How to Become a Child Care Director: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Jan 16, 2020

Learn how to become a child care director. Research education requirements, training information and necessary experience for starting a career in child care administration.

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  • 0:39 Career Requirements
  • 1:02 Postsecondary Education
  • 1:52 Work Experience
  • 2:23 Professional Credentials
  • 3:54 Obtain a License

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Should I Become a Child Care Director?

Child care directors are typically responsible for a day care center's administrative duties. This often includes managing staff and handling and establishing the center's goals, curriculum and daily routine. They also meet with prospective students and their families and make sure the day care center and its staff meet required licensing regulations and safety standards. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all preschool or childcare center administrators was $45,670 in May 2015.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate or bachelor's degree for public schools; high school diploma or equivalent for private preschools
Degree Field(s) Early childhood education
License/Certification Licensure required in most states: most positions require Child Development Associate (CDA) or National Administration Credential (NAC) certifications
Experience Preschool teacher experience often preferred
Key Skills Communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills
Median Annual Salary (2018) $47,940 (for all preschool or childcare center administrators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

An associate's or bachelor's degree in early childhood education is needed to work as a child care director. Most states require directors to have certification, such as CDA (Child Development Associate) or NAC (National Administration Credential). You'll also likely need to have preschool teaching experience and have communication, leadership, and interpersonal skills.

How to Become a Child Care Director

You can follow these five steps to become a child care director:

Step 1: Get a Postsecondary Education

Educational requirements for a child care director often depend on whether the day care center is a privately funded facility or a publicly funded preschool. Public preschool directors are usually required to hold a bachelor's degree, although that requirement may vary from state to state. Often, only a high school diploma is required for directors who oversee private day care programs. However, many states and employers require some postsecondary education in preschool education.

Take the opportunity to work as a student teacher. Many early childhood education degree programs require students to work with an experienced teacher in an elementary classroom. This gives students the chance to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real-life situations.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Many child care directors have previous work experience as preschool teachers. This experience prepares directors to determine curriculum standards, which often address a child's social, language and motor skill development. Preschool teaching experience also helps directors understand the emotional and physical needs of young children and the potential concerns of their parents. Credentialing organizations also typically require work experience before candidates can apply for credentials.

Step 3: Earn Professional Credentials

Most states require child care directors to earn professional credentials, such as the Child Development Associate credential (CDA) and the National Administration Credential (NAC), in order to earn a professional license. The Council for Professional Recognition offers the CDA credential for early child care professionals. Requirements include at least 480 hours of child care work experience and 120 hours of education in child care, both within the past five years. Credentials can be earned in preschool-aged or infant/toddler-aged care. The CDA designation is valid for three years and then can be renewed every five years with continuing education.

The NAC designation is offered by the National Child Care Association and is open to child care directors with all levels of experience. Directors can earn the NAC credential by completing a 5-day, 40-hour course. Topics in this program include community relations, facility and staff management and educational curriculum. NAC designations are valid for two years, during which time 20 hours of continuing education is required to maintain designation.

Don't forget about renewing your credentials. The CDA credentials must be renewed every three years, while the NAC credential must be renewed every two. The renewal process includes continuing education and proof of continuing work experience.

Step 4: Obtain a License

Most states require child care directors to be licensed. Requirements vary from state to state, but most include a certain amount of years working in child care and a specified amount of hours in child care-related coursework. Licensing is usually maintained by completing a specified number of continuing education hours, which is determined by the state. By participating in continuing education credits, child care directors can stay informed of the latest trends and concerns in early childhood education.

Step 5: Pursue Career Advancement

Once licensed and credentialed, child care directors can broaden their work experience. Those who begin working in a franchise or publicly-funded preschool might opt to eventually open their own program. Alternately, child care directors might advance to administrative positions within a school district overseeing early childhood programs on a district-level.

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