Early Childhood Education Degree

In an attempt to ensure that all early childhood education teachers throughout the nation possess the skills and knowledge to educate our nation’s youngest learners, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) developed the NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation Programs in 2009, which are used to “promote the unifying themes that define the early childhood profession.”

The NAEYC Standards are designed for the early childhood education profession, across all degree levels, from associate to graduate degree programs.

Early Childhood Education Degree Program Components

The NAEYC believes that early childhood educators should possess a broad knowledge of development and learning when dealing with young children from birth to age 8. Early childhood teachers should also have in-depth knowledge in at least two of the three periods of early childhood education: infants/toddlers; preschool/pre-k; and early primary grades.

Early childhood degree programs focus on today’s inclusive early childhood settings, including those that accommodate children with developmental delays and disabilities.

Finally, these degree programs should prepare preschool teachers to work in the following roles:

  • Early childhood educator roles (e.g., early childhood classroom teachers, family childcare providers, Head Start teachers, and paraprofessionals in public schools)
  • Home-family support roles (e.g., home visitors, family advocates, child protective services workers, or parent educators)
  • Professional support roles (e.g., early childhood administrators in childcare or Head Start programs; staff trainers; peer/program mentors; or advocates at the community, state, or national level)

Hands-on clinical and field experiences are an important component of NAEYC Standards, as the NAEYC recognizes that these experiences are critical to high-quality professional preparation.

Early Childhood Education Associate’s Degree Programs

Associate’s degree programs in early childhood education are designed to prepare students to transfer to a bachelor’s degree program; to work as a teacher or teacher assistant in a private or federally funded preschool program; or to earn the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential (associate-level programs provide the 120 hours of required professional education necessary to achieve the credential).

Associate degree programs aligned with the NAEYC include at least 260 filed hours observing and/or teaching children; at least 45 hours of English Language Learning (ELL); and an integration of developmental disabilities in all courses. Associate degrees in early childhood education provide students with in-depth instruction in effective techniques for supervising children from birth to age 8.

Early Childhood Education Bachelor Degree Programs

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is usually the minimum requirement for earning a teaching license/certificate to teach preschool in a public school setting, and it is fast becoming a requirement for lead preschool teachers in other settings, as well. A bachelor’s degree is designed to prepare students by providing them with the skills and teaching methodology required to create and implement optimal learning environments for children from birth through age 8.

Bachelor’s degree programs provide instruction in learning strategies for facilitating children’s cognitive development and for nurturing their language, motor, psychosocial and problem solving skills.

For individuals seeking initial state licensure/certification as an early childhood educator, bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood education are part of state-approved teacher preparation programs, which include all necessary components for licensure.

Fieldwork is an important component of these programs, in which students engage in the observation of childhood education in the classroom, as well as supervised practicum experiences.

Courses found in colleges and schools that offer bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood education often include:

  • Classroom management
  • Cultural/social foundations of education
  • Educational psychology
  • Teaching students with exceptionalities in inclusive settings
  • Issues in early childhood education
  • Special needs of children and their families
  • Assessment, evaluation, and diagnosis of the young child
  • Child development
  • Early social and emotional development
  • Language and literacy development
  • Integrated math and science in early childhood


Early Childhood Education Graduate Degree Programs

Graduate programs in early childhood education are designed for preschool teachers seeking positions at the supervisory or administrative level and for preschool teachers looking to advance their career, earn a higher salary, or meet professional development requirements set forth by their state board of education.

Many candidates applying for an initial state license/certification through an alternative teacher preparation program also often pursue graduate degrees if they already possess an undergraduate degree.

Graduate programs may be designed as post-baccalaureate certificate programs, master’s degree programs (M.A., M.S., M.A.T., or M.Ed.), and even Ph.D. programs. Graduate programs include coursework, applied activities, and in-person clinical experiences designed to equip students with specialized skills and advanced knowledge in early childhood pedagogy, technology, administration, community collaboration and policy analysis.

A typical master’s degree program in early childhood education includes coursework such as:

  • Psychology of learning and development for education
  • Human learning
  • Conception to early childhood
  • Development: Conception through Early Childhood
  • Introduction to research methodology
  • Educational/psychological measurement
  • Sociology of Education
  • Education and Society
  • Teaching children in inclusive classrooms
  • Teaching infants, toddlers, and preschoolers


Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Program Standards

Since their creation, the NAEYC Standards have been used in higher education accreditation systems, in state policy development, and by professional development programs. The NAEYC developed these Standards based on the following unifying themes:

Shared professional values – This involves a commitment to diversity and inclusion; a respect for the family, the community, and for cultures; as well as a reliance upon a number of guiding principles of child development and learning.

Inclusion of the broad range of ages and settings – The NAEYC recognizes early childhood as birth through age 8. Standards are therefore designed to support professional preparation in any number of work settings, including:

  • Primary grades
  • Infant and toddler care
  • Family child care
  • Early intervention
  • Government and private agencies
  • Higher education institutions
  • Organizations that advocate for young children and their families

A shared set of outcomes – This includes an outline for the common expectations associated with professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

A multidisciplinary approach – This involves an emphasis on the assessment of developmental outcomes.

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