Online Early Childhood Education Degree

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Helping Kids Shine
in the Classroom

Does positively impacting the lives of children in a classroom sound like a rewarding career? Then earning an early childhood education degree online might be the perfect next step. Online programs are an excellent option for people with busy schedules, especially those seeking advancement in their existing career. Anyone interested in taking an online program to begin or continue a career in early childhood education should read on to learn more about degree options, credentials and career opportunities.

Milestone Map: Early Childhood Educators

There is a variety of jobs for people with a degree in early childhood education to choose from as they begin their professional career. Their skills and qualifications will prepare them for jobs in child care programs, schools, government agencies or social service agencies. Below is an outline of possible milestones someone who earns an early childhood education degree online might accomplish.

Bachelor’s degree

Completes bachelor’s degree in social services at traditional university

Social services supervisor

Works as a hospital social worker at children’s emergency room

Master’s degree

Completes online master’s degree program in early childhood

New job

Earns position as director of family education center

National certification

Earns National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist


Presents at the National Association for the Education of Young Children Annual Conference

The Online College Experience: Key Features

Pursuing an online degree is an excellent option for people wishing to advance their careers or for traditional students who desire a flexible class schedule. There are several accredited online programs offering undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate degrees, so it should not be difficult for aspiring educators to find an online early childhood education degree that meets their needs.

While an online learning experience will be different from the experience at a physical campus, the curriculum and the quality of the education will be quite comparable.

When researching online programs, prospective students should consider their time management skills since they will need to set aside time to complete lessons and assignments. Some classes may also have virtual group discussions or projects, so applicants should be prepared for the additional time commitment attached to such activities.

Most programs require a certain number of hours spent in a classroom setting as a student teacher. Advanced degrees in early childhood education may also require students to be on campus for presentations. Applicants should be aware of these requirements so they can plan accordingly.

Additionally, most colleges have specific software requirements to support their online portals, which is how students communicate with instructors and other students, receive and submit assignments, and access additional resources.

Types of Early Childhood Education Degrees

The degree level prospective students ultimately pursue will depend on the time they can dedicate to schooling, the type of job they plan to seek after graduation, and the degrees and prior college credits they already have.

  • Associate’s
    (18 to 24 months)
  • Bachelor’s
    (4 years)
  • Master’s
    (2 years)
  • Doctorate
    (4-8 years)
  • Education Specialist
    (2 years)
  • Certificate
    (10-12 months)
  • Specializations

An associate degree is a solid first step for someone beginning an academic career, as it teaches the foundations of education theory, curriculum planning and childhood development. Roughly 60 to 70 credits long, an associate degree qualifies students for positions as daycare providers, caregivers and teacher aides. However, many students transfer the credits earned from an associate degree program to a four-year bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education qualifies students to gain a state license and teach in public schools. In addition to providing a comprehensive understanding of childhood development, this degree, which is twice as long as an associate program, also imparts students with a comprehensive set of skills through specialized coursework in areas such as educational psychology and curriculum design. Many programs require students to gain hands-on experience in a classroom, but some waive this stipulation for students who are already working in a child care facility or preschool.

Master’s degree programs, which run between 30 and 50 credits in length, are typically for people who already hold a bachelor’s degree in education and are currently teaching, though some schools will consider applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject if they have work experience. Graduate programs generally require a research project, student teaching residency or both.

There are two types of master’s degrees available:

  • A Master of Education (MEd) is a graduate degree that prepares educators for a career beyond the classroom. While some with an MEd may choose to teach throughout their career, this degree allows for a wider range of options within the field of education, including curriculum development and administration.
  • The Master of Arts (MA) degree in early childhood education is for people who want to advance their teaching career. This degree emphasizes advanced coursework within specific subjects, in addition to developing educators’ overall teaching skills.

Taking an additional 50 to 60 credits after a master’s program to earn a doctoral degree in early childhood education affords graduates an in-depth understanding of early childhood education research, curriculum and policy. Doctoral programs include taking coursework, compiling a portfolio and completing a dissertation.

When considering a doctoral degree, degree seekers should determine if a Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a better choice. For those seeking hands-on leadership roles, an EdD may be a better fit since it is tailored to people pursing leadership roles in education, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. A PhD is designed for those interested in devoting their careers to research or focusing on sociology of education, policy or cognitive development.

An EdS is designed for those who have already completed a master’s degree program. Holders of this degree have the ability to shape policies, programs, practices and systems that affect the lives of young children. While earning a degree, students will explore the many influences affecting child development and learning; analyze topics such as child development, family partnerships and effective practices; and learn strategies to promote positive outcomes for young children.

Graduate certificate programs, which require bachelor’s degrees for entry, are composed of a handful of courses that provide supplemental education to meet the needs of professionals. Certificate holders will get specialized knowledge in the field of early childhood education without the time commitment of a master’s degree.

Specializations within early childhood education degrees can be pursued in some graduate and postgraduate programs. These academic concentrations may focus on the following:

  • Early childhood (pre-K)
  • Integrated teaching through the arts
  • Specialist teacher of reading
  • Curriculum development
  • Administration of early childhood programs

Core Classes in Early Childhood Education Degrees

The core classes students take while earning an early childhood education degree online will provide them with an understanding of children’s growth and development and the skills needed to create an effective and engaging curriculum.

Early Childhood Literacy

Students gain the skills needed to teach young children how to read and write during their preschool years. This course also covers the progression of communication, language and literacy.

Child Growth and Development

This class provides educators with a general understanding of child psychology and teaches them to recognize how genetics and environmental factors affect children’s growth and development.

Early Childhood Curriculum and Methods

Students in this course prepare curricula and practice teaching strategies involving behavior management and the creation of positive learning environments.

Play and Learning

Play is an important way young children both build new skills and explore the world around them. Educators will learn how to develop and implement play experiences that enhance the learning experience of young children.

Child, Family and Community

This class prepares educators to positively connect children’s worlds with adult society by better understanding interactions among families, schools and communities.

Deciding on a Early Childhood Education Program

Before enrolling in an online degree program, several things should be considered, such as the length of time to complete the program and whether there are specialized areas of study available. Here are a few more things prospective applicants should do:

  • Ask whether the curriculum prepares students for state licensing exams, especially if the program is based in a state other than the one in which you plan to teach.
  • Check that the college and its online program are accredited.
  • Ensure that you have met the academic prerequisites before applying.
  • Speak with other students and instructors to better understand the aims of the program.
  • Find out if there are additional resources available to online students and new graduates, such as academic counseling and assistance with job seeking.
  • Confirm that any financial aid you have qualified for is accepted by the college.
  • Research the kinds of internships and field experience opportunities available through the school.
  • Be aware of any additional costs you may incur while earning your online degree. These may include books, software and travel for practicums.

The ABCs of Accreditation

Earning an online degree from an accredited program is important for several reasons. For one thing, it means certain academic standards have been met. More importantly, attending an unaccredited college negatively affects one’s qualification for financial aid, prospects for licensure and employment opportunities following graduation. One of the major accrediting agencies specifically for education and early childhood education is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, although students earning an associate degree will likely find themselves in a program accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young People. For more information on types of accreditation, visit our Online Guide to Accredited Colleges & Universities.

Prepping for a Bachelor’s
in Early Childhood Education

To ensure successful completion of an early childhood education degree online, it can be helpful to make a list of necessary steps to complete before classes begin. The following list is an example of some important deadlines and steps for enrollment in a bachelor’s degree program, although it’s important to remember that each program has its own requirements and deadlines.

Time Before Program Start Date
Step 1

Take SAT or ACT

1 year
Step 2

Apply to online colleges

9-12 months
Step 3

Submit financial aid documents

9 months
Step 4

Speak with college counselor to determine classes and register

4 months

Step 5

Graduate from high school with minimum required GPA

3-4 months

Before going back to school, there are several things people with a passion for early childhood education can do to gain experience and prepare for a career:

  • While in school, find a job in a child care center or preschool to get hands-on experience and become familiar with the work environment.
  • Volunteer at an after-school program for elementary school children to observe how certified teachers interact with students and solve problems that arise.
  • Take additional psychology and communication classes to get an even better understanding of the concepts discussed in child development classes and gain skills necessary for working with peers and communicating with parents.
  • Take a summer job at a day camp to see firsthand how important play is to learning for young children and witness creative ways to teach complex concepts to children.
  • Join a professional development group such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) or the Association for Early Learning Leaders (AELL). These groups often offer access to professional development opportunities, both online and in-person, as well as provide a network of other professionals in the field who can prove invaluable during a job search. Organizations often have a discounted student membership rate.

Careers in Early Childhood Education

Since there are many degree levels, there is also a variety of career opportunities to pursue with an early childhood education degree, covering everything from child care to leadership.

Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers educate and care for children before they enter kindergarten. Teachers are responsible for preparing students for the next steps in their education by familiarizing them with basic reading, writing and science concepts. Additional topics covered in preschool include colors, shapes, numbers and letters. Mainly, however, preschool instructors help students develop social skills through group and one-on-one activities. If any emotional or developmental issues seem to be present, it is the responsibility of the teacher to notify the student’s parents.

Child Care Worker

Child care workers are responsible for providing general care for children when their parents are not available. At the very minimum, they attend to basic needs such as feeding and bathing. Some child care centers may also provide activities to help prepare younger children for kindergarten or assist older children with homework assignments. Even teachers who are not working in a formal school setting may be asked to organize a curriculum that provides opportunities for children to learn about the world around them.

Preschool and Child Care Center Director

Directors oversee all aspects of a center by managing facility staff members, monitoring daily activities, developing the curriculum and preparing budgets. Over half of those working as directors are employed by child day care services. Although directors work in schools and child care centers, the nature of the role means much of their time is spent in an office, but this doesn’t mean they don’t spend time in the classroom! The success of their center relies on maintaining standards related to staff performance, curriculum execution, student development and relationships with parents. A career as a director should appeal to educators attracted to leadership and administrative duties.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers work in public and private schools. Their schedules vary depending on the school district’s academic calendar. Teachers are responsible for creating and implementing lessons covering subjects such as reading, science, math and social studies. They also help students gain real-world skills so they can effectively communicate and cooperate with their peers. Outside of the classroom, teachers spend time grading assignments and exams and meeting with parents to update them on their child’s academic progress.

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers are specially trained to work with students who have a range of learning, mental, emotional and physical disabilities. For students with mild to moderate disabilities, general education lessons are adapted to meet their abilities. These teachers also teach basic literacy skills and communication techniques to students with more severe disabilities. Instead of developing one curriculum for each subject matter, special education teachers create individualized education programs (IEPs) tailored to each student. These IEPs are assessed and updated throughout the school year based on the student’s progress and goals.

Career National Job Growth(2014-2024) National Median Annual Salary(2014) Minimum Education
Preschool Teacher 7% $28,120 Associate degree
Child Care Worker 5% $19,730 High school diploma
Preschool and Childcare Center Director 7% $45,260 Bachelor’s degree
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher 6% $53,760 Bachelor’s degree
Special Education Teacher 6% $55,980 Bachelor’s degree

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

After School:
Teaching Credentials and Professional Certifications

Following graduation from an accredited college, aspiring teachers will need to pass exams for licensure in the state they wish to teach in. Other credentials and certifications are also available to people with early childhood education degrees who are looking for an edge when applying for jobs.

Early Childhood Education Teaching Credential

Before enrolling in a degree program, applicants should confirm the curriculum fulfills the state requirements, especially if the college is based in another state. Afterwards, graduates need to obtain certification in their state. State-specific requirements can be found on the U.S. Department of Education website. Most states require the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree (or higher) from an accredited university

  • Submitted application for licensure

  • Passing grade on the state-issued competency test

  • Verified teaching experience or work experience (some states waive student-teaching requirements for full-time teachers)

  • Copy of valid, state-issued identification and/or proof of permanent residency

  • Criminal background check, including fingerprints

Early Childhood Education Teaching Certifications

In addition to state certifications, other professional organizations offer certifications for early childhood teachers. These certifications enhance one’s credibility as an instructor and can help an educator stand out from other graduates during a job search. (It is worth noting that in order to teach at a Montessori school, teachers must complete a special Montessori teacher education program.)

Some well-respected professional certifications include:

Similar Online Education Degrees

Of course, the field of education has career paths for many types of students. Aspiring educators should look into the following programs as well:

Online Degrees in Secondary Education:

An online degree in secondary education prepares teachers to work with students in grades 7-12. Secondary school teachers typically teach a single discipline, so their degree coursework will include a concentration in that subject. Bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are available online.

Online Degrees in Elementary Education:

Elementary school teachers teach young students through eighth grade introductory concepts in core subjects such as math, science, language arts and social studies. A degree provides an educator with the skills necessary to develop and implement curriculum, create an effective classroom environment, and meet the needs of diverse learners.

Online Degrees in Special Education:

Special education instructors work with K-12 students with mild to moderate disabilities. Coursework covers topics such as assessing students with disabilities, managing behavior and developing an individualized education program (IEP).

Online Resources for Early Child Educators