What Is Early Childhood Development?
Choosing to study early childhood development is one of the most future-facing, optimistic, and rewarding decisions you can make. Early childhood development focuses on young children’s growth in their educational, emotional, and social lives. As a student, you’ll be taught how to support cognitive function and foundational social skills in children from infancy to the beginning of their elementary school years. The knowledge you’ll gain is foundational to multiple career paths from teaching, social work, and childcare to counseling, healthcare, and educational policy.
What is an Early Childhood Development Degree?
An early childhood development degree from the college of education focuses on children from infancy through their early elementary school years. Through both classroom studies and hands-on experiences, the degree provides an in-depth understanding of how children develop and learn. It provides the tools needed to build practical and conceptual expertise about young children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development.
While some programs prepare graduates for careers in teaching, others provide knowledge and training for practice as counselors, in clinics, at teaching hospitals and educational administration, in research, and in media and technology centers. The goal of every early childhood development program is to prepare degree seekers to help children reach their full potential.
What to Expect as an Early Childhood Development Major
Types of Early Childhood Development Classes
Though every early childhood development program has its own particular focus based on its educational goals and the philosophy of its faculty, there are some standard courses that you can expect to find in every curriculum. These include:
- Child Development, Birth to Nine
- Language and Literacy Development in Early Childhood
- Learning Mathematics for the Primary Grades
- Science for the Early Years
- The Learning Community: Family and Community Relationships
- Introduction to Special Education
- Effective Instructional Strategies for Students with Disabilities
- Classroom Management and Positive Behavior Support
- Administration and Supervision in Early Childhood Education
- Writing for Child Development Professionals
You can also expect to be placed in local classrooms as an intern or student teacher for hands-on practice.
Skills Learned in an Early Childhood Development Degree Program
Upon completion of an early childhood development program, students will have mastered the skills required to support the development of young children and to help them achieve their full potential. The skills you will attain include:
- Identifying similarities and differences in physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development at each developmental stage from infancy through elementary school age.
- Creating effective learning situations that meet the needs of diverse learners
- Planning lessons, deliver instruction, and assess student learning
- Demonstrating professional and ethical standards in support of collaborative learning
- Observing, analyzing, and evaluating the impact of family systems on childhood development
- Analyzing and evaluating the impact of society and culture on childhood development and the family
Each of these skills will support students after graduation as they pursue careers in teaching, counseling, social work, or as they seek higher-level degrees.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Early Childhood Development Degree?
There are many paths to a degree in early childhood development, and the one that you choose will determine how long it takes you to complete your program.
What is most important in assessing each of these options is whether their curriculum meets your career goals and whether they are accredited.
Early Childhood Development Degree Specializations
Choosing a degree in early childhood development opens the door to many possibilities. At both the undergraduate and graduate degree level, there are several different specializations and concentrations that allow you to pursue your specific interest. These include:
- Early Childhood-Elementary Education – These programs prepare teachers to work in programs serving children in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, primary, and early intermediate grades.
- Early Childhood-Elementary Education with Special Education Concentration – These programs prepare teachers to work in programs serving diverse learners in a variety of settings.
- Leadership and Administration in Early Childhood Education – These programs prepare students for careers as administrators or principals, focusing on the management of early childhood programs, personnel management, and staff development and leadership.
- Curriculum and Methods in Early Childhood Education – These programs focus on curriculum mapping, research-based instruction, technology integration and techniques.
- Language Acquisition and Development – These programs prepare professionals to help young children develop their language skills
- Children’s Literature Studies – These programs prepare professionals to develop a strong foundation to build children’s first experiences with literature.
Early Childhood Development Certification and Training
Your early childhood development degree is meant to prepare you for working with young children in a variety of settings, but some positions will require specific certifications, training, or credentials.
Once you’ve graduated and begun your career search, one of your first steps should be investigating the professional standards for the position that you seek. Working with specific student populations, such as children who are gifted, children with disabilities, or children with special learning needs may require having a specialty certification. Your early childhood development program may offer these academic certificates as the outcomes of standalone courses that can be completed quickly. Alternatively, you may be able to find education certificates online through many colleges and universities.
Depending upon the state where you are seeking employment and whether you want to work in a public institution or a private one, you may need to be licensed. The best way to identify these requirements is to check with your state’s regulatory board.
What Can I Do with an Early Childhood Development Degree?
A degree in early childhood development offers the ability to work with, guide, and educate children through their earliest years via a variety of career paths. Though many choose to be teachers, education is by no means the only option available to those who pursue this degree.
Early Childhood Development Salary and Career Information
There are diverse careers available to graduates of early childhood development programs, and the variability is affected both by the individual’s interest and by how much education they pursue. The Bureau of Labor Services reports that those who work as administrators of preschools or daycares earn an average national salary of $47,310, while preschool teachers earn an average of $30,210 and kindergarten and elementary school teachers double that income and earn an average national salary of $61,350. Special education teachers earn an average salary of $61,820, and Ziprecruiter reports that early childhood intervention specialists earn an average national salary of $47,825.
The job outlook in each of these careers is strong, with demand for preschool teachers expected to grow by 15% over the next ten years, for kindergarten and elementary teachers by 4% over the next ten years, and for preschool and childcare directors by 8% over the next ten years.
Early Childhood Development Career Paths
Here are a few different career paths you could take after you graduate with an early childhood development degree.
Preschool and Childcare Center Directors
- Median Salary: $47,310
- Career Outlook: +8% (2020-2030)
- Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Direct all aspects of preschool and childcare center operations, including curriculum, daily activities, personnel, and budgets.
- Median Salary: $61,820
- Career Outlook: +4% (2020-2030)
- Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Assess and work with children with physical, intellectual, emotional, or social disabilities to develop activities and educational programs specific to their abilities.
- Median Salary: $50,390
- Career Outlook: +9% (2020-2030)
- Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Identify the needs of very young children with physical, intellectual, emotional or social challenges and connect them to support networks that maximize their potential.
Outstanding Schools with Early Childhood Development Degree Programs in the United States
The first early childhood development programs in the United States were called “normal schools.” Established in the 1820s, they only granted four-year degrees to men, then later introduced two-year certificates to women. Since that time the study of early childhood development has expanded into remarkable specialty programs taught by outstanding schools that offer both in-person and remote learning opportunities.
Here we profile a few of the top programs in the country. These have been selected based on criteria including accreditation, reputation for academic rigor, availability of flexible and hybrid programming, availability of graduate school programming, and faculty-to-student ratio. The right program for you will depend upon other factors reflecting your personal needs, including geography and cost.
1. Tufts University – Bachelor of Arts in Child Study and Human Development
This program provides a strong foundation for understanding and conducting applied research focusing on diverse groups of children, youth, and their families. Students can specialize in one of several specific areas of concentration, including Child and Family Health/Well-Being, 21st Century Literacies: Media and Technology, and Identity Development in Global Context.
2. The University of Pittsburgh – Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education
Focusing on the education of young children from birth through the age of eight, the Pitt School of Education’s Early Childhood Education program employs student teaching, field placements, and hands-on learning to develop competence in the use of developmentally appropriate education practice. There is a special emphasis in this program on family diversity, supporting families, and the needs of children with special needs.
3. University of Washington – Early Care and Education
The College of Education at the University of Washington offers both in-person and online programs that prepare students for professions that incorporate teaching, service learning, and research into early childhood development. Options include bachelor’s degree programs in arly Childhood and Family Studies, an online degree in Early Care and Education, and an in-person major in Education, Communities, & Organization.
4. University of Massachusetts Amherst – University Without Walls
The University of Massachusetts Amherst offers an online Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in early childhood education. The program is ideal for both students who are new to education or who are seasoned educators. It can be tailored to each student’s professional interests and offers online courses in multicultural education, early childhood curriculum, and children’s behavior and behavior management.
Online Degree in Early Childhood Development Programs
The availability of online early childhood development programs makes it possible for motivated students to complete a bachelor’s degree and earn teacher certification on their own schedule. Though each program is different, all will provide a comprehensive understanding of physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of young children, as well as an understanding of parent/child relationships and the skills needed to design, implement, and evaluate curricula for children.
Most programs are structured as two-year completion programs following earning an associate degree at a community college or completing undergraduate general education credits. Students can take all didactic courses online but are generally required to complete an internship that can be coordinated through the school, as well as a capstone project.
How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?
Though all accredited online programs have course requirements similar to those offered in traditional, in-person degrees, there are many variables to how online degree programs are structured, and those differences determine how long it will take you to complete a program.
Enrolling full time vs part time - Just as is true of taking in-person classes, online students can choose to pursue their degree on a full-time basis or a part-time basis. The heavier the course load, the more quickly the degree can be completed. Students who opt for part-time online studies generally earn their degree within six years.
Synchronous vs asynchronous classes - While synchronous classes take place on a set schedule, asynchronous classes are posted online, allowing students to log in and learn whenever they want to. This flexible availability means that a motivated student can finish very quickly, in far less time than allowed in a traditional in-person setting.
Hybrid programs - Hybrid programs represent a combination of in-person and online coursework. In most cases the in-person portion of the classwork is held over a weekend or in the evening, allowing students to continue to work or to meet other obligations.
Next Steps to Get Started in an Early Childhood Development Program
Deciding that early childhood is your perfect field is the first step to an invigorating, rewarding career, but it’s also the start of a significant amount of effort. To achieve your goals you’ll need to identify the schools that best match your individual needs, complete the application process, and determine how you’re going to fund your education.
Compare colleges and narrow your list – Only you know your priorities in terms of distance from home, in-person or online, state school or private, large campus or compact. Start your road to a career in early childhood development by identifying the schools that match your criteria.
Visit campuses – Whether you’re applying to schools that are close to home or far afield, the only way to get a real feel for the campus is by paying it a visit, meeting faculty, and touring the facilities. If you have the time, take the opportunity.
Send in applications and complete the FAFSA form to maximize the federal aid available to you.
Once accepted, explore the financial aid packages that have been offered to identify those that best meet your needs. Make sure you nail any financial aid or scholarship applications.
Consider the differences between each of the schools that have accepted you to determine which holds the most appeal, and make your selection!
Admissions Requirements for Early Childhood Development Degree Programs
Though different colleges have their own unique application requirements, most early childhood development degree programs make their programs available to students who have already attended two years of general education requirements at their college. Admission to those programs generally require:
- Completion of a high school program with a minimum GPA
- Standardized test scores (either SAT or ACT)
- Submission of the Common Application
- Submission of the school’s application fee
- Application essay
- Letter of recommendation
After two years and completion of General Education curriculum requirements, students interested in a degree in early childhood development can apply for entry to the program. In addition to their general education credits, most campuses require students to complete a writing requirement and achievement of a minimum GPA.
Early Childhood Development Scholarships
There is an enormous range in costs associated with earning a degree in early childhood development. Online programs generally cost less than in-person, brick-and-mortar educational settings, and state schools cost less than private programs. The good news is that there are plenty of scholarships that are specifically geared toward those who are pursuing degrees in early childhood development or education. These can be found using our scholarship tool. Some of the best options include:
Teacher.org's "Inspire Our Future" $500 Scholarship, available to any experienced teacher who is continuing their education, or a teacher candidate who has just begun the process.
American Montessori Society Teacher Education Scholarship Fund, available to applicants who are accepted, are in the process of being accepted, or are already enrolled in an AMS-affiliated teacher education program at any of these credential levels: Infant & Toddler, Early Childhood, Elementary (I, I - II, II), and Secondary (I, I - II).
The TEACH Grant Program provides scholarships for education majors who commit to teaching in high-need fields in low-income areas for at least four academic years
PDK Prospective Educator Scholarships are awarded to high school seniors and undergraduates who intend to major in a field of education.
Early Childhood Development FAQ
Do I need a degree in early childhood development to become a preschool teacher?
- Though it is possible to get a job at a preschool without a degree, graduates of Early Childhood Development programs bring invaluable knowledge in educational psychology, art, music, and family interactions to their work environment. This entitles them to greater job responsibilities and higher rates of pay, as well as increased opportunities for advancement.
What kind of job can I get with a degree in early childhood development?
- Though most graduates of an early childhood development programs choose a career in teaching, there are many options available, including family counseling, school administration, daycare and childcare directors, and early intervention specialists.
If I earn a degree in early childhood development, will I be eligible to work with children with developmental disabilities?
- Most facilities that work with special needs children require employees to have a Special Education Endorsement or certification in Special Needs education. Many Early Childhood Development programs offer this type of program.
Can I get a degree in Early Childhood Development online?
- Many accredited schools offer students the option of pursuing their degree in an online format.