Online Child Development Associate Credential: How to Earn

Research online child development courses and programs. Find out what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

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Essential Information

Preschool teachers and child care workers need more than a passion for working with children; they must also understand the unique developmental, educational and social issues that arise for this age group.

Individuals interested in receiving credentials to work with children may want to consider applying to an accredited college program. Students who complete their education then gain their credentials through the Council for Professional Recognition located in Washington, D.C. Students who have child development associate (CDA) credentials are recognized for their use of managerial and communication techniques to develop a child's emotional, physical, mental and social skills.

Online-only and hybrid programs are available for these programs. Degree levels available include certificate, diploma and associate's degree programs. 480 hours of childcare are required for certification.

Child Development Training

A number of institutions, including community college and private online career schools, offer online formal training programs to prepare students for the CDA credentialing process. These programs may lead to a certificate, diploma or even an associate's degree in child development or early childhood education.

Program Information and Requirements

CDA candidates must have a high school diploma or GED and complete 120 hours of approved child care training, but there's more to earning the credential than meeting education standards. The Council for Professional Recognition also sets the following requirements for those desiring to earn the CDA credential:

  • Must be 18 years old
  • Mustn't have a criminal background
  • Must have 480 hours of experience in a child care setting

Once candidates complete their online training and obtain the required fieldwork hours, students must move forward with the following steps to earn CDA status:

  • Complete a professional portfolio.
  • Gather parent opinion questionnaires from the location where the child care experience was obtained.
  • Complete an online or paper application available from www.cdacouncil.org and pay fee ($425 as of June 2014).
  • Undergo an verification visit, which includes on-site observation and a portfolio review, administered by a CDA Professional Development Specialist.
  • Take the CDA examination at a local PearsonVUE testing center.

The Council for Professional Recognition will award the CDA designation to those who receive satisfactory scores on the verification visit and the written exam. The credential is valid for three years and must be renewed at that time.

In 1971, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiated a program that gave credentials to competent childcare professionals (www.cdacouncil.org). Today, most states include these credentials in their licensing requirements. The Council for Professional Recognition offers programs and reading materials for CDA credential training and assessing. The organization assesses applicants to decide whether they have met the six competency goals including:

  • Safe and healthy learning environments
  • Advancement of communication, cognitive, creative and physical skills
  • Positive guidance through emotional and social support
  • Positive relationships (both parents and students)
  • Program management
  • Professionalism

Course Topics

Certificates and diplomas may be completed in under a year -- perhaps in just months -- while associate's programs typically take two years to finish and include general education courses. Some schools also offer online courses through their extension services to help students meet formal training requirements for the CDA. Acceptable online vocational programs should offer coursework that can be counted towards the 120-hour CDA formal training requirements. Such programs cover the following areas:

  • Safe learning environments
  • Emotional development
  • Social development
  • Productive relationships
  • Professionalism
  • Program operation
  • Childhood behavior
  • Child development

Students can earn a child development certificate, associate's or diploma completely online or through a hybrid format for the benefit of the students. It is important to keep in mind that if students want to become certified, they must meet the academic and training requirements first.

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