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If you seem to have a natural way with young children and babies, or if you are a high energy individual who has ample patience, then a career in early childhood and preschool education is likely a good fit. Early childhood, including infancy, the toddler years, and preschool, is one of the most important times in a child’s development, and early childhood educators are positioned to have a lasting impact on these young children.

This is a career with strong potential growth and great emotional reward. If you think it’s a good fit for your interests and passions, an Associate of Science degree in Early Childhood Education is the right starting point. But what is early childhood education, exactly? Here’s a closer look at early childhood education requirements, the importance of early childhood education, and the rewards of pursuing this career field.

What Is Early Childhood Education?

Before delving into the rewards of being an early childhood educator, first you must understand what early childhood education is. Typically, ECE meaning refers to education for children kindergarten age and younger. In other words, early childhood education teaches you how to be a preschool teacher.

Preschool teachers fill a vital role in a child’s overall development. During these early years, education must strike a balance between caring for a child’s physical and emotional needs and providing educational basics. Sometimes, the line between care and education is hard to see, which is why early childhood educators must receive training in both to offer high-quality care to their little charges.

The Importance of Early Childhood Education

Between birth and age 6, a child develops 90 percent of his adult brain volume. The biological brain development that happens in the preschool years is profound, and this is part of what gives ECE meaning beyond just childcare. The experiences children have in these years actually have a direct impact on the structural development in the brain and the pathways established.

Because of this early physical brain development, these years are critical to a child’s mental and social development. The activities they engage in during their preschool and toddler years give children the ability to develop lifelong learning skills, cognitive skills, and social skills.

Early childhood education also plays a rule in the future health of these children. The CDC indicates that negative experiences in early childhood have a direct connection to diseases like pulmonary disease and cancer in adults. Conversely, positive early childhood experiences can help children grow into physically healthier adults. These facts clearly show the importance of early childhood education.

In an early childhood education program, toddlers and preschoolers rely on their teachers to teach critical early learning skills. These include:

  • Counting and number recognition
  • Letters and their sounds
  • General language abilities
  • Familiarity with books and print materials
  • Basic knowledge of the world and how it works

Preschool teachers and early childhood educators also work to teach children important social skills, such as using kind words and sharing with others, that help them grow to be caring older children and adults.

What Will You learn in an Early Childhood Education Program?

Early childhood education requirements do vary from one state to the next, but these programs tend to include most of what a preschool education professional would need to launch an effective and rewarding career. One primary focus of early childhood education programs is child development in the young child. There is a tremendous amount of development that happens between birth and age five, and understanding these changes will help teachers create meaningful learning environments and activities. Students will study the development of children through age 8. About half of the coursework will follow child development themes.

Along with training in child development, potential future educators need to learn how to plan and implement a curriculum that lines up with those early developmental stages. This requires basic liberal arts and common core knowledge as well, so the program will have science, math, and language studies.

Once all of the in-classroom instruction is complete, students usually take a practicum or student teaching position. This provides the opportunity to learn in a real classroom with real children under the watchful eye of an experienced educator. Many students find this experience to be one of the most valuable parts of their early childhood education requirements because it provides the opportunity to learn while doing.

What Are the Early Childhood Education Requirements?

Understanding early childhood education requirements will help you get the right training for your future career. Entry-level positions in early childhood require a minimum of an associate degree, but some programs also like to have a few educators with a bachelor’s level training. Directorship in early childhood often requires a master’s degree.

In addition to completing a preschool education training program, you will need to seek state certification. Registered early childhood and preschool education programs want their teachers to be licensed. Some states require a licensing exam as part of their early childhood education requirements, so research your state’s guidelines to see what you will need to do.

Early Childhood Education Career outlook

What is the potential for those who graduate from an early childhood education program? Are there ample jobs in this career field? As long as there are children, there will be a need for educated professionals to help guide them in their development; so the answer is yes.

From 2018 to 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to see a 7 percent growth in available jobs in this field. This is faster than average. The BLS also expects to see an added 36,900 early childhood educator jobs during this time.

Why is there an increase in demand for teachers of young children? The number of preschool-age children is growing, and as such, there is a growing demand for teachers. In addition, more and more parents are recognizing the importance of early childhood education and are enrolling their children in these programs at earlier ages. Finally, it’s becoming increasingly necessary for families to have both parents working, which creates a need for childcare. Many parents choose to enroll their children in a preschool or early childhood program rather than relying on simple babysitting, so their kids gain the educational benefits while also being properly cared for while they work.

Early Childhood Education Income Potential

The income of an early childhood educator varies wildly from one location to the next. It also varies based on the teacher’s education level. Those in the highest 10 percent of this career earn over $55,050 per year, while those in the lowest 10 percent earn less than $21,140. The average for the field is $30,520 as of 2019 according to the BLS.

Teachers who work in elementary school settings, including both public and private, earn the most with an average salary of $46,710. Those who work as individuals, such as home daycare settings, earn $32,510 on average. Teachers who work in daycare settings earn the least, with a $28,700 average annual wage.

What is harder to quantify is the rewarding nature of working in early childhood education. Not only can preschool education professionals bring in income, but they also go to work every day knowing they’re making a difference in the lives of young children. For many, that feeling is just as rewarding as their salaries.

Are You a Good Fit For Early Childhood Education?

So is early childhood education a good fit for you? If you are looking for a career you can start relatively quickly with a two-year degree, but want the option to expand your training and income potential, it could be. If you love working with kids, are patient, and are creative, you would be a good fit. Finally, if you are passionate about helping children reach their full potential, and see yourself doing this day in and day out throughout your career, then this is a career path worth pursuing.