Pre-K Teacher Certification and Certificate Program Information

Oct 10, 2019

Essential Information

Pre-K, or pre-kindergarten, teachers usually work with children ages 3-5. Teachers must meet experience requirements and have completed child care training in areas including safety, child development and program management, along with CDA certification. Montessori certification programs are accepted in some states. These programs take a year to complete and offer training in topics such as language development, use of the child's senses and cultural studies.

In a certificate program, students get comprehensive training in all aspects of pre-K teaching. Courses cover topics such as nutrition, creativity, family relationships and assessments. Students may also take courses in curriculum planning and running a childcare center. Admissions to most programs require a high school diploma or GED, and a minimum number of hours working with pre-K children. Online courses and programs are available online.

Child Development Associate (CDA)

The national certification for pre-K teachers is the Child Development Associate (CDA). Available through the Council for Professional Recognition, the CDA is included by all states but one as part of their regulations for licensing childcare facilities. Experience and training are both included in eligibility requirements.

To apply for the CDA, teachers must have a high school diploma or GED. Within the five years preceding the application, they must have worked with children for 480 hours. During that time they must also have had 120 clock hours of approved courses in child care education.

The courses required must be in eight areas, a minimum of ten clock hours in each. These areas are:

  • How to plan a learning environment that is safe and healthy
  • How to promote and support a child's intellectual, physical, and socio-emotional development
  • Ways to build helpful relationships with families; professionalism
  • Ways to manage the operation of an effective program
  • Watching and recording behaviors of children
  • Principles of how children learn and develop

Montessori Teacher Certification

Some states list certification as a Montessori teacher among the choices of teacher requirements. This certification requires 1-year full-time study. Several certification levels are available. The one that fits the pre-K teacher is the primary, also called the Casa dei Bambini, for ages 3-6.

In the U.S., applicants to the Montessori teacher training must have a bachelor's degree. This requirement can be waived under certain circumstances. The primary, or Casa dei Bambini, teacher training course has a set curriculum. Graduate credit is given for the courses.

In addition to classroom observation and practice teaching, courses include:

  • Developing children's senses
  • How children acquire and use basic learning skills
  • Language development, spoken and written
  • Making materials
  • Mathematics, social and cultural studies
  • The Montessori approach, including philosophy, psychology and child development

Certificate Programs for Pre-School Teachers

Certificate programs are designed to prepare teachers to meet state requirements for pre-K teachers. Graduates should be able to teach in childcare centers, preschools and similar settings. Because state requirements differ, coursework may also differ accordingly. Some schools offer several certificates to prepare students for different levels of teaching. Students may build their credentials by taking some certificates sequentially.

Most certificate programs for pre-K teachers require a high-school diploma or GED. In some cases applicants can be accepted if they are 18 years old and can demonstrate that they can and will benefit from the program. A few schools require a given level of competency in English and math. An occasional program requires a bachelor's degree and tailors the program for those wishing to change careers.

  • Basics of early childhood learning, development, and curriculum
  • Health, nutrition and safety
  • Helping family and community to aid and interact with young children
  • Observing children and assessing their readiness and needs
  • Planning and directing childcare centers
  • Principles and practice of teaching young children, including those of different cultures

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 7% increase in jobs for 2018-2028 ( This growth is largely due to the increasing recognition of the importance of early education for children ages 3-5. In 2018, the median salary for preschool teachers was $29,780.

Continuing Education

In addition to passing the required courses, initial certification requires documentation of the applicant's competence, and observation of the teacher in the classroom setting. Following the observation, the applicant is interviewed. The initial certification is good for three years, renewals for five years. In addition to a current First Aid Certification, renewal requirements include 45 clock hours of training (4.5 continuing education units).

Montessori programs offer opportunities for continuing education, including conferences and workshops. A list of Montessori training centers can be found on the Association Montessori International/USA website ( Continuing education requirements are directed by state guidelines. Employer programs may also have additional requirements. Certificate holders often choose to pursue an associate or bachelor's degree.

There are a number of pathways for a pre-K teacher to get certified, but all include coursework and possibly internships related to safety, child development and program management. Certain certifications require a specific number of hours and prepare educators for working in a number of environments.

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