Home Careers in Education Early Childhood Educator

Early Childhood Education Programs

Early childhood is the time when children go through a rapid phase of growth and development. As their brains grow more quickly than ever, children at this age learn social skills, self-esteem, and how to perceive the world around them. The education a child receives during this time is vital for that child’s future.

As an early childhood educator, you can have a positive impact on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of the next generation. On this page we’ll show you how you can earn an early childhood education degree and help you find the program that’s best for you.

On this page you will learn:

  • What early childhood educators do
  • Types of degrees available
  • How to choose a program
  • Career outlook and salary information

What Does an Early Childhood Educator Do?

The exact day-to-day duties of an early childhood educator may vary based on the type of degree you hold and where you work. However, all early childhood educators work with children and address issues surrounding a child’s education.

While the job description for early childhood teachers varies by school, most early childhood educators provide care and instruction for children ages three to five, preparing them emotionally, socially, and academically for elementary school and beyond.

Finger painting and story time still figure prominently in preschool instruction, but today’s preschool teachers also draw on a wealth of research to craft developmentally appropriate instruction in letter recognition, phonics, math, science, and social studies.

Daily job duties for most early childhood educators might include:

  • Creating fun lesson plans
  • Leading daily activities
  • Monitoring the health and welfare of children
  • Encouraging kids to do their best in the classroom
  • Grading homework assignments and in-class work
  • Attending staff meetings

Instruction for children at this age level is accomplished through a combination of play, experiences, and formal teaching. This instruction may occur through:

  • Small- and large-group activities
  • One-on-one instruction
  • Exposure to literature, music, art, and dance

Not all the work is done face to face with students in a classroom, however. Some graduates of early childhood education (ECE) programs work in school administration rather than teaching.

There are other career paths within Early Childhood that go beyond the classroom or facility. To learn more about this, we interviewed an early childhood education expert: “Early childhood does not just mean watching children. There are many different opportunities. I recommend that you have that experience in working with young children and coworkers and parents, but there’s many other opportunities,” Linda Logan, Program Coordinator for Kansas Childcare Training Opportunities (KCCTO) states.

“[There is] Parents as Teachers, literacy programs, social emotional intervention programs, developmental programs, and even being a blog influencer for early childhood. Whether you focus on people who are providing direct services, parents, directors. I think there’s a lot of opportunities that way, as well.”

Types of Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Before you start looking at online early childhood education colleges, you need to know what kind of degree you want to pursue. Training requirements for early childhood educators vary from state to state and even from program to program. Some private preschool programs only require a candidate to have a high school degree and experience working with young children. Other institutions, particularly state-funded programs, require that you have a certificate or an early childhood education degree.

The National Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE) advocates that teachers in state-sponsored pre–K and kindergarten programs be required to hold early childhood certifications and/or endorsements from qualified teacher-training programs. However, your state or employer may not require you to earn certification.

Requirements may also vary based on the type of institution (preschool, childcare center, etc.) in which you plan to work. For example, with an early childhood education certificate or an associate degree, you may find an entry-level job in a daycare. A private Montessori school requires a bachelor’s, while a church-sponsored preschool may only require a high school diploma or GED plus babysitting experience. Preschool teachers in Early Head Start programs need associate degrees. Most public schools require a degree in child development to teach early childhood education, but a bachelor’s degree or alternative teacher certification may qualify you to teach up to the third grade in some states.

The following provides condensed information about your main degree options for teaching early childhood education: certificate, associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctorate.

6 months to 1 year to complete

Jobs available to this degree level:

  • Entry-level positions
  • Daycare worker
  • After-school program leader
  • Children’s summer camp coordinator

2 years to complete

Jobs available to this degree level:

  • Entry-level positions
  • Head start program teacher
  • Public school preschool teacher
  • Elementary school teacher assistant
  • Daycare worker

2 to 4 years to complete

Jobs available to this degree level:

  • Montessori school teacher
  • Public school preschool teacher
  • Elementary school teacher
  • Childcare center teacher
  • Childcare advocate

2 years to complete

Jobs available to this degree level:

  • Childcare administrator (public or private schools)
  • Child development instructor

3 to 5 years to complete

Jobs available to this degree level:

  • Leadership/management positions
  • Childcare administrator (public or private schools)
  • Childcare superintendent
  • Educational researcher
  • Educational policymaker
  • Child development instructor

How to Choose an Early Childhood Education Program

With so many early childhood education programs to choose from, selecting a program can be a daunting task. Following are some factors to consider when exploring ECE programs and early childhood education colleges:

  • What type of early childhood education career do I want, and when do I want to begin my career?
  • Prioritizing your career goals is an important step because it will help you decide what type of degree to pursue. Review the types of degrees available and see which one best matches your career goals.
  • Do I need a program that includes real-life childcare experiences? Will I need help in finding such experiences?
  • Depending on the career you’re pursuing and the college you choose, you may need to complete a real-world childcare experience. Consider how much help you will need in finding such an experience. For example, if you live in a relatively isolated location or are new in town and would have trouble knowing where to start, you should try to find an online college that will assist you in setting up the real-world component of your program.
  • Do I want an online ECE program?
  • Online ECE programs are designed for students who value flexibility in timing and location. These programs typically allow you to complete coursework and online lectures on your own time, from any location that has an Internet connection. If you plan to work while attending classes or can’t always make it to in-person early childhood education courses, this is a great way to complete your degree. However, to be successful, it’s important that you have solid time-management skills and self-discipline.
  • Do I have a tight budget and possibly need financial aid?
  • Costs for online ECE programs vary widely; if cost is one of your primary considerations, make sure to compare costs at several schools. In addition, look for schools that offer financial aid.
  • Do I want to take classes all year round or mostly during a specific time of year?
  • If you have scheduling limitations, make sure you investigate the course calendars of the schools you are considering. Some schools may be more limiting than others, especially at certain times of the year. For example, they may involve accelerated scheduling or progressing through classes with a cohort of students.


“[KCCTO] started out with our courses with the intention that they would be interactive and not [just a] click-through. We have qualified online facilitators who go through it—it is asynchronous—so we have a course, set a scheduled time and they can access the course 24/7 during that course session. They also have access the instructor or facilitator,” Logan explains. “I think that the interaction is between participants is also vital because we all learn from each other. [For] online learning I would suggest for looking for the interactive piece, not only with other people, but with the instructor.”

Early Childhood Education Salary

The salary you earn will have a lot to do with the job you choose, experience, and location.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the following 2018 median annual salaries according to position:

Career Median Salary
Preschool teacher $29,780
Preschool and daycare administrators $47,940
Preschool teachers, special education $55,840
Childcare workers $23,240

Additionally, location can be a factor. Here are the top five states with the highest annual mean salaries for preschool teachers, according to BLS data for 2018:

State Average Salary
New York $48,630
Connecticut $43,350
District of Columbia $42,060
New Jersey $40,880
Hawaii $39,560

Early Childhood Education Career Outlook

Numerous studies have pointed to the importance of early childhood learning. As a result, according to the Insight Center, over the past decade an increased awareness about the long-term benefits of early childhood education has led to growth in the industry, opening up demand for more early education teaching jobs as well as other childcare positions in the U.S.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook provides the following job growth projections in the field of early childhood education between 2016 and 2026:

Career Predicted Growth Projected Job Openings
Preschool teachers 10% to 14% 53,600
Preschool and childcare center/program administrators 10% to 14% 5,500
Preschool teachers, special education 10% to 14% 2,500
Childcare workers 5% to 9%: 189,100


“It’s gone from, even in my time with Head Start when I began, we were supposed to put the ABCs all over the room, and then before I left Head Start [we were told to] take them down. They need to learn from things around the room, through books and all of that… the biggest change is the release of the research from neurologists about the brain development.” Logan explains. “Of course, all of us early educators knew that that was important, but now we have neurologists telling us exactly how important each step for those first five years are so vital to the child’s wellbeing, growth and development. Everything makes a connection from birth on, and so I think that’s the biggest change—that early childhood educators have learned to not only embrace that research, but we’ve also had to learn about how the brain works and how we can better suit our environments, our learning activities, our engagements, our responses to young children for their brain development. We have become brain builders.”

What Requirements Are There for Early Childhood Continuing Education?

Our expert explains that continuing education requirements will vary by state and place of employment. “Those who work in licensed childcare settings will see different requirements. Some states require pre-service before a license can even be obtained. I think most states require some type of initial professional development. My stance is that those initial professional development pieces that are required or needed for a job should be just the minimal standards, that you should always look to what you need to learn next so that you can provide quality services and expand your learning.”

Wrapping up the interview, Logan shares that there is a need in this field. “We need you, the workforce needs you, childcare services, preschool, at all levels, we need our workforce to be built up, so please join us. It’s an amazing career. You will have lots of fun with children. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and you won’t regret it.