Once you decide that you want to be a teacher, the next career choice you must make is which age level you plan to teach. Early childhood education degree programs focus on teaching and learning as they pertain to the youngest children – as young as toddlers, infants and even newborns. Although all master’s degrees in early education have this focus on teaching and classroom management techniques appropriate for this age group, some programs have an even narrower focus. Beyond the core coursework in a general early childhood education program, there are specialized degrees in special education, leadership and advocacy, literacy and educational technology.

Are There Various Types of Master's Under the Umbrella of Early Education?

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Early Childhood General Education

In general, most early childhood education programs focus on the concepts and practices used in teaching children from birth to age eight. Because teaching a toddler or preschooler is very different from teaching a pre-teen in middle school or an adolescent high school student, much of the curriculum is focused on working effectively with these young children.

In a general early childhood education master’s degree program, you might take coursework in Instructional Strategies in Early Childhood, Infant Toddler Growth and Development and Communication Strategies for Effective Early Childhood Programs. Students learn how to plan early childhood programs and assess infant and toddler learning. Because children at this young age need plenty of nurturing and care, coursework might also focus on mental health prevention and intervention for infants and toddlers, the importance of communication and collaboration in managing mental health of this age group and the significance of play as a vehicle for learning and exploring.

Some master’s programs in early childhood education are initial certification programs that qualify graduates to become teachers for the first time, while many are non-certification programs intended for established educators.

Early Childhood Special Education

Even as early as toddlerhood, it can be clear that a child has special needs. To meet those needs, educators must have more specialized coursework. In an Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) master’s degree program, you may start your studies with a course such as Overview of Early Childhood Special Education.

Through classes like Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Special Education and Instruction and Intervention in Early Childhood Special Education, you develop an understanding of the challenges of teaching children with different kinds of special needs and effective educational approaches for this population. Courses such as Positive Behavior Support and Classroom Management help you learn how to handle the behavior issues that inevitably arise in the classroom. You may have the opportunity to gain specialized knowledge of certain prevalent conditions through classes such as Advances in Understanding and Treatment of Autism as well as learning more generally about laws, ethical behavior and disabilities.

A concentration in early childhood special education can sometimes overlap with fields like behavior analysis and psychology. In fact, some ECSE master’s programs have a behavior analyst track available along with the expected teacher or classroom practitioner track.

Leadership and Advocacy in Early Childhood Education

Although most early childhood education professionals work in the classroom, some serve in leadership roles such as the principal or program director of a preschool, daycare or other educational program. If you want to work in an administrative, leadership or advocacy position, you need a background in early childhood education but a different set of skills for managing job duties outside the classroom.

Often, specialized leadership and advocacy programs in early childhood education begin with the same core coursework as their peers in more traditional programs. They then move on to graduate-level studies supervision and personnel management, educational leadership, the laws and regulations that pertain to early childhood educational facilities, financial and marketing management strategies and the support of quality curriculum and instruction for the appropriate age level. Because preschool and daycare leaders manage operations outside the classroom more often than inside it, students on a program administrator track may even take specialized courses on the business management side of an early childhood education program, which focus on matters of accounting, finance and economics.

More than 60 percent of preschool and childcare center directors work in child day care services, where the median wage is $46,310, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The seven percent working in schools see a $67,540 median wage.

Other Early Childhood Education Concentrations

Given the number of schools of education across the nation, it’s no wonder that different institutions have put together their own unique, specialized early childhood education programs that meet the needs of their students. While special education and leadership are among the most common concentrations you will encounter in this degree program, there are other options out there for the students who are willing to find them.

Although most early childhood education programs are not specific to one content area – particularly since many early childhood teachers cover numerous subjects with their pupils – you may encounter concentrations or at least coursework in specific content areas. Literacy is the most likely content area to get its own distinct concentration, often requiring several courses on the teaching and learning of reading and writing. Studies in teaching developmentally appropriate concepts of mathematics, science and other subject areas to this young audience may appear in specialized or general early education curricula.

Due to the challenges of crafting an effective educational curriculum for the youngest learners, some schools also offer degrees or concentrations in curriculum and instruction or educational technology for graduate students of early childhood education programs.

Additional Resources

What Kind of Degree Do I Need to Teach Preschool?

Which Schools Have the Best Master’s Programs in Early Childhood?

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Teacher Assistant?