Earning an early childhood education degree opens up a wide range of possibilities within the field of education. If you’re planning to teach young children, then a degree with an emphasis on early childhood not only sets you apart from other applicants, but it also allows you to gain significant practical experience in a specialty area. To work with kids, you’ll need to be creative, compassionate, patient and diligent. Motivating young children starts with an understanding of their unique needs as early learners.
“Early childhood,” according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children or NAEYC, means the period of childhood up to age eight. Very young children learn differently from older kids, and their curriculum should correspond with how they learn.
Teachers with early childhood training study and implement a variety of methods for addressing this unique period in a child’s life. In addition to the development of cognitive skills, the “foundations for [children’s] social skills, self-esteem, perception of the world and moral outlook” are built during early childhood.
With an early childhood degree, you can teach grade levels preschool through about the third grade. Many preschools require their workers to hold at least an associate’s degree to work with children while nearly all public schools today demand that elementary teachers specialize in early childhood education.
Preschool vs. Daycare
Many people assume that preschool and daycare are interchangeable terms for the same setup. In reality, preschool differs from daycare in that preschool serves as an introduction to formal education.
If you want to work in a preschool, then you’ll most likely need an early childhood education degree because you’ll be expected to develop lesson plans and teach. You may find some daycares that promote learning, but the primary purpose of daycare is to babysit children whose parents aren’t available.
Preschool requires formal enrollment, and some preschool centers can be competitive based on reputation. Because preschool is an important part of a child’s early life, the government created the Head Start Program to help underserved and low-income families gain access to early childhood education.
CollegeBoard.org notes that early childhood education majors who specialize in an area such as special education may be more likely to find a job in this competitive market.
Like general teaching degrees, early childhood degrees can be customized to meet your areas of interest. You might be drawn toward children with disabilities such as speech or hearing delays. Earning extra certification to work with these children could put you in an advantageous position when you’re looking for a job. Likewise, if you want to teach at a specialty institution like the Montessori schools, then you’ll need to undergo specialized training since the curriculum differs drastically from traditional public and private schools.
When you’re looking for a good early childhood education program, make sure that it’s accredited and that it meets the standards set out by the NAEYC. Browse through the program’s requirements, and ask the program director about the educational philosophy or philosophies it promotes. There’s a wide array of approaches when it comes to early childhood curricula, so choose a school that mirrors your beliefs. You may even find online programs that give you the foundation that you need to pursue an early childhood education degree.