Early childhood programs focus on the best methods to introduce young children to reading, writing, science and social studies. All programs typically include student-teaching experiences. However, at the master's level, students may already have teaching licenses and experience, and often focus more on the administrative aspects of education.
Licensure is required of all public school teachers, and certifications are available to those that would like to advance their credentials. Certifications might satisfy continuing education requirements for teachers who want to retain their licenses. Prerequisites include a high school diploma and an undergraduate degree for admission to the master's level. Some master's degrees require prior teaching certification. Additionally, teaching experience is required in most programs.
Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education
Graduates of early childhood education programs are prepared to teach, assess and plan curriculum for the youngest students, from birth to age five. Community colleges often offer associate's degrees in early childhood education, and they may require college admissions tests, courses in early childhood development and a criminal background check.
Early childhood education programs include traditional classroom work along with fieldwork. Specific course topics may include:
- Early child development
- Assessment techniques
- Language and literacy
- Curriculum development
Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education
Baccalaureate programs in early childhood education vary by state; some incorporate the requirements necessary to obtain state licensure, but others require graduates to do additional coursework following degree completion. Emphasis in these programs is on preparing students to teach children through age eight or the third grade level.
Degree completion programs require that applicants hold an associate's degree, preferably in early childhood education. Full bachelor's degree programs require completion of a high school diploma and college admissions tests, with a grade point average and scores that meet the institutions' requirements. Some schools also require a series of tests to be completed within the first semester or prior to admission.
Bachelor's degree programs may require a student-teaching experience in addition to traditional coursework. Professional coursework includes the following subjects:
- Foundations of early childhood education
- Effective teaching
- Early childhood development
- Developmental assessment
- Educational technology
- Children with special needs
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Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Early Childhood Education
Master of Education programs vary in scope according to whether or not they enroll students who have bachelor's degrees in education or in another field. For students already holding education degrees, the program objective is to advance the skills of these teaching professionals. For those with non-education degrees - such as science or English degrees - the M.Ed. program aims to prepare them to meet the requirements to teach.
Requirements for master's degree programs in early childhood education vary widely depending upon the goal. If the goal is initial teacher certification, the emphasis is on general educational theory, teaching skills and student teaching. However, master's programs for certified teachers emphasize administration, mentoring and family support skills.
If a student is pursuing initial teacher certification, coursework is similar to the baccalaureate degree in early childhood education. Advanced programs may include the following topics:
- Curriculum development
- Math and science for young children
- Diversity in early childhood education
- Integrated curricula
- Growth and development of young children
- Research methods in education
Popular Career Options
Teaching positions and related child care roles are available for those who possess an associate's degree and are interested in working with young children. Specific job possibilities include:
- Preschool teacher
- Early childhood family support specialist
- Teaching aide
- Child care center administrator
Those with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education have a greater variety of career options available. If seeking a career in public education, applicants must take the appropriate courses as required by their respective state. Some of the most common early childhood job roles include:
- Elementary school teacher (up to third grade)
- Preschool teacher
- Preschool director
- Child care program administrator
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 7% growth for preschool teacher jobs and 6% growth for kindergarten and elementary school teacher positions during the 2014-2024 decade. Preschool teachers made an average of $32,500 annually in May 2015, reports the BLS. Salaries for teachers teaching at the elementary school level tend to be substantially higher, with an average salary of $57,730, according to BLS data. Most elementary school teachers with Master of Education degrees in elementary education earned salaries approximately 2% higher than other teachers as of July 2015, according to PayScale.com.
Continuing Education Information
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (www.nbpts.org) sponsors a voluntary credentialing process that recognizes accomplished teachers who meet high standards. Certification is offered in 25 different areas of expertise. Those interested must have a bachelor's degree and three years of teaching experience, while maintaining licensure as required by the locale. Four portfolio entries and the completion of assessment exercises are required in order to earn the credential, which must be renewed every ten years.
Maintaining a teaching license requires the completion of continuing education coursework in some states. Earning the National Board certification can help candidates fulfill their continuing education requirements; otherwise, courses are widely available through colleges, universities and professional teacher organizations.
Associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs are all available to those interested in childhood education. Graduates will be prepared to work in schools with children up to eight-years-old, typically after they gain the necessary state and/or national certifications.