Online Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Early childhood educators work with children under 5 to help them develop language, emotional and social skills, along with fine and gross motor skills, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Early childhood educators like preschool teachers introduce children to reading and writing, and also help them expand their vocabularies. Other subject areas these teachers introduce include arts, science and social studies - all of which are taught through use of books, computers, games and music. Duties also include working with other teachers, staff, the community and student's parents.

Communication skills, creativity, dependability, patience, organization and capacity to understand cultural differences are necessary skills for prospective early childhood educators. These professionals must also be able to inspire confidence, motivate children and comprehend the educational and emotional needs of their students.

Certification and continuing education requirements for early childhood educators vary by state and school. Some mandate at minimum an associate or bachelor's degree, while others call for a high school diploma, according to the BLS.

At the bachelor's or master's degree level, online education degrees in early childhood education can prepare students to become administrators, curriculum developers or program consultants. Coursework might include observation, assessment, and screening; early childhood program management; and educational psychology.

While online degrees in early childhood education offer many courses via the Internet, it's necessary to complete some tasks in-person, such as student teaching and observation hours, according to some colleges that offer these degrees.

A Child Development Associate certification from the Council for Professional Recognition is a widely known credential that's based on a set of principles that guide preschool educators as they study to become qualified. The principles include how to keep a safe and healthy learning environment, advancing physical and intellectual competencies, providing positive guidance, and ensuring a program is responsive to participant needs. The certification can be obtained online.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education both list accredited preschool education programs on their respective websites.

Early childhood educators work in public or private school daycares and can help establish or implement curriculum standards. They may work a 10-month schedule or teach year round with occasional breaks.

  • Careers: Degree holders commonly work in day cares, elementary and secondary schools, child and family services, community organizations, and religious organizations, the BLS reports.
  • Salaries: Annual wages range from $20,080 to $34,420 for the middle 50 percent of early childhood educators, the BLS reports.
  • Education: As associate degree is the preferred minimum credential for early childhood educators, but each state has its own licensing requirement.

For those who enjoy working with kids, an online associate degree in early childhood education can be a good foundation for a career in infant, toddler, or preschool child care. Associate degree programs train future educators and care givers in a variety of subjects including early childhood development, child psychology and nutrition. Students also learn in-depth techniques for supervising children and encouraging creative play.

What Does an Associate Degree Program in Early Childhood Education Entail?

An online associate degree in early childhood education typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. Core curriculum teaches students how to actively engage young children, facilitate positive growth, and maintain safe and healthy learning environments. Students working toward this degree also learn to recognize and encourage social development in young children while respecting each child's limitations. Examples of potential courses include:

  • Early Childhood Development: This course teaches the fundamentals of mental and physical growth so that students can understand how children develop. Students explore educational strategies and theories while learning how to provide intellectually stimulating activities and environments. The intellectual, social and personal developmental needs of each child are explored, as well as how to encourage positive maturation.
  • Curriculum Development and Planning: Students learn how to properly plan and develop curriculum that enhances social, emotional and cognitive skills in young children. Coursework focuses on crafting engaging lesson plans that are flexible for children of all developmental levels, including those with special needs. Curriculum development is generally taught using hands-on learning, and students may be required to construct their own lessons plans for assessment by their peers.
  • Professional Business Practices: In this course, students learn how to properly conduct themselves in a business environment. They often study ethical and professional standards for child care facilities and preschool settings, as well as how businesses stay compliant with the law. Classes may also examine how making ethical business decisions can positively impact the children and families they serve.

In addition to courses on child development and psychology, students working toward an online associate degree in early childhood education may also study administration, communication, or college mathematics. Other courses might examine specific methods for creating stimulating learning environments, such as movement and music, art and creative development, or children's literature. Additional courses may be required depending on the school or program you choose.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Associate Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

Graduates of online associate degree programs in early childhood education may qualify for a number of positions working with young children, including preschool teacher and child care worker. It's important to remember that educational, certification and other training requirements vary by state and employer. For example, public schools generally require teachers to possess at least a bachelor's degree.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of preschool teachers to grow 25 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020 (bls.gov, 2012). This increase is much higher than the national average for other occupations (14 percent), and it's positive news for those considering a career in preschool teaching. According to the BLS, early childhood education is recognized for its vital role in children's intellectual and social development. As the need for early childhood education and preschool programs increases, the demand for teachers is expected to rise as well (bls.gov, 2012).

Child care workers are also predicted to experience job growth over the next decade. The BLS estimates employment in this profession will rise 20 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020 (bls.gov, 2012). Although an individual typically only needs a high school diploma to work in child care, those with an associate degree in early childhood education may have better job prospects.

A bachelor's degree in early childhood education teaches students how to analyze and assess the impact of environmental stimuli on the growth of a child, and how to craft an environment conducive to positive learning and development. Students may also learn about administrative principles and strategies for running a successful care center or preschool, including proper financial, legal, and ethical behaviors.

What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Early Childhood Education Entail?

Full-time students usually earn this degree in four years. Curriculum teaches students to understand organizational behavior and management; how to build a community that fosters the positive development of children; and how to recognize success in children and employees they work with. Some examples of courses include:

  • Early Childhood Development: This class trains students about the various development stages for young children. Attachment issues, important learning milestones, and strategies for appropriate guidance and nurturing may be examined. Early childhood development also involves monitoring children for issues such as autism, dyslexia, or other developmental problems. If educators can diagnose symptoms early on, they can build an educational plan that can help remedy the learning difficulties.
  • Curriculum Planning and Methods: Students learn to plan classes that use the best teaching strategies to reach children. Coursework may require students to propose lesson plans and have them examined and critiqued by both their peers and instructor. Students learn how to establish rapport with young children, and how to foster learning through physical and mental stimulation. Graduates may be better able to adapt their teaching methods to accommodate children who retain information through different methods, including visual and auditory learners.
  • Organizational Management: Students learn about the administrative aspects of running a childcare center or preschool. Labor relations, hiring and firing practices, and compliance with legal regulations are focuses of this course. In order to build a strong organization, supervisors need to create goals and objectives for each individual teacher as well as the administration as a whole. In running their facilities, school principals and childcare mangers will need to understand how to properly allocate finances as well. Administrators must adequately budget funds to hire instructors while supplying classrooms with additional resources like books, crayons, and educational posters.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

With enough experience and the proper license, childcare workers may consider pursuing positions as preschool teachers. Individuals in these roles are responsible for spotting developmental issues in children, meeting with parents to discuss the progress of their children, and preparing students for entrance into kindergarten. According to BLS, this field is expected to grow by 25 percent nationwide from 2010 through 2020.

Online master's degree programs in early childhood education help prepare students to mentor children in a variety of educational settings, including preschools, kindergartens and primary schools. Students learn how to develop strategies to optimize children's learning, as well as how to effectively communicate with students, parents and colleagues. Coursework generally includes a focus on classroom instruction and curriculum development. In addition, students working toward this degree may conduct research and participate in field experience in order to gain a theoretical and practical understanding of early childhood development.

What Does a Master's Degree Program in Early Childhood Education Entail?

Depending on the program, students can typically earn an online master's degree in early childhood education in two years of full-time study, following completion of a bachelor's degree. While working toward their degree, students learn strategies for fostering positive relationships between teachers, parents and students. Courses emphasize effective teaching methods, as well as techniques for creating productive learning environments. Examples of topics may include:

  • Advanced Early Childhood Development: This course takes the study of early childhood development a step further by delving deeper into topics such as psychology and sociology. Students examine how and why children grow and develop in different ways, and what external factors can affect a child's development and learning. In addition, common childhood disabilities are thoroughly examined with a focus on creating positive outcomes. Graduates may also study strategies for maximizing a child's educational prospects by recognizing their strengths and building on them.
  • Classroom Management Strategies: In this class, students learn how to employ a variety of disciplinary methods while maintaining an optimized learning environment. Coursework typically covers group management methods that encourage engagement with academic tasks, as well as how to implement appropriate interventions when behavior problems occur. These skills will help prepare graduates for challenges they might face when teaching students with a wide range of needs and capabilities.
  • Language, Development and Cognition: This course focuses on the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children, as well as how those issues affect a child's ability to learn. In addition, students learn how to facilitate proper language development, and recognize typical and atypical language use. Courses may also provide an opportunity to explore the role that genetics play in a child's development.

In addition to online courses, students often have to complete a certain number of supervised student teaching hours in a real classroom. These hands-on sessions are typically arranged by the online college, which may offer several participating school sites. Some programs also require students to submit a research-based master's thesis before they can graduate.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Early Childhood Education

Pursuing a career as a kindergarten or elementary school teacher is one option for those with master's degrees in early childhood education. Thanks to an anticipated growth in student enrollment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for these teachers will increase by 17 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020 (bls.gov, 2012).

The BLS reports that this increase is due to declines in student-to-teacher ratios. Although a bachelor's is the typical level of education needed to become a kindergarten or elementary school teacher, some states require teachers to earn a master's degree after completing their license. It's important to remember that educational, certification and other training requirements vary by state and employer.

Students yearning for more of a leadership role may consider becoming a school instructional coordinator. These professionals oversee teachers and education administrators in order to maintain quality teaching methods and curriculums. In addition to requiring a master's degree, instructional coordinators are also typically required to maintain a teaching or school administrator license (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

National demand for these professionals is expected to increase 20 percent from 2010 to 2020. The BLS attributes this faster-than-average growth to the recent trend toward holding teachers accountable for student outcomes. As schools begin embracing this trend, an increased number of instructional coordinators may be needed to assist struggling teachers through mentoring and coaching (bls.gov, 2012).

Preschool and elementary school teachers may spend a lot of classroom time singing songs and playing with finger paint, but early childhood education is far from child's play. Creating a stimulating and educational classroom environment for pre-K and elementary school students requires an understanding of how young brains develop, how different children learn best, and how to teach language and literacy. Individuals with a doctoral degree in early childhood education are at the forefront of research into those key objectives.

Ed.D. vs. Ph.D.: Understanding Your Options

Doctorates in early childhood education typically come in two forms: the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). At some universities, students may earn a specialization in early childhood education as a component of a more generalized doctorate in education or curriculum and instruction.

The coursework required to earn an Ed.D. is tailored to offer an applied approach to early childhood learning. An Ed.D. focuses on helping students develop research-based methods to teaching, assessment of and instructional design for young children.

A Ph.D. in early childhood education, however, focuses on the theories of teaching and learning. This academic degree prepares students to contribute original ideas to topics such as cognitive development, literacy and language acquisition, and the psychology or sociology of childhood.

In practice, the Ed.D. and Ph.D. in early childhood education overlap a great deal, with both degrees preparing graduates to work on developing education policy and training new generations of educators.

A handful of schools offer online early childhood education doctorate degrees. Some online programs require short, on-campus stays where students can connect and network with classmates and meet with faculty instructors and advisors. Some programs also require students to participate in teaching or research internships, which may require attendance at a local campus or educational facility.

Although a master's degree is not a prerequisite for admission to many programs, some schools do require it. Consult any prospective school's admissions advisor for specific criteria.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Early Childhood Education Entail?

Doctoral programs in early childhood education are typically composed of two phases. During the first portion, students complete core coursework and elective classes in their area of specialization. Coursework usually takes two to three years, and any required internships are usually carried out during this time. Once coursework is complete, students must pas oral and/or written exams to demonstrate their academic competency in the field.

In the second phase, students turn their focus toward the dissertation. These projects are based on original research, and completion of dissertations range from two to three years. Students are required to defend their dissertation in front of a faculty committee before graduating.

Finding the right online doctorate in early childhood education requires extensive research. Start the search by browsing the online schools below and request additional information from any school of interest.

"Childcare Workers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/childcare-workers.htm
"Instructional Coordinators," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/instructional-coordinators.htm
"Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition) Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Education-Training-and-Library/Kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
"Preschool Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm

Benefits? Many. I didn't have to listen to grumbling and complaining of other students. I didn't have to drive anywhere at any time. I was available for my family, but they all knew I had to have my school time. I was also freed from the excuses of why course work wasn't done, asking for extended due dates, complaining about the professor, people eating in class and talking when the prof was talking. - Maureen Taylor 
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