If you love the energy, innocence and adorable charm only young children have, you may aspire to work in a preschool. Preschools can be public or private and may function as actual schools or as daycare and childcare centers. What background and qualifications preschools require or prefer job candidates to have depends on state regulations, the requirements of accreditation organizations, school policies and the job role for which you are applying. The requirements needed to become a childcare worker, for example, are lower than those for teacher assistants, which are still less extensive than what’s required for preschool teachers. There are also differences in requirements for teaching at a public preschool compared to a private childcare facility or preschool. Generally, you may encounter requirements that pertain to education and training, work experience and professional credentials.

What Do Most States Require From Me Before I Can Work in a Preschool

IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain

Education and Training

As one of the fastest online associate’s degrees, an associate’s degree in early childhood education is a popular educational option for people who want to work in a preschool. Associate’s degree programs in early childhood education often include studies in core education topics such as learning theory, fundamentals of early childhood education, principles of education, classroom management, wellness in the early childhood setting, childhood psychology and educational philosophy. You might take courses that focus on behavior management, child development, curriculum and instruction and your professional responsibilities in this field. Some early childhood associate’s programs include studies in working with infants and toddlers specifically and in play as a form of learning. Most associate’s degree programs require 60 credits of college coursework – typically taking two years of full-time study or as little as 18 months in accelerated-format programs – but some early childhood education curricula include a few extra credits of mandatory coursework.

You can also seek both higher and lower levels of college studies in early childhood education. Many schools offer a diploma or certificate program in early childhood education, which may require two-thirds, half or less than half the number of courses you would take for an associate’s degree. Diploma and certificate programs may require fewer core courses in early childhood education and may also cut out the general education classes that can contribute to having a well-rounded education.

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is what’s needed to acquire a state teaching certification. Includes a more robust core curriculum that may devote courses to topics such as language development in young children, exceptional learning and inclusion and administration of early childhood programs. Bachelor’s degree programs often include an early childhood education student teaching experience that requires students to spend a semester creating lesson plans and delivering lessons in real preschool classrooms.

Which education is right for you? Since the educational requirements needed to work in a preschool setting vary from one role to another, this decision requires you to think critically about the preschool position you want to attain and how you want to get there.

Experience Working With Young Children

One of the biggest factors in getting a job in a preschool is your level of experience. Being familiar with the behaviors, development and needs of young children is essential for success in this role, and forming that knowledge base doesn’t happen strictly in a classroom. A preschool teacher or childcare worker with years of experience may need to learn the specific protocols of a new institution but will likely bring a great deal of professional insight and skill to a new employer, while less experienced job candidates will need more extensive on-the-job training.

How do you get experience if you can’t get hired to work in a preschool without experience? An educational program that incorporates field experience can help you get started. You might also start off working in an entry-level position, in which you do not need a great deal of prior experience in childcare or early education, and working your way up to roles that confer more responsibility.

The more work experience you have, the higher you can rise in a preschool work setting – from childcare worker to teacher assistant to preschool teacher and finally to preschool director.

Professional Credentials

Not all roles in a preschool require you to attain professional credentials, but some do. If you wish to work as a preschool teacher in a public school setting, you will need a state license to teach, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. A teaching license in early childhood education usually qualifies you to teach not only preschool but kindergarten and the first through third grades.

If you’re eyeing another role, such as childcare worker, teacher assistant or preschool teacher at a private school or daycare facility, you don’t need a state teaching certification. You may, however, need a national credential called the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. This designation, awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition, requires a combination of education and training in required subject areas and experience working with young children.

The studies you complete as part of your college studies in early childhood education may fulfill the training requirements of the CDA credential. If you earn your CDA credential before starting college, you may be able to apply that coursework toward your degree.

Additional Resources

Since I’m Not Prepared to Get a Teaching Certificate With an Early Childhood Education Associate’s Degree, Is There Some Test or Certification I Can Get That Will Help Me Get a Job?

What Kind of Degree Do I Need to Teach Preschool?

What Are the Professional Organizations for People in Child Development?

Do Different States Have Different Versions of Certification for Jobs in Child Development?