An early childhood education degree provides a path to fulfilling careers that make a difference in children's and families' lives. An online degree for early childhood education is ideal for professionals with full-time jobs seeking a career change. The flexibility of an online degree allows professionals to balance school with other responsibilities, like work and caring for families. This guide outlines important information about earning an early childhood education degree online, including curricula, career options, and salary potential.
Overview of Early Childhood Education Degrees
Early childhood education usually refers to the teaching or caring of children from infancy through age eight. It may encompass daycare, preschool, kindergarten, and first through third grade. In such early stages of development, each day includes many learning experiences for young, impressionable minds. Childcare providers and early childhood teachers are responsible for building a healthy foundation for children's lives, teaching basic skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also teach kids how to play, socialize, and share with others.
Early childhood education students learn about children's psychological development and how to promote growth. Sometimes online degrees in early childhood education require in-person components, like student teaching, internships, or a capstone project. The career outlook for early childhood educators is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects kindergarten and preschool teacher jobs to grow by 7% and 10% by 2026, respectively.
Application requirements vary by school. Admissions departments typically require applicants to submit transcripts from previous coursework. Prospective students may also need to write a personal statement or essay explaining their goals for earning an early childhood education degree. Some schools require recommendation letters from teachers and supervisors who can speak to applicants' professional and academic qualifications.
Early childhood education programs may require students to apply for the major, usually around the end of sophomore year. In these cases, students generally need a minimum 2.5 GPA in general education coursework. Schools may charge an application fee, typically between $30-$60.
What Will I Learn?
Accredited online early childhood education programs cover topics like early childhood development, classroom management and discipline, and teaching techniques for various age groups. Most bachelor's programs require students to complete around 120 credits to graduate. About half of those credits involve general education coursework, like math and writing. The remaining courses fall into two categories: core early childhood education coursework and early childhood education electives. The core coursework may comprise 24-30 credits, while electives may comprise 30-36 credits.
Courses vary by program, but most schools share common foundational courses. Below are several common courses found in an early childhood education online degree curriculum.
Fundamentals of Early Childhood Education
This is an introductory course where students learn the basic principles of childhood development and education. The course may also provide an overview of childcare education history and the different types of childcare available.
Child Growth and Development
This course outlines the psychological and physiological development of young children. Class material typically covers development from cognitive, social, emotional, and physical perspectives. Students study how children's development affects learning at a young age.
Infant and Toddler Care
This course covers how to care for children from 1-3 years old. Infants and toddlers depend on adults for nearly everything. Students learn how to properly care for these young children, in addition to how to manage toddlers in a classroom setting.
Early Childhood Literacy
This course emphasizes how future educators can encourage children to read as young as preschool age. Students learn the developmental stages for literacy and study how to create a reading-friendly environment in early childhood classrooms.
Creative Expression and Play
A major part of childhood development, especially at the preschool age, involves play. Kids at play express themselves creatively and practice social roles. This course instructs future teachers on how to encourage productive playtime between children that helps them learn, develop, and foster creativity.
Curriculum for Early Childhood Education
To provide an effective education, teachers must create a strategic curriculum. This course covers curriculum planning for preschool, kindergarten, and the early grades. Students also study how to meet mandatory guidelines at the local, state, and federal government levels.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education?
An online early childhood education degree is ideal for professionals seeking to work with young kids in various capacities. In addition to preschool and kindergarten teaching, graduates can become full-time nannies or directors of a preschool or childcare center. The following sections outline skills and potential career paths, including salary projections, for graduates with a bachelor's in early childhood education.
When pursuing an early childhood education degree online, students study how to teach foundational knowledge, like numbers, colors, shapes, and letters. Students also learn how to create a healthy and encouraging learning environment for kids and how to develop curricula and lesson plans appropriate for early childhood learning. Additionally, students study the psychological development of children and learn how to observe, document, and assess progress.
Early childhood education graduates often find employment in childcare centers, preschools, and elementary schools, where they apply the aforementioned skills.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Graduates with an early childhood education degree online often find employment as nannies, babysitters, and other childcare workers. Nannies sometimes live with families full time, caring for children at any time of the day. Early childhood education graduates also work in private and public schools as preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers, as well as childcare center directors. Teachers apply knowledge of early childhood development and learning to effectively instruct students. Preschool or childcare center directors apply leadership and business skills, which they can gain from electives during college.
Annual Median Salary: $22,290
Childcare workers supervise children, helping them with different needs and ensuring their safety. These workers often work for families in their homes. They might feed, bathe, dress, discipline, and play with kids. They might also help kindergarteners and older kids with homework.
Annual Median Salary: $28,990
Preschool teachers instruct children before they attend kindergarten. These educators teach basic concepts, like shapes, letters, and numbers. They also teach children how to socialize, play, and communicate. Preschool teachers also track students' emotional, psychological, and social development.
Annual Median Salary: $56,900
Kindergarten teachers educate children around five or six years old. They teach foundational concepts, like reading, writing, and mathematics. Kindergarten teachers must create lesson plans, grade assignments, track students' progress, and update parents during parent-teacher conferences.
Early Intervention Specialist
Annual Median Salary: $38,589
Early intervention specialists work with young kids with special needs or developmental delays. These professionals evaluate children's cognitive and social development, and create improvement plans. Early intervention specialists usually work for nonprofit or government organizations or schools.
Preschool or Childcare Center Director
Annual Median Salary: $46,890
These professionals oversee centers that provide preschool education and/or childcare services. Many of their duties involve management responsibilities, such as establishing budgets, developing educational standards, and maintaining policies. They may also hire and supervise staff.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Early Childhood Education?
Professionals working in early childhood education pursue graduate studies for several reasons. For example, a specialized role as an instructional coordinator typically requires a master's degree. Early childhood workers seeking special education teaching positions also need a graduate degree in some states. Additionally, professionals seeking to become early childhood education professors must obtain a graduate education.
Individuals with only a bachelor's degree can advance to leadership roles without additional schooling, too. In many cases, work experience is sufficient to receiving promotions and leadership roles in the field.
Accreditation for Early Childhood Education Bachelor’s Programs
Accrediting bodies evaluate higher education institutions to ensure that students receive a legitimate education. Employers and graduate schools often consider whether applicants graduated with an accredited degree. In addition, accredited degrees are often necessary to receive transfer credit and financial aid. Therefore, you should only apply to accredited online early childhood education programs.
Schools may receive regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation is generally considered the most prestigious of the two and may come from bodies such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education or the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, depending on the school's location. Additionally, some early childhood education programs hold programmatic accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Programmatic accrediting bodies evaluate the academic standards and rigor of a specific program within a school.
Early Childhood Education Professional Organizations
Early childhood education students and graduates benefit from joining professional organizations. Attending an online school for early childhood education does not need to seem isolating. Organizations often host events and conferences with valuable networking opportunities for all students. Additional membership benefits include access to job boards, seminars and webinars, research publications, and newsletters to keep up to date with the latest industry news.
National Association for the Education of Young Children
Comprised of about 60,000 members, NAEYC is one of the largest professional associations for early childhood education workers. The group hosts a professional learning institute and public policy forum. Members can also attend annual conferences and access research and professional development resources.
Association for Childhood Education International
Founded in 1892 to promote kindergarten education, this association invites early childhood education professionals to join. The group focuses on providing education for the world's most vulnerable children. It also publishes research and runs a forum for educators to share their ideas.
National Association for Family Child Care
This is a professional association for all childcare workers, especially those who provide early childhood care and prekindergarten education in homes rather than in traditional schools. Members can attend the association's conference, access webinars at a discounted rate, and gain entry to members-only social media sites where they can participate in debate and discussion.