Early Childhood Education Certification and Certificate Programs

Read about the most common types of early childhood education programs offered and what coursework they involve. See what career paths and continuing education options are available for graduates of these programs.

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Essential Information

Early childhood education involves teaching and nurturing young children. Schools throughout the country offer certificate, associate's degree and bachelor degree programs that prepare students for early childhood education certification. Depending upon the program chosen, certain prerequisites must be met, such as background checks and the completion of specific courses. Certification varies by state, so graduates should verify this information prior to beginning a program of this kind.


Early Childhood Education Certificate

Typically around one year in length, early childhood education certificate programs prepare students to maintain childcare environments for children from birth through about age eight (or third grade). Students gain an understanding of child growth and development and learn the best ways to foster children's physical, emotional and social development. Prior to entering early childhood education programs, students may need to go through interviews or submit materials. Students may usually seek certification after completing the certificate program.

Program Coursework

Topics covered as part of an early childhood education certificate program include curriculum for young children, ethical issues, activities, theoretical approaches to early childhood education, and parental and familial involvement.

  • Introduction to early childhood education
  • Health, safety and nutrition
  • Literacy development
  • Child growth and development
  • Creative experiences for children
  • Observation and assessment of children
  • Curriculum planning

Popular Career Options

Certificate holders in early childhood education typically work supervised by those with degrees and certifications. With early childhood education certification, individuals may also work in positions that don't directly involve teaching, such as:

  • Childcare director
  • Group supervisor
  • Teacher's aide
  • House parent
  • Family day care operator

Continuing Education Information

An early childhood education certificate program prepares students for degrees in education and child development. Upon completion of an early childhood education certificate, students are typically able to apply credits toward either an associate or a bachelor's degree.

Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Education

An associate's degree in early childhood education program prepares graduates for early childhood education careers working with children up to the age of eight. Early childhood education programs tend to focus on the physical, social and psychological factors that influence development in children. Upon completion of associate's degree programs, students can identify indicators of normal child development, create supportive learning environments and develop interpersonal relationships with children and families. Also upon completion of an early childhood education associate's degree program, students are able to seek national certification.

Education Prerequisites

Many early childhood education programs recommend that students complete English courses and a child development course before entering the program. Many schools require applicants to complete placement testing and interview with an advisor.

Program Coursework

Associate's degree coursework is focused on direct education and pedagogy for young children:

  • Literacy development
  • Child guidance
  • Child growth and development
  • Curriculum development for early childhood
  • Health and nutrition
  • Child observation

Popular Career Options

An associate's degree in early childhood education opens up career options in instruction for preschool-age children:

  • Childcare director
  • Preschool teacher
  • Head Start teacher
  • Head Start assistant teacher
  • Teacher's aide
  • Family or group day care operator

Continuing Education Information

Associate's degree programs also prepare students for transfer to a 4-year program in early childhood education or child development. Credits earned might transfer to a bachelor's degree program.

Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

Preparing students for certification to teach students through third grade, a bachelor's degree program in early childhood education covers assessing child development and intervening to improve child performance. Speech and language problems are also covered. Students gain ample classroom and field experience and are prepared to work in pre-kindergarten and early elementary school settings.

Education Prerequisites

Bachelor's degree programs require students to meet teacher education licensure and admission requirements. Background checks may be required for students to take part in field experiences. General education courses such as English, math and speech classes are also common prerequisites for entering early childhood education bachelor's degree programs.

Program Coursework

The curriculum of a bachelor's degree program in early childhood education stresses child development and classroom teaching.

  • Human development
  • Family relations
  • Classroom management
  • Child assessment and evaluation
  • Children's literature
  • Working with special needs children
  • Working with parents

Popular Career Options

A bachelor's degree is required for early childhood education positions teaching in the lower grades, from kindergarten through third grade. A B.A. in Early Childhood Education also qualifies graduates for administrative positions.

  • Teacher
  • Educational coordinator
  • Educational administration
  • Childcare worker

Continuing Education Information

It is possible to pursue both master's and doctoral degrees in early childhood education. Graduate programs are designed for early childhood education teachers seeking to advance their career by improving their skills and gaining a better knowledge base.

Certifications for Early Childhood Education

States set the requirements for early childhood education certification individually, usually as an add-on to teacher certification requiring classes focusing on younger children. All states also recognize national certification in early childhood education. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers a general certification in early childhood education and several subject-specific early childhood education certifications in areas like music, physical education, art, reading and English for non-native speakers

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