At its most basic level, early childhood education (ECE) encompasses all forms of education, both formal and informal. Early childhood education ages cover birth through age eight. This education is fundamental to the development of a child. It can significantly shape the later years of an individual’s life.
there are several different facets that all combine to contribute to a child’s early education. In terms of informal education, the primary source of input when it comes to a child’s development is, of course, its relationship with its parents or primary caregivers. In essence, parents can be considered to be a child’s first teacher. This relationship is especially critical between 0-2 years of age as the child begins to develop its sense of self and establishes an attachment with its parents. The quality of the attachment formed at this stage of life can have a significant impact on a child’s future education.
The other part of the equation when it comes to early childhood education is the formal education that it receives at a young age. This stage of education typically spans years 2 to 8 of a child’s life. There can be a variety of formats in which a child receives formal education at a young age, which can vary from state to state and program to program. Educational programs may be designed specifically for children at each individual age. They can be provided in settings including
- nursery school
Some of these programs are privately run. Others are operated by a local school system or under a federally funded program.
The Elements of an Early Childhood Education Program
Over the years, there has been much debate over what the attributes of an effective early childhood education program are, which is largely due to the fact that ECE is a relatively new field. More specifically, much of the debate has centered around what type of program qualifies as an actual educational experience as opposed to simply providing care.
According to the National Education Association, a high-quality ECE program consists of five important components:
- It should provide a well-rounded curriculum that supports all areas of development
- It should address child health, nutrition, and family needs as part of a comprehensive service network
- It should assess children to enhance student learning and identify concerns
- It should employ well-educated, adequately paid teachers
- It should provide small class sizes and low teacher-child ratios
These five components should, therefore, be the core pillars of any quality early childhood education program. However, additional characteristics of a high-quality program include:
- nutritious meals and snacks
- a strong foundation in language development
- early literacy and math
- teachers who frequently measure children’s progress
Education Required to Work as an Early Childhood Education Teacher
In order to obtain a position as an early childhood education teacher, some sort of post-secondary education is typically required. The specific requirements vary across the 50 states. As of 2013, only 30 of the 53 state-funded pre-kindergarten educational programs require that their teachers have a bachelor’s degree, while 45 of the programs require that their teachers have some form of specialized training in early childhood education.
Head Start, a government funded early education program, has specific rules for their 1,700 childcare agencies across the country. Center based teachers must have at least an associate degree and at least 50% of all preschool Head Start teachers need a bachelor’s degree in ECE or a closely related field.
The different educational options for individuals looking to gain employment as an early childhood education teacher include:
- a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education
- an associate degree in early childhood education
- early childhood education certificate programs
These programs can be completed in a classroom setting or online.
Kindergarten teachers in an elementary school need to have at least a bachelor’s degree with coursework in ECE. The take coursework in areas like child development, cognitive and social development, and fundamental academic teaching.
As mentioned above, a bachelor’s degree isn’t currently required across the board, but as more programs become federally funded, this requirement will likely become more of a standard. Currently, however, an ECE certification program, which can be completed online, will qualify a person for employment in a variety of positions including:
- preschool teacher
- elementary school teacher
- childcare provider
- after school care worker
- childhood camp counselor
While a bachelor degree will likely provide more opportunity for an employee both now and in the future, there are still some benefits to completing a certification program instead. One benefit is that the requirements for applying for a certification program aren’t as specific. Many programs only requiring that applicants be at least 18 years of age and have their high school diploma (GED). Additionally, compared to the 4 years it takes to complete a bachelor degree, some certificate programs may take as little as 6 months to complete. Finally, while a bachelor degree must be at least partially completed in a traditional school, many certificate programs can be completed entirely online. This provides a great deal of flexibility for students who need to continue working while completing the program.
Whatever educational path is chosen, it is important to consider the direction in which the educational industry is moving in terms of the requirements for its teachers. It is also important to consider your future ambitions are when it comes to advancing within your chosen profession.
It is clearly evident that early childhood education plays an important role in laying the foundation for children to succeed in the future. It seems that this industry is poised for continued growth in the years to come, based on a rapid rate of job growth and ever-increasing funding for early childhood education programs. For those with a love of teaching and helping to shape the lives of children, a career as an early childhood education teacher might just be a perfect choice.