Associate and bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education help students build fundamental skills in early childhood curriculum development, instructional strategies and assessment methods and could be accompanied by supervised field experiences in an academic setting. Master's and doctorate programs may focus more on educational theories and research methodologies and provide courses in child psychology and cognitive development. Doctoral studies could prepare students for administrative careers in this field or for academic careers in colleges or universities.
The undergraduate programs require incoming students to have a high school diploma and submit college entrance exam scores, placement test scores, letters of recommendation and a personal statement. Graduate prerequisites include having a resume, personal statement, letters of reference, undergraduate transcripts and scores on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), along with previous work experience in early childhood education. Many of these programs require students to complete student teaching, a graduate thesis and/or a dissertation.
Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education and Care
Associate of Applied Science (AAS) programs combine coursework in early childhood education with instruction in childcare methods. Programs emphasize practical skills related to planning lessons, helping students develop language and communication skills, encouraging literacy and developing healthy habits. Students learn to create educational foundations in preschoolers, preparing them to learn to read, write and understand math when they enter first grade. The classes noted below are often required:
- Human development
- Introductory special education theory
- Caring for young children
- Introductory curriculum design
Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) programs in early childhood education teach students to understand the overall effect of early childhood education on society as a whole. Students learn to relate early childhood education to topics taught in elementary education and to overall community standards. These programs also discuss early childhood education administration, educational public policy and educational technology. Students usually complete supervised teaching assignments prior to graduation. Coursework typically required of preschool through third grade include:
- Developmental psychology
- Mathematics instruction
- Emerging literacy instruction
- Educational assessment techniques
- Socialization in early childhood education
Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education
Master of Arts (M.A.) programs in early childhood education focus on the research methods and statistical analyses used to measure the effectiveness of early childhood education. Students also learn advanced theories of teaching and curriculum design. While some programs terminate in a master's degree, most prepare graduates for study at the doctoral level.
Students in early childhood education M.A. programs learn both practical skills used to instruct young children and the theoretical foundations behind educational research. M.A. programs often include extensive research and writing requirements prior to graduation. The classes mentioned below are commonly offered:
- Advanced child psychology
- Curriculum design for young special education students
- Infant and toddler teaching methods
- Creative activities for young children
- Cognitive development
Doctor of Philosophy in Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs cover advanced research and analytical techniques as well as new teaching theories. Programs emphasize critical thinking and problem solving skills and often place less emphasis on practical instruction in teaching methods. Students learn how different students' social and ethnic backgrounds may affect how they view education. In addition to other requirements, many schools also require students to submit an original writing sample relevant to early childhood education.
The coursework in early childhood education Ph.D. programs teaches students how to conduct and evaluate educational research. Courses also emphasize child advocacy and the social aspects of early childhood education. Students often complete classes on the subjects noted below:
- Literacy development theory
- Contemporary issues in early childhood education
- Advanced research methodology in early childhood education
- Advanced educational statistics
- Professional development for early childhood educators
Continuing Education Options
Teachers at any level need to earn state certification before they can legally work. The standards vary, but most states require teachers to have at least a bachelor's degree and to pass a written content test. Teachers can become certified by completing an approved degree program in education or by enrolling in an alternative certification program.
Popular Career Options
Since most states require that teachers have at least a bachelor's degree and state certification, people who hold an AAS in early childhood care and education fill other positions. People who enter the workforce after earning an AAS often choose a career as group or family childcare worker, or preschool teacher's assistant.
Many early childhood education B.A. programs meet state teaching certification requirements, meaning that graduates can hold teaching positions. People who don't enter teaching have several career options as well. Common career options for those with a bachelor's degree include those of elementary school teachers, after-school program coordinators, or private school administrators.
People who earn a master's degree in early childhood education qualify for teaching positions, as well as careers in research and administration. Graduates often choose careers as early childhood curricula design specialists, consultants in early childhood instruction, or preschool program administrators.
While people who earn a Ph.D. in early childhood education can become teachers, most enter careers in research or academia after earning a Ph.D. Graduates can work for individual schools, school districts, governmental agencies or private consulting firms. Graduates often pursue careers in curricula design consulting, early childhood education research or postsecondary education.
Educational programs in early childhood education are offered at every level between an associate degree and a Ph.D. Degree requirements depend on the type of job and educational setting in which a student wishes to be employed.