Early childhood education is the learning children undergo from birth to 8 years to guide their growth and development. This describes learners from pre-school to the second or third grade of learning.
Early childhood education provides children with the foundation for lifelong learning and the development of learning abilities. It is an essential building block to ensuring that children realize their full potential.
Ultimately, a child's cognitive and social development is significantly influenced by their early years of learning. Early childhood educators care for these young minds and lay a foundation for their education.
Today, we’ll examine early childhood education, why it is important, and how aspiring teachers can join this noble profession.
What is Early Childhood Education?
Early childhood education is the learning process that children undergo from birth to the age of 8 years. At this age, a child’s brain is highly sensitive to their surroundings and requires a specialized education approach that ensures they acquire foundational skills and concepts for the rest of their learning.
The approach and curricula of these educational programs differ at the preschool level, but they should be focused on developing critical milestones, social-emotional skills, literacy, and critical thinking.
UNICEF states that quality early childhood education lays the foundation for a child’s journey. This means that a lack of quality early childhood education limits children’s futures, limiting their chances of reaching their full potential.
Early childhood education creates a foundation for educational achievement and lays the foundation for good health and nutrition. Making the lives of children better results in national growth and economic empowerment.
Why is Early Childhood Education Important?
Early childhood education creates an opportunity for rich, responsive social interactions. The children learn to interact with their peers, teachers, and parents.
As children engage in these interactions through play and daily activities, they display natural interests in various aspects of the world around them. Some of these interests define their purpose for the rest of their lives.
Children also learn to get along with others, share their ideas, participate in decision-making, and belong to a group. UNICEF advises that children who are enrolled in early childhood education, even for a year, are less likely to drop out of school because they have the necessary emotional and social skills.
UNESCO believes that inclusive and interactive early childhood education is crucial for establishing a foundation for emotional well-being and learning.
Besides benefiting children, early childhood education promotes a countries’ holistic development and enhances social cohesion and gender equality.
Research shows that the focus on early childhood education through the expansion of publicly funded preschool institutions may have reduced existing educational gaps by income and race significantly.
Here are other benefits of early childhood education:
It increases high school graduation rate
Improves performance on standardized tests
Reduces their chances of repeating a grade or being placed in a special education program.
Develops autonomy in children and the ability to learn new routines.
Four Components of an Early Childhood Education Program
Early childhood education programs seek to create lifelong learners. The programs offer support services such as child health and development assessments, early education, and care to improve the outcomes for these young children and their families.
Let’s look at the four main components and developmental themes of ECE:
1. Social Development
Social development enables a child to make friends, get along with others, and efficiently embrace group dynamics.
Early childhood education creates an environment where children interact with each other and their caregivers and educators. This environment grows their social skills, such as being patient, and polite, resolving conflicts, and sharing.
2. Emotional Development
Emotional development in children is the foundation of all future relationships. It enables self-discovery, building relationships, autonomy, and academic success.
Children learn to express their emotions of anger, love, joy, frustration, and gratitude in an acceptable way. They also learn how to recognize their emotions and how to react to them. Additionally, children get a sense of belonging and security by interacting with classmates and the educators develop their confidence.
3. Physical Development
Physical development describes more than the increase in shape and size. Children acquire basic physical skills for movement, such as jumping, skipping, running, and even object control.
Through early childhood education, the physical maturity of the child’s body is enabled as well as their physical coordination and muscle control.
4. Intellectual and Academic Development
Early childhood education programs are significant in children's cognitive and academic development. This consists of their language acquisition, pre-reading and numeracy skills.
Early childhood teachers develop the intellectual dimension of children by encouraging problem-solving activities, abstract thinking, and moral development.
Early Childhood Education Careers
Early childhood education degree programs prepare graduates to work with children in private and public childcare institutions. Graduates can become preschool teachers, child care center managers, teacher’s assistants, providers of in-home special care, and school counselors, among others.
Let’s look at some of the ECE roles, requirements, and responsibilities.
Early Childhood Teacher Assistants
Working with licensed teachers to give students additional attention and instruction.
High school diploma or GED certificate
Childcare workers and nannies
Fostering early development by attending to children’s needs.
High school diploma or equivalent
Preschool and Childcare center directors
Supervising and guiding staff
Overseeing daily activities
Preparing and executing budgets
Design program plans
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
Instructing children essential subject and prepare them for future schooling
School Counselor/ psychologist
Helping students get academic and social skills for academic excellence.
Master’s degree in school counseling or related field
Early Childhood Education Degree
The requirements and certifications for an early childhood degree vary depending on the state. You should seek to understand the specifics of the state you plan to work in.
Let’s look at some early childhood education degree types, their duration, and key learnings.
1.Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education
The program takes two years of full-time study. It prepares graduates to teach and care for children in daycares and preschools.
Associate degrees in ECE are transferable and can give you 60 credits when you pursue a bachelor’s degree in education. Daycare workers may pursue this degree to increase their earnings and competitiveness in the job market.
2. Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education
A bachelor’s degree prepares educators to teach young children up to grade three and it takes four years of full-time study to complete. To work in a public school, you’ll need to get your teacher certification license after your bachelor's degree.
The program prepares teachers to help learners develop their social, personal, and academic skills in readiness for higher levels of learning.
3. Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education
This program prepares students to work as teachers or administrators in elementary and early childhood learning institutions.
Most universities will only offer this degree program to students who are already certified to teach in elementary institutions and have a bachelor’s degree and state certification.
It may be offered online or on campus and grants teachers a higher earning potential and competitiveness for administrative positions.
4. Doctoral Degree in Early Childhood Education
This program comes after a master's, and its length varies depending on the student. Full-time learners may take up to four years, while part-time students pursuing an online doctorate may take up to eight years.
Doctoral programs give you the expertise to manage early childhood education centers, conduct research, formulate policy, participate in high-level initiatives, and design learning programs.
Early Childhood Education Curriculum Requirements
The ECE curriculum is similar to that found in any education class, but it focuses on education for children younger than eight years.
Some of the courses taught in these programs will include the following;
Child development– The course equips you with a deep understanding of the fundamentals of academic, emotional, and social learning as presented by theories and principles of child development.
Classroom management and guidance of young children- Helps you to understand how to create asafe, friendly, and well-managed learning environment.
Creative and effective experience for young children– Helps you know how to engage children in activities that grow their creativity.
Early literacy learning- Exposes you todifferent approaches to reading instruction and how to create strategies for age-suitable learning.
Infant and toddler care- How to care for the children in a manner that supports their development. E.g significance of providing age-appropriate toys and activities that enhance the children's motor, cognitive, language, and socio-emotional development.
Math content and processes– Strategies for making abstract numeracy concepts relatable for young learners.
Methods of curriculum and instruction- Concepts, methods, and models of enabling curriculum planning and delivery through crafting imaginative and learner-centered activities.
Play development and assessment- How to develop play-based assessments to measure the motor and cognitive development of the children.
Young children with special needs- How to care for children who differ socially, mentally, or physically from the average child.
Early Childhood Education Certification and Licensure
Requirements for licensing and certification for childcare workers vary within the states. But, the classes students of early childhood education teachers are common across the states.
Nutrition, and safety,
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for infants and children
Although the requirements may vary per state, they are key commonalities. A typical certification process involves;
Choosing and enrolling for a bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation program
Completing a student teaching experience
Completing your state’s required exam (s) for educators
Applying for teacher certification
Steps to Working in Early Childhood Education
The basic steps to working in early childhood education include;
1. Obtain your high school diploma.
A high school diploma is the starting point and the minimum requirement for becoming a childcare worker or a nanny. Additional certification in an associate degree or a bachelor's degree will however give you an edge over your competitors and increase your earnings.
2. Enroll in an early childhood education program.
For the program you are interested in, the minimum requirement may be a high school diploma, a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree for those planning to work in a public school. The programs will take you one to three years to complete.
3. Gain outside experience working with children.
You gain experience by engaging in fieldwork or practicum sessions that allow you to work with children.
4. Obtain an associate's degree or a bachelor's of science in early education.
An associate degree is a minimum requirement for preschool teaching, while a bachelor's is a basic requirement if you are aiming at teaching in public schools.
5. Earn your Child Development Associate (CDA) teaching credentials.
Some states demand a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. The state’s education council offers this certification for Professional Recognition. Renewable every three years, the credential requires coursework, training, and an exam.
Salaries in Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education salary depends on factors such as geographical location, the work environment, level of education, years spent in the profession, etc.
On average, ECE educators earn $42,523 per year.The top 25% of ECE educators earn $39,720 while the lowest 25% bracket earns $24,820 annually, while
Here is a table comparing National Median Salaries for ECE Educators according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nannies and childcare workers
Preschool and Childcare Center Directors
Kindergarten and Elementary Teacher
Job Opportunities in Early Childhood Education
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the job opportunities for preschool teachers to grow by 15% from 2021 to 2031.
The demand for school counselors is expected to grow by 13% from 2016 to 2026, while the demand for childcare workers is projected to grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031.
Early Childhood Education Work Environments
Early childhood education provides work opportunities in various workplaces.
Let's look at the various work schedules and responsibilities.
Public school ECE are responsible for caring for and educating children. Their work schedule includes a 10-month school year.
The possible career options include becoming preschool teachers, assistant teachers, and even child psychologists
ECE are expected to instruct young students in basic subjects to prepare them for future schooling and monitor the well-being of children to ensure holistic growth. They also follow the 10-month school year.
These educators can advance their careers to become preschool teachers, assistant teachers, child psychologists, and even school directors.
Special education early childhood educators work with children who are socially, physically and emotionally challenged and who require special attention. They also follow the normal 10-month school calendar.
Career projections include becoming preschool teachers, assistant teachers, special education teachers, and child counselors.
In daycare, ECE attend to children’s needs in early development. In daycare, you can either work part-time or full-time.
Career progression options include becoming childcare workers, preschool teachers, and even directors.
In homes, early childhood educators monitor the safety of the children, prepare meal times and snacks for children, and even change diapers for infants and toddlers.
This can be a part-time or full-time role, and you can progress to become a nanny or childcare worker.
Start a Career in Early Childhood Education
Early childhood education gives you an opportunity to make a difference in the life of young children by preparing them for future learning. By enrolling in an early childhood education program you get a chance to mold young minds and watch them grow socially, physically, and intellectually.
And the field offers a great variety of career opportunities. Each career demands training and certification to be able to offer your services as a child educator.