Early Childhood Education Certificate & Certification

Do you want to become certified to be an early childhood teacher? This all-in-one guide will walk you through the process, explaining what the certification is and how you can earn yours.

Early Childhood Teacher Certification

Early childhood educators, generally considered to be those who teach and care for children from birth through age eight, include preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and some elementary school teachers. If you want to work in early childhood education (ECE), you will likely be required to earn early childhood education licensure or certification through a professional organization or from the state where you work.

Early childhood teachers who work in public schools will need to hold state licensure or certification. Additionally, some states require certification for lead teachers and administrators of child care centers. For example, if you're a lead teacher in North Carolina, you must meet North Carolina Early Childhood Credential standards within 18 months of being hired; if you're a child care center administrator, you have two years to earn the North Carolina Early Childhood Administration Credential.

As an early childhood educator, you could also choose to seek additional voluntary certifications. For example, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist for teachers of students from 3 to 8 years of age.

Another example of a certification for preschool teachers is the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential offered through the Council for Professional Recognition (CPR) - though it is only required in certain states. There are four CDA credentials available to you, including:

  • Center-based infant-toddler - for those who work in child development centers with children from birth to 36 months
  • Center-based preschool - for those who work in child development centers with children ages 3 to 5
  • Family child care - for those who work in home settings with children from birth to 5 years
  • Home visitor - for those who conduct home visits with families of children from birth to 5 years

It should be noted that certification programs are different from certificate programs:

  • ECE certification is a licensure or credential that you secure after meeting specific requirements, such as passing an exam. Certification ensures that you have the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in your field.
  • ECE certificate programs are education programs found in postsecondary schools that award a certificate (as opposed to a degree) upon completion.

Both of these will be discussed here.

How Do I Get My Early Childhood Certification?

Requirements for the various ECE certifications vary. The licensure requirements for public school early education teachers vary by state, but typically, you have to:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree
  2. Complete a teacher preparation program
  3. Gain supervised teaching experience
  4. Pass a teacher certification exam, like the Praxis.

If you're applying for National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist, you'll also need a bachelor's degree, as well as licensure (if required for your job) and at least three years of teaching experience. Additionally, you must submit three portfolio entries and pass a content knowledge test.

To earn the CDA credential, you must have a high school diploma or GED (or be a high school junior or senior in an ECE program) and have completed 120 hours of formal ECE training (note that this requirement is based on actual hours, not credit hours). Additionally, you must prepare a professional portfolio and pass an early childhood education certification test. This credential must be renewed every three years, during which time you must meet specific work experience requirements.

Early Childhood Education Certification Online

While you can take online early education degree programs to earn your degree and prep you to earn your certification, your ECE certification itself cannot be earned online. This is because the tests required to earn your certification are taken in a testing center.

Similarly, for the CDA certification, several colleges and universities offer fully online programs to prepare you for the CDA exam. As a student in one of these programs, you would take a combination of core courses and electives (usually for a total of five classes) to meet the 120-hour CDA requirement. You'd complete a combination of readings and assignments, and you might be asked to take part in online discussions as well. For admission to an online CDA preparation program, you might need to submit your ACT or ACCUPLACER scores.

Early Childhood Certification Courses

Specific early childhood education courses in early childhood education degree programs or CDA preparation programs vary by school, but you could expect to find classes on the following topics that prep you for earning your certification:

  • Building healthy relationships with families
  • Child growth and development
  • Early childhood guidance
  • Health, safety and nutrition for the young child
  • Introduction to early childhood education
  • Social/emotional development

What is an Early Childhood Education Certificate?

An early childhood education certificate program might benefit you if you're a current or aspiring early childcare educator. Undergraduate certificate programs in early childhood education are the most common, but there are other types of ECE programs available, two of which - preschool teacher certificate and graduate certificate - are discussed in more detail below.

You also might opt to earn a diploma in early childhood education or an associate's degree in early childhood education, which usually take three and four semesters, respectively, to complete. Bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education, which are required if you're seeking public school teaching licensure, typically can be completed in eight semesters, or four years' time.

On both the undergraduate and graduate levels, certificate programs usually prepare students for early childhood education certification tests.

How to Get a Certificate in Early Childhood Education

If you enroll in an early childhood education undergraduate certificate program, you'll likely have to complete five or six classes over the course of two semesters. As an ECE student, you'll take courses like child development; child guidance; infant and toddler curriculum and development; and health, safety and nutrition. Some pre-k teacher certificate programs also include a practicum and/or internship.

You can find ECE undergraduate certificate programs through community colleges and vocational schools. Some 4-year colleges and universities also offer these programs, though they're typically offered in conjunction with bachelor's degree programs.

Preschool Teacher Certificate

A preschool teacher training program might be the right choice for you if you want to teach children between the ages of three and six since these programs tend to be focused specifically on teaching at the preschool level. As a student in one of these programs, you'll take around six courses in areas like principles and practices of ECE, early childhood curriculum development and classroom management. Some programs also require an ECE practicum.

Graduate Certificate in Early Childhood Education

In general, graduate certificate programs in early childhood education are for you if you're already working in the field; however, some are geared toward those seeking to gain licensure to teach pre-kindergarten or kindergarten at a public school. The credits required for these programs vary based on their focus; for example, if your program isn't focused on licensure, it's likely to require between 12 and 18 credits, but if it is geared toward licensure, it can require more than 30 credits.

Courses you might take in an ECE graduate certificate program include adult involvement in early education, language and cognition, inclusive curricula for young learners, and critical and contemporary trends in ECE. Licensure-track programs usually include a practicum and/or internship.

Early Childhood Education Certificate Online

Many schools also offer preschool teacher certificate programs online. Coursework in these online certificate programs in early childhood education often can be completed 100% online; however, students might be required to visit campus or a child care site to meet any practicum and/or internship requirements.

Jobs with an Early Childhood Education Certificate

As a graduate of a certificate program in early childhood education, you might find work with child care centers, preschools, public and private elementary schools, churches and other facilities that care for young children. Your specific job title might include:

  • Public or private preschool teaching assistant
  • Private preschool teacher
  • Day care worker
  • Home-based child care provider
  • Personal care giver
  • In-home tutor
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