Child Development Degree, Diploma and Certificate Program Overviews

Training programs in child development help child care professionals acquire competencies important to development and well-being. Students can prepare for credentialing in the field through certificate, diploma and associate's degree programs at vocational schools and community colleges.

Essential Information

Students studying child development take classes and receive hands-on experience in speech development, early learning, nutrition and safety regulations. Students receiving diploma or certificates in the field typically continue on to associate's and bachelor's degree programs. Associate's degree programs cover topics in learning disability assessment, behavioral development and language development.

  • Program Levels in Child Development: Associate's degree; diplomas and certificates
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma, current immunizations, TB test, character references and background checks for all program levels
  • Program Lengths: One year for both certificate and diploma programs; two years for associate's degree
  • Other Requirements: Internships and/or practicums

Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate

This certificate, available at technical schools and community colleges, prepares students for the CDA licensing process in 49 states (excluding Idaho) and the District of Columbia. Students attending these programs learn how to provide safe and healthy learning environments for young children. Techniques in guiding children through physical and intellectual development, social behavior and positive relationships with their families and communities are fostered throughout the program coursework. Some programs offer specific study areas such as early childhood education, group leader, childcare center director, great beginnings, infant/toddler and preschool. Coursework for specializations can provide more than the basic CDA certificate requirements, expanding knowledge and skills within core competencies. Many programs include fieldwork and labs where they learn methods for developing and teaching curriculum. Candidates demonstrate competencies at basic levels by testing or other forms of evaluation. Some common courses within the program include:

  • Human behavior
  • Child developmental psychology
  • First aid and safety
  • Early learning experiences
  • Curriculum: a plan to teach
  • Successful learning strategies

Child Development Diplomas

CDA diplomas in early childhood and infant-toddler specializations are also offered, in addition to the certificate programs. Some advanced diploma certificates require completion of another program or equivalent occupational experience. In programs where students have the option of earning a non-degree diploma or a degree, schools note the award choices for each major and students can usually advance through diploma programs to an A.A.S. degree if they wish. Diploma programs train students through classroom theory, lab experiences, internships and practicums. Technical and general education courses normally range from 30 to 72 semester credits in CDA diploma programs, with courses including:

  • Early learning and childhood development
  • Infant-toddler learning and development
  • Teach to lead
  • Developing early speech
  • Promoting good nutrition
  • Administrative issues

Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education

Students in early childhood education associate's degree programs study childcare and guidance, growth and development, and the physical and nutritional needs of children. Proficiency in communicating with parents, as well as children, is emphasized. Graduates foster development of cognition and language, physical and motor skills and emotional, social and creative abilities appropriate to each child. A.A.S. programs prepare graduates to plan and implement developmentally suitable curricula for early childhood settings. In addition to cooperative work experiences or practicums, core courses cover communication, composition, math, computers, science and general psychology. Additionally, they include:

  • Child, family and the community
  • Development, guidance and success
  • Behavioral development
  • Normal days with the exceptional child
  • Prompt attention to developmental delays
  • Language and literacy

Popular Career Options

The growing demand for quality childcare has created specialized fields for working with young children and their families. CDAs and A.A.S. graduates work in preschools, childcare and child development centers, Head Start and before- and after-school programs, summer camps, infant nurseries and family home-based programs. Entry-level positions include:

  • Nanny
  • Teacher's assistant
  • Childcare worker

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects wage and salary job opportunities in the childcare industry to grow about 14% from 2012-2022. The BLS noted that the increasing development of early childhood education programs would support an uptick of employment opportunities in this area. The median annual salary for childcare workers in 2014 was $19,730, according to the BLS. During the same year, the BLS reported that the median annual salaries for the positions below ranged as follows:

  • Teacher assistants, $19,610-$30,670
  • Preschool teachers, $22,010-$37,660
  • Kindergarten teachers, $41,070-$62,960
  • Child, family, and school social workers, $33,590-$55,400
  • Elementary and secondary education administrators, $72,140-$110,250

Continuing Education

Bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degree programs in child development and other related areas (such as early childhood education and child and family studies) can advance students beyond initial aspirations. Graduates with these degrees can pursue the following career paths:

  • Early childhood and parent educators
  • Social workers
  • Family and juvenile justice advocates
  • Public administrators

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