An early childhood education associate’s degree is one of the fastest ways you can get into the field of caring for and educating babies, toddlers and preschoolers – as well as one of the fastest online associate’s degrees you can earn. It’s not, however, full preparation to get your teaching certificate in any state in the United States. Upon earning your degree in early childhood education, you could seek a credential like the Child Development Associate Credential or seek a job like childcare worker, teacher assistant or preschool teacher in a private school or daycare program.
The Child Development Associate Credential
If there’s one primary credential in the field of early childhood education, it’s the Council for Professional Recognition’s Child Development Associate, or CDA, credential. This nationally recognized designation is required in some states but optional in others. Since the credential was first awarded in 1975, more than 800,000 workers have attained the CDA designation.
To qualify for the CDA credential, you generally need only a high school diploma, as far as formal degrees and diplomas go. However, you must complete professional education of at least 120 clock hours spread across required subject areas. The competencies you must have to become a CDA include creating a safe and healthy learning environment for young children; helping children to develop physical, cognitive, communication and creative skills; and encouraging social development and a positive self-identity. You must also learn to forge positive relationships with families, manage a program effectively and maintain professionalism. To excel in these areas, you should have a thorough foundation in the principles of learning and childhood development and in the practices of recording the behavior of young children. You also need at least 480 hours of real-world experience working with this age group.
The CDA credential is awarded to individuals in the profession of childcare and early childhood education. Having educated and credentialed personnel can help programs achieve voluntary accreditation by organizations such as the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Once valuable certification you might not think of is cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid training, so that in an emergency, you could help save a child’s life.
Can You Get a Preschool Teaching Job With Just an Associate’s Degree?
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Although you need a bachelor’s degree to earn the teaching license required for public school preschool teacher jobs, an associate’s degree is considered the minimum level of education to work in this occupation, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. That’s because most preschool teaching jobs aren’t in public schools. The majority of preschool teachers – 60 percent – work for child daycare services, the BLS reported. The employer that accounts for the next largest share of the occupation is the religious, grantmaking, civic and professional organizations industry, for which 17 percent of preschool teachers work. Only 15 percent of preschool teachers actually work for schools, and that number includes private schools as well as public schools.
Having an associate’s degree is sufficient to work as a preschool teacher in a center-based Head Start program. Due to requirements that 50 percent of Head Start teachers have a bachelor’s degree, however, your job prospects would be better with a four-year degree than a two-year degree.
An associate’s degree isn’t among the top three most common levels of education for this profession, but having one can put you among the most educated workers in the field. Just 17 percent of preschool teachers, outside of the field of special education, have a bachelor’s degree, O*NET reported. With an associate’s degree, you would have a higher level of education than the 29 percent of preschool teachers who have only a high school diploma and the 12 percent that have completed some college but don’t have a degree.
There are other roles in early childhood education that you can get with an associate’s degree. These jobs may or may not require additional certification like the CDA credential. If you become a childcare worker, for example, you would work with children as young as infants or as old as five-year-olds, but your duties would revolve less around education and more around meeting young children’s basic needs, the BLS reported. An associate’s degree can also qualify you to work as a teacher assistant.
With experience, you could become a preschool or childcare center education administrator. The BLS lists a bachelor’s degree as the preferred education for childcare directors, but an associate’s degree is the most common education, O*NET reported.