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Graduate Degrees in Early Childhood Education: Program Options

Working with children at the early childhood stage between infancy and the age of 8 requires different teaching and assessment methods than does working with older students. Graduate degrees in early childhood education are available at the master's and doctoral levels.

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Essential Information

Early childhood education programs at the graduate level are available as master's and Ph.D. programs. Master's programs in early childhood education are geared toward teachers who want to expand their knowledge as well as toward aspiring administrators, while doctoral programs are more research-focused.

Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education

Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Education (M.Ed.) programs in early childhood education cover the skills needed to teach children from pre-kindergarten to second or third grade. Students learn the ideas behind curriculum design, lesson planning and educational assessment for young students. Classes employ concepts in developmental psychology to explain the process of learning in early childhood. Programs also emphasize the research and statistical aspects of the field.

Applicants typically need to hold a bachelor's degree and previous undergraduate credits in education. Some schools also require incoming students to be familiar with statistical methodology and research design prior to beginning their graduate coursework. Most programs also require students to submit reference letters and a personal statement.

The classes in early childhood education M.A. and M.Ed. programs emphasize how educational research and theory are applied to classroom settings. Many programs require students to complete supervised teaching internships. Classes often cover the topics noted below:

  • Curriculum design for preschool
  • Instructing young children
  • Developmental psychology and education
  • Statistics in education
  • Educational technology

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Teacher Education, Multiple Levels
  • Teaching, Adults
  • Teaching, Elementary
  • Teaching, High School
  • Teaching, Junior High
  • Teaching, Kindergarten and Preschool
  • Teaching, Waldorf and Steiner Education
  • Teaching, Young Children

Doctorate in Early Childhood Education

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) programs typically emphasize the theoretical and research-related aspects of early childhood education. Students also learn about the policy and administrative aspects of the discipline. Most programs require students to complete and defend a dissertation project covering original research in the field.

Doctoral programs usually require applicants to hold a master's degree in education. Incoming students also need to understand research design and statistics. Programs often ask applicants to submit an academic writing sample, along with letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose.

Students often work with a faculty advisor to choose coursework based around a research interest. Common subjects in doctoral early childhood education study include:

  • Educational statistics
  • Theories of learning
  • Educational assessment
  • Literacy development
  • Education program leadership

Popular Career Options

Those earning an M.A. or M.Ed. in early childhood education are qualified for positions in public or private schools or other educational institutions. Graduates often work as teachers, but they can be administrators of some programs. Teaching licensure is required before beginning work as a teacher. The careers listed below are common options.

  • Preschool teacher
  • Private preschool program administrator
  • Kindergarten teacher

Earning a doctoral degree in early childhood education prepares graduates for a number of advanced academic and administrative positions. Graduates may manage educational programs, design curricula or work as educational advocates. Potential careers include the following positions:

  • Preschool program manager
  • Education professor
  • Education research consultant
  • Educational policy advisor

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 7% job growth for preschool teachers in the years 2014 through 2024. In May 2015, preschool teachers earned $28,570 as a median annual wage.

The BLS also predicts a 6% overall job growth for kindergarten and elementary school teachers in the 2014-2024 decade. The BLS reported that kindergarten and elementary school teachers earned median annual salaries of $51,640 and $54,890, respectively, in 2015.

Earning a graduate degree in early childhood education allows students to either continue working as preschool, kindergarten and elementary school teachers or advance into careers as administrators or researchers.

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