Working with young children can offer fun and creative work and give you the chance to positively shape young minds. Early childhood educators have the opportunity to be some of the most important figures in the day-to-day life of children in their communities. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons you might consider pursuing a career in early childhood education.
There's Never Been a Better Time to Become an Early Childhood Educator
As more families seek high-quality care for their children, there’s a growing demand for more early childhood education (ECE) professionals. Job openings are expected to grow at a rate of 15% through 2031, a rate that’s much faster than average across industries. ECE provides rewards beyond anything that can be measured – for both teachers and children. The educational and foundational skills your students learn while in your care are lessons they will take with them their whole lives. By shaping young, developing minds, you’re shaping the future.
Things to Consider When Mapping Out Early Childhood Education Career Paths
It’s a big commitment to work with young children every day. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about becoming an early childhood educator:
What is the Job Outlook for Early Childhood Education Career Paths?
As we mentioned, the employment rate of early childhood educators is expected to grow 15% by 2031. This means an average of almost 73,000 new jobs per year. As early childhood educators go on to earn higher degrees and move into higher-paying positions, their jobs in preschools and child care centers need to be filled by certified and competent educators. The median annual wage for early childhood educators was $30,210 in 2021. The lowest 10% of ECEs earn less than $22,840 and the highest 10% earn more than $58,530.
Early Childhood Education Career Job Settings
Early childhood educators don’t only work in child care centers. They can also be found putting their education and training to good use as:
- Family child care providers
- Infant and toddler caregivers
- Private preschool educators
- Public pre-kindergarten teachers
- Before and after school care
- Summer camp programs
- Out-of-school time organizations
- Private nannies
- Teachers in federal- or state-funded early childhood intervention programs such as Head Start
Where Will an Early Childhood Education Career Path Take Me?
What are the early childhood education career paths available to you? There are so many directions you can go based on your personality and ideal workplace.
Public Pre-Kindergarten Program
At this level, students are generally 2-5 years old. Many public pre-kindergarten programs are open from 6 a.m to 6 p.m. throughout the year. Early childhood educators usually work a shift within that time frame. Teaching students this age is done through play, games, and positive reinforcement. Sample Job Duties:
- Teach colors, shapes, letters, and numbers
- Demonstrate basic hygiene like washing hands
- Teach basic social skills like taking turns
- Schedule time for both active play and rest
- Monitor students’ growth and development and, if necessary, meet with parents to discuss any concerns
Head Start Program
These ECEs do the same job as other preschool teachers, but the focus is on children from lower-income families and underserved backgrounds. It’s especially important for Head Start Teachers to be able to communicate with their students’ families or home caregivers regarding the children’s strengths, struggles, and overall development to prepare the children for kindergarten. CCEI offers a specialized Head Start online training program. Sample Job Duties:
- Teach colors, shapes, letters, and numbers
- Teach basic hygiene and social skills
- Guide students through active play and rest
- Monitor students’ growth and development and communicate any concerns to with parents if necessary
Child Care Center
Child care centers usually provide daily care for children starting as young as 6 weeks old and can continue up through kindergarten. The centers are open during the day, including early mornings and late evenings so parents can go to work. Some children may be enrolled full time (attending every day for the full day), while others may go for a few hours once or twice a week. Some child care centers are run in private homes, some are affiliated with schools, and others are separate, private businesses. Sample Job Duties:
- Create a schedule of activities for the day, including arts and crafts, story time, and music
- Provide lunch, snacks, and possibly breakfast and/or dinner
- Encourage socialization among peers
- Teach children basic social skills like sharing and taking turns
- Schedule nap times
- For babies, change diapers and clothes as necessary
Nannies work privately for families. They take care of children of all ages, from birth to teens. While anyone can apply for a job as a nanny, having a degree in ECE is definitely an advantage, as it shows you are specifically trained to work with small children. Nannies are much more than babysitters. They usually take care of children during parents’ working hours, especially when the child is too young for school (not all parents want to put their infants or toddlers in child care centers). Your hours as a nanny will vary depending on the family’s needs and may include nights, weekends, and holidays. Sample Job Duties:
- Make sure the children in your care are fed and clean
- Take the children to and from activities like story time or play dates
- Organize activities at home
- Keep the child on a schedule according to the parents’ wishes, like nap times
- Drop off/pickup for children already in a child care center or school
Certifications & Licenses for Early Childhood Educators
As with other teaching jobs, ECE license and certification requirements vary by state. Make sure you check your state’s requirements. There is an optional certification from The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) once you hold a bachelor’s degree and state certification. Your state may also require you to have a teaching certificate. Not all child care centers require their employees to be certified. However, some will require an ECE or a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate. CCEI offers a simple and efficient program for earning your CDA, as well as for earning your child care Director’s Certificate. Nannies don’t need to be licensed or certified, though potential employers may run a background check on you, including verifying your identity, checking for a criminal record, reviewing the sex offender and child abuse registries, and possibly drug testing. Potential nannies with an ECE degree can earn more money than their non-degreed peers: $25-35/hour vs $17-18/hour. Whichever ECE career path you choose, StraighterLine has a course you can take that can boost your professional development: from Foundations of Early Childhood Education to Classroom Management and more!
What Classes Can I Take to Get Started on My Early Childhood Education Career Path?
The classes you may need to take to prepare to become an early childhood educator will depend on whether you’re just starting out or you’re finishing up more specific requirements. If you’re just starting on your degree, you might need to focus on general education requirements, such as English Composition. If you’re further along in your education, you can turn your focus to more specialized courses, like the ones StraighterLine offers such as Early Childhood Development and Teaching Students with Exceptionalities. StraighterLine has a wide range of courses that can help you fulfill both general education and core curriculum requirements for your early education career path. EXPLORE COURSES
Fast Track Your Early Childhood Education Career Path with StraighterLine
Most ECE college programs require a set of prerequisite and general education courses. So take the first step in your early childhood education career path with courses from StraighterLine and CDA training from ChildCare Education Institute! StraighterLine's self-paced, affordable online courses easily transfer to any of our partner schools or through the ACE Credit service to over 2,000 colleges and universities worldwide.