility and access to continue working while earning a degree saving significant dollars in lost wages.  Next, students learning online are not required to live on-campus saving significant dollars in room and board costs.  Finally, online students enrolled in a regionally or nationally accredited program still can qualify for financial aid.  The combination of all these factors make online learning an attractive proposition for busy professionals and working adults of all backgrounds.
  • Curricular Design – The quality of online programs has come a long way in the last decade. An indication of a quality online learning program will typically parallel classroom-based programs.   Quality programs will frequently have a capstone course, thesis, cumulative exam, dissertation, final project, student teaching, and/or portfolio project.
  • Accreditation – Enrolling in an online program offered by a regionally or nationally accredited program is critical to your success. Accreditation is granted to schools by independent, third-party organizations that vet a school’s processes, procedures, and curriculum to ensure quality standards are met.

Educational Requirements in ECE

Programs in early childhood education are typically available through community colleges and career schools as certificate or associate programs. Certificate programs tend to be shorter in length as they lack the general education requirements of a degree program. Associate programs take two years to complete, and are the lowest level degree one may obtain in this field.

Higher level degrees are available, though some students may choose to enter an elementary or general education program as they allow more broad teaching opportunities. Higher levels of education present more employment opportunities, some of which lay outside the teaching aspect of the career, and instead focuses on methodology, marketing, development or other related fields that can use the information garnered from the specialization.

A curriculum in early childhood education may include:

  • Computer Literacy
  • Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education
  • Essentials of Psychology
  • Language and Literacy Development in Young Children
  • Health, Safety, and Nutrition

How Do You Measure a Child’s Intelligence?

All too often, intelligence gets framed in surprisingly narrow terms.  Almost as if there was a quantifiable number assigned to each person akin to a free throw percentage earned by a basketball player.  In the past, intelligence has been measured by a cross-section of various subtests including perceptual speed, word fluency, spatial abilities, verbal comprehension, number facility, inductive reasoning, rote memory, deductive reasoning and the like.

Fact is, doing well in one kind of intelligence subtest never predicts you will do poor in another nor is one ability ever to be at the expense of another.  On the other hand, a person who performs well in one test is highly likely to perform better than average on the related subtests.  The so-called “general factor g” envelopes this interesting correlation between subtests by an individual.

Psychologist Arthur Jensen points out the two strongest influences on general factor g are speed, the number of questions a person can answer within a fixed period of time, and the number of items you can process simultaneously.  While beneficial for completing the test at hand, it is less likely to correlate to overall intelligence.

While IQ is one fascinating aspect of intelligence, it should never be seen as superior to all others.  In other words, we should not make the mistake of reducing the entire spectrum of intelligence to a singular number on a rating scale.  Case in point, the Zero to Three, Head Start states that “there are other qualities that actually predict academic performance more reliably [than IQ]; confidence, curiosity, attentiveness, intentionality, self-control, relatedness, the capacity to communicate, and civility have all (in varying combinations and degree) been shown to be more significant predictors of school performance than IQ alone.”

Employment Opportunities in Childhood Development

Early childhood educators can find work in public and private schools, daycare centers, preschools and any other institutions that work with young children in an educational capacity. Early childhood education allows individuals to educate and care for children, as such they will be under scrutiny to ensure the safety of children. Additionally, due to increased importance placed on education at this level, teachers will be evaluated based on their skill and success frequently, often on a yearly basis.

Educators with advanced degrees can also find work teaching or designing curriculum for others. The development of programs and materials for children may be done through the facility or by organizations and companies that produce and develop such material. This may include toys, books, curriculum, and other such aides. Higher level degrees also allow for greater ease in finding positions as such degrees are more desirable, particularly at higher end facilities.

Each state has its own standards for early childhood educators and it is best to research your state's specific requirements if you decide to enter into this field. An early childhood educator must work well with children, be able to handle stress and identify individual needs of their students.

Childcare Job Growth

The demand for early childhood education professionals is expected to grow at a rate of 9% according to the BLS which is well above average.  Over the coming decade, early childhood education should see an addition of some 50,000 jobs nationally.  Growth in the coming years will be fueled by a growing emphasis is placed on the education of children at an early age and the quality of schools in the marketplace.  Professional growth and career mobility will depend on your geographic location, experience, and population density.

Career Outlook and Related Childhood Fields

The average salary for an early childhood educator is approximately $33,000 per year with experienced teachers earning over $53,000 annually according to the BLS.  Salary is affected by the place of work, the size of the facility, its location, and the number of students served. Work experience and education may play a factor in increased salary, but the contribution from both is minimal, though this may change in the future as greater emphasis is placed on early childhood education.

ECE Resources

If a student is interested in other degrees similar to early childhood education, he or she may want to consider  elementary education, child psychology, higher education, secondary education, general education, education administration, or an occupational therapy.   For more information about a career in teaching, check out The Single Most Comprehensive Guide to a Teaching Career post on our blog.

Top 7 ECE Associations You Should Join

Students seeking additional resources in ECE may consider researching national associations.  Such organizations may provide leading-edge research, tools, resources, and vocational opportunities for members and non-members.  Examples of popular trade associations in ECE include:

  1. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
  2. National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Education (NAECTE)
  3. Association for Early Learning Leaders (AELL)
  4. National Education Association (NEA)
  5. Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC)
  6. Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  7. Division for Early Childhood (DEC)

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Career Summary: Early childhood education Major




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