Online Early Childhood Education Associate Degree Programs

The Most Affordable Paths & Career Potential in Early Childhood Education

When considering education degrees, some students may wonder, "what exactly is early childhood education?" This field refers to the developmental stages and instructional methods for children eight years old or younger. Degree candidates can use this information in preschools and childcare centers.

Graduates can also pursue bachelor's degrees and licenses to work in elementary schools, which increases their career outlooks. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) reports teacher shortage areas in elementary schools, with high-need subjects that include math, bilingual education, special education, and reading specialist positions. Top early childhood education programs would include coursework in all of these areas.

Candidates can also teach elementary courses online through organizations such as K12. Online learners, in particular, can prepare for these careers by gaining familiarity with early childhood education technology.

This page explores common program traits and transfer details. Sections also cover related careers, including early childhood education salaries and professional field organizations.

Quiz: Is An Online Early Childhood Education Associate Program Right for Me?

Do you want to study to become a classroom teacher in preschool or K-3, more so than teaching middle or high school students?

Early childhood education focuses on development in children in 3rd grade and under. Earning an online associate degree in early childhood education prepares students to understand and implement developmentally appropriate best practices in the classrooms of preschools and other early grade school programs.

If you are not sure that you want to focus on teaching the youngest groups of children, an online associate degree in education can provide a broader scope of learning tactics, while an online associate degree in secondary education introduces skills related to teaching grades 6-12.

As an online student, do you have the ability to test some physical and skill performance requirements in person?

Many online teaching programs require practical, hands-on lessons or presentations to test your classroom presence or skills. While this is usually a standard requirement for more advanced degrees, it could be part of a school's associate-level early childhood education program, so it is wise to be prepared.

If you are an online student far from campus, this might seem challenging. Technology can help, as video presentations and other collaborative training environments are common in online programs. But if there are required in-person practicum credits, your advisor canhelp you find an approved location nearby.

Does a two-year degree program feel like the right study timeline?

Full-time students can typically complete their online associate degrees in early childhood education within two years. Associate programs usually do not require internships or practicums that could extend this timeline. Online students may have the opportunity to speed up or slow down this average study time, thanks to the flexibility provided by online enrollment. A learner can generally take classes from anywhere and at any time, making it possible for them to earn a degree or take additional credits part time while working or caring for family.

Do you have prior credits to transfer?

You may find that some high school AP courses will apply to your associate degree in early childhood education, as well as coursework from other accredited colleges and universities. If you have not taken college courses prior, that's okay, too. Prior credits are not required to enroll.

Another way to apply credit towards your degree before you enroll is to test your prior work or life experiences for equivalencies. Military service or previous work in the industry may help you test out of certain courses. Check with your college admissions office to see if either scenario may work for you.

Are you interested in eventually earning a bachelor's degree?

A lead kindergarten or elementary school teacher usually possesses a bachelor's degree, but it does not necessarily have to be a teaching degree if they hold proper licensure. Learn more about common employment opportunities for students with an associate degree in early childhood education in our career profile lower on this page.

The skills learned in an associate-level early childhood education program can provide the baseline to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree, if you do choose to continue your education in the field. Previously earned credits may also apply towards these advanced degrees.

What Will You Learn in an Online Associate Early Childhood Education Program?

While earning early childhood education associate degrees online, learners can explore ways to encourage emotional, social, and cognitive growth in children. In particular, degree-seekers study developmental stages and child psychology for insights on teaching tactics and classroom management. With this information, teachers and administrators can make choices that foster positive learning environments for various classrooms.

Programs may also address educational history, policy, and research relating to curriculum models and teaching methods, like incorporating play into learning. Additional topics may include current issues in education, ethical concerns in classrooms, community influence on learning, and tactics for adapting lessons for learners with special needs.

Common Classes and Coursework

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    Assessment of Young Children: While course requirements vary by program, degree-seekers often take these classes where they learn to identify curriculum needs, based on factors like test scores and classroom performance. Courses may also address details that diversify the curriculum, such as learning disabilities and cultural differences, in addition to examining the legal and ethical aspects of early childhood assessment.

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    Creative Activities: These courses address how children can learn through interactive means, such as art, dance, cooking, and play. Departments can guide students in determining the correlation between these approaches and child development, such as cognitive and emotional growth.

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    Nutrition and Safety: The curriculum can guide students on appropriate foods for early development, with consideration to culture. Courses may also address the importance of a safe atmosphere for children with diverse needs and techniques for ensuring that safety. Candidates learn how to tend to physical needs and explore how a safe environment can encourage learning.

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    Child, Family, and Community: These classes cover the impact of family and community on child education and development, which prepares students to work with family and community members to improve education. Departments may also explore various cultures and learning needs, along with techniques for fostering positive relationships with outside organizations.

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    Infant and Toddler Curriculum: Coursework addresses child development and age expectations for milestones. Students may examine teaching strategies that align with those milestones, along with curriculum models for different academic fields. Departments may also explore curriculum development for culturally diverse learners and students with special needs. These courses often require field experience.

  • Skills You Will Gain

    The best associate degrees in early childhood education prepare learners for careers in preschools, elementary schools, and childcare centers. While in programs, students can expand their knowledge of curriculum and child development. Candidates also examine ways to adapt their organizational and managerial skills to create lesson plans for culturally diverse and special needs classrooms.

    Educators must deliver lectures and discuss student needs with parents. These tasks require strong communication skills. Associate degrees often require an oral communication course, student teaching components, and oral or written presentations.

    Departments train learners to think analytically and creatively, as teachers must choose instructional techniques for many types of learners. These techniques may be nontraditional, such as using music, puppets, computer games, and cooking to advance learning. Determining and implementing teaching methods also requires observation, assessment, and technical skills, since educators can incorporate helpful technologies when watching for signs of struggle.

    Skills honed in these programs can also relate to careers outside of education. For instance, market research analysts observe market trends and reach audiences through technology, and child life specialists can use child development knowledge when assisting children with illnesses. Software developers, furthermore, build unique products for practical uses, which requires analytical and creative thinking. Each of these careers, however, may require advanced degrees or certifications beyond an online associate in early childhood education.

    Average Degree Length

    An online associate in early childhood education typically requires 60 credits, which students can typically fulfill in two years. However, program factors can impact a graduation time frame. For instance, programs with higher credit requirements may take longer to complete. To personalize graduation times, learners can choose accelerated programs. Programs with seven-week courses allow students to complete more classes in one year than the standard fall, spring, and summer terms.

    Learners who need to take fewer courses per term can study part time. However, this decision extends program length and may increase program costs since tuition can increase each year. For this reason, part-time students should focus on schools that offer fixed tuition rates. Candidates can also hasten graduation by taking classes that exceed full-time standards. This approach, however, increases per-semester costs at schools that charge tuition by credit.

    Career Opportunities with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education

    Deciding early on a career path lets candidates choose programs with relevant certifications and courses. Learners who want to manage children's programs, for instance, should explore the community's impact on child development in coursework, while a preschool teacher may benefit from student teaching components.

    The upcoming sections explore early childhood education jobs that associate degree-holders may obtain. However, professional opportunities will increase with advanced degrees and credentials.

    Potential Careers and Salaries

    Earning an early childhood education degree online qualifies graduates for educational careers, such as preschool teachers and elementary assistants. Graduates can also work for or run childcare centers and oversee community programs that cater to children. Some of these professions, however, may call for additional certifications, licenses, or adherence to state standards.

    The following chart provides an overview of possible careers for associate degree-holders, including median salaries and professional responsibilities. Candidates should note, however, that some organizations may require more advanced degrees for some of these positions. For instance, childcare facilities may insist that directors hold at least a bachelor's. For these positions, then, this degree moves graduates closer toward career goals.

    Preschool Teachers

    Preschool teachers help children develop socially, linguistically, and physically. Candidates also guide children on academic topics like identifying shapes and letters. The minimum requirements for preschool teachers often include an associate degree.

    Median Annual Salary: $29,780

    Childcare Workers

    These workers tend to children's physical needs by assisting with hygiene and providing food. Workers may also encourage social and linguistic development to prepare learners for kindergarten. Candidates with early childhood education degrees may obtain advanced careers in the field.

    Median Annual Salary: $23,240

    Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

    Directors determine company policies and uphold state standards. Candidates must also manage employees, deliver training, and oversee budgets. Other tasks include updating families on student needs and accomplishments. Most organizations require college experience for these careers.

    Median Annual Salary: $47,940

    Teacher Assistants

    Teacher assistants can help students understand class concepts and enforce classroom rules. Assistants may also perform administrative tasks like averaging grades and monitoring students during field trips. Schools may require college experience for these positions.

    Median Annual Salary: $26,970

    Recreation Workers

    Recreation workers oversee programs and activities for different groups, including children. These activities often combine physical and entertainment benefits, such as camp hikes and dance classes. Some organizations only require an applicant to possess a high school diploma. However, an online associate in early childhood education verifies knowledge of child development for positions at child-centered organizations.

    Median Annual Salary: $25,060

    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

    5 Early Childhood Education Scholarships to Apply For

    Education costs for early childhood education students can include tuition, fees, textbooks, and travel expenses for field experiences. Degree-seekers should pursue scholarships to help with these costs since, unlike loans, scholarships do not require repayment. Candidates can earn these funds based on factors like academic excellence, financial need, location, heritage, and major. Read on for a few options for early childhood education students.

    Jack Kinnaman Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Each applicant must participate in a student program from the National Education Association and detail their experience in a 200-word statement. Candidates must also have financial need and submit recommendation letters.

    Amount: $2,500

    Apply for Scholarship
    Early Childhood Development Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Kentucky learners may qualify when seeking an associate or bachelor's degree, the Child Development Associate credential, or the Kentucky early childhood development director's certificate. Applicants must work at early childhood organizations.

    Amount: As much as $1,800 each year

    Apply for Scholarship
    Montessori Teacher Education Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Candidates should choose schools and programs that boast connections with the American Montessori Society. Additional requirements include evidence of financial need, recommendation letters, and a personal statement.

    Amount: Varies

    Apply for Scholarship
    Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant

    Who Can Apply: Applicants in qualifying programs must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and complete grant counseling. After graduation, recipients must teach in high-need academic areas, such as special education and foreign languages. Candidates who do not provide this work must repay funds.

    Amount: As much as $4,000 each year

    Apply for Scholarship

    Educational Advancement in Early Childhood Education

    Some careers in early childhood education only require an associate. Other roles, however, call for bachelor's or graduate degrees. Associate graduates can transfer into these four-year programs but should be familiar with transfer processes and degree options. Without this consideration, a student could choose a four-year degree that does not include a necessary certification or a school that does not accept transfer credit. These issues can lead to more years in school and higher education costs.

    Should You Transfer to a Four-Year Degree Program?

    Some schools participate in transfer agreements that allow learners to transfer associate coursework into bachelor's programs from other institutions. Candidates should ask advisors about these options to determine the best transfer opportunities. Students should also consider factors such as concentrations and program quality when choosing a transfer school, but they should try to make the decision as soon as possible. Deciding early allows students to choose courses that have equivalents at the transfer school, which can hasten the path to graduating with a bachelor's degree.

    What Degree Paths Should You Consider?

    Bachelor's degrees can prepare students for specific careers. For instance, a bachelor's in special education may include licensure for graduates to teach in public schools. Coursework for different degree types can also reflect early childhood education job categories. Each candidate should research all possible degrees for their career path to find the most suitable option.

    • Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education: Candidates may explore social, cognitive, emotional, and language development in early childhood. Curriculum also addresses age-appropriate teaching strategies and may include field experience. These degrees may also prepare learners for state teaching credentials.
    • Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Special Education: These degrees may lead to licensure or certification. Degree-seekers can examine how learning and physical disorders impact education and hone skills for adapting teaching methods for special needs students.
    • Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education Administration: Programs address child development and foundational education concepts, but focus on administration rather than teaching. Curriculum may also emphasize problem-solving and communication skills, which relate to managerial careers in other fields.

    Professional Organizations and Resources

    Organizations for early childhood education professionals offer conferences, seminars, and training that build knowledge and foster connections between attendants. These experiences may also count as continuing education hours for licenses or certifications. Organizations may also provide job listings, certifications, and field journals.

    • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: ASHA offers certifications in audiology and speech-language pathology. The association also publishes journals and provides the CREd Library with field resources. Candidates can participate in events, such as the ASHA Convention, along with virtual discussions on certification.
    • Child Care Aware: This resource provides information on opening and running childcare centers in different states, including videos on safety and recommended childcare ratios. The site also guides parents on childcare selection.
    • Child Trends: Candidates can review the group's research and blog posts on topics such as poverty, education, and child health. Child Trends also offers the Hispanic Institute, which focuses on Latino communities.
    • Council for Exceptional Children: CEC offers webinars and a conference that includes workshops. These opportunities may count as professional development hours. CEC also publishes journals and e-books on field topics, along with informing interested candidates of any available positions.
    • Learning Disabilities Association of America: This association delivers videos and webinars on topics that relate to children with learning disorders, such as advocacy and teaching strategies. The group also publishes Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal and booklets on ADHD.
    • National Association for the Education of Young Children: NAEYC members can attend the group's yearly conference and Professional Learning Institute to network and advance field knowledge. Candidates can also view NAEYC's publications and participate in the Week of the Young Child.
    • National Education Association: NEA hosts several events, such as the NEA National Leadership Summit. The website also provides teaching resources like lesson plans, class structure tips, and a Read Across America calendar.
    • Scholastic: Teachers can purchase books by grade level on Scholastic's site. Scholastic also provides courses and coaching on literacy education and delivers articles that explore topics like book discussions and organization in the classroom.
    • U.S. Department of Education: The ED offers resources on special education and English language learning. Addressed topics also include literacy, language development, and play as an educational tool. Parents can also find resources on topics such as the impact of exercise and nutrition on child development.
    • Zero to Three: Zero to Three delivers a yearly conference and online events that members can attend at no cost. The group also publishes a journal and offers resources on childcare and early childhood curriculum.