Overview of Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

Apr 22, 2021

Essential Information

Online degree programs in early childhood education or education are available at the associate's, bachelor's, and master's degree levels. Because education is a hands-on field, most programs have an experiential learning component that must be completed in-person; these can include internships or practicums. Some schools offer hybrid programs that blend online and on-campus course requirements. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs often focus on preparing aspiring educators, master's programs typically focus on research.

Potential careers include childcare worker, preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, and elementary teacher. The educational and licensing requirements for each of these careers vary by position and by state; check for state-specific regulations before choosing an educational program.

Early Childhood Education Associate's Degree

An associate's degree in early childhood education is available in an online format. Students have the option of an Associate of Art or an Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education. In addition to a high school degree or GED, some schools require candidates to provide child abuse and criminal background checks as well as various medical disease tests and immunizations. These associate's degree programs give students the abilities, foundations, and understanding to effectively teach children from the age of birth to third grade.

Program Information and Requirements

An associate's degree program in early childhood education generally consists of 60-69 credit hours. While the program requires no on-campus work, some schools require a practicum that must be completed in-person. Arrangements can be made to have it done at a location close to the student's home. The online materials are presented asynchronously, which means that students can access the lectures and turn in assignments at any time as long as certain deadlines are met. Interaction with instructors and peers is facilitated with Internet-based message boards, chat rooms and e-mail.

Course Topics

The curriculum of an associate's degree program in early childhood education is made up of core courses, general education requirements and a small amount of electives. The general education credits consist of English, math, history and science classes.

Foundations of Early Childhood Care and Education

This course presents a summary of the history, philosophies and theoretical models that have shaped instructional programs for young children. Competent and proper classroom conduct is reviewed. The evaluation of various program designs and teaching methods is highlighted through field experiences.

Literacy Development in Young Children

Students examine the progression of young children through the different stages of language acquisition, learning how to read and basic writing skills. The creation of a positive classroom environment for presenting and studying basic language arts is highlighted. This course also serves as an overview of essential children's literature, and methods for selecting appropriate materials to focus on specific areas of early childhood language learning.

Health, Safety and Nutrition for Young Children

The impact of health, safety and nutrition in young children is examined closely in this course. Special attention is paid to preventing illness, monitoring hygiene and promoting physical activity to improve the general well-being of children. Students also learn how to create a safe playground, deal with violent behavior, conduct proper fire drills and organize healthy meals and snacks for children.

Early Childhood Education Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in early childhood education is obtainable through an online program. Several concentrations are available in leadership, infant and toddler care, special education or just simply teaching young children. Graduates of a bachelor's degree program possess knowledge and skills involving the instruction and protection of young children from 0-8 years of age.

Program Information and Requirements

Most schools require approximately 120 credit hours be completed before graduation. While all course requirements can generally be completed online, some schools require students to have some field experience observing young children and other educators. The online portions of the coursework are conducted asynchronously, which means that students can view lectures and work on assignments at any time as long as certain deadlines are met. Students can expect individual attention from their online instructors.

Course Topics

A bachelor's degree in early childhood education has a curriculum consisting of major requirement courses and general studies courses in areas such as communications, mathematics, sciences and humanities. Also, students must present a lesson plan portfolio and pass a disposition test.

Growth and Development of Children

This course introduces the normal patterns of growth and development of children in areas such as physical, emotional, motor and cognitive from birth until adolescence. Also, the factors that cause deviations from the normal patterns such as temperament, family problems and cultural differences are identified. Students are expected to do field research with infants, pre-primary children and early elementary (K-3) children.

Educating the Exceptional Child

Students develop different styles and methods for instructing exceptional children ranging from learning disabled to gifted. The various types of mental, physical, emotional, and social disabilities are identified as well as how to catch them early and modify teaching styles to accommodate for them. There is additional focus on national and state laws that regulate the educational necessities of disabled children.

Family, Society and Community

The environmental factors that impact a child's learning experience are studied. The connections that children make with their family, classroom and culture are explored. Students learn how to foster positive family involvement and work together with parents and other adult figures to help a child reach their full educational potential. The prevalence or lack of community resources is also highlighted as well as ways to overcome such shortcomings.

Early Childhood Education Master's Degree

A master's degree in early childhood education is attainable using an entirely online format. A Master of Science and Master of Education in Early Childhood Education are both available online. Additionally, Early Childhood Education can be a specialization of a Master of Arts or a Master of Science in Education degree program. Candidates for the master's degree program must first have completed a bachelor's degree in a similar field with a minimum GPA of 2.0. Students of the master's degree program learn how to plan, actualize and analyze instructional programs for young children.

Program Information and Requirements

Completion of 32-36 credit hours is the minimum requirement for completion of a master's degree in early childhood education, which usually takes about two years. Some in-person work is required in the form of internships undertaken in the field. The asynchronous online lectures and assignments are accessible any time for students. Students communicate with their professors and colleagues through online discussion forums and e-mail.

Course Topics

The curriculum depends on whether early childhood education is a specialization of the broader education master's degree or its own degree program. The specialization option generally consists of core education courses and around 12 credit hours focusing on early childhood education.

Curriculum Development

This course investigates the historical, cultural and social agents that affect curriculum development for young children. Students learn how to plan and carry out an effective curriculum that is developmentally suitable for preschoolers through third-graders.

Educational Research

The research methodologies, processes and models used to evaluate education are introduced and examined. Qualitative and quantitative research methods are compared and contrasted for the benefits and drawbacks of both. Students learn how to sharpen their critical thinking skills as well as make decisions based on information gained from technological tools.

Early Childhood Education Practicum

Students undertake a directed study encounter or student teach in an early childhood educational classroom at the preschool through third grade level. Advantageous teaching manners and problem solving skills are mastered by observing a professional on the job in the classroom.

Career Information

Graduates of an associate's degree in early childhood education are qualified to become a preschool teacher or a worker at a childcare center. Depending on the state of employment, additional licensure such as a national child development associate (CDA) credential may be required.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that as of May 2020, there were 370,940 people employed as preschool teachers with an average yearly salary of $36,550 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also found that 494,360 people were employed as childcare workers with an average yearly salary of $26,790. The BLS predicts occupational growth of 2%, slower than average for all occupations, for preschool teachers and 2% (slower than average) for childcare workers between the years 2019-2029.

When combined with a state license, a bachelor's degree in early childhood education is considered sufficient to become a kindergarten or elementary school teacher. Even though some online programs include licensure with the degree program, it is usually only good for the state that the degree-granting school is located in. This can pose a problem for out-of-state online students who must seek licensure in their own state before becoming a professional teacher.

The BLS reported that as of May 2020, there were 120,080 people employed as kindergarten teachers with an average yearly salary of $61,170 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also found that there were 1,364,870 people employed as elementary school teachers with an average yearly salary of $65,420. The BLS predicts occupational growth of 4% (as fast as average) for both kindergarten teachers and elementary school teachers between the years 2019 and 2029.

Certain states request that teachers receive a master's degree in education after teaching for a pre-determined amount of time. As such, people currently working as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher usually take the master's degree in early childhood education. This makes the online availability of the master's degree program especially important. According to the BLS, teachers with a master's degree generally receive a higher salary than those with only a bachelor's degree (www.bls.gov).

Continuing Education Information

Doctorate programs in early childhood education are also available online. Candidates have the option of an online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Early Childhood Education or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Education with a specialization in early childhood education. These programs prepare students for leadership positions in elementary schools or to teach early childhood education at the postsecondary level.

Associate's, bachelor's, and master's degree programs in early childhood education are available online and in a hybrid format, and many require a hands-on learning component for aspiring educators and researchers. Common courses include topics related to research methodologies. child development, and common educational practices.

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