What is the Right Degree or Certification For You?
College degrees in the field of Early Childhood Education have different themes and content than other types of education and teaching studies. Early Childhood education is the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Early childhood is the formative period for language ability, thinking, and social skills. The needs of children in their earliest years are different from the educational approaches needed later in elementary, middle, and high school.
Early Childhood education programs start with the theories of psychology and early child development based on the works of Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, and even B.F. Skinner. ECE courses introduce leading and popular approaches to early developmental learning including the Montessori method, the Waldorf theory, and Reggio Emilia. The coursework covers curriculum development and lesson planning in detail.
Early Childhood Education Degree Programs
Within the framework of early education, ECE grads must be able to teach every subject area, help develop social skills, and support emotional security. Teachers must always be mindful of the physical activity, physical development, and create a safe learning environment. Successful early childhood educators require a solid foundation in the theory of child development, and that foundation, in theory, must integrate with a deep knowledge of early childhood teaching subjects and techniques.
Degree Program Components
Under the leadership of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the Early Childhood Education (ECE) field has several unifying themes that cross the lines between the types and levels of degrees.
When working with young children, ECE degree holders must have a broad knowledge base in development and learning. Young children defined as ages from birth to age eight or the third-grade level.
Early childhood teachers must demonstrate in-depth knowledge in the periods of early childhood education. They must understand the infant and toddler period, the preschool and pre-kindergarten period, and the early primary grades period up to grade four.
Early childhood degree programs equip graduates to work in an inclusive early childhood learning environment. The settings must include children with learning delays and developmental disabilities.
Degree programs must prepare graduates to work in key roles needed to bring the benefits of early childhood education to the greatest number of families. The below-listed items describe some of the functions ECE graduates must perform.
- Early childhood educator roles such as classroom teachers, childcare providers, Head Start teachers, and assistant or paraprofessional positions in public schools.
- Home-services family-support roles such as in family advocacy or child protective services.
- Professional leadership roles include early childhood administrators, staff trainers, and mentors. These roles include policy advocacy at the local, state, and national level.
The associate degree is a course of study that students can complete in two years. The curriculum has general studies and a core of early education courses. The associate degree is the shortest educational track to getting a job in early childhood education, and it can be a basis for a bachelor’s degree. Most public-school systems require a bachelor’s degree and a license for teacher positions, but many private schools use other standards, and the associate degree can be an entry-level qualification for some education systems and private employers.
Completion of the four-year bachelor’s degree takes about 125 to 135 semester hours, and most students can graduate in four years or after eight semesters. The Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood education can qualify the graduate for the state licensing exams and a teaching license in a general or specific teaching category. The course of study has about three to four semesters of general education followed by an intensive four-semester run of early education, training, and student teaching. The bachelor’s degree opens the field to graduates, and it is the most widely used credential for teaching.
The Master’s level requires about 30 to 35 credit hours and a bachelor’s degree. The bachelor ’s degree can be in the field of early childhood education or some unrelated field. If the undergraduate degree is unrelated, then students will take additional prerequisite education courses. If the bachelor’s degree is in the field of early education, then students can complete the master’s in one or two years of study.
Degree Requirements for Early Childhood Educators
- ECE Associate's Degree Requirements and Courses
The associate degree provides early entry into the ECE field as a teacher in limited situations such as preschools and childcare centers. Some public programs accept experienced teachers with Associate degrees. Some Associate degree graduates add a credential like the Child Development Associate (CDA) to add to their skills, knowledge, and options. The associate degree is the platform for a bachelor’s degree. It requires about 60-70 credit hours, about 250 field hours observing and practice teaching.
Graduates should have a solid foundation in early childhood education and management techniques for supervising children up to age nine in a safe, supportive, learning environment.
Sample courses for Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education
- Introduction to Early Childhood Education
- Classroom Management
- Issues in Early Childhood Education
- Child Development
- ECE Bachelor’s Degree Requirements and Courses
The Bachelor’s degree equips students to take state teaching license exams and get a designated teaching license for early childhood teaching. The graduates will be able to develop and carry out learning strategies for children’s mental development, problem-solving skills, language abilities, motor skills, and social development. Students must complete fieldwork that includes observation, practice teaching, and teaching under observation.
Sample courses for Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education
- Cultural and Social Foundations of Education
- Educational Psychology
- Assessment, Evaluation, and Diagnosis of The Young Child
- Early Social and Emotional Development
- Language and Literacy Development
- Integrated Math and Science in Early Childhood
- ECE Master’s Degree Requirements and Courses
Graduate-level coursework prepares graduates to work in early childhood pedagogy or teaching methods, technology-assisted learning, education administration, community collaboration, or childhood education policy analysis. The curriculum includes practical experience, in-person work with young learners, and interactions with families.
Sample courses for Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education
- Psychology of Learning and Development for Education
- Human Learning from Conception to Early Childhood
- Introduction to Research Methodology
- Educational/Psychological Measurement
- Education and Society
- Teaching Children in Inclusive Classrooms
- Teaching Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
The field of Early Childhood Education has a large number of specializations, and each school labels its concentrations and specializations according to their ideas of best practices. The themes for specialization include special education, inclusive learning environments, language literacy, and English as a Second Language. Special Needs Education is becoming an in demand position with an increase in Autism, Cerebral Palsy, hearing impairment, speech impairment and many other learning disabilities.
Skills & Attributes Needed to Be Successful
The most necessary ability is to be able to work with students and families with respect and dignity that every person deserves. The driving motivation for Early Childhood Education is one of service to others. A successful career in ECE requires self-development, reliability, and dependability. Education does not end with the classroom and graduation; it begins with the lessons learned in interaction with young learners, their families, and their communities.
Listening and Communications are the basic skills that make all the education, training, and experience work together towards a high level of performance. ECE educators must be able to listen and absorb information and inputs from young children, families, and members of the community. They must also listen attentively to peers, colleagues, and leaders. The ability to listen involves patience, attention, and a willingness to share another person’s perspective. In a similar way, ECE educators must communicate thoughts and ideas to young learners, their families, and the community. Confident oral presentation and excellent written communications skills are essential to succeed in this field.
Multitasking and Flexibility are traits that help teachers in classroom and administrative functions. The classroom can be quite busy and demanding both physically and for continuous focus. Teachers that work with very young learners must provide a level of care, observation, and concern with safety at all times. There is never a focus on a single thing, and children can be physically active and unpredictable. One must not forget that administrative tasks are an important part of ECE educator duties. This type of work ranges from notes after class to review of child performance and official reports of progress, problems, family communications, and recommendations.
Creativity is a beneficial trait in early childhood education. When working with young learners, teachers must continuously work to find engaging learning assignments and meaningful lesson plans. Curriculum development must be carefully tailored to the strengths and needs of each student group, and one-on-one work must address the situation of the student and family. Creativity is a valuable asset that is expressed in basic tasks, curriculum development, planning, and interactions that ECE teachers must perform.
Adaptability helps when working in classroom settings. Young children can be quite active, and outcomes of planned lessons and activities can be unpredictable. Teachers must be flexible and adapt easily to changes in circumstances. On a longer view, teachers may work in many different types of settings such as public institutions, private schools, and for-profit companies that provide childcare and education. Adaptability is a trait that helps teacher maximize their opportunities rather than narrow them to a small subset of the market.
Critical Thinking is also vital to success in early childhood education. Educators that work with young children and their families must often work through complex situations and solve multi-layered problems. Critical thinking enables objectivity which can be important in a field that also requires close relationships and empathy.
What to Look for and Program Accreditation
When selecting a school for early childhood education, students should examine a few features. Accreditation is a key, and the school should be fully accredited. The student’s choice of major is important. Many schools offer specialized early childhood education degrees. For example, the ECE degree might be a BS in Early Childhood Development /Special Education. If the student wishes to have a general education or a specialty in literacy, then the program selection should take some deeper thought. The student should determine whether the school has the desired major and if the degree program aligns with their career goals.
Accreditation is an independent assessment of a school, its curriculum, faculty, facilities, and educational resources. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that graduates know the things they need to know and that they can do the tasks required of them in the positions they will hold. Accreditation affects the value of a degree in the marketplace and it determines the available ways to pay for the degree.
The US Department of Education requires accreditation for participation in its loan, grant, and scholarship programs. The accreditation must come from an authorized accreditation agency. Employers look for accreditation when reviewing applicants for positions. Accreditation is a guarantee that the school offers high-quality education.
- National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) is a national accreditation agency that can accredit schools of early education that are not part of colleges and universities; NECPA can accredit all types of programs including private, faith-based, home-based, and for-profit schools.
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the most prominent accreditation agency for bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. They also oversee certifications at those levels. The CAEP works closely with the NAEYC.
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the leading advocacy and standards agency in the field of Early Childhood Education. They conduct research and maintain a continuous assessment of early education program standards.
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