Child Development Degree, Diploma and Certificate Program Overviews

Get information on certificate, diploma and degree programs in child development. Keep reading to learn about prerequisites, curriculum and the credential required for licensing as a child care provider.

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Essential Information

Training programs in child development help child care professionals acquire competencies important to development and well-being. Students can prepare for the child development associate (CDA) credentialing exam through a 1-year certificate program or a 1-year diploma program at a vocational school or 2-year college. Students in these programs take classes and get hands-on experience in speech development, early learning, nutrition and safety regulations.

Many CDAs go on to earn 2-year associate's degrees. They work as educators, administrators and social workers or pursue bachelor's degrees. In addition to general education courses, an associate's degree program in early childhood education covers topics such as assessing learning disabilities, behavioral development and language development. Again, hands-on experience is important in the curriculum.


Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate

This certificate, available at technical schools and 2-year colleges, can prepare students for the CDA licensing process in 49 states (excluding Idaho) and District of Columbia. Some states allow CDAs to work as teachers and directors, yet others require an additional combination of further education and work experience. A 1-year certificate prepares students to provide safe, healthy learning environments. They will advance physical and intellectual development in children, guiding them in social behavior and positive relationships with their families and communities. Some colleges offer several program options; e.g., early childhood education, group leader, childcare center director, great beginnings, infant/toddler and preschool certificates.

Education Prerequisites

In addition to generally accepted enrollment requirements, all child education programs want proof of recent medical exams, current inoculations and TB tests, character references and background checks. Not all certificates are recognized nor do credits necessarily transfer to other school programs. Students may wish to investigate local and state regulations as well as the matriculation requirements of any future college they wish to attend.

Program Coursework

Coursework for specializations can provide more than the basic CDA certificate, expanding knowledge and skills within core competencies. Many programs include fieldwork and labs where they learn methods for developing and teaching curriculum. Candidates demonstrate competencies at basic levels by testing or other forms of evaluation.

  • Written communications
  • Human behavior
  • Children's story time
  • Child developmental psychology
  • First aid and safety
  • Intro to sociology
  • Early learning experiences
  • Curriculum: a plan to teach
  • Successful learning strategies
  • Early mathematics

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects wage and salary job opportunities in the childcare industry to grow about 20% from 2010 to 2020. The BLS noted that the increasing development of early childhood education programs would support an uptick of employment opportunities in this area. The median annual salary for childcare workers in 2012 was $19,510, according to the BLS. During the same year, the BLS reported that the middle half of annual salaries for the positions below ranged as follows:

  • Teacher assistants, $19,210-$29,900
  • Childcare workers, $17,600-$23,940
  • Preschool teachers, $21,200-$36,360
  • Kindergarten teachers, $40,300-$63,830
  • Child, family, and school social workers, $33,030-$54,420
  • Elementary and secondary education administrators, $70,920-$108,730

Child Development Diplomas

Schools and colleges offer CDA diplomas in early childhood and infant-toddler specializations. While 1-year CDA certificate diplomas are usually non-degree programs, successful students can seek work, advance careers or continue educations with a liberal arts or social science program. However, many are advanced diploma certificates that require completion of another program or equivalent occupational experience. In programs where students have the option of earning a non-degree diploma or a degree, schools note the award choices for each major and students can usually advance through diploma programs to an A.A.S. degree if they wish.

Program Coursework

Child development diplomas prepare students through classroom theory, lab experiences, internships and practicums. Technical and general education courses normally range from 30 to 72 semester credits in CDA diploma programs.

  • Early learning and childhood development
  • The early childhood professional
  • Infant-toddler learning and development
  • Guide-a-child: keys to success
  • Teach to lead
  • Child artists
  • Developing early speech
  • Promoting good nutrition
  • Growing up
  • Administrative issues

Popular Career Options

The childcare services industry is a narrower field than most, offering fewer diverse occupations. Early-child service positions usually involve diapering, feeding and playing with infants. Older children require basic needs to be met in addition to those that encourage emotional and social development. Entry-level positions include:

  • Nanny
  • Teacher's assistant
  • Childcare worker

Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education

Candidates study childcare and guidance, growth and development, and the physical and nutritional needs of children. They become proficient in communicating with parents as well as children. Graduates foster development of cognition and language; physical and motor skills; and emotional, social and creative abilities appropriate to each child. A.A.S. programs prepare graduates to plan and implement developmentally suitable curriculums for early childhood settings. In addition to cooperative work experiences or practicums, core courses may cover communication, composition, math, computers, science and general psychology:

  • Intro to early childhood
  • Child, family and the community
  • Development, guidance and success
  • Health, nutrition and safety
  • Behavioral development
  • Creativity and exploration through music
  • Normal days with the exceptional child
  • Prompt attention to developmental delays
  • Language and literacy

Popular Career Options

The growing demand for quality childcare has created specialized fields for working with young children and their families. CDAs and A.A.S. graduates work in preschools, childcare and child development centers of every size, Head Start and before- and after-school programs, summer camps, infant nurseries and family home-based programs.

Continuing Education

Bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degree programs in child development and other related areas (such as early childhood education and child and family studies) can advance students beyond initial aspirations. Graduates can expect to pursue the following career paths:

  • Early childhood and parent educators
  • Social workers
  • Family and juvenile justice advocates
  • Public administrators
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