Earn Your Early Childhood Education Associates Degree & Guide

An ECE Associate's Degree & Career Guide

Components of an Early Childhood Associates

Experts and thought leaders have argued that Early Childhood Education is essential to the well-being of the nation. The extreme disadvantages that flow to populations under-served at this critical learning period follow children from birth to adulthood. The condition of absent or a poor level of early childhood education sets children back and leaves them on an uneven playing field for their entire lives. Early childhood education teachers have an essential role in the detection of long-term or temporary learning disabilities; early detection and treatment are essential to maximizing potential and limiting damage.

ECE Teacher Programs

Improved Early Childhood Education prepares children to compete on a more equal footing from the earliest periods of learning and development. This makes it critical to the overall development of the population as a whole; it is essential to producing educated and productive adults that can contribute to their families and communities and carry out their duties as citizens. Early childhood education is vital to the nation. Early childhood educators and teachers play key roles in education and social development for US children.

The Associate degree in Early Childhood Education has an overall goal of preparing graduates for roles in classroom settings working directly with young children. The tasks involve small-group settings and teachers must create courses of study to improve student language skills, social abilities, and mathematics knowledge. Many states have different requirements in order for a teacher to become fully certified and have the ability to teach preschool or kindergarten kids.

What Can I Do with an Associates?

An Associate degree in Early Childhood Education is not the end of the line for teaching education; it is a beginning point for a career and a pathway to higher education. An associate degree can open doors to a career, and it can open opportunities for further education and professional development. After earning an associate degree in Early Childhood Education, graduates can begin working in a school or other educational setting, continue their education with professional development, or expand their career options by working towards a bachelor’s degree.

Where Can I Work?

Associate degrees can open doors to entry-level employment in the field of childhood education; qualifying graduates for work as a teacher’s assistant or childcare worker. However, every state requires licenses for public school teachers and nearly every state requires a bachelor’s degree in teaching or some closely related field to qualify for the teacher examination and licensing process. This means that, in most states, an associate degree would not qualify you to lead your own classroom. Some private schools and federal early childhood education programs can accept applicants with certifications and an associate degree.

An associate degree can be a foundation for a bachelor’s degree in Education and a state teaching license. Students can transfer course credits from an accredited associate degree program towards a bachelor’s degree in education or childhood education.

- Childcare Workers

Childcare workers according to the Bureau of labor statistics attend to the basic needs of children in their care. They typically bathe, feed, and oversee children’s play activities. The typical work locations vary but include personal homes, the worker’s home, and childcare centers. Childcare workers often play educational roles in addition to immediate care. They can help with homework and assist with learning for preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary students. Childcare work does not require an associate degree but the degree will enhance the employee’s contribution to the employer and the children in their care. An associate degree can advance a childcare workers’ wages, responsibility, and promotion potential - such as a childcare center director.

- Teacher Assistants

Working in a classroom setting, teacher assistants promote education for young children. Teacher assistants add capacity for classroom management and focused attention for individuals or small groups. They also play a role in delivering classroom instruction and help with administration. They can organize supplies, do lesson preparation and setup, and manage record-keeping tasks.

- Preschool Teachers

These trained teaching professionals perform a full range of teaching for children under the age of five. The pre-kindergarten teaching professionals create classroom work, content, and schedules. They carry out lesson plans that teach basics such as colors, shapes, number symbols, and alphabets and they use tools like storytelling and play-based structures to help children learn about their environments.

Preschool teachers must meet any state or local requirements for education, certification, and licensure. Preschool teaching typically requires an associate degree or higher level of education and certification such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) or the Child Care Professional (CCP).

- Children and Family Social Work

Public agencies and private groups provide social services for many classes of residents that need assistance. The associate degree in early childhood development and family dynamics can provide a background for this type of social work. Some employers may require bachelor’s degrees, and some states may require licenses for this type of work.

What Are the Requirements for an Associates Teaching Degree

Each school sets its terms for associate degree course requirements, specializations, and general education coursework. According to national averages, most associate degree programs for early childhood education require between 60 and 72 semester hours for completion. The typical time for completion is two-years of full-time attendance or four semesters.

An associate degree program consists of general education and early childhood education coursework. The general education coursework provides a solid foundation for the student-teacher. These include writing, communications, literature, history, political science, mathematics, social science, and global or international studies. The early childhood education major and electives provide graduates with the knowledge and experience needed to work with children in many learning environments.

Sample Early Childhood Teaching Coursework

  • Introduction to Early Childhood Education
  • Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Early Childhood Education
  • Children's Play and Learning
  • Growth and Development of Children
  • Best Teaching Practices in Early Childhood
  • Language Development/Literacy

Practicum, Internship, Externship, or Capstone

Students must complete a hands-on set of supervised training sessions in a classroom or other real-world settings. These can be internships or work within the school’s system. They can also be externships, in which students work outside of the school, possibly in a local government health center. They could also be capstone projects that include research based on supervised work in a real-world setting.

The supervised field experience requirement is critical to the student’s development but also to ensure future employers that the student has performed in typical teaching situations and work environments. The capstone can be a series of reports and papers that discuss the experience gained in the field assignment. Hybrid courses offer flexibility for working students or those that choose not to attend all on-campus classes.

Specialization Options for EC Teachers

Students can use electives and any choices they may have among required courses to focus on one or more areas of early childhood education.

- Special Education

Associate degree students can specialize in the field of special education by developing a concentration of coursework in their major and electives. Students interested in pursuing further education in this field can use credits to shorten the time needed for a bachelor’s degree and one or more types of state teaching licenses. A typical course for this concentration might be one of the following:

  • Children with Special Needs
  • Child psychology
  • Child Observation and Assessment
- English as a Second Language

Associate degree programs prepare graduates to work in public schools, private schools, and childcare centers that can be public or private institutions. Many cases involve children of international families for whom English is a second language. Teaching in the framework of English as a second language presents an added layer of complexity to the critical learning period. Early Childhood Educators that have these capabilities can fill a vital need in many communities.

- Language Development

Many children have significant difficulty when developing language and speech skills. Early childhood teachers have are in an ideal position to detect problems and help provide the needed level and type of care. For some situations, the benefit is early detection and referral to a specialist. In other situations, the ECE teacher with specialized knowledge can offer effective lesson planning and activities that can improve language development.

- Administration

An associate degree can equip graduates to direct staff and help operate a children’s center or other types of child development facility. Childcare work does not require college training and childcare workers with an associate degree in Early Childhood Education can provide guidance and leadership to a staff. They have education and training for working with children, student’s families, and organizing an education program for pre-kindergarten students.

Associate programs offer courses which equip graduates with skills and insights such as the below-listed sample courses:

  • ECE Administration
  • Child Safety
  • Curriculum Development
  • Literacy Development
  • Collaborations with Parents, Caregivers, and Communities

Skills & Attributes You Will Learn

  • Planning Lesson Cycles for early education student groups, including students from ages three through eight. Lesson cycles consist of blocks that lead the student to an improved level of skill and knowledge. They must be effective, evidence-based, and workable in classroom settings.

  • Communications is necessary for teaching at all levels, and good communication improves the effectiveness of Early Childhood Education teachers. They depend on the ability to listen and the skill to express ideas clearly. Children in the process of learning language skills and social skills can pose difficult challenges for communications. Successful early educators must be able to listen purposefully, gain children’s trust and confidence, and establish a pattern of success for young learners.

  • Interpersonal Relationship Skills are essential to early childhood educators. They must work with children at early and developmental stages. Because the students are young, ECE teachers must also interact and collaborate with parents and family members. Teaching also requires teamwork and interactions with colleagues and staff members. Many experienced teachers advise students that teaching is a service-oriented profession. Teachers should have a strong desire to help others.

  • Technology and software capabilities are useful for teachers. They don’t need specialized skills, they need only be sufficient to use electronic devices and computer programs for spreadsheets, presentations, and communications. Technology can enhance learning for students at all levels of development, and graduates should be familiar with basic software and communications technology.

  • Creativity is a key ingredient in important tasks like storytelling, play-based learning, and curriculum development. ECE teachers must adapt to many levels of interest and preparedness among their student groupings. They must manage class behavior, observe child safety, and strive for effective learning environments for culturally diverse groups of students.

  • Flexibility and adaptability are important in the field of early childhood education. The settings in which associate degree holders may work are wide and varied. The ability to change and respond to unexpected needs and events must be part of the successful ECE teacher’s skillset.


Accreditation is a form of guarantee to employers and other educational institutions of quality education. Accreditation standards prescribe the knowledge levels that well-prepared graduates have and the skills they can perform. The National Association for the Education of Young Children is the leading programmatic accreditation agency for Early Childhood Education. NAEYC accreditation is a guarantee of wide acceptance of the program’s credits for later study towards a bachelor’s degree.

What to Expect with an ECE Associate’s Degree?

Early childhood is a critical learning period for young minds, an associate degree in early childhood education prepares graduates to impact the lives of children in a positive way. The work environments can be difficult, as children often need intensive care and attention during this crucial time in their social and mental development. Early childhood educators work with children from infancy up to about the third-grade level or age eight. Teachers with an associate degree in childhood education can work in many settings. The more common settings for associate degree holders are in preschools, daycare centers, childcare centers, and elementary schools.

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