Pre-K Teacher: Certification Programs & Requirements

Dec 16, 2020

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Pre-K Teacher Certification

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 certification.

The national certification for pre-K teachers is the Child Development Associate (CDA). Available through the Council for Professional Recognition, the CDA for teaching 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 Certification

Some states list certification as a Montessori teacher among the choices of teacher requirements. This certification requires 1-year of 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

How to Get Montessori Education Online

The United Montessori Association offers online teacher training for working with students in the 3-6 age range. Most online educational programs for Montessori training last anywhere from 9-12 months. They are distance learning courses with options for video tutorials, open book quizzes, essay notes, and video conferences. The courses cover topics like:

  • Montessori biography and theory
  • Early childhood development
  • Adult and child relationships in the classroom
  • Class set up and materials

Continuing Education for Pre-K Certification

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).

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 pre-K teacher certificate programs 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. Course topics include:

  • 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

Earning a Degree in Early Childhood Education

For a pre-K teacher who is interested in moving beyond a certificate program, there are a number of degrees available at different levels. These include:

  • Associate's Degree - This degree is appropriate for a teacher or assistant in a federally funded program; also able to earn a CDA credential (120 hours of professional education) with this degree.
  • Bachelor's Degree - The undergraduate degree is now a minimum requirement for public schools or as a lead teacher in a private setting.
  • Master's Degree - Graduate degree programs are designed for teachers looking at the supervisory or administrative level to advance their career.
  • PhD Degree - Doctoral programs are designed for more specialization in administrative, pedagogy, community collaboration and policy analysis.

Some common degree titles include:

  • Associate of Arts - Early Childhood Education
  • Bachelor of Science - Early Childhood Education (with teaching licensure)
  • Master of Arts in Teaching - Curriculum and Instruction/Early Childhood Education
  • PhD in Early Childhood Education

Each state university will have information on programs and degrees as well as information for online certification.

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 6% increase in jobs for 2019-2029 ( This growth is largely due to the increasing recognition of the importance of early education for children ages 3-5. In 2019, the median salary for preschool teachers was $34,650.

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