Early Childhood Education Careers

Explore many of the careers you can pursue in early childhood education. Review the qualifications and job descriptions to help you decide on the best path for you.

Early Childhood Educator Job Description

Early childhood educators are professionals who work in schools or child care centers to promote the development of young children. With a career in early childhood education, you can contribute to the success of young children by providing a strong foundation in literacy, math, and social skills. In addition to teaching students these skills, you provide for the physical needs of children while offering a caring and empathetic classroom environment.

During the course of a day, your activities might include reading a book during a circle time, assessing a child's progress, holding parent-teacher conferences, or using manipulatives to help a child understand mathematics. The job requires skills in educating young children as well as a high degree of energy, patience, and creativity.

Early Childhood Education Teacher Requirements

Requirements for working as an early childhood education teacher aren't universal among schools or states, but a common requirement is having proper education. To work as a preschool teacher or daycare worker, you may only need an associate's degree with an education or child development focus. However, common requirements for public school early childhood education teachers (including Pre-K, kindergarten, and elementary school up to 3rd grade) include the following:

The Child Development Associate, or CDA, is a nationally recognized entry-level credential in early childhood education. Earning the credential requires 120 hours of formal training in early education, work experience, an exam, a portfolio, and a verification visit for observation.

What Are Some Careers in Early Childhood Education?

The type of early childhood education careers you can pursue are heavily influenced by the type of degree you earn. To teach, you'll need to have a degree in an education field along with some teaching experience, which can usually be done during your degree program. The following information outlines some of your job options based on education level to help you determine the best career path for you.

Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education Jobs

There are many jobs available with an associate's degree in early childhood education. As part of your associate's program, you can learn how to create developmentally appropriate learning environments for young children, understand and use a range of assessment tools, and communicate effectively with children, parents and other school staff.

  • Daycare Teacher: A daycare teacher supervises a group of young children in a home or daycare facility. You might set a schedule for the class and lead educational activities, such as reading, circle time, or instructional games. You'll need to be able to effectively communicate with each parent regarding their child's development in the daycare program.
  • Preschool Teacher's Assistant: A preschool teacher's assistant works under the supervision of a licensed teacher. Assistants give support in caring for childrens' daily needs, which can include preparation and clean-up activities and supporting children who need extra help in completing a range of tasks. Assistants also provide the extra help necessary during group activities.
  • Preschool Teacher: Teaching preschool-aged children generally includes covering basic motor, language, and social skills. As a preschool teacher, you might introduce some mathematical, literacy, or geography subject matter in the classroom, though most of your teaching will probably involve establishing structure, developing creativity, and exploring students' interests.

Bachelor of Science in Early Education Jobs

A bachelor's degree in early childhood education can help you learn to create classroom environments to support early learning; provide instruction to young children; observe and document child development; and build empathetic, caring relationships with children and families. An early childhood education salary with a bachelor's degree will typically be higher than with just an associate's degree. Some examples of careers that you could pursue with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education include:

  • Kindergarten Teacher: Kindergarten teachers instruct children on foundational academic and social skills, assess their performance, and collaborate with other teachers and school administrators. Kindergarten teachers typically enter their positions with a bachelor's degree, but in some states will be expected to earn their master's degree within a certain time frame.
  • Elementary School Teacher: In most states, earning a bachelor's degree and obtaining state certification in early childhood education qualifies you to teach children at the preschool level up to the second or third grade. As an elementary school teacher, you'll typically teach a class of students in all academic areas, including reading and math. You'll assess each student's progress, and frequently talk with parents regarding student success. It should be noted, though, that in some states, you'll need to earn your master's degree within a certain period after beginning your job.
  • Preschool Director: Teaching isn't the only job you can consider. As the director of a preschool, you'd be responsible for ensuring programs offered are academically and socially appropriate. You'd also need to manage the hiring and training of teachers employed by the program. Preschool directors must frequently communicate with parents about student and school performance.

Master's in Early Childhood Education Jobs

In some states, a bachelor's is the only degree required to begin your career, but you may need to earn a master's focused on early childhood education within a certain amount of time to continue teaching. A master's degree can increase your salary potential and provide professional development opportunities. You could qualify for a leadership role within your school in positions such as a:

  • Mentor
  • Instructional specialist
  • Learning facilitator for teachers

Early Childhood Special Education Jobs

As an early childhood educator, you can specialize in working with children with special needs. Some careers for early childhood special educators include:

  • Special Education Teacher: Special education teachers work with children who have a range of academic, social, emotional, and/or physical delays or impairments. In this role, you'd assess the specific needs of each student, and develop an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, to address how their needs can be met. You'd provide instruction directly to students and consult with other teachers regarding how classroom instruction can be modified to meet the needs of special learners. You would need to hold a bachelor's degree and state certification in special education.
  • Reading Specialist: As a reading specialist, you'd work closely with children who are struggling to develop early literacy skills. You might work directly with children utilizing a research-based program, such as the Wilson method, or you could support classroom teachers in ensuring that instruction is developing the literacy needs of all children. You'll need a relevant bachelor's or master's degree and specific literacy certifications.
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst: In this profession, you can work with young children with behavioral challenges. As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), you'd use observable data to develop behavior plans, and teach strategies to children to help them modify their behavior. BCBAs also provide coaching and education to teachers and caregivers regarding managing behavioral challenges. A master's degree and state certification is needed to enter this career.
  • Intervention Specialist: Intervention specialists work at schools, organizations and agencies that serve children with developmental delays. Through observation and testing, you'd determine the needs of young children and create plans to help develop language, academic, and fine and gross motor skills. You may work with parents to teach them strategies to manage their children's delays. If this is a career option that interests you, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree.

How Much Do Early Childhood Educators Make?

The salary for those in early childhood education can vary based on education level, location, and position. The highest salaries within early childhood education are typically held by teachers who work with higher-need students or those who direct educational programs. The following chart outlines the median entry-level salary you can expect for jobs in early childhood education:

Job Title Educational Level Median Entry-Level Salary
Daycare Teacher Associate's degree $24,632
Preschool Teacher's Assistant Associate's degree $22,361
Kindergarten Teacher Bachelor's degree $37,138
Elementary School Teacher Bachelor's degree $39,365
Preschool Director Bachelor's degree $37,164
Special Education Teacher Bachelor's degree $41,005
Reading Specialist Bachelor's, Master's degree $42,000
Board Certified Behavior Analyst Master's degree $55,082
Early Intervention Specialist Bachelor's degree $35,470

All statistics come from Payscale (2018).